Renewable, wind-generated electricity may soon be coming to the Santa Barbara region. The most immediate project likely to be constructed, probably as early as next year, is the Lompoc wind farm. Formerly, it was known as the Lompoc Wind Energy Project but, it has recently been resurrected as the Strauss Wind Energy Project. The location is the same, but the number of wind turbines will be fewer — 30 rather than 65. The new turbines will be larger, however, with about the same overall electrical output. The longer blades will revolve more slowly, thus reducing the risk of collisions with birds and bats. Construction is expected to take 10 months.
The other positive development for local wind power is the U.S. Interior Department agreeing to lease waters off Central and Northern California shores for wind farms. Two Central Coast sites have been identified in the Morro Bay area. Until recently, a leasing auction off California’s coast would not have advanced wind power much, because anchoring wind turbines to the seabed was difficult and often unfeasible due to the steep drop of our continental shelf. Now, floating turbines, a new technology that has been successfully tested in Europe, open new possibilities along the Pacific Coast. A floating wind turbine is a wind turbine mounted on a floating platform tethered to the ocean floor by cables. These platforms can operate in waters up to 2,600 feet deep, compared to fixed-foundation turbines, which can only be in waters up to 200 feet deep.
Today, California has a superabundance of solar-generated electricity. Without significant storage for this renewable power, the bottleneck for clean power remains the high-demand early-evening period. Offshore wind power offers the possibility of filling this gap. Ocean winds tend to be stronger (higher and steadier wind speeds) than onshore winds and are strongest as the sun goes down, the perfect complement to solar power.
Floating wind farms have the potential to significantly increase the sea area available for offshore wind power. Locating platforms farther offshore, e. g., 20-30 miles, can remove the visual pollution issue.
Seabed-mounted turbines are expensive. Floating turbines are comparable in price, but they have the potential cost advantage of preassembly at a coastal facility followed by towing to location. Successful demonstration projects of floating wind turbines exist off the coasts of Norway, Spain, Denmark, Portugal, and the State of Maine. Scotland has the first commercial floating wind farm with five six-megawatt turbines on a single, large floating platform.
With California’s target of 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2045, offshore winds will need to be harnessed. Fortunately, our long coastline gives us access to this inexhaustible, environmentally friendly, utility-scale energy source.