Salud Carbajal | Credit: Courtesy

Don’t tell Santa Barbara Congressmember Salud Carbajal he’s a lame duck. Yes, his party just lost control of the House ​— ​albeit narrowly ​— ​in November’s midterm elections. Yes, Republican Kevin McCarthy will soon bang the gavel that Nancy Pelosi wielded. But right now, Carbajal is more of a crow ​— ​one with plenty to crow about. 

For starters, this Tuesday, bids began pouring in for three federal offshore leases located 20 miles off the coast of Morro Bay for what Carbajal envisions as the largest offshore wind farm in the deepest waters in the United States, if not the world. 

As of early Tuesday afternoon, private wind companies had ponied up $167 million to secure 376 square miles of some of the windiest patch of water off the Central Coast. With 41 companies qualified to compete for three leases ​— ​each 80,000 acres ​— ​Carbajal suggested the bidding could continue for several more days with several hundreds of millions more on the way. “Let’s just say the stars are aligned,” Carbajal quietly exalted.

What started off as a seemingly far-fetched concept in 2018 is now generating serious interest by major investors. A threshold has been crossed. 

Should this wind power project actually come to fruition six, seven, or eight years from now ​— ​with 300 massive wind turbines off the coast with blades longer than the Eiffel Tower is high ​— ​Carbajal will have played the role of both legislative midwife and backroom head-knocker.

But for his intercessions, the Department of the Navy would never have agreed to consider the plan in the first place. The presence of 300 massive wind turbines scattered across 240,000 acres of ocean threatened the high-stakes training and testing exercises conducted in that area by the U.S. Navy ​— ​involving live missiles, among other things. When live missiles go off course, the Navy likes to be able to blow them out of the sky. With the world’s biggest wind farm ​— ​and all the attendant support vessels down below ​— ​that’s not so simple.

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But after Carbajal had won the Navy high commanding officers to his quest, a high-ranking Navy administrator and Trump appointee threatened to torpedo the whole deal. He released a map of the South Coast drenched in red ink; the red indicated where he would not allow any non-Naval activities to happen. Carbajal, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, took his case to committee colleagues on both sides of the aisle. He expressed concern that “some political appointees had become a little disassociated from the effort.” He “elevated” his concerns, as he put it, by inserting language in the fine print of the National Defense Authorization Act that would inflict budgetary pain on the Secretary of the Navy’s office. The message got delivered. The Navy came back to the table. And the wind farm project ​— ​still very much in its infancy ​— ​managed to survive. 

But the wind farm, as Carbajal tells it, is just the beginning. For the wind farm to function, a new industrialized port capable of providing all the necessary services ​— ​enough electricity for more than two million homes ​— ​for so massive an energy project. Turbine blades have grown so large that neither trains nor trucks can transport them. Only ships will do.

As Carbajal notes, ports offer the additional benefit of jobs. Hundreds, if not thousands. “Jobs, jobs, jobs,” he explained. Whether that’s in Morro Bay, San Luis, or Port Hueneme, he said, is too soon to say. All those questions ​— ​like the wind project itself ​— ​must undergo the rigors of environmental analysis and the scrutiny of the public process. Impacts to birds and sea life must be studied and mitigated. At the very soonest, Carbajal estimated, construction is at least five years away. 

Can anyone technically call Carbajal and all his party’s members lame ducks? True, the Democrats just lost control of the House in the November midterm elections. And Santa Barbara’s Democratic Congressmember Carbajal is once again a member of the minority party. But he seems unfazed. After all, he served his first four years during the presidency of Donald Trump. For the next two years, Joe Biden will still be in the White House. “Lame duck?!” Carbajal demanded. “You can’t say that; we’re too productive.” 

By Wednesday, the bidding process was completed, and the final bids were tabulated. All three combined brought in a total of $426 million to the Department of Interior. For Carbajal, these numbers spoke volumes regarding the economic viability of the proposed  project. “That tells me we’re on the right track,” Carbajal exclaimed. “These companies agree that the project is in the right location.” 

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