Residents of Humboldt County have a long-standing commitment to environmental sustainability—including sustainable energy. In spite of our often foggy weather, Humboldt County has one of the highest per-capita number of photovoltaic (PV) systems in California. This past May, the Humboldt County government, through the Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA), took over control of the electricity supply for more than 90 percent of the homes and businesses in Humboldt County from PG&E through RCEA’s Community Choice Energy (CCE) program—providing a higher percentage of renewable content than that offered by PG&E. The sources of renewable electricity are primarily from wind and solar electricity generated outside our area, a lesser amount generated from biomass (sourced from wood waste from the timber industry), and a very small amount from local solar PV.
In 2013, HSU’s Schatz Energy Research Center published an in-depth report (www.schatzlab.org/docs/RePower_Humboldt_Strategic_Plan.pdf) on current energy consumption in Humboldt County and potential local renewable energy sources that would allow Humboldt County to rely almost exclusively on local renewable energy.
According to a recent report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), by far the greatest potential for renewable electricity generation in our area is deep water offshore wind. According to NREL, the maximum technical potential for the Humboldt County coast is 1100 MW with a capacity factor (annual average of maximum output) of 55 percent. If Humboldt’s capacity were fully developed, it could supply twenty times the total electricity consumption of Humboldt County. Current transmission capacity out of Humboldt County is approximately 60 MW, so full development of our capacity would require a major upgrade of our transmission lines.
Humboldt’s most promising sites for offshore wind development are approximately 15 to 20 miles offshore in deep water, so the turbines would be mounted on floating platforms. Onshore wind energy potential in Humboldt is significantly smaller than offshore and more variable, but is also substantial.
Almost 10 years ago, Shell tried to develop a wind energy site south of Ferndale on Bear River Ridge, but dropped the project for a variety of reasons—including strong local opposition. Shell did a number of environmental assessments at the time (including potential impacts on birds and bats) and held a number of public meetings. Some of these assessments may still be applicable to future projects.
Shell made a number of mistakes when they tried to develop their project, including poor public relations and not adequately involving local community groups and citizens at an early stage in the project. A significant amount of opposition was related to the fact that it was being developed by Shell, a multi-national oil company with a less than stellar environmental and human rights record.
Successful development of our local renewable energy potential will require active public involvement at a much earlier stage in the project than we saw with this previous project. Working with industry partners that have solid environmental and human rights records is also a priority.
Principle Power, a global technology leader for floating offshore wind energy based in Emeryville, CA, began exploratory meetings with RCEA, environmental groups, fishermen, and other parties in October of this year for a potential floating offshore wind project off the Humboldt coast. Their efforts to engage with local communities and interest groups early on is commendable.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was also approved by the RCEA board between RCEA and Principle Power in October, which establishes a collaborative effort to work together on the key requirements needed to develop Humboldt’s offshore wind energy potential. An operational offshore wind project would take a number of years to complete. These meetings and the MOU are only the beginning of that process.
Principle Power also participated in a clean energy panel discussion at HSU as part of the Schatz Energy Lab’s Sustainable Futures Speaker Series on November 9, which also featured representatives from RCEA, PG&E, and the Schatz Energy Lab.
In Humboldt County, we have excellent local energy expertise and abundant renewable energy sources that provide unique opportunities for local renewable energy generation. Long-term, Humboldt can become both energy self-sufficient and potentially a major exporter of renewable energy.
If you would like more information or to learn more about how to get involved with the offshore wind process, contact RCEA at [email protected]. You can also follow the RCEA board meeting agendas to attend meetings when offshore wind is on the agenda. Visit the RCEA website at www.redwoodenergy.org.