More Information

Jaime Jahncke, PhD


California Current Group Director


Updated Report: Identifying Wind Energy Areas Off the California Coast

Executive Summary

The goal of this project is to use existing spatial data representing marine species, the marine environment, and human uses of ocean waters to: 1) identify areas for potential offshore wind energy development that balance impacts and benefits; and 2) examine the existing offshore Wind Energy Areas (WEAs) and the sea space for potential future development identified under the AB525 process.

Existing data and information will help identify areas that maximize energy generation potential while preserving existing ocean uses and protecting the marine and coastal environments. To do this, we combined data on the spatio-temporal abundance of species, habitats, and human activities in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) off California, Oregon and Washington with expert-derived information on the likely sensitivity of those components to negative impacts from offshore wind installations. Given that California offshore wind development has advanced ahead of the other two states, we specifically analyze waters offshore from California in the context of federal and California state wind energy development plans and gigawatt targets.

We have added new datasets since the first version of this report, representing 17 new species, 2 new habitats and improving data quality for 69 model components. The new model inputs included 180 datasets of marine birds, mammals and turtles, fish, habitats, and human uses. In addition to these datasets, Point Blue received 191 responses from expert surveys to quantify sensitivity to offshore wind impacts for all species.

Updated model runs identify priority wind energy installation areas off Punta Gorda, Humboldt County, Point Arena, Mendocino County and Point Conception, Santa Barbara County.

When considering trade-offs between wind energy development and impacts to individual species, habitat or human use categories, the patterns differ significantly across space. However, some areas of low conservation impact overlap consistently across groups, including a region near the Oregon border and some of the waters off Cape Mendocino that were also identified by two different prioritization algorithm approaches.

Based on the combined results of our modeling, Point Blue recommends that among the six areas feasible for offshore wind development by AB525 strategic plan the Mendocino Area_1 sea space region be identified as the highest priority area for the next phases of wind development offshore of California. In addition, portions of the Mendocino Area_2, and both Humboldt Area sea space regions should be considered high-priority for development plans to meet the AB525 2045 goals. These areas comprise waters with high energy production, balanced and minimized combined impacts to species, habitats and existing human uses and reasonable access to grid interconnection.

Important improvements for future work include the evaluation of sensitivity of model outputs to data uncertainties and data gaps, proper evaluation of species’ needs (e.g., differential use of the marine space between breeding and non-breeding seasons), and inter-annual variability in the energy generation and human uses. The Point Blue model was constructed with the capacity to incorporate these improvements.

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