California is counting on Central Coast offshore wind to power up to 5 million homes by 2030 — which is also one-sixth of Biden’s US offshore wind goal. The complications in the first phase show how the Democrats’ clean energy goals face conflicting internal priorities as well as external threats such as the Republican takeover of the White House. How they balance competing interests here could serve as a model — how to do it right or not — for other ocean projects that pit energy development against conservation.
Wind developers say the sanctuary as proposed would harm their projects.
“This is a significant risk for Morro Bay leaseholders,” said Molly Croll, director of Pacific coast wind for the American Clean Power Association, which represents the three companies with the leases. on the spot, in an email.
The 5,600-square-mile Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary is the first indigenous-nominated marine sanctuary in the federal network, according to the Biden administration. It would preserve biologically rich waters and submerged native burials in an area the size of Connecticut.
The site at the heart of the dispute is Morro Bay, one of the most sacred indigenous sites in the region and one of only two points where offshore developers can connect power cables to the grid. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in August proposed carving a lane through the sanctuary to allow companies to lay power lines along the ocean floor.
The tribes want the Morro Bay area back in the sanctuary. Developers want it – at least until they can connect the cables to the coast.
NOAA is up against a 2024 deadline to end the sanctuary before a potential change in administration. If Republicans win the presidential contest, the proposal’s prospects will be greatly reduced, sanctuary supporters believe.
“It’s a missed opportunity to go into an election cycle and have different leadership and not appoint it,” said Violet Sage Walker, chairman of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, which nominated the sanctuary. “I hope people realize how urgent this is.”
Republicans have been sending mixed messages about conservation and energy development lately, sounding the alarm over East Coast whale deaths they’ve tried to tie to wind energy development while also mocking federal efforts to protect the endangered Rice whale in the Gulf of Mexico. Eighteen species of dolphins and whales, including blue whales, humpback whales and orcas frequent the proposed Central Coast sanctuary area, according to NOAA’s draft environmental impact statement.
Supporters of the sanctuary, including Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla and 14 other Democratic members of Congress from California, urged NOAA to hurry it up.
Three developers won leases last year to install 1,000-foot turbines 20 to 30 miles offshore that float in deep water, anchored by cables to the ocean floor. . They are the big players in the offshore space: Golden State Wind, owned by Ocean Winds and Canada Pension Plan; Invenergy’s Even Keel Wind; and Norwegian state-owned company Equinor.
Biden and Newsom have also launched initiatives to conserve 30 percent of California and federal waters and lands by 2030, and each has expanded commitments to include tribes in natural resource management.
NOAA analyzed filings from developers, tribes and thousands of other people. The agency will decide whether it will make any changes to the current plan, said Paul Michel, a policy coordinator for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.
“We’re in the messy business of trying to solve too many issues at the same time,” Michel said in an interview.
The federal agency drew the sanctuary in 2021 to avoid the wind patch. The initial protected zone extends south from the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary along 152 miles of coastline to the Channel Islands.
The August update, intended to further accommodate wind development, cut the protected coastline by 134 miles, carving a 58-mile-long corridor through Morro Bay while adding 18 miles south.
The tribes consider the inhabitants of the sea as their relatives, on whom they have relied for food and other necessities for thousands of years.
“It’s a deep connection,” said Karen White, chairman of the Xolon Salinan tribal council. “When you’re connected to an ancient people like us and a land that’s also ancient, it’s very spiritual.”
At least five tribes want NOAA to go back to the first proposal for unbroken protection.
“NOAA has left our ocean relatives unprotected and unknown in one of the most important places for all of our tribes in the region,” said two Salinan groups, two Chumash groups and a band of Mission Indians in a letter to the agency last month.
The developers want the carveout extended to the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, another critical site for connecting offshore wind energy to the electric grid in addition to the one in Morro Bay.
The developers also want the flexibility to place cables in the sanctuary, because they don’t yet know where they will put them. Approximately two dozen cables must be spaced far apart to accommodate the repair. They must avoid a veritable minefield of obstacles from sensitive reefs and shipwrecks to indigenous cultural sites built before the seas rose, fiber optic cables and an ancient chemical dump.
Developers emphasize the sanctuary and the wind project can go hand in hand, and are complementary, because renewable energy can help reduce emissions that harm marine life. Tribes recognize that, while each has different priorities.
“We are confident that NOAA, sanctuary advocates, and tenants can come up with a solution – whether it’s regulatory or a phased approach,” said Croll, the tenant representative.
Only one tribe in the area, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, is federally recognized. The designation means that NOAA is required to enter into a formal government-to-government relationship with them.
The Santa Ynez Band, which has a reservation in Santa Barbara County, welcomed the Morro Bay gap, calling it a pragmatic solution to permit concerns in an October filing with NOAA.
But the Xolon Salinan, which claims one of the most established connections to Morro Bay and its unique stone circle, wants to keep the preservation intact. They say the cables can be laid (carefully) through the sanctuary without cutting the Morro section.
White, of the Xolon Salinan, said his ancestors fought over the Morro Bay area, and in recent decades the tribe has fought over who has ancestral claims.
The proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary was nominated in 2015 by Fred Collins III, who founded the nonprofit Northern Chumash Tribal Council in 2006 and died in 2021.
The Xolon Salinan, the Santa Ynez Band and other tribes say in NOAA filings that Collins is not indigenous. The dispute could further complicate the project: White said that if NOAA uses Collins’ preferred name for a Morro Bay sanctuary, the tribe may seek legal counsel.
A professor of anthropology at the State University of New York submitted a letter on behalf of the Xolon Salinan, the Santa Ynez Band and two other Chumash bands that say Collins is descended from Mexican immigrants, arguing that the agency is shaming the other tribes by using Collins’ name for the sanctuary. .
Collins’ daughter, Walker, dismissed the claims as a “distraction.”
“We’re not going to respond to that because I don’t want to be involved in any kind of hate speech or negativity or calling people names,” Walker said. “Ultimately it took away from (the fact that) it was a good idea and it was a good idea even if the tribes weren’t involved.”
Michel, from NOAA, said the name change is one of the things the agency is considering.
One idea that developers say is gaining traction is a proposal to start with a gap for cables and then expand the sanctuary later to create uninterrupted protection, taking cues from the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary on the Texas coast of the Gulf of Mexico.
“I think we’re optimistic that we can find a creative solution,” said Tyler Studds, CEO of Golden State Wind.
Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara) shared their optimism.
“It’s just a matter of tweaking things so we can reach a win-win,” said Carbajal.