Scientists expect engineering challenges for Morro Bay offshore wind farm

December 5, 2022


With a lease auction taking place Tuesday for five offshore wind development areas, three of which are off the coast of San Luis Obispo County, experts are raising questions about engineering, cost and regulatory hurdles for the projects. [MIT Technology Review]

The lease sale will mark the first United States auction for commercial-scale floating offshore wind development. It will also be the first-ever lease sale for offshore wind energy on the West Coast.

Last year, the federal Department of the Interior, in coordination with the Department of Defense, identified a 399-square-mile area northwest of Morro Bay as a location that will support three gigawatts of offshore wind. The federal agency also announced it was advancing wind energy projects located offshore of Humboldt County.

Then in May, the Biden Administration announced plans to auction five offshore areas for wind development, three of which are northwest of Morro Bay and two of which are off of Humboldt County. The Department of the Interior publicized a proposed sale notice for the commercial wind energy leases offshore of Morro Bay and Humboldt County, with proposed auction prices starting at $8 million.

Annual average wind speeds around the Morro Bay sites reach 8 to 10 meters per second, exceeding those around some offshore wind farms already built in the North Sea. Wind turbines on the locations up for lease could provide 4.5 gigawatts of electricity to the California grid, enough to power more than 1.5 million homes. 

Off Morro Bay and other potential California sites, the winds dip at midday but rise in the early evening, which syncs with consumer demand, unlike the electricity generated by solar farms. 

But, the continental shelf drops steeply just a few miles off the California coast. With strong-wind sites far from the shore, there is engineering hurdles.

At nearly 200 feet deep, it becomes impractical for developers to build fixed wind foundations, which are structures that extend to the seafloor. Achieving the state and federal government’s energy targets through building floating wind farms could require creating or upgrading ports, constructing new ships, streamlining permitting processes, building up a West Coast wind manufacturing sector and shifting to new types of platforms that could be cheaper to deliver and install.

Thus far, only a handful of mostly small demonstration projects have been developed, totaling around 125 megawatts, according to a Department of Energy report published earlier this year. The largest floating farm in the world so far is the nearly 50-megawatt Kincardine project off the shores of Scotland.

The Department of Energy report calculated the levelized cost of floating wind power at approximately $200 per megawatt-hour. Levelized costs of energy are the average calculated across a project’s lifetime, taking into account construction and operation expenditures.

Standard offshore wind and land-based wind projects, as well as large scale solar farms, have levelized costs around $80, $30 and $35 per megawatt-hour respectively, according to the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Additionally, there may be a limited total of regulatory-compliant ships that could tow out and plant the assembled floating wind turbines. Under a century-old law, any ship delivering goods or people from one U.S. site to another must be built, owned, and primarily crewed by American citizens.

Likewise, many of California’s ports are too shallow and its bridges too low to accommodate the giant turbines, towers, and platforms, which are much easier to assemble before they’re carried to the offshore site.

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There is a serious lack of respect being paid to the power of the Pacific Ocean. If they put these things floating in deep water far offshore, Mother Nature will send them to the bottom of the sea.

Wind power is a brilliant idea but until we’ve exhausted every single place on land where these turbines can be installed, making them much easier and cheaper to access and maintain, they need to forget about using the open ocean.

The sea is just about the most corrosive and inhospitable environment on earth, second maybe to the caldera of an erupting volcano. Nothing lasts long at sea without constant maintenance, just ask any boat owner.

There are a great many things that must be worked out and planned BEFORE they try and install the turbines offshore — i.e. where’s the needed deep water port and 40-acre maintenance yard and work quay, where’re the ships to tend these things, where are you going to train crews and moor crew boats, etc… — to me it feels a lot like putting the cart before the horse.

The feds are literally trying to reinvent the wheel with floating offshore wind farms and when anyone raises doubts they just say, “Shut up and trust us.”

That’s easy for someone to say when it isn’t their money being spent. I will be gobsmacked if they ever get built.

Not just engineering issues, severe consequences for the taxpayers and ratepayers. There is nothing long lived in the ocean except for large rocks covered with bird crap for a reason.

So the floating oil rigs on the ocean, literally drilling for oil from a floating platform never happened because “There is nothing long lived in the ocean except for large rocks” so floating wind generators won’t work?

Are there floating oil rigs?

Farther offshore, specially designed rigs mounted on ships can drill a well in waters over 10,000 feet (3050 meters) deep. These rigs float and can be attached to the ocean bottom using traditional mooring and anchoring systems or they maintain their position by using thrusters to counteract winds, waves and currents.

Longest standing fixed offshore platforms: Ranking the oldest from 1974

How many tons of a sacrificial element, let’s say zinc, will it take for each platform over twenty years? Whatever the answer, the list of concerns to preserve the platforms and conductors will be very expensive and then there is the efficiency of the delivery system which will remind the grant writers that there is no free energy.

We can start by requiring that all construction be done with electric power only.

It is very presumptive and just plain irresponsible of the BOEM to sell these leases without any onshore easements across Vistra property at Morro Bay, or the needed transmission substation expansion plan or any transmission corridor proposals like were done for Humboldt. Or, if the Diablo 500kV transmission will take half or all of the load instead of Morro bay. Isn’t this a lawsuit waiting to happen to lease quasi islands of wind generators groups stranded with no drafts of what the onshore facilities look like and where they are best located for catastrophes?

Maybe at some point, it will be clear for Vistra to creatively trade the land for somewhere on higher ground, so the Chumash and/or Salina Indians can have a casino that benefits the local economy just as much and isn’t a crackling and spectacular light show when the fog sets in on dirty 230kV RG insulators that are designed to burn off contamination.

Adam, You neglect grid reliability and voltage control in your best option declaration. Undersea cables present a circuit breaker fault duty and other component fault duty issue. Undersea cables are the last conductors that are energized after a system blackout, because of the fault duty concern and the amount of current dissipated by the substation ground grid during a significant fault like a dig-in or anchor drag. A transmission circuit breaker rated at 30,000 instantaneous amps fault can safely interrupt that amount of current without arcing-over and failing internally, as long as the ground grid (buried copper cable loop around the breaker footprint) is sufficient. On a total blackout system restoration the overhead transmission lines are energized first because voltage and Ferranti effect can be managed by adding distribution load. Thus, undersea transmission cables are energized last to backfeed or parallel during recovery for large scale grid outages. Ideally, whether it is nuke, gas or large hydro the grid stability of large rotating mass generators is by far the best option to resist large phase-to-phase faults or 3-phase faults causing low frequency due to loss of generation. With offshore wind being generated at AC then converted to DC, then transported by cable, then inverted to AC again, the wind generator loses some ability to take in or push out VARS for inductive loads through the AC-DC-AC conversion. The converters are connected by load tap changers, which limits wind generation to one winding-to-winding device to boost or buck voltage. Conversely, a directly connected AC rotating generator can boost or buck voltage within its capability curve to follow hourly voltage schedule & orders, plus grid operators can also tweak LTC’s as a second voltage correction source. My guess is that off-shore wind will need at least one initial 200kVDC startup/backfeed cable from Morro Bay just for construction phase. (The cable could be initially an oversized unconverted 34kVAC for startup/construction that is later converted for use as a converted 200kVDC cable.) Otherwise, there’s going to be 24/7 diesel generators running to keep house loads and the battery DC control systems running. It would be highly unusual that offshore wind generators will have any black-start capability during a large scale outage. Though, if Cambria Sub weren’t so far inland or a new 70kv substation is built on the north end of Cambria, then a 70kV to 34kV (AC) undersea cable could be laid out to the wind leases for construction, startup, and as redundant contingency source.

Don’t worry the professionals will upgrade the grid as part of the project.

Natural gas, hydrogen, nuclear, and fusion power (just 30 years out, ;-) are the abundant, safe, effective, clean, environmentally sensible solutions.

After the initial expense, wind and solar are by the far the best option—it’s doubtful that the wind will stop blowing or the sun will stop shining. One major earthquake and nuclear is a catastrophe. Natural gas still spews too much carbon into the atmosphere and fusion is a long way off, if ever.

ATRI estimates that electric cars and trucks will need about 40% of the grid. We’re not going to get that from gas or nuclear. Build, build, build wind and solar as soon as possible. I was just driving to the valley and noticed that what were once orange groves are now being converted to solar farms. Nuclear is an energy source of the past. While I understand the retrofit of Diablo, it’s only a short term solution.

So it’s OK to illiminate a food source in the name of climate change. On the show Yellowstone it showed how stupid people are when the governors aide had a bill to stop all natural gas projects in a large area that Sage Grouse live in as it may harm them. His alternative was to put solar panels there instead which would not harm the Grouse. Well the Governor asked how they were going to put in the panels and his aide said we will remove all the sagebrush the grouse live and eat in. Governor say and the removal of all that you feel will not harm the Birds aide says no you just can’t fix stupid

“On the show Yellowstone” lol

“So it’s OK to illiminate a food source in the name of climate change. ”

The ocean is bigly, no one is eliminating any food sources, in fact the fish can take a break from over fishing in that area.

When and if towers go up everyone will have to take a break from that area. Yellow Stone example is exactly how the government sells there products they never give all the info so you can make a intelligent decision give you the icing no cake

Yes, hydrogen is an under utilized resource. Currently there are only a handful of hydrogen refilling stations in California, and zero anywhere else, so it’s a challenge. But you might find this article interesting. This is part of the future: long haul autonomous hydrogen powered trucks.

We are indeed in the midst of an amazing energy and transportation revolution. A brave new world.

Majority of hydrogen comes from fossil fuel refining.

And here’s more info from the ATRI. Sobering, but I really believe the nation is up for full electrification. Amazon says it will be full electric by 2040 and they are the leaders.

I’ve heard a lot of dumb ideas in my time but this one takes the cake… planting windmills out at sea where maintenance alone will cost billions a year and the yield will be small and insignificant at best… and at the same time it will ruin one of the last small coastal towns left in California…

“maintenance alone will cost billions a year ”

” the yield will be small and insignificant at best”

No, but exaggerate all you want, free country and all.

First, what are the feds selling a spot on the ocean, do they charge boats for the space they take up? Second the DOE estimates $200 per mw h. While large scale solar is $35 per mw h. Thats 5.7 times higher cost and it’s an estimate, we all know that Diablo Canyon was sold as being able to produce electricity so cheap no metering would be necessary and we are now paying .26 per kw h.

I see a high – speed train on track to derail our economy.

Obviously there are going to be challenges. Rather see it tried than not though. Energy consumption is only on the rise and we need multiple ways of generating it not just one. Best of luck to this endeavor!