California Ports Gear up to Build Offshore Wind Ports

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(American Journal of Transportation, 17.May.2024) — Two California ports, Long Beach and Humboldt Bay, are gearing up to build offshore wind ports but still need financing. The two ports plan to build facilities that will assemble and launch floating offshore wind turbines to be deployed off the coasts of Central and Northern California. 

Suzanne Plezia, Chief Harbor Engineer, Port of Long Beach and Chris Mikkelsen, Executive Director, Port of Humboldt Bay, discussed their challenges at the Pacific Offshore Wind Summit at Sacramento, California on May 15th.

Several other Summit speakers echoed Kelly Boyd, Senior Director, Policy Development with the Norwegian offshore wind developer Equinor who said: “There are no wind farms without the wind ports.” 

An executive, who asked not to be identified, told AJOT: “There is plenty of capital in the United States to support investments in these ports and in offshore wind in California. What investors need to see is that by 2030 there has been progress developing the infrastructure and deploying offshore wind turbines. Once that has been demonstrated, the investment funds will show up…. Right now, my biggest fear is that Donald Trump is elected President, and he says he is opposed to offshore wind. What kind of message will that send to the investment community?” 

Offshore Wind Financing Conundrum

Mikkelsen reported that last January the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) awarded $426.7 million for the construction and maintenance of an offshore wind port at Humboldt Bay. The award is contingent on raising a 50% match in funding that still must be generated.
Mikkelsen commended the work of Crowley Wind Services for its efforts to win the grant for the Port: “It’s important that when we talk about how we receive that grant, we recognize Crowley Wind Services. Crowley was a very big part of us receiving that grant. They worked with us to develop the grant application … And so, I want to make sure that’s recognized.” 

However, in March it was reported that Crowley decided not to continue its role of developer of the Humboldt Bay offshore wind port. A Crowley spokesman told AJOT: “Crowley continues to support the Harbor District’s goal of an offshore wind terminal at Humboldt Bay that is sustainable for the long-term. While the exclusive right to negotiate an agreement expired (in) March, the evaluation and due diligence produced valuable planning insight into the next steps of a terminal project.”

So Mikkelsen and the Port will need to find another partner to raise the matching funds for the $426.7 million grant.

Meanwhile, the Port of Long Beach has its own challenges raising the funding for its offshore wind port, ‘Pier Wind’, which is planned for 400 acres of reclaimed land at the Port of Long Beach and projected at $4.7 billion.

Plezia told AJOT that the Port is starting with a “Gray Terminal” concept which maximizes the possibility for new concepts and innovation: “So, when we present on ‘Pier Wind’ wind, we’ll describe it as sort of a ‘Gray Terminal’ concept that can be divided up to meet the most critical need. I think it provides a huge opportunity to gain more efficiencies than what has been thought of previously. A lot of things have been thought of as sort of like the shoehorn, you shoehorn it into an existing facility.”

Plezia is optimistic that the workforce can be found to assemble the wind farms, which she projects will require between 2,000 to 3,000 workers.

However, the challenge is financing as she told the Summit audience: “We were also working on a business plan funding and financing analysis for our project. And really that challenge around funding and financing these major public infrastructure projects that will enable an industry … it won’t exist unless we build this infrastructure. So, those fundamental challenges around funding and financing these major infrastructure projects is our core focus in the next six months. And really the importance of (California) State funding … the State funding and public funding right now is going to be really critical.”

Sarp Ersoylu, Department Manager Western U.S. Seaports, Burns & McDonnell praised the two ports’ pioneering efforts: “I think … both Humboldt Bay and Long Beach, they really deserve a lot of credit. They really came out … and pushed us upfront where there was so much uncertainty and that really goes a long way in making the initial steps.”

Brian Sabina, CEO, Clean Energy Terminals, said the work done by the Ports of Long Beach and Humboldt Bay have established a foundation of information and planning to move the concepts of offshore wind ports forward in California and the United States: “Over the last year, with the help of Suzanne putting out information, Chris putting out information, the work that we did with the Oceanic Network (laid) out a national roadmap for how much it’s going to take to deliver offshore wind infrastructure.”

Sabina noted that a support system from other California ports will also be necessary to provide wind farm components. He expects a state-wide network of California ports to back the offshore wind effort. 

Already, ports such as San Francisco, Oakland and Port Hueneme have had meetings with offshore wind developers.

Arne Jacobson, Director of the Schatz Energy Research Center and a professor of Environmental Resources Engineering at Cal Poly Humboldt, has been a leading proponent of offshore wind in California. He has also directed a number of studies that laid the groundwork for offshore wind in California.

One Schatz study, analyzing development of underwater power transmission from offshore wind farms to the land-based grid, helped frame plans by the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), which oversees the operation of California’s bulk electric power system and transmission lines transmitted by its member utilities. As a result, CAISO proposes to build new substations: “These projects are part of the overall transmission plan to integrate the offshore wind resources in the north coast to the rest of the CAISO system.”

California-Oregon Consortium

At the Offshore Wind Summit, Jacobson announced formation of a new California-Oregon offshore wind collaboration: the Pacific Offshore Wind Consortium which he described “as a university led partnership between the Schatz Energy Research Center, the Center for Coastal Marine Sciences at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and the Pacific Marine Energy Center at Oregon State University … We believe that it’s critical for universities in the proposed host communities to be partners in the science policy planning and development that will happen around offshore wind. “

Jacobson told AJOT he hoped the consortium would act as a source of scientific information and assessments that would also head off misinformation campaigns that have plagued offshore wind farm development on the U.S. Atlantic Coast.

The conference also featured a strong endorsement of offshore wind from Chris Hannan, President, State Building and Construction Trades Council. Hannan was followed by a panel that included:

Travis Alexander, Senior Organizer, Northern California Carpenters Union, Jeff Hunerlach, District Representative, Operating Engineers; Micah Mitrosky, International Representative, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW); Treston Shull, Vice President / Business Representative, Laborers International Union of North America (LiUNA) l, Vice President /Business Representative, LiUNA.

The labor leaders discussed ongoing training efforts by their respective unions to prepare workers for the types of jobs required to build floating offshore wind turbines. However, each representative and Hannan also emphasized the importance of wind farm developers negotiating Project Labor Agreements assuring union recognition for construction and electrical workers in wind farm projects.

U.S. Department Of Energy Award

On May 15th, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced that it selected Principle Power and Aker Solutions as winners for the second phase of the U.S. Floating Offshore Wind Readiness (FLOWIN) Prize, advancing plans for serial manufacturing of WindFloat® foundations.

Seth Price, Vice President of Technology & Innovation for Principle Power responded: “We are honored to be selected for the FLOWIN Phase 2 award. We were able to extract highly valuable feedback from the supply chain to better enable project successes on the first wave of U.S. West Coast projects. We are building a new industry – not just a singular project.”

Christoffer Valstad, Senior Vice President, Renewables US at Aker Solutions, said: “At Aker Solutions, we have decades of fabrication and execution expertise having delivered large and complex structures to the offshore industry since the 1980s … The FLOWIN prize has provided us with a unique opportunity to explore ways to serialize fabrication, drive further innovation and reduce costs for floating offshore wind.”

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By Stas Margaronis 

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