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First West Coast offshore wind auction starts Tuesday

Two offshore wind turbines off the coast of Virginia Beach, Va., Monday, June 29, 2020.
Steve Helber
Two offshore wind turbines off the coast of Virginia Beach, Va., Monday, June 29, 2020.

California’s North Coast will be home to one of the first commercial-scale offshore wind projects in the western U.S.

Forty-three companies are bidding on five areas of the Pacific Ocean off Central and Northern California. Two of the lease areas area located just off of Humboldt Bay. The auction will take place entirely online, over the next couple of days.

Combined, the projects could generate around 4.5 gigawatts, enough to power over 1.5 million homes, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior.

“If you have 4.5 gigawatts of offshore wind, running at roughly 50% capacity factor, you’re probably talking about something close to 8 or 10% of California’s electricity demand," said Arne Jacobson from the Schatz Energy Research Center at Cal Poly Humboldt.

This auction is part of President Biden’s goal of deploying 15 gigawatts of floating offshore wind capacity by 2035.

Unlike a traditional cash auction, developers can offset their bids through commitments to invest in the local workforce, infrastructure and environment.

“It’s incentivizing the developers to engage in those kinds of activities rather than just spending more money that goes to Washington D.C.," said Matthew Marshall, executive director of the Redwood Coast Energy Authority, which is a champion for offshore wind development in Humboldt County.

Marshall said they have the opportunity to turn Humboldt Bay into a leader for offshore wind production in the West.

Because the West Coast is a new frontier for offshore wind, it’s unknown how much companies are willing to spend on these leases.

In February, an auction off the coast of New York raised a record $4.37 billion dollars for six leases.

Roman Battaglia is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the JPR newsroom.