A Free-Market Energy Blog

California Floating Wind Turbines? Environmental Pushback

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- April 2, 2024

“It is entirely possible that the total costs to build, maintain and replace units every 20+ years (at end of service) would be prohibitive compared to other sources of energy. Beyond these cost considerations, sources indicate that the turbine blades cannot be recycled and are piling up in landfills. Fossil fuels will also still be needed to maintain the lubrication of these units, and what about potential for spillage?” (Jeff Wyles, below)

The old joke comes to mind: Q: When is an environmentalist not an environmentalist? A: When it comes to wind power.

Make that double for offshore wind, and wild-eyed California politicians are having trouble hiding the problems. Consider a recent op-ed, Rethink Floating Wind Turbine Power Off Our California Coastline?,” an environmental feature of California newspaper MendoFever (February 12, 2024). Jeff Wyles  (Ph.D.: Biology) wrote:

On January 24, 2024, Democrat Congressman Jared Huffman gave a speech in Humboldt County applauding the securing of $426 million federal grant dollars [U.S. Department of Transportation] for the establishment of floating wind farming turbines off the Humboldt County coastline. Local leaders, commissions, private and public businesses, and the indigenous community seemed to be onboard.

And, indeed there appears to be millions of dollars allocated to pacify any criticisms of the development. Foremost among these approvals are claims that the project will generate thousands of jobs for the region. Additional monies would also be earmarked for build out of new recreational facilities along the coastline.

Similar, even larger, offshore wind power projects are in the works for Morro Bay and the Diablo Canyon areas further down the California coast.

So what does this mean? Wyles continues:

Does this mean that our precious Mendocino coast will also soon be considered for this type of offshore wind power development by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) that licenses the leasing of these ocean areas for such projects? And, if so, shouldn’t we question why counties in similar wind power grant affected zones in Oregon are getting significant pushback from the public?

The dissent has been so much in Brookings, Gold Beach and Coos Bay, Oregon, that these projects have at least been temporarily cancelled due to public discontent and mistrust of the projects. Specifically, Monica Samayoa in the Oregon Capital Chronicle (January 4, 2024) reports that the county commissioners of Coos, Curry and Douglas counties have all passed proclamations against these offshore wind turbines. Albeit true that we all want cleaner air and more efficient and less polluting sources of electrical generation for an expanding population, but is it worth the cost to our environment and local economies?

To witness, all abalone harvesting off of our California coast has recently been prohibited indefinitely. The fragile balance between the abalone, sea urchins, star fish, kelp beds, and fisheries is well documented. Currently the resource is so damaged that it may take years to recover. That said, the government just awarded upwards of $60 million dollars this past year to rehab the salmon habitat to restore that resource.

Even though that sounds like a lot of money, is it even enough to save the stream habitat statewide and improve it such that it will be commercially viable long-term here in California? Once vibrant fishing streams like the Klamath River in Northern California are seriously in danger of total salmon depletion and extinction. Local efforts like the fish weirs on Caspar Creek are helpful, but is enough being done to increase the number fingerlings that make it back out to the ocean? Commercial fishing operations by foreign countries with processing plants in situ just over the border in international waters also must be having a negative impact on the natural resource.

Now, when floating wind powered turbines are thrown into the mix, what is the potential harm of these developments on our oceans? Proponents of wind power argue that it will help combat global climate change. Maybe at some level this is true, but what about the local weather changes when these wind turbines alter the normal wind cycles, usual wind directions, and intensities along our coastlines? Another significant factor is the upwelling of nutrients and a myriad of organisms from the ocean floor caused by the action of these wind turbines.

Baleen whales, porpoises, dolphins, and millions of birds and fish species and other marine life are dependent upon these resources to maintain healthy ecosystems. When you disrupt those natural processes and equations, the balance of nature is destroyed and efforts to get it back to equilibrium and normality may be difficult if not impossible. Few studies have been adequately done to assess the overall biological impacts of these wind turbine technologies on marine biology and specifically ocean biomes and ecosystems.

Instead, these grants, which are part of the recently approved federal infrastructure bill, are advertised as engineering marvels of “clean electricity” at supposedly cheap prices that will make everyone happy and not harm the environment. Internet resources in places like Wyoming claim that only 214,000-368,000 birds are annually killed by wind powered turbines. However, these inland studies were done on songbirds and passerines. What about areas here along the Mendocino coast where we also have many pelagic species of birds and are a major part of the Pacific Flyway? Pelicans, geese, cormorants, seagulls, puffins, common murres, bald eagles, and a host of shore bird species are vulnerable to being ultimately killed by these turbines.

Marine mammals are also sensitive and negatively impacted by them. Particularly along our coastline Gray and Humpback whale migrations are at risk whether these wind turbines are located here or further up or down the Pacific coastline. Thousands of tourists come to our area every year and these natural resources are a boost to our local economy.

East coast fishermen recently have been battling the establishment of wind powered generators along their coastline. Many claim that these wind turbines will effectively ruin the oceanic fisheries along the east coast of the United States. Environmentalists have also argued that multiple deaths by beaching of cetaceans may be due to sounds emanating from construction sites of permanent wind turbine installations.

Others have debunked that idea, but who actually knows the truth? Here on the West coast, the Coos Bay fishermen are dependent upon the crab and shrimp harvests, and they are saying that the floating wind turbines which would be situated in their fishing grounds would make it virtually impossible for them to continue a successful fisheries industry. The original offshore licensing area for these developments in Oregon comprised over 1,000,000 acres, but has been pared down currently to 200,000 acres.

Who knows what the BOEM will eventually do in light of the Oregon county commissioner proclamations against it. Perhaps it will end up in court as a conflict between the federal government and state’s rights.

Then Wyles gets to cost, the economics of the offshore version of what onshore is uneconomic. He asks some other hard questions too.

Finally, one wonders about the cost/benefit ratio of establishing these proposed wind turbines off the coast of California, Oregon and Washington. From the internet it appears that the typical wind turbine is 2-3 Megawatts (MW) and costs about $2-4 million dollars each to construct. One might also ask where are these turbines made? Many of the components are manufactured undoubtedly in China and the Humboldt County operation appears to also have at least an engineering and analytical component from Norway. Maybe we need to know how many of these wind turbines would be made right here in the USA and create jobs for our own people. Operation and maintenance (O&M) costs range from about $42,000-$48,000 each as of a few years ago.

Available data on the internet suggests that one of these MW wind turbine units can power about 940 homes for a month. But, since these turbines are wind determinant, they are not running continuously and when wind speeds get too high, they must also be turned off to prevent damage to the generators. Our coastline is also subject to tsunamis and king tides, so how many of these turbines will become damaged or destroyed and have to be taken out of service?

Additionally, internet sources suggest that PG&E estimates are $1billion to $4.5 billion to connect the electrical generation from these turbines to the grid. Presumably that would be to inland connections in Humboldt County or by cabling along the ocean floor to hubs in the proposed Morro Bay and Diablo Canyon. Sources also say that large commercial battery storage of this generated energy along the coast is not yet technologically advanced enough to be a feasible alternative.

One also must question the ultimate expanse of such an infrastructure rollout. Currently, it appears that as few as 100 units in the Humboldt district and another 300-400 in the Morro Bay Diablo Canyon areas are estimated to be installed. That said, my preliminary ballpark calculations (with a continuous high level of efficiency of the turbine units) could only provide a range of 0.7% to 3.0% of the needs of California households (under the current grants) and that would exclude any commercial usage.

And, not mentioned, what will the eventual actual cost be per kilowatt hour for this source of electricity passed on to consumers? It is entirely possible that the total costs to build, maintain and replace units every 20+ years (at end of service) would be prohibitive compared to other sources of energy. Beyond these cost considerations, sources indicate that the turbine blades cannot be recycled and are piling up in landfills. Fossil fuels will also still be needed to maintain the lubrication of these units, and what about potential for spillage?

Jeff Wyles’s modest conclusion:

Maybe it is time for our Mendocino County Board of Supervisors, our local commissioners, indigenous leaders and the Noyo Center for Marine Science to take up this issue and take a stand (one way or another) on this topic.


  1. John W. Garrett  

    Never forget that the innumeracy, scientific and economic illiteracy of the climate crackpots is boundless.


  2. Ed Reid  

    The offshore wind turbines being proposed are far larger than 2-3 MW.



  3. Kevin  

    I’d like to see them placed off the coast of the closed San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant to spite all the surfers and residents who supported closing the plant. Throw in some wave generating equipment as well.


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