Can America’s First Floating Wind Farm Shake Off Environmental Concerns? via The Guardian

By Matt Weiser

he deep waters off the coast of California could become home to the country’s largest offshore wind energy project and a test case for a technology that is still in its infancy.

The 765-megawatt project, proposed by Seattle-based Trident Winds, would sit about 25 miles off California’s central coast, near the town of Cambria. If built, it will be larger than the 630-megawatt London Array off the coast of Kent, – the world’s largest working offshore wind farm that began operating in 2013.

The Trident project, which could power more than 200,000 homes, reflects an interest by the US to embrace offshore wind energy as part of a broader strategy to develop low-carbon electricity sources. The country has no offshore wind farms, though a number of projects are in the research phase to determine their profitability. The very first project to come online in the US is under construction off the coast of Rhode Island: the 30-megawatt Block Island wind farm that is expected to begin operating later this year.

Offshore wind development already has taken off in Europe and other parts of the world. The UK, for example, has installed more than 5 gigawatts of offshore wind power plants, meeting 10% of its total energy demand.

“It’s just another very valuable resource that not only will be benefiting energy generation, but will create a new industry in the state of California,” says Alla Weinstein, CEO of Trident Winds.

Trident is proposing an unprecedented project in a state that has frowned on coastal energy development ever since a 1969 blowout at an offshore oil drilling platform near Santa Barbara, which released more than 3m gallons of crude oil into the waters. The resulting images of soiled beaches and oily seabirds were splashed around the world and helped launch the modern environmental movement.

Recent attempts to build machines to harness the power of ocean currents off the state’s coast also drowned in failure as they ran into technical and financial problems and protests from local communities.

California has some of the world’s toughest coastal development regulations. The state’s first large seawater desalination project, for example, took more than six years to win government approval and survived 14 lawsuits before construction started.

“On the one hand, we want to support, in some fashion, renewable energy,” says Sara Aminzadeh, executive director of the environmental group California Coastkeeper Alliance. “On the other hand, we wouldn’t want to support anything that has serious impacts on marine issues. There is so much that is unknown about constructing something like that essentially in the middle of the ocean. So it could be a tough issue for us.”

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