On Wednesday, a state government committee meeting in Sacramento featured several Humboldt County stakeholders to discuss the future of offshore wind power in the county.
The meeting of the Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture, which North Coast state Sen. Mike McGuire chairs, did not make any permanent decisions about offshore wind in the state, but several key players in Humboldt County were present in Sacramento to air thoughts on the pressing issues facing development. One particular concern McGuire addressed was Humboldt County’s electrical transmission lines, which would not be able to effectively transmit the power generated by offshore wind.
“(The transmission lines are) antiquated. I will take a moment to say PG&E … if we’re looking at the Humboldt (County) call area, they have not kept up on their deferred maintenance, there is no way in hell that the current lines
that we have available are going to be able to take on the additional load,” McGuire said.
He noted that he is working with Cal Poly Humboldt and the Schatz Energy Research Center to develop a federal grant application to fund the research of transmission corridors. He also said that the only way to pay for improvements would be to pass the cost onto the ratepayers, a politically risky move due to the already high bills people pay to PG&E on the North Coast.
Also present was Rick Robbins, the marine affairs manager with RWE Offshore Wind Holdings, one of the two companies that bought a lease in 132,000 acres of the ocean 20 miles west of Eureka to develop wind turbines. The other bidding victor was California North Floating, a subsidiary of Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners. Robbins spoke on mitigating detrimental impacts to fishermen as development proceeds.
“We’re committed to meeting fishermen where they are to listen to them and to understand their concerns,” Robbins said. “We’re also committed to working closely with the fishing industry early in the process to develop a detailed understanding of how, when and where fisheries operate within the product areas so that we can coordinate appropriately with them and integrate that curated local knowledge into the design of our projects.”
McGuire responded that, in his view, there needs to be mandated, standardized compensation to commercial fishermen who lose fishing areas due to offshore wind, further harming their livelihoods.
Frankie Myers, vice chair of the Yurok Tribe, spoke at the hearing. He said the tribe has not come out in opposition or support of wind energy because it is so early in the process, they don’t know what it will ultimately look like.
“There will be negative impacts to our cultural view sheds. Some of those impacts can be mitigated. Some of those impacts simply cannot be mitigated. You can’t mitigate the interruption of our prayers and our spiritual practices from our cultural practitioners who are in our high country that look out and see the changing landscape on the ocean,” Myers said. “We also understand that as tribal people, just like the rest of the world, we’re responsible for climate change, we’re responsible for making sure that we move forward to creating a better world for the next generation and next seven generations, leaving this place better than when it started, looking at ourselves as not simply a part of this community, but as a part of a chain.”
He urged the committee to consider principles such as ocean protection and jobs for tribal communities as they proceed in the process of setting up turbines.
McGuire expressed frustration with staffing levels and the budgetary ability to move quickly, citing the California Coastal Commission’s single staffer.
“In all candor, there is no way this industry is going to get off the ground in the state of California, there is no way that we’re going to meet our green energy goals if we don’t step up the appropriate permit agencies. I mean, that’s the bottom line of it. The Coastal Commission can’t do it with this one staff (member). So I think we need to acknowledge that in budgets, our value statements, and if we value our climate, and we value that expediting and weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels, we’re going to invest in the people that are going to be able to get it done.”
Jackson Guilfoil can be reached at 707-441-0506.