Onshore Wind Energy
In February 2019, RCEA issued a solicitation for long-term renewable energy power purchase agreements (PPAs). RCEA expressed a preference for local projects built in Humboldt County. Terra-Gen submitted an offer for power from its proposed Humboldt Wind project; of 40 offers received from 13 companies, this was the only offer received by RCEA for a project to be built in Humboldt County. In late 2019, the County’s Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors rejected Terra-Gen’s application for a conditional use permit. Terra-Gen is no longer pursuing development of the project. RCEA will continue to seek opportunities for local onshore wind development that meets the community’s standards.
Frequently Asked Questions & RCEA staff responses to public comments
The following are answers to some questions we have heard from community members about wind energy in general, the Humboldt Wind project, and RCEA’s interest in buying power from this project.
(Click on the blue comments)
Natural gas power plants still provide about one-third of California’s electricity. Building new renewable energy facilities directly enables retirement of the state’s aging natural gas-fired plants. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, natural gas-burning power plants emit on average 465 grams of CO2 for every kWh of energy generated. In contrast, the lifecycle carbon emissions attributable to wind projects average just 11 g CO2/kWh. This is similar to or less than lifecycle emissions associated with other forms of renewable energy.
Additional information on the Life-Cycle Global Warming Emissions
RCEA is an enthusiastic partner in developing wind energy using floating offshore platforms. This is an abundant resource on the North Coast; however, permitting and development of this project is expected to take five years or more and will not be available in time to help us meet our long-term contract requirements in the initial years. As a first-of-its kind project in North America, it is expected to undergo close regulatory scrutiny and will almost certainly be more expensive than mature onshore wind technology. And as a reminder that no energy technology, renewable or otherwise, is without impacts, the local fishing community has already voiced concerns about offshore wind that will need to be addressed. RCEA considers it prudent to include local onshore wind in our near-term portfolio.
An important resource for answering this question is the National Survey of Attitudes of Wind Power Project Neighbors. As explained on the Survey’s website, “In 2015, the U.S. Department of Energy funded Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) to lead a 4-year project collecting data from a broad-based and representative sample of individuals living near U.S. wind power projects. The aim was to widen the understanding of how U.S. communities are reacting to the deployment of wind turbines, and to provide insights to those communities considering wind projects.” Among other things, the survey of over 1,700 residents located within five miles of a wind project in 24 different states found that 57% of these residents had positive or very positive attitudes about the project, while only 8% had negative or very negative attitudes. The survey asked residents how they perceived the fairness of the wind project planning process, and to what extent they were annoyed by sound from the wind turbines or the change to their local landscape. The 12-page summary of the Survey provides key insights about wind projects’ impacts on nearby residents.
Response: No, the electricity from onshore wind farms would serve our local demand, both in a contractual and physical sense. Contractually, RCEA will negotiate with developers of local wind projects to purchase their output under long-term power purchase agreements. Physically, the electrons generated by the wind facility would flow toward the nearest connected loads.
Response: Onshore wind projects will not preclude development of the offshore wind project, and realistically, both resources are needed for the state to meet its renewable energy targets. RCEA is currently engaging the CAISO on the feasibility of interconnecting the Redwood Coast Offshore Wind project. The offshore wind project may require transmission upgrades with or without the presence of an existing onshore wind facility, which the results of the study will determine.
Response: As with construction of any project, including other renewable energy projects, there are lifecycle GHG emissions associated with the production and transportation of materials, installation, and maintenance and decommissioning of a wind power system. However, because the wind electricity would displace that which we would normally get from a largely fossil fueled grid, the project’s “carbon debt” would be paid back within the first few years of being brought online, depending on the carbon intensity of the grid at the time. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has published data on the life cycle carbon intensity of wind projects nationally, which they report is lower than the carbon intensity from solar, natural gas, and coal electricity.
Response: According to a recent study, wind project lifetimes have been increasing since the early 2000s and currently average around 30 years. The cost of decommissioning the wind farm is the responsibility of the project owner, not of the power purchaser or the community where the project is hosted. After the project’s lifetime is over, there is also the possibility that the plant could be repowered by replacing the turbines with newer, higher performance units, as is already being done with wind projects elsewhere in California.
Response: With the last nuclear power plant in California scheduled to shut down in five years and the state’s aggressive renewable energy targets under SB 100, we need a swath of new large-scale resources to be built very soon. Our contacts in the wind industry tell us that Humboldt is one of the last economically feasible sites in California to build a new wind facility. Also, RCEA’s Board of Directors has set a goal of procuring 100% local renewable electricity by 2030, which we cannot meet with imported wind energy. In addition to our Board’s goals, RCEA is subject to state requirements for minimum renewable energy content and long-term contracting for renewable power- see our Power Procurement page for more details.
Response: RCEA has only recently begun hearing of this concern from community members and will look into the issue as it makes decisions related to wind energy procurement.
Our RePower Humboldt page captures the public comment that went into shaping our strategic plan update, including a focus on wind energy generation. Please visit the RePower Humboldt Update page for information about recent public meetings, comments, RCEA’s responses to public comments, and more.
There are very few sites that have high enough average year-round wind speeds to justify development of a project. The map below shows locations deemed to have an adequate wind resource of Class 5 or higher wind speeds, per map data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (https://www.nrel.gov/gis/data-wind.html). Using these data and excluding sites on public land, such as the King Range National Conservation Area, slightly less than 1% of Humboldt County’s land area is considered technically suitable for wind energy development.