California Offshore Wind Farm Will Float

The project would have 100 turbines on platforms tethered to ocean floor floating 33 miles off the coast.

With 640 miles of coastline and strong ocean breezes, it might seem surprising that California is not among the vanguard of American states developing plans for generating offshore wind energy. Instead, the prize for the first-in-the-nation offshore wind farm is going to Rhode Island, where construction of the Block Island Wind Project is entering its final stages before the installation likely comes on line this fall.

Next in line are possible projects off Virginia, New Jersey and even Cleveland, Ohio. Part of the reason the Golden State is struggling to keep up is because of its particular offshore topography: the west coast continental shelf plunges steeply, precluding the establishment of the more common type of wind farms, in which turbines are affixed to the seafloor via steel or concrete pilings.

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So the people behind what could be California's first offshore wind farm are offering a novel approach: it would float.

Trident Winds, a Seattle-based company, plans to place 100 floating turbines 33 miles off the coast of Morro Bay. The turbines would be affixed to floating platforms, which would be tethered to the sea floor using cables. Trident's plans are for the farm to produce a total capacity of 765 megawatts, substantially greater than the 630 MW generated by the London Array off the United Kingdom, presently the largest offshore wind farm in the world. (By the time the Morro Bay farm comes online, however -- which Trident hopes would be 2025 -- the growth in wind power worldwide means that other installations may dwarf them both.)

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In theory, by allowing installations further offshore, floating wind farms could harness stronger winds and open up the industry to a greater number of locations. There are presently none operating on a utility scale; but although Morro Bay would, if approved, be the first such installation in the United States, it will not be the first in the world. That honor looks set to go to the Hywind Project off Scotland, turbines for which should be installed next year.

There are those who hope that Trident's proposal isn't the second, or third, of fourth floating wind farm to reach completion: for example, a Facebook group is calling for a halt to the project -- citing, among other issues, potential threats the tethering cables may pose to whales -- and greater investment in solar energy.

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