California legislators are proposing to take on $1 billion in debt for a seaport overhaul to help offshore wind companies build their turbine factories in federal waters even as the industry is losing subsidies and flailing under high costs.
The Democratic bill, introduced this week, would ask voters to approve $1 billion in bonds “for seaport infrastructure improvements to facilitate offshore wind energy projects off the California coast”—projects that have been green-lit by President Joe Biden as part of his climate agenda.
Industry costs have grown so cumbersome that developers are canceling or delaying their offshore projects in the Northeast, but that hasn’t stopped California. Last year, Democratic governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation authorizing California to buy the industry’s electricity, regardless of its cost, so that the companies will know they’ll have a market after building their expensive turbines and infrastructure. That law will further hike Californians’ electricity bills, according to legislative analysis, although it’s unclear by how much.
Critics note that redeveloping ports for the benefit of the offshore wind industry appears at odds with California’s tough environmental restrictions on other coastal projects that are routinely quashed by regulators.
“Coastal property owners can’t even build seawalls, and desalination plants with far smaller footprints get denied, but we’re going to rebuild our ports to build hundreds of floating offshore wind parks,” said Edward Ring, the cofounder of the California Policy Center and an expert in the state’s energy regulations.
He added that one reason offshore wind developers “may be so active in California is because countries like Ireland and states like New York are becoming increasingly reluctant to hike the subsidies they need to operate.”
A representative for the bill’s author, Democratic assemblyman Rick Zbur, did not respond to a request for comment. For now the proposal is light on specifics, but the language will likely be fleshed out in coming weeks as the bill undergoes vetting by the Legislature.
Last year, three of the five offshore wind companies that won these ocean leases from the Biden administration spent more than half a million dollars lobbying the Legislature, according to a review of their financial disclosures. Two industry lobbying groups, the American Clean Power Association and the California Wind Energy Association, additionally ponied up more than $300,000 to influence lawmakers. Their top issues included the law that guarantees their offshore wind electricity market.