Power Up

Nothing like it exists in the world yet, but Castle Wind says technology borrowed from oil drilling will help construct a wind farm in the deep waters off the coast of California.

When California lawmakers passed Senate Bill 100 last year, they committed to an eye-grabbing goal: 100-percent clean electricity by 2045. Already, the Monterey Bay area has met this target thanks to a public agency that buys energy on behalf of nearly all ratepayers in the region.

Monterey Bay Community Power revealed how it has achieved an entirely carbon-free portfolio for 2018 in a disclosure filed with the state last month. About a third of the energy came from wind, solar and geothermal plants. These all count as renewable sources. The other two-thirds were generated by large hydroelectric dams in California, Nevada and the Pacific Northwest – carbon-free but not renewable, and not very ecologically friendly.

There’s another deadline MBCP will have to work to meet, per SB 100. By 2026, the percentage of energy coming from renewables must climb to 50 percent and then up to 60 percent by 2030.

Adding to the challenge of reducing the reliance on faraway dams, MBCP is in the midst of an expansion drive into San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. Within a few years, the agency’s customer base and demand could grow by as much as 50 percent, says spokesperson J.R. Killigrew.

Ramping up renewables requires buying electricity from existing plants or cutting deals to build new ones. The past year has seen MBCP enter contracts to support a new wind farm in New Mexico and two solar projects in California’s Central Valley. When they are operational, these projects are projected to supply 20 percent of MBCP’s current demand. “We have gradually ratcheted up our renewable energy portfolio,” Killigrew says.

Earlier this year, MBCP partnered with its counterpart to the north, Silicon Valley Clean Energy, to solicit proposals for new projects. Killigrew says that by putting out a combined request for proposals, “our buying power got multiplied by two.” Monterey Bay Community Power CEO Tom Habashi is also the founding (former) CEO of Silicon Valley Clean Energy, which facilitated the cooperation, Killigrew adds.

In the month-long window to submit proposals, which closed May 17, 36 developers made 186 offers to build 54 projects, according to a presentation Habashi gave to MBCP’s governing board on June 5. A shortlist of proposals will be made by June 14, and then negotiations with selected developers will take place until December.

It’s still somewhat of a moon shot, but a proposal to install floating wind turbines 30 miles off Morro Bay could one day deliver enough electricity for the entire Central Coast to meet its renewable energy targets.

“We would achieve it and then some,” Killigrew says, “but there are still a lot of ifs.”

The company behind the plan, Castle Wind, is one of 14 that responded to an auction opened in October by the federal Interior Department to lease waters off California for wind projects.

MBCP is hoping that Castle Wind’s proposal will be selected by federal regulators, assuming that the overall plan overcomes current hurdles. To help that happen, the two sides have entered talks on future electricity purchasing deals. The soonest Castle Wind could start delivering electrons to the grid is 2025, or right before the coming SB 100 deadline.

Asaf Shalev is a staff writer at the Monterey County Weekly. He covers the environment, agriculture and K-12 education, as well as Seaside, Marina, Sand City, Big Sur and Carmel Valley.

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