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Bill Expediting California’s Offshore Wind Development Signed into Law, New Legislation Said to Cut Permitting Timeline by Five Years

California’s Governor Gavin Newsom signed two new offshore wind bills into law on 7 October. Coming into effect on 1 January 2024, the Offshore Wind Expediting Act (bill SB 286) is set to shave five years off of the offshore wind permitting timeline, while under the California Offshore Wind Advancement Act (bill AB 3), relevant state commissions will develop a second-phase plan and strategy for seaport readiness.

The Offshore Wind Expediting Act aims to put the state’s offshore wind deployment on a fast track by speeding up the permitting process through the State Coastal Commission and State Lands Commission.

The legislation also mandates state agencies and key stakeholders to collaborate and develop a long-term plan to deploy offshore wind infrastructure off of the California coast.

The bill requires the Coastal Commission to bring state agencies and key stakeholders together over the next two years into a working group that will create a statewide standard to ensure offshore wind development is expedited. The working group will develop data-driven strategies to avoid and minimise impacts to ocean fisheries and to the maximum extent possible, mitigate for unavoidable impacts.

The new law will facilitate speeding up offshore wind deployment while ensuring environmental safeguards remain in place and California’s storied fishing fleet interests are protected, and will also develop family-sustaining jobs through career training programmes, according to a press release issued by Senator Mike McGuire, who introduced the bill.

“The signing of SB 286 shows the Golden State is serious about bringing on desperately needed new renewable power generation and meeting the state’s nation-leading climate goals and energy needs. This bill will expedite the state-side offshore wind permitting process eliminating a staggering 5 years off of the permitting timeline all while protecting California’s coastal environment and storied fishing fleet. The quicker we get offshore wind infrastructure built off the Golden State’s Coast, the faster we’ll get family sustaining jobs propped up and moving,” Senator McGuire said.

The other offshore wind bill that will come into effect on the first day of the next year, the California Offshore Wind Advancement Act, builds upon the existing law under which the relevant state agencies have developed a strategic plan for offshore wind energy developments in federal waters and assessed the state’s capacity potential, as well as port and supply chain capabilities.

Under the existing law, enacted in 2021, the California Energy Commission (CEC) was directed to evaluate and quantify the maximum feasible offshore wind capacity and establish targets for 2030 and 2045 by 1 June 2022. As part of the work under the existing law, the CEC was also required to create a strategic plan for offshore wind development in California by the end of June 2023, including permitting, transmission infrastructure, port and supply chain capabilities, and workforce development.

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The provisions under the existing law are in effect until 1 January 2027 and under the California Offshore Wind Advancement Act similar work will continue until 1 January 2031, with a first study and subsequent report due to be completed and submitted by 31 December 2026.

The new law, which amends the Public Resources Code, requires the State Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission, in consultation with the State Lands Commission, other specified state entities, and the California Coastal Commission, to develop a plan and strategy for seaport readiness that builds upon the recommendations and alternatives in the strategic plan for offshore wind developments.

The commission will be directed to submit recommendations for a seaport readiness strategy to the Governor and the Legislature by 31 December 2026. By the same time the following year, the commission will be required to submit a report on the feasibility of achieving 50 per cent and 65 per cent of in-state assembly and manufacturing of offshore wind energy projects and specified federal domestic content thresholds for offshore wind energy projects.

In August 2022, California adopted increased offshore wind targets after Governor Gavin Newsom called for the state’s offshore wind target for 2045 to be raised to at least 20 GW. The state now aims at having 2-5 GW of floating offshore wind capacity by 2030 and up to 25 GW installed by 2045.

At the beginning of this year, the state joined a White House-led federal-state partnership established to enable collaboration on building a strong domestic supply chain, advancing the industry’s development, and helping accelerate the country’s offshore wind targets.

In December 2022, the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) completed the lease sale offshore California, the first-ever on the Pacific Coast and the first-ever organised for floating wind projects in the United States.

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The auction brought in USD 757.1 million to the US Treasury from the winning bids for the five lease areas and project capacities well beyond those originally estimated. The total capacity of the lease areas awarded through the auction is almost double the expected 4.5 GW with at least 8.1 GW of floating wind likely to be installed.

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