California Energy Commission Releases Draft AB 525 Offshore Wind Strategic Plan

Energy Law  

January 25, 2024

The California Energy Commission (CEC), on January 19, 2023, released the long-awaited Draft AB 525 Offshore Wind Strategic Plan.  Offshore wind energy development in federal ocean waters off California’s coast is poised to play an important role in diversifying the state’s portfolio of electricity resources.  The CEC has adopted planning goals of 2 to 5 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind energy by 2030 and 25 GW by 2045.  The strategic plan is meant to chart a path forward for meeting those goals.

In passing AB 525, the Legislature found that, if developed and deployed at scale, the advancement of offshore wind energy can provide economic and environmental benefits to the state and the nation.  The strategic plan is the last of four work-products that the CEC is directed to prepare under AB 525.  As required by AB 525, the strategic plan addresses the following topics:

  • Sea space suitable to accommodate California’s offshore wind planning goals;
  • Economic and workforce development;
  • Port space and infrastructure;
  • Transmission investments, upgrades, and associated costs;
  • Process for permitting offshore wind facilities; and
  • Potential impacts on coastal resources, fisheries, Native American and Indigenous peoples, and national defense, and strategies for addressing those potential impacts.

For each of these topic areas, the strategic plan identifies strategies and recommendations to achieve the State’s offshore wind planning goals while protecting underserved communities, California Native American tribes, tribal cultural resources, and coastal resources.  The plan acknowledges that this effort will require unprecedented levels of planning and policy development, and sustained collaboration and coordination between multiple agencies and local jurisdictions.

The strategic plan includes a chapter on offshore wind permitting that incorporates and updates the findings of the final permitting roadmap the CEC adopted in May 2023.  (See Downey Brand’s previous article on the Permitting Roadmap for more information.)  The strategic plan continues to recommend coordinated permitting and environmental review approaches.  The strategic plan proposes an “Ocean REAT Permitting Approach” for coordinated permitting that is based on the Renewable Energy Action Team (REAT) coordinated multi-agency permitting approach that was implemented in 2008 through an executive order from then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to accelerate renewable energy development.  The REAT approach involves federal and state agencies coordinating permitting actions through a formal entity established by a memorandum of understanding and planning agreements.  This would allow permitting agencies to coordinate on establishing timelines for completing environmental review and permitting.  For the existing leases, the Ocean REAT Permitting Approach could be coordinated in conjunction with the four phases of BOEM’s permitting process: planning and analysis, leasing, site assessment, and construction and operations.  This would allow California and BOEM to conduct joint environmental reviews of individual offshore wind energy projects under federal and state law.

The strategic plan will play a vital role in successfully developing offshore wind in California.  The CEC envisions the strategic plan as a living document that can be adjusted to new information and changing circumstances.  The CEC is expected to announce and host workshops to receive public feedback on the strategic plan.