We are experiencing the initial stages of a dramatic increase in clean energy projects due to record levels of federal and state funding and increasing federal, state, and global urgency to address the climate crisis, especially by quickly transitioning to clean energy. Fortunately, the Sierra Club has well-developed policies to balance the benefits and costs of these projects that have been evolved over decades.
Sierra Club National Climate and Energy Policies
The Sierra Club has extensive policy statements on key issues in this area. The full list is here and links to those specifically related to clean energy projects are below.
Electric Utility Rate Structures
Guidelines On Transmission And Large Scale Renewable Energy Production On Public Lands
Landfill Gas to Energy Facilities
Natural Gas & Fracking
Utility-Sponsored Renewable & Efficiency Program Ratemaking
Wind Siting Advisory
Especially important to local projects is the Renewable Energy Project Siting (REPS) Policy. The REPS policy makes the resources of the California and National Sierra Club organizations available to local Chapters. It requires a mutual consultation process in which the Chapter is consulted on relevant local political and environmental issues, project specifics, etc. and the National and State organizations are consulted on policy and technical expertise. National refers to the Chapter the appropriate resources within the club for this purpose.
Renewable Energy Projects on the SLO Coast
Offshore wind farms, port infrastructure, and energy storage facilities are proposed for the SLO Coast. The Sierra Club has worked on offshore wind projects in other regions and our participation will help address potential impacts to the environment and coastal users. We will also be evaluating how this may affect the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary.
Offshore wind energy refers to the use of wind turbines in the ocean to generate electricity. A group of interconnected wind turbines is referred to as a wind farm. As the U.S. seeks to develop renewable, homegrown, and cost-effective energy sources, we’ve seen a surge in proposed offshore wind energy projects.
As of 2022, there are seven operating offshore wind farms in the U.S., but many new wind energy projects are being proposed, ranging in size from four to 100 turbines each. As this industry expands, it’s essential to understand both the benefits and negative impacts offshore wind farms can have on our marine environment, coastal economies, and recreational use areas.
Put simply, because of the dangerous threats to our coast from climate change, the Sierra Club supports offshore wind energy development if it is done right.
Given that offshore wind is such a new technology, projects are evaluated on a case-by-case basis by Sierra Club’s network of chapters. Sierra Club actively seeks to communicate scientific information to the community to educate them about offshore wind development.
Ensuring Equitable and Sustainable Offshore Wind Solutions
The Chapter promotes the socially and environmentally responsible execution of proposed wind generation projects off the SLO coast. It is our mission to advocate for the best interests of the ocean, wildlife, and local economies during the green energy transition. We work alongside local and regional environmental, community-based groups, and meet with offshore wind companies to ensure that the interests of the affected communities are heard and issues with marine and wildlife are addressed. We are dedicated to acting in accordance with the Sierra Club’s principles of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.
To achieve these goals, we are working to develop educational materials for the public. We are building strong, resilient working relationships with other community groups and organizations to ensure that we are progressing into a green future in a way that lets all voices be heard. We will build our collaboration from the ideals we share, namely, to protect and serve our communities and our environment. We will collaborate using our shared knowledge, expertise, resources, and collective opportunities.
Port Infrastructure for Offshore Wind
There are three types of port terminals that will be needed to develop offshore wind.
1) Staging and Integration Ports (S&I Ports) - to receive, stage, store, assemble, load out offshore wind components
2) Manufacturing/Fabrication Sites - receive raw materials and create components that are large and can only be transported on water
3) Operations and Maintenance Berths (O&M Berths) - these are smaller facilities that can be accommodated by existing ports and should be close to the wind farm.
The installation of the proposed wind farm off the coast of San Luis Obispo County will require at least one deep water S&I port. However, after considering the port improvements that would be necessary for S&I sites, recent port evaluation studies have determined the best sites to be Humboldt and Long Beach. Both Morro Bay and Port San Luis were rated as good candidates for O&M berths also known as Service Offshore Vessel (SOV) berths. Additional infrastructure studies are in progress.
The components of the very large offshore windmills can only be transported by ship because the blades are too large for surface transport. The components will be assembled at a port and then towed out to the wind farm site.
Coastal Energy Storage Projects
Several energy storage projects are being considered in SLO County. Currently, the only one actively seeking a permit is the proposed Vistra – Morro Bay Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) that would be located on the site of the closed Morro Bay Power Plant, near Morro Rock. Here is a Vistra presentation to the Morro Bay City Council in February 2021. In June 2021, the Morro Bay City Council approved a binding Memorandum of Agreement with Vistra to move the project forward. Vistra will need to seek additional approvals from the City of Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo County, the California Coastal Commission, and the California Independent System Operator (CAISO).
The Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the Morro Bay BESS plant is currently being prepared. The Chapter is working with the National Sierra Club to collect background information needed to do a thorough evaluation of the DEIR when it comes out.