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US floating wind leaps forward with flagship Pacific deal

Partnership between northern California energy authority RCEA and developer consortium including PPI, EDPR and Aker Solutions aims to switch on 150MW project ‘by 2024’

The first floating wind farm in the US Pacific could be brought online by 2024, following a breakthrough deal signed by northern California’s Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA) and an international consortium including Principle Power Inc (PPI), EDPR and Aker Solutions, to build an up-to-150MW array.

The Redwood Coast Offshore Wind Project (RCOWP) will be developed as a public-private partnership using PPI’s WindFloat semisubmersible platform topped with an as-yet-unspecified “state-of-the-art” ultra-large turbine, at a site located in 600-900 metres of water some 20 miles (32km) off Eureka, in mid-state Humboldt County.

PPI/EDPR/Aker Solutions beat out five other contenders for the project, including Norway’s Statoil – which brought online the world’s flagship floating wind array off Scotland last autumn – France’s EDF, the US’ Trident Winds, and North Coast Floating Wind – a tie-up between Danish infrastructure specialist Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners and US outfit Magellan Wind.

“The RFQ [request for qualification] review panel felt the PPI-led consortium response best articulated an understanding of the varied challenges posed by this project,” Matthew Marshall, executive director of the RCEA, told Recharge.

“Their team really brought together all the needed pieces – the project financing capabilities, the technical part – particularly a floating platform technology at an advanced stage of development, and on the environmental side had some very experience partners [in HT Harvey & Associates and Herrerea Environmental Consultants]. They ticked all the boxes.”

PPI chief executive Joao Metelo added: “We believe this project can represent a game changer for the industry in the US. The establishment of a public private partnership with a community-based energy provider like RCEA represents a unique opportunity to develop a project with strong foundations from the get-go, and to build a comprehensive launching pad for a successful industry in the West Coast.”

A central plank in the RCOWP plan is ongoing engagement with Humboldt County’s “strong ecosystem of local energy, environmental, and economic professionals, who played a crucial role in the 20-member RFQ review committee” alongside local government and public agencies, said Marshall, pointing to the “environmental imperative as well as an economic development opportunity” represented by floating wind.

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“We’ve had a long-standing local commitment to developing the area’s resources,” he said. “This project both moves forward [Humboldt County’s] desire to meet as much of our energy demand with renewables, while having a broader impact by supporting innovation and new ideas that can benefit the state of California [in the longer-term].”

Marshall added: “With RCEA leading, the project partners – which we feel really understand the vision for community-drive process – will continue proactive community and stakeholder outreach to answer all the elements of developing a project of this kind. Certainly, being involved in the early stages of [the floating wind power industry] is something the community has a lot of excitement about.”

RCOWP is expected to encourage investment in local infrastructure at the port of Humboldt Bay – the second largest harbour in California after San Francisco but one that is “underutilised” – and other nearby onshore facilities.

“The harbour has ‘good bones’ but is ready for some investment, and [RCOWP] is the kind of opportunity that fits well with our becoming a hub for floating wind and that that comes with that,” Marshall adds. He flags up the potential for local maritime industry supply chain development and of building up a skilled labour market as well as the workforce training sector – and beyond this, being as a “prospective stepping stone” for the offshore wind energy industry on the US West Coast.

RCOWP is the first utility-scale project formally announced by PPI and supercharges the company’s ambitions in the US market, where it had yet to secure a lead-off array.

“We feel this is the right-scale project for us right now, as well as for the floating wind industry, in terms of accelerating its industrialisation and commercialisation,” said PPI vice president of development Kevin Banister. “[RCOWP] is prospectively the logical next step for us after our plans for arrays in European markets, Portugal and France [where WindFloats are being used on the 24MW WindFloat Atlantic (WFA) and Leucate projects, respectively].

“California is definitely an enticing market for us but also floating wind has a lot to offer to the state – it’s a two-way opportunity – and this project, we feel, is the right one to unlock it.”

Enrique Alvarez-Uria, North America offshore wind business development director at EDPR, which is also developing the WFA array off Portugal with PPI, agrees.

“EDPR has been partnering with Principle Power for about ten years,” he stated. “This project is strategic in the long-run and attractive to us due to its potential to spur large market development in California.”

Jonah Margulis, US country manager at offshore oil contractor Aker Solutions, which took a lead-off stake in PPI last month, sees RCOWP as a first chance to apply its skills in supply chain development. “Combining our capabilities with PPI’s technology will help mature the local supply chain, generating industry growth in Humboldt County and the state of California,” he said.

RCEA and the RCOWP partners will submit an application with the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management for an outer continental shelf lease “later this spring” to progress RCOWP.

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