The Port of Long Beach in southern California is proposing to build a 400-acre (1.6km2) floating wind assembly terminal to help enable the state's 25GW sector ambitions.

The so-called Pier Wind proposal would see land reclaimed through dredging in the port’s outer harbour developed into “the largest facility specifically designed to accommodate the assembly of offshore wind turbines in the US”, the operator said.

Executive director Mario Cordero told Recharge that the port’s “unique attributes proximity to the West Coast’s largest skilled labour force, being at the centre of the US supply chain, deep water, no air height restrictions, and a proven track record of successfully delivering large marine infrastructure will make [it] a key piece” of the state’s multiport strategy.

The port, along with neighbouring Port of Los Angeles, is the busiest harbour complex in the US, serving as gateway to commerce with Asia. It is located 25 miles (40km) south of downtown Los Angeles.

The proposed terminal would not impact other port operations, added Cordero.

The Port of Long Beach’s plans “can be part of the multi-port strategy that California needs to manufacture, assemble and service floating offshore wind turbines and towers,” said Adam Stern, executive director, Offshore Wind California, a trade group of offshore wind developers and technology companies.

Long Beach faces several constraints, however, including distance from California’s wind energy areas (WEAs) in Morro Bay and Humboldt.

The port is more than 241 nautical miles (446km) from the closest leases at Morro Bay. Floating wind turbines towed from the port would need to pass through the heavily congested sea lanes of the Channel Islands while contending with potential height restrictions near Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and Vandenburg Space Force Base.

Cordero told Recharge towing of completed wind turbine systems “would not affect navigable airspace including airspace around LAX” and that the port will “coordinate with the Federal Aviation Administration and local airports” during project development.

Vessel operators will also need to take into account voluntary speed limits within state marine sanctuaries to mitigate the possibility of whale collisions – an increasing concern for the Atlantic sector – which will stretch transport time.

Towing each completed unit “will take 60 hours without any delays, but realistically will probably take over a week,” said Alla Weinstein, founder of Washington state-based developer Trident Winds and a pioneer in West Coast floating wind.

California has the nation’s largest offshore wind ambitions, aiming for 2-5GW by 2030 towards 25GW by 2045.

Last December, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the regulator of energy development in federal waters, auctioned five leases in two separate wind energy areas (WEAs) facing the central California coastline at Morro Bay and off the northern reaches of Humboldt County.

The highly anticipated auction – among the first commercial scale floating wind tenders in the world – brought in some $750m for up-to 7GW of potential capacity, a lower sum than expected. Cheap lease prices are attributed in part to multiple hurdles that will need cleared for large scale development, chiefly lack of port capacity.

Ambition meets reality

The state has 11 deepwater ports including San Francisco and San Diego, but only the Port of Humboldt Bay located near the Humboldt WEA has been tipped for floating wind marshalling and installation.

The port has already received $10.5m from the state and is hoping to get another $44m in federal matching grants for a $124m conversion. Maritime firm Crowley has signed on as lead contractor for the Humboldt redevelopment and aims to be its operator as well.

Morro Bay, by contrast, has no floating wind-capable port in the vicinity, and with development along the state’s extensive coastline strictly regulated, building a new port will be arduous and time consuming.

The California Energy Commission is collaborating with the state Lands Commission on a report detailing the port and coastal infrastructure needs of the sector per state law AB525 signed by governor Gavin Newsom in 2021.

AB525 mandates the exploration of floating wind development to help the state meet its climate and emissions goals.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is working on a parallel study, with both expected to be released this year.

NREL estimates that half of US offshore wind pipeline is at risk of delayed delivery due to supply chain, vessel, and port bottlenecks. Meeting the 30GW by 2030 “national goal” set by President Joe Biden will require at least $8bn in port investment alone, NREL said.

The story was updated 7 February to include comments from the Port of Long Beach and floating wind pioneer Alla Weinstein, founder of Trident Winds.