The Port of Long Beach projects that it will begin construction on its 400 acre ‘Pier Wind’ offshore wind port in 2027 which is projected to cost $4.7 billion, according to Suzanne Plezia, Senior Director/Chief Harbor Engineer for the Port of Long Beach.
In an exclusive interview with AJOT, Plezia said: “We are doing everything to meet the aggressive timeline that we put in our concept report with the start of construction in January of 2027. So, it's a very challenging … aggressive timeline but that gets our permits in place by mid-2026 … So, we did do a cost and schedule in our concept report. The … cost is estimated at $4.7 billion in 2023 dollars.”
Plezia said, that the number of floating wind turbines that will be built to meet the initial goals for offshore wind farms in Northern and Central California will depend on the power generating capacity of the wind turbines which she said would range from 15 MW to 20 MW per turbine. This would call for the construction of 400-500 floating wind turbines: “I think they're going to be trying for 20 megawatt turbines. I think that's what they're hoping for … based on the press releases from each of the developers …when I added them up, they added up to 8 gigawatts. Okay. So, if it's 8 gigawatts (i.e., 8,000 megawatts) then that's five hundred and thirty-three 15-megawatt wind turbines or if the wind turbines generate 20 megawatts … it's 400, right? So somewhere between 400 and 533 wind turbines.”
The floating platform for each wind turbine would barely fit inside a baseball stadium such as Dodger Stadium, she said.
Plan Approvals And Goals
She explained the process of plan approvals as follows: “We're developing a project description, so we are moving very aggressively on our environmental documentation and permitting work stream. We are continuing with design … and our geotechnical borings to help do the sediment characterization that will help refine our dredge plan. So, everything about what we are doing is moving forward as we had indicated very aggressively, because time is the biggest challenge on any of the port infrastructure needed to support offshore wind.”
Plezia said she is “optimistic” that ambitious goals can be met: “Not trying to be naive. It is going to be a lot of work, certainly from a permitting standpoint. We've had good support so far, and good feedback from our environmental justice groups that we work with at the Port, and a number of them are backing offshore wind because they understand the important role it'll play.”
In September 2021, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed California State Assembly Bill 525 (AB 525) into law, requiring the California Energy Commission (CEC) to develop a strategic plan for offshore wind energy developments to be installed off the California coast.
Plezia says the result is a port readiness report that “outlines the port infrastructure needed to support California’s 25 gigawatts by 2045 which is California's planning goal. And so, for the offshore wind ports at Humboldt Bay and at the Port of Long Beach, we are additive. We are not … competitors in that regard. If it's only Humboldt, we cannot meet our offshore wind goal by 2045. So, you need a certain number of staging integration sites, a certain number of foundation assembly sites.”
Challenges to the Supply Chain
The supply chain challenges will be massive: “…There are a lot of pieces of the puzzle that do need to come together. And it won't be just Pier Wind. There's going to be manufacturing ports that need to get developed. Vessels … need to get constructed. I would say the advantage on the West Coast for floating is, as opposed to the East and Gulf coasts, you don't need these Turbine Installation Vessels to install the wind turbines into the seabed … That is a really, large, really, expensive vessel that you need for the fixed bottom. So, there's an advantage with floating because they're large, but they're not the Installation Vessel…”
Plezia did concede that meeting U.S. built/Jones Act construction mandates would be challenging: “There is a challenge there on the vessel construction and meeting the Jones Act requirements … I think the best resource to look at all of the supply chain infrastructure is definitely that California port readiness plan. It lists out the number of manufacturers of blades, towers, foundation assemblies and staging integration. It lines out all of the things that are going be necessary for the 25 gigawatts and domestic manufacturing …”
However, there are plans to initially source components from Asia: “It is possible to do offshore wind by bringing in components from Asia at the very beginning. So, we could stage and integrate and get early deployment using imported component parts while manufacturing gets stood up. But you can't do any of it unless you have staging integration. So, I emphasize staging and integration sites because they're the linchpin in the whole port network system. Everything flows through staging integration.”
In terms of sequencing Plezia explained: “The blades, nacelles and towers are brought in by the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and they will bring in the components and they get staged on the land. It's about an 80-acre site for each staging integration site. Then heavy lift cranes will be at the quay side, and the floating foundation will be up against the quay, and the cranes will assemble each piece onto the floating foundation and build up the wind turbine with the nacelle and then they'll put the blades on, and then that assembled unit gets commissioned, and you can get commissioned right there at the quay or at an adjacent site. Once it's all commissioned, then it'll get towed out to the wind farm for installation.”
Plezia does expect some floating wind turbines will be towed from the Port of Long Beach to Humboldt Bay: “It's possible, yes. So that would be the other thing that the AB 525 Port Readiness plan outlined our towing scenarios. And so … it is feasible for the floating turbines to be towed up to the North Coast.”
Plezia says that the Port of Long Beach has been in contact with a South Korean ship and offshore oil and gas platform builder: “We did talk with one of the South Korean manufacturing companies that does the fixed platform construction and is looking to do the floating platform construction… South Korea has a very robust shipbuilding and steel fabrication industry there. And I think at the beginning of our floating offshore wind effort … that might be something that could be leveraged. There is absolutely a desire to have domestic manufacturing. And so, I think it is a balance that needs to be struck around … when it is feasible for domestic manufacturing … So, I do think South Korea is a real possibility at the beginning.”
Gray Terminal Concept
Plezia says starting with a brand new “Gray Terminal” maximizes the possibility for new concepts and innovation: “So when we present on ‘Pier Wind’ wind, we'll describe it as sort of a ‘Gray Terminal’ concept that can be divided up to meet the most critical need. I think it provides a huge opportunity to gain more efficiencies than what has been thought of previously. A lot of things have been thought of as sort of like the shoehorn, you shoehorn it into an existing facility.”
Plezia is optimistic that the workforce can be found to assemble the wind farms, which she projects will require between 2,000 to 3,000 workers: “I'm very optimistic about that. You can tell I'm … pretty much an optimist on offshore wind. But we have heard the challenge … on workforce as well. You know, … in talking with our labor partners … they feel like they are up to the challenge that they can bring the skilled workforce from the Southern California basin to bear. That is one of the advantages … being in Southern California, that … we have … the largest skilled workforce base locally. So, we will be leveraging our existing relationship with the Los Angeles/Orange County Building and Construction Trades and their apprenticeship programs and leveraging our relationship with the ILWU (International Longshore and Warehouse Union) and our training center there for the roles they can be playing.”
On the issue of financing, Plezia said the Port brings public infrastructure that enables “the private equity…private equity will be enabled, … but without the port infrastructure, it doesn't happen …The amount of public funding is the question … I think it's going to be … a mix of public and private. It's just state, federal, and private.”
Finally, Plezia says: “I do feel like there is a sense of urgency around the climate. I feel like offshore wind is going to play a very important role … for California. We have some aggressive climate policies around fossil fuels and vehicles and our drayage trucks, and … we are creating a very huge demand for … clean power.”