California’s power grid operator will release a procurement schedule in May for the first two grid expansion projects totaling $4.1 billion needed to connect federally approved floating offshore wind energy development in a 206-sq-mile deepwater area off the coast, it said in announcing the expanded program.  

The plan, developed by the state Independent System Operator known as CAISO, along with two state energy agencies, is the major component of $6.1 billion of infrastructure investment in 26 transmission projects announced. These would enable an added 85 GW of power capacity needed to meet state load growth and greenhouse gas reduction goals by 2035, CAISO said. 

The projected generating capacity is significantly increased from base portfolio amounts that were the basis of last year’s transmission plan, according to CAISO.

The solicitation will include two major transmission projects—a 500 kV substation with a 500 kV line costing $2.7 billion and a second 500-kV line costing $1.4 billion, CAISO said. These will connect power expected to be generated from approved projects in Humboldt Bay in northern California.

New transmission also will link approved projects in Morro Bay in central California.

“This is very, very good news for the offshore wind industry and will be viewed as a signal that transmission operators understand offshore wind is part of a suite of technologies to meet state goals,” Jim Lanard, CEO of Magellan Wind, told ENR. The firm was partnered with developer Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, which won a federal lease in the Humboldt area and has since acquired Magellan’s share of the project.

“It will be viewed as a major step forward for offshore wind,” Lanard said.

The Biden Administration also boosted its effort April 10 to reach previously stated goals to have 15GW of floating offshore wind operating by 2035 in U.S. waters of 60 meters or more and cutting installation costs by more than 70% to $45 per megawatt hour—announcing Japan as its first international partner. 

The U.S. and Japan will work to “accelerate breakthroughs across engineering, manufacturing and other innovation areas,” the White House said. 

Japan will contribute about $783 million to the joint floating wind effort, with 14 companies there recently forming a research and development coalition. Members include key utility firms and wind power units of Mitsubishi Corp. and Marubeni Corp. Japan has set a goal of 10 GW of offshore wind capacity in place by 2030 and up to 45GW by 2040.

Changing Power Supply Mix

In California, the Humboldt area has strong wind capacity but little development and no transmission to move new power to the major load centers of San Francisco and Los Angeles. 

“This proposal begins to address that,” Lanard said, noting that he expects more offshore wind development in northern California. 

Two companies were awarded federal leases in the Humboldt area last year. Three companies also won similar leases in the central coast wind development area off Morro Bay. 

Much of required transmission for the Morro Bay capacity will come from retiring natural gas-fired power plants, CAISO said, but another 5.3 GW also would be needed by 2035. Added transmission could be available, depending on retirement plans of the still-operating Diablo Canyon nuclear plant.

The need for added power generation in the next 10 years has rapidly expanded in California as it transitions to a carbon-free electric grid required by new clean energy mandates, CAISO said.

The most recent plan builds on the strategic approach in the plan released last year, but it is more proactive and based on a 10-year projection to add about 7,000 MW of capacity per year, the operator added.

Transmission projects recommended for approval are phased in over lead times of up to eight to 10 years, which are reasonable for some to be completed, CAISO noted.

In addition to the new offshore wind planned, the generating capacity now requiring the 26 new transmission projects also include more than 38 GW of solar energy across the state, southern Nevada and western Arizona; as well as 3 GW of onshore wind, 21 GW of geothermal development, 5.8 GW of out-of-state onshore wind, and added battery storage.