Tyler Studds on Developing an Offshore Wind Ecosystem in California

Headshot of Tyler Studds

After an auction for developing offshore wind netted over $750 million in December, the State of California is finally committed (clearly, a milestone for the wind industry) to adding offshore wind to its energy supply mix. In this VX News interview, Tyler Studds, Chief Executive Officer for Golden State Wind addresses the opportunities and challenges of developing this new resource for California. As the state continues to develop a roadmap for permitting offshore wind, Tyler Studds reiterates the critical importance of aligning with local stakeholders, concurrently developing upgraded port infrastructure, and collaborating with state and federal partners to deliver this much-needed clean power as expeditiously as possible.

Tyler, this past December the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management held their first West Coast offshore wind lease auction, and Golden State Wind won a lease. Share more on that auction and your project’s success.


Tyler Studds: As you noted, in December, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which regulates offshore wind leasing and development on the Outer Continental Shelf, held the first ever West Coast lease auction for five sites. This is a significant milestone that we have been working towards for many years.

Of the five sites that were auctioned, three are off Morro Bay on the central coast, one of which is our project: Golden State Wind, and two are off the north coast offshore Humboldt County. This lease auction was an important milestone for California and for the floating offshore wind industry. It is the first of a number of important steps that will eventually lead to bringing up to six gigawatts of new local renewable energy online in the years to come.


Please elaborate on Morro Bay’s two-gigawatt project and how it will contribute to achieving the energy goals of California?


With offshore wind, California has the opportunity to participate in and benefit from a growing global industry at the intersection of innovation, manufacturing, and clean energy. Most importantly, offshore wind presents a huge potential to create local jobs, advance towards a carbon-free electric system, and address the threat of climate change. Offshore wind is a unique resource that is both abundant and available when it is needed most, later in the day when solar resources are producing less.


Before drilling down into the Bureau’s award of lease, share with readers the ownership and operational experience of Golden State Wind.


Golden State Wind, a 50/50 joint venture of Ocean Winds and the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board. Ocean Winds, who I work for, is a joint venture of two major energy companies: EDP Renewables and ENGIE. OW has more than 10 years of experience in floating offshore wind, most notably through the development and operation of the Windfloat Atlantic project off of Portugal, the world’s first fully commercially operational floating offshore wind farm. We have over 16 gigawatts of total capacity in our portfolio which includes three projects in the US, our South Coast Wind project in Massachusetts, Bluepoint Wind off of New Jersey, and now Golden State Wind in California.


You moved to Ocean Winds from Massachusetts, where you were emersed in offshore wind and economic development. Share some of that background with our readers.

I formerly worked for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, which is a quasi-public agency in Massachusetts that leads a host of clean energy economic development activities. I was a member of the offshore wind team that led, and continues to lead today, a range of offshore wind sector development activities helping to establish and grow the offshore wind industry and to help the state to capture its benefits.

Much of the focus during my time there was in the areas of workforce and supply chain development, transmission, port infrastructure, and marine wildlife studies, all intended to help create the conditions for that industry to flourish. I think what we see now is that it has really taken off. Massachusetts is among many of the East Coast states leading in the offshore wind industry.


How different are the challenges, Tyler, in developing fixed vs floating offshore wind projects?


Floating offshore wind can be deployed in deep waters, such as offshore California, that ae beyond the limits of fixed bottom technology. For example, fixed-bottom offshore wind on the East Coast of the United States and elsewhere in the world can be installed in waters depths up to about 60 meters. In these areas, foundations are installed directly into the seabed.

In California, projects will be developed in waters ranging from roughly 700 to 1000 meters in depth, which requires floating foundations anchored to the seabed with mooring lines. Floating foundations are a proven technology that we've used overseas and draw upon oil and gas technology that has been used in deep water for many years.


Compare and contrast offshore wind on the US’ East Coast & in Portugal with the challenges and opportunities off California’s Coast.


There are some things in common and some things that are different. All offshore infrastructure projects require significant resources and expertise to design, permit, build, install and operate.

While each region has its own unique regulatory regime, all projects navigate a permitting process which includes a series of site characterization studies to understand the environment; identify and characterize critical species and habitats; to inform engineering and to make plans for how to avoid, minimize, and mitigate potential effects. Of course, there is the need to work closely with local stakeholders through all phases of the project.

Closer to home, we recognize that California has a unique marine ecosystem and that there are long-standing human uses, such as commercial fishing. We are committed to responsibly developing the Golden State Wind project which means working closely with, and learning from local stakeholders, while also bringing our experiences and lessons learned from our European and East Coast projects.


Pivoting, could you elaborate on the need to reform California’s permitting processes to facilitate offshore wind projects? What specific reforms are needed, and why?


That's a great question. I'd say that we're less focused on permitting reform, and more on defining what the state permitting pathway will be. First and foremost, it's essential that we have a clearly defined, predictable permitting path that provides coordinated, timely state permitting. The State of California, earlier this year, released a State Permitting Roadmap as part of Assembly Bill 525. That roadmap is intended to coordinate and define which state agencies play particular roles in the permitting process. The California Energy Commission accepted public comments on the Draft Roadmap and we expecting a final roadmap to be released soon.

Ultimately, what we're looking for is for the state to define a lead permitting agency, establish roles and responsibilities for all agencies involved in permitting, provide a clear timeline, and to create a forum to address any potential issues that may arise during the permitting process. Again, It’s less about reform and more about providing a clear, defined path.


Looking to the future, now that the lease in Morro Bay has been won, what's the project timeline? And what’s next?


We are beginning our permitting and site characterization activities and continuing to engage with local stakeholders. We are also advocating for a number of important priorities related to investment in port development state permitting, and energy procurement. And I'm also focused on growing our team here in California.


Are there now federal resources available to accelerate offshore wind development?


Yes, and first, it is important to recognize the federal agency staff including regulatory specialists and subject matter experts who play a critical role in permitting offshore wind projects and ensuring a robust science-based environmental review.

There are also R&D resources, particularly I'll highlight the Department of Energy's FLOWIN Prize, which is a prize designed to pave the way for domestic manufacturing of floating offshore wind platforms and seven awarded projects were recently announced.

It is important also to acknowledge the Inflation Reduction Act, which passed last year. That has a suite of resources specifically benefiting offshore wind including an extension of the investment tax credit. There is infrastructure funding as well, through both the Infrastructure Act that was passed last year, as well as regularly-programmed funding that can play a critical role supporting offshore wind port development.


Last spring, at the VerdeXchange 2022 Conference, you shared, “the biggest challenge for California offshore wind going forward will be developing necessary port infrastructure to support offshore wind installation and development of a local supply chain.” Has progress been made with ports re-investment in their infrastructure to facilitate the aforementioned?  


I would say yes and no.

First, port infrastructure is absolutely critical, first to support offshore wind installation and deployment activities. What's unique about floating offshore wind is you can do the tower and turbine installations and integration at the port, and then tow the units out to the site. For this, we need specialized port infrastructure. It is also important to note that ports will be focal points for jobs and economic development.

The state and the federal government have conducted a number of different studies looking at existing ports and potential upgrades. The ports that California has available today, primarily serving cargo industries, are obviously quite busy and, as a result, not well suited to support offshore wind. Finding ways we can expeditiously upgrade or expand existing ports, and potentially build new ports is critical.

We are advocating for the state to develop a multi-port strategy that can serve different aspects of the offshore wind industry and its supply chain. Right now, there is an opportunity for California to take a leadership role, to help secure public funding, and to help to plan and oversee development to ensure ports are available when needed.


Tyler, we can assume Ocean Winds welcomes partners and resources to achieve its goals. Share who to date has partnered with Golden State Wind.


The Golden State Wind project is a joint venture of Ocean Winds and the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board. We are also working closely with federal, state, and local agency partners, as well as other important stakeholders like commercial fishermen and Native American tribes. We have also been working with the City of Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo County to explore ways to deliver and maximize benefits to local communities.


Lastly, looking out 10 years from now, what role do you forecast Golden State Wind will play in materially meeting the climate goals and agendas of California?


We will be delivering a significant amount of local renewable energy onto the California grid – enough to power nearly one million homes - and we will have helped the state make important progress towards meeting its SB100 goals of 100 percent carbon free electricity by 2045. We will be providing high-quality long-term jobs to California residents to operate and maintain the Project.

"This lease auction was an important milestone for California and for the floating offshore wind industry. It is the first of a number of important steps that will eventually lead to bringing up to six gigawatts of new local renewable energy online in the years to come.”—Tyler Studds