Stakeholder Engagement in California Offshore Wind Development
State leaders have a chance to forge a national example on stakeholder engagement and energy justice.
As California continues to develop plans for floating offshore wind (OSW) implementation, state leaders have a chance to forge a national example on stakeholder engagement and energy justice. California can achieve this, not only by (for instance) incorporating environmental justice (EJ) principles into agency evaluation and planning or by increasing consultation with tribal entities, but by ensuring — and ensuring funding for — a seat at planning and implementation tables for communities (including frontline, tribal, fishing, and EJ communities) that will probably be most affected by offshore wind development. This sort of deep partnership with affected communities is vital not simply to avoid litigation and forestall project delays, but additionally to meet the promise of green jobs for Californians, to tell community advantages agreements, and to reduce the necessity for subsequent economic, environmental, and social mitigation measures.
Representatives from many affected communities have called for brand spanking new approaches to offshore wind stakeholder engagement in quite a few comments posted to federal and state agency dockets and in oral public workshop testimony. Advocates and community representatives have also expressed their ideas and desires in CLEE’s 2022 OSW stakeholder forums.
Last 12 months, CLEE held a series of 4 OSW convenings with over 100 participants to supply space for stakeholder dialogue. Attendees included federal, state, local, and tribal government representatives in addition to wind developers, environmental justice organizations, environmental advocacy groups, transmission experts, and representatives from the fishing industry, labor unions, and ports. The insights that surfaced from community representatives during these sessions reflect the priorities and concerns of a few of those most impacted by California’s accelerating OSW industry. This blog post summarizes those insights and provides some guidance for policy makers looking for to boost stakeholder outreach (read the total CLEE whitepaper outlining stakeholder comments here).
Because the comments reveal, community representatives and advocates engaged within the offshore wind process do not only seek a chance to provide input to developers and agency staff. They seek —and deserve — a spot at decision-making tables, and in relevant cases, compensation to fund ongoing participation in development and monitoring processes for offshore wind. (Many community representatives have noted that they work fulltime in non-OSW related jobs and that responding to developer, agency, and other requests for input and tracking, commenting on, and attending offshore wind proceedings adds one other unpaid job to their already fulltime load). Community advantages agreements (CBAs), for which developers received bid credits within the December 2022 auction (see the Final Sale Notice), may provide one vehicle for engagement and compensation funds. As one other example, North Coast advocates and experts have proposed resource sharing of federal auction proceeds as a technique to right historical wrongs and fund targeted advantages for affected tribal communities, in addition to adaptive environmental management and monitoring.
In 2022, each federal and state agencies involved in California offshore wind endeavored to extend stakeholder outreach efforts. The California Energy Commission (CEC) (the lead state agency on offshore wind), hosted 18 webinars and workshops and agency staff stated at several events that they were planning, or had already began, staff outreach tours to key stakeholder groups. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the relevant federal agency, hosted three California-specific public meetings in 2022. These included a pre-auction orientation session for developers, one meeting (with two alternate time slots) for the Morro Bay Environmental Assessment (EA), and one meeting (with two alternate time slots) for the Humboldt Environmental Assessment (EA). The agency also convened the BOEM California Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force last 12 months, a gathering which was open to the general public.
These efforts mustn’t be downplayed, especially provided that each agencies face significant staff and budgetary constraints. And yet, beyond lessee Communication Plans and CEQA and NEPA required processes, it will not be clear what 2023 and beyond will herald the way in which of stakeholder engagement.
Additionally it is not apparent whether either CEC or BOEM has begun to remodel stakeholder engagement processes to raised reflect stakeholder needs as expressed last 12 months through written public comments, public testimony at workshops, and in CLEE’s convenings. Experimenting with recent engagement strategies by incorporating concepts of public policy co-design and co-produced governance could produce a recent type of offshore wind development process that responds to stakeholder comments. Agencies could, for instance, work with stakeholders early within the OSW planning process on least conflict planning to find out future OSW energy areas. As mentioned above, agencies could also explore resource sharing.
Increased stakeholder involvement will not be just crucial to make sure that offshore wind development proceeds at once, to meet the promise of OSW development, or to reduce the necessity for subsequent economic, environmental, and social mitigation measures — it is usually vital to right the wrongs of past development in regions like Humboldt County and past fossil fuel industry practices within the Central Coast. OSW development has the potential to be a boon for California communities and decarbonization goals, if state and federal agencies proceed to evolve their approach to stakeholder engagement by responding to the stakeholder needs outlined here, and if developers sign CBAs that reflect these community needs. We hope that the stakeholder comments, concerns, and insights raised in CLEE’s 2022 convenings, including those highlighted in this text, are closely considered—and acted upon—as California pivots to offshore wind implementation planning and implementation in 2023.
For other CLEE offshore wind posts, see California Offshore Wind Auction Leads to Five Provisional Winners and The Inflation Reduction Act and California Offshore Wind.
 See also, Blomkamp, Emma. “The Promise of Co-Design for Public Policy.” Australian journal of public administration 77.4 (2018): 729–743, available at https://www.academia.edu/35713240/The_Promise_of_Co-Design_for_Public_Policy.