Offshore Wind and…Transportation?

Colin Fiske, Executive Director

The possibility of a major wind farm being developed off the coast of Humboldt County is a game-changer for renewable electricity in our region, but the majority of greenhouse gas emissions produced here come from transportation. So at CRTP, we’ve been thinking about whether wind development could help support a cleaner, greener transportation system as well.

One answer to this question is fairly obvious. The transition to electric vehicles (EVs) has already started, and it will pick up speed over the next decade just as offshore wind is being developed. By the time electrons from those wind turbines start entering the grid, they will be helping ensure that the EVs on the road are powered by clean energy, not by burning fossil fuels.

Another way offshore wind could help us decarbonize local transportation is by powering a local facility to produce green hydrogen. The Humboldt Transit Authority (HTA) will be relying on hydrogen to fuel most of its buses by 2030, and hydrogen will also likely be needed to transition some of the region’s heavy duty trucks away from fossil fuels. Currently, most hydrogen is actually made from fossil fuels, which just shifts emissions to another place. Green hydrogen, on the other hand, is produced using only water and renewable electricity, allowing true decarbonization of buses and trucks. However, local production isn’t a sure thing even with an abundant source of local renewable energy, so CRTP and allies are advocating to keep this issue on the table for decision-makers.

There are also other, less direct but still important ways that offshore wind development could affect local transportation. Building a wind farm and the onshore facilities to support it will require huge financial investments, and some of that money will flow back to the community in the form of taxes. As just one example, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors recently created the Samoa Peninsula Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District, which will capture increased tax revenues from development and use them to improve infrastructure. That could include active transportation and transit improvements.

All that development will also come with impacts, both off-shore and on-shore. In coastal communities, for example, there are likely to be a lot more heavy-duty vehicles using local roadways. Advocates like CRTP are already lining up to ensure that whoever develops offshore wind will mitigate those impacts and provide a broad package of community benefits. We will likely need to redesign roads to prevent increased truck traffic from worsening safety problems, for example, and community benefits should include investments in our region’s bike, pedestrian and transit systems.