The California coast seems like the ideal location for an offshore wind
energy project: the state offers attractive incentives for renewable energy
generation, Pacific wind patterns are strong and consistent, and the unusually long coastline provides plenty of space for offshore wind facilities to expand. Despite these favorable factors, the State of California is woefully behind its East Coast counterparts with respect to offshore wind development. In 2017, an Intergovernmental Task Force, composed of government officials and other key stakeholders agreed to facilitate offshore wind siting auctions in three geographic zones off the California coastline to developers. However, an unexpected intervention by the United States Department of Defense before the auction brought all offshore wind development in the state to an abrupt halt. Citing vague concerns over disruptions to military training activities, the Department of Defense’s opposition has had the practical effect of preventing all offshore wind development in California. Given the impending threat of climate change, this stalemate could have drastic impacts on the environment, the economy, and, ironically, the Department of Defense’s ability to ensure national security.
This conflict is an example of a recurring problem in energy development. When two federal agencies with distinct missions share authority over a proposed project, gridlock is likely to occur, resulting in wasted time and capital for all involved. However, this offshore wind conflict is entirely avoidable. This Note argues that Department of Defense’s resistance to offshore wind development is irrational and misguided, as renewable energy will actually support its national security mission. Instead, borrowing principles learned from a similar conflict in the recent Supreme Court case, United States Forest Service v. Cowpasture River Preservation Association, government officials could resolve the California offshore wind dispute in a timely and cost-effective manner. Through a series of practical recommendations available to Congress, the executive branch, and the Department of Defense itself, this Note proposes that the Department of Defense reform its review procedures for proposed offshore wind projects to offer more transparency and consistency to the public, and better balance its own interests to accurately account for the benefits of offshore wind.