Discussion on Offshore Wind in California Includes Tribal Groups

The discussion about the prospect of offshore wind in the state is one that now includes many California Native American tribes.

Siting large floating wind platforms off the coast has the potential to impact hunting or ancestral ceremonial grounds that are important to some of the 164 tribes currently existing in California.

The California Energy Commission is coordinating with tribes as part of the recently formed Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force on offshore wind. The taskforce is a non-regulatory entity that includes the Bureau of Offshore Energy Management, state, local, and tribal agencies. One of the goals of the task force is to facilitate communication and actions among the entities.

The wind farms could impact culturally important plant and animal habitats and sacred sites. This possibility is at the crux of the Energy Commission working on bringing tribes into the offshore wind discussion.

“We have an obligation to consult with California Native American tribes in a government-to-government relationship,” said Thomas Gates, tribal liaison with the Energy Commission.

For California, offshore wind farms would likely be sited far from shore in federal waters, which starts three miles from shore and out to 200 nautical miles. It is expected that new wind farms will be sited in deep water necessitating floating wind platforms given the deepness of the ocean when sited past the Continental Shelf.

Wind platforms anchored directly to the seabed is done for wind farms near shore in state waters. Floating wind platforms demand some kind of anchoring to the seabed and power lines that run to shore, so there is a chance that they may transit through or near Native American ocean-related gathering areas, Gate said.

The Energy Commission’s work with tribes stems from a 2011 executive order by Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. directing state agencies to engage in effective government-to-government cooperation, collaboration, communication and consultation with tribal entities.

To date, the Energy Commission has invited 94 tribal entities to meet on offshore wind. Six meetings are planned, with the first meeting held Nov. 21 with tribes on the northern coast. A second is scheduled for early February.

Some of the California tribes are not recognized by the federal government and are not part of the task force, but the Energy Commission is involving them in the offshore wind discussion as part of implementing Brown’s executive order and other state policy.

Inland tribes that assert a cultural affiliation to the coast and ocean are also welcome to the meetings, and are expected to participate. Coastal tribes include the Tolowa, Yurok and Wiyot of the north coast and the Salinan, Chumash and Gabrieleno of the south coast.

Some of the issues include how offshore wind farms will affect tribes, like North Coast tribes, who traditionally use seaweed, shellfish and other marine resources, Gates said.

“The edge of the continent many years ago was located much further west due to lower sea levels, and those areas were inhabited by tribes, and likely contain submerged archeological resources,” Gates said.

One example is the archeological finds on Santa Rosa Island, one of the Channel Islands located 40 miles west of Santa Barbara. Nearly 20 Native American sites have been found that reveal signs of prehistoric human activity. These date from 11,000 to 12,000 years ago. There are also known submerged archaeological sites between the present day mainland and the islands, Gates said.

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The California Energy Commission is the state's primary energy policy and planning agency created by the Legislature in 1974.
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