Big Oil Targets Sonoma Coast and Marine Sanctuary, media advisory

Big Oil Targets Sonoma Coast and Marine Sanctuary, media advisory

The scenic rural Sonoma Coast at Fort Ross State Historic Park has been revealed to be the new target of a large “pumped storage” electrical power project to be built by an out-of-state oil and gas company.

The project, to be sited only 1.5 miles northwest of this popular visitor destination, would use massive electrical turbines to pump seawater into a 5,600 acre-foot storage reservoir 1500 feet above sea level.  Five reversible 250-megawatt turbines would subsequently utilize gravity to generate electricity from the falling water, which would then be discharged into the intertidal zone of the Pacific Ocean.

The pumped storage installation at Fort Ross is far from any existing major electrical transmission infrastructure, but the planned floating offshore wind turbine generating project near Humboldt Bay has been actively evaluating southward subsea cable routing corridors, so the Fort Ross project is thought to be potentially a result of offshore wind industry activities further north.

Sonoma County, which has not previously been consulted by the project’s developer as a party of interest, is coincidentally about to conduct a public hearing concluding a four-year process updating the County’s Local Coastal Plan on Monday, July 17.

The Fort Ross pumped storage project would suck seawater from behind a new breakwater to be built on the coast, then dump the spent discharge back into the ocean nearby.  Construction of the breakwater, removal of seawater, and any resulting discharges or siltation from construction activities would be governed by the regulations of the surrounding Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.  A number of California’s much-touted State Marine Protected Areas also lie near the proposed breakwater location.  The floating offshore wind industry has been involved in efforts in Washington, DC to weaken the protective federal regulations governing all National Marine Sanctuaries, but this industry has not yet had any success in these lobbying endeavors.

While the proposed project would not itself generate “new” electricity, it could potentially moderate the timing of supply to meet the ups and downs of consumer power demand.  Pumped storage facilities are designed to operate at a net loss of electrical power, but instead try to balance the load with the supply at times of low generating capacity.

The Sonoma Coast is considered to be the birthplace of the California Coastal Initiative passed by the state’s voters in 1972, resulting in the state enjoying one of the most stringently-protected coastlines in the world.  The project sponsor, HGE Energy Storage LLC is a privately-held corporation located in Parkersburg, West Virginia, and owns and operates oil and gas wells in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.   HGE Energy apparently first applied to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a preliminary permit for the Fort Ross proposal on September 27, 2022. A July 6, 2023 Federal Register notice now calls for public comment on the project, identified as Docket Number P-15287, within the next sixty days.

In what may be a related move, California’s Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation this week to expedite permitting for certain energy facilities like the one being proposed at Fort Ross.  The California Public Utilities Commission last year set ambitious goals for building new pumped storage installations in the state, so the project at Fort Ross may be the first of many similar proposals along the Northern California coast.

The public hearing on the Sonoma Local Coastal Plan will begin at 9 am on Monday morning on July 17 in the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Chambers at 575 Administration Drive in Santa Rosa, California.

“While generally supportive of renewables, our rural communities are obviously going to need to armor themselves in a regulatory sense against these emerging types of inappropriately-sited resource exploitation schemes that ignore our coastal economies based on visitor-serving businesses, artisanal commercial fisheries, and healthy coastal habitat.” said Richard Charter with The Ocean Foundation, “More of these damaging industrial projects are no doubt headed our way.”


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