OPINION – California ports have long been essential to our state’s growth and economic development.

The ports of San Francisco and Sacramento supplied the Gold Rush, spurring rapid population growth and, ultimately, statehood in 1850. Today, our ports are key to California’s standing as the world’s fifth largest economy.

In the future, our ports are poised to play a foundational role helping California meet its climate and clean-energy goals by ushering in a new source of abundant, renewable energy.

California is pursuing ambitious plans to develop offshore wind to reduce climate pollutants and strengthen our grid with a carbon-free power supply. The state has set a nation-leading goal to generate 25 gigawatts (GW) from offshore wind by 2045 – enough to power 25 million homes.

While state planners see offshore wind as key to meeting our climate and 100% clean-electricity goals established in SB 100, this will not happen without significant investments to upgrade our ports for offshore wind deployment.

California’s offshore wind endeavor is bold, to say the least. It will require transforming our ports to serve as maritime launching pads, where wind turbines as tall as the Eiffel Tower will be manufactured and assembled. On-going maintenance facilities must also be built.

Dredging port channels is necessary to take floating offshore wind platforms to deep waters 20 miles out to sea and beyond. Countless miles of cable will be needed to bring the energy onshore, and transmission infrastructure must be upgraded to bring that power to homes.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management set the stage in December 2022 when it leased 373,268 acres in federal waters off Humboldt Bay and Morro Bay on the North and Central Coasts for wind farms that will comprise hundreds of turbines.

In its recently released draft AB 525 offshore wind strategic plan, the California Energy Commission stated that port facilities will play a critical role in the development of this nascent industry. The report estimates $11 billion-$12 billion will be needed for port upgrades.

During a recent press conference at the State Capitol, three Assemblymembers announced legislation to include $1 billion for port infrastructure in a bond to go on the November 2024 ballot. Close to a dozen legislators have signed a letter to Governor Newsom and legislative leaders seeking inclusion of $1 billion for California port upgrades in a proposed climate bond.

The Biden Administration, which set a national goal to generate 30 GW from offshore wind by 2030, has stepped in to help. It recently awarded a $426.7 million matching grant for Humboldt Bay Harbor to build offshore wind port infrastructure.

Meanwhile, the Port of Long Beach is moving forward with its $4.7 billion Pier Wind project, a 400-acre facility to support manufacture, assembly, and deployment of floating offshore wind turbines. Construction is expected to start in 2027, but public funding remains uncertain.

“The amount of public funding is the question … I think it’s going to be … a mix of public and private (funding),” said Suzanne Plezia, Port of Long Beach Senior Director and Chief Harbor Engineer, in an interview with the American Journal of Transportation.

California’s offshore wind resources are among the best in the world. The potential is tremendous. One rotation of these massive turbines can power a home for an entire day. But  harnessing this power will take both public and private investments in our ports to match our ambitious climate and clean-energy goals.

If California wants to go big on offshore wind, we must invest to upgrade our ports.  Including $1 billion for California ports and offshore wind in a climate bond is a great start.

Assemblymember Mike Gipson represents District 65–Carson in the California State Assembly, and is Chair of the State Assembly’s Select Committee on Ports and Goods Movement.