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Floating the Future of Offshore Wind

Suzanne Plezia manages the Port of Long Beach’s plans to produce the floating offshore wind turbines central to California’s plan for an all-green energy future.

3/4 view of three floating offshore wind turbines in a row
WindFloat Atlantic project. Photo courtesy of Principle Power/Ocean Winds.

As a teenager growing up in Lakewood, Calif. in the 1980s, Suzanne Plezia discovered that one of the most compelling hang-out spots in her neighborhood just east of Long Beach was her family’s garage.

 

“I loved going out to the garage to watch my dad, a consummate tinkerer and handyman, building things and fixing things,” she recalls. “As I got older, I also loved building things myself, such as a free-standing basketball hoop for our backyard.”


Connecting with Infrastructure

That curiosity followed Plezia to nearby Saint Joseph High School where she connected with a Boy Scout Explorers club focused on studying engineering.

 

“We built lots of bridges and other types of infrastructure with popsicle sticks,” she says. “That activity helped lead me to civil engineering because it combined my love of building things with the idea that civil engineers build the roads, bridges, utilities, etc. that create a civil society.”

 

What appealed to her most, she emphasizes, was being part of a profession that creates infrastructure for the greater good.


Bio photo of Suzanne Plezia
Suzanne Plezia, Chief Harbor Engineer, Port of Long Beach. PoLB Photo
Generating the Future

Today, as the senior director and chief harbor engineer for the Port of Long Beach’s Engineering Services Bureau, Plezia oversees the development of new infrastructure that will allow the port to become a major integrator and producer of floating offshore wind turbine systems.

 

The turbine systems, which will be deployed in floating wind farms off California’s central and northern coasts, will help the State meet its goal of meeting all of its electricity needs with renewable energy by 2045.


California Assembly Bill (AB) 525, passed in 2021, requires the California Energy Commission (CEC) to map out opportunities and a strategic plan for developing floating offshore wind energy capacity for the State. In response, the CEC has set goals to procure 5 gigawatts (GW) of floating offshore wind capacity by 2030 and 25 GW by 2045.

 

“Over the next decade, the Port of Long Beach expects its annual power consumption to grow six-fold,” Plezia notes. “As part of becoming the nation’s first green port—we’ve set targets to get to zero-emission container operations by 2030 and zero-emission drayage trucks by 2035—it’s critical that we support California’s development of floating offshore wind so that it has sufficient renewable energy to power the grid that our port operations will rely on.”


Front door view of Samueli School of Engineering, UC Irvine
Henry Samueli School of Engineering, UC Irvine -- Photo by Mikejuinwind123 via Wikimedia Commons
Thinking Outside the Resume

Plezia found a home for her civil engineering interests at the University of California, Irvine where she matriculated in 1991, focusing on environmental and water resources issues. Unfortunately, when she graduated in 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, California was shedding engineering jobs in response to State budget cuts and a downturn in the aerospace and defense industry driven by the end of the Cold War.

 

“The market was flooded with experienced engineers looking for work,” Plezia remembers. “Coming right out of college, I wasn't very competitive, even for entry-level positions.”


Fortunately, she had one thing that other job-seeking engineers did not have: a curious and resourceful mom. While reading the Press-Telegram, Long Beach’s daily newspaper, Plezia’s mom noticed an advertising insert that described multiple projects underway at the Port of Long Beach. She encouraged her daughter to call the Port to see if they needed any help.

Aerial view of Port of Long Beach with fully-loaded container ship in the foreground
The Port of Long Beach is one of the busiest container ports in the U.S., the nation's leading export port and a leader in innovative goods movement, safety, environmental stewardship and sustainability. PoLB Photo

“So that’s what I did,” says Plezia. “I opened the phone book—we still used phone books back then—looked up the Port of Long Beach, dialed, and when someone answered the phone I said ‘Hey do you need any interns?’ And that’s how my career with the Port of Long Beach started, with a cold call after seeing some of the great work they were doing.”

 

Building a Strong Track Record

Plezia started at the Port as an intern in June 1996. Before long, however, she’d gained enough experience and knowledge of Port operations to apply for a permanent position.

 

She started out working for the Engineering Design Group designing Port infrastructure such as wharves, storage areas, mooring infrastructure and cargo-handling equipment needed to help redevelop the Port’s Pier G mega terminal.


Red TEU container being moved by crane among two large stacks of containers
Plezia cut her teeth on PoLB activities designing port infrastructure such as container storage areas and cargo-handling equipment.

Within a few years, however, she moved over to the Port’s Construction Management Group (CMG) where she got to oversee the first phase of Pier G redevelopment, which involved land creation—dredging, landfill, etc.—plus terminal and gate development.

 

“Channeling my teenage years in the family garage,” Plezia suggests, “I was attracted to the Construction Management Group because it’s fun to see things getting built. I was never the contractor, but being close to the construction activity and seeing things rise out of the ground was quite enjoyable.”

 

Plezia worked her way up through the CMG, eventually becoming its director for 3 years. In April 2017, she was promoted to her current role of chief harbor engineer.

 

Signing Up to Lead

Initially, Plezia and the Port of Long Beach had not planned to participate in the nascent offshore wind industry. But everything changed after the State of California approached them in 2022 to help develop the port infrastructure called for in AB 525’s strategic plan.

 

Overhead view of crane unloading containers from front end of cargo ship

“We realized that the types of port facilities required to enable floating offshore wind were simply not going to be available elsewhere along the California coast,” she explains. “The Port of Long Beach was uniquely positioned to provide this critical need. If we didn’t jump into the game to help California add offshore wind to its renewable energy portfolio, the problem would not be solvable.”

 

Fulfilling a Tall Order

Producing turbine systems for West Coast wind farms will require unique port infrastructure.

 

On the East Coast, the continental shelf is wide and relatively shallow, which allows offshore wind turbines to be assembled at the site of a wind farm and anchored, using special ships, directly to the sea bed.


FOSW turbine being towed by a ship to a wind farm.
FOSW turbines will be assembled in ports, then towed to wind farm sites. Kincardine Offshore Wind Farm project. Photo courtesy of Principle Power.

By contrast, the continental shelf on the West Coast is relatively narrow and the water is considerably deeper.

Offshore wind turbine systems installed there will have to be attached to floating platforms and tethered to the sea floor using long mooring cables.


The wind turbines, which can be as tall as 1000 feet—the Eiffel Tower is 984 feet tall—will have to be assembled and integrated in a port, then towed to a wind farm site.

 

Developing Pier Wind

Under a $4.7 billion project known as Pier Wind, the Port of Long Beach is developing a 400-acre terminal adjacent to its current operations to support the manufacture, assembly and integration of floating offshore wind turbine systems.

Aerial view of Pier Wind FOSW assembly and integration facility.  Artist concept.
The 400-acre Pier Wind project will be the largest purpose-built offshore wind facility in the U.S. PoLB artist concept.

"Pier Wind is going to require a lot of purpose-built port infrastructure,” observes Plezia. “We’re investing in infrastructure that can support the production of not only today’s turbines [which typically generate about 15 Megawatts (MW) of power] but also the larger, more efficient turbines (20-25 MW) that we expect to see evolve through future innovation.”

 

Plezia believes that Pier Wind will also create jobs and career opportunities for communities closest to Long Beach, which have been disproportionately affected environmentally by port operations.

 

“One of the advantages that the Port of Long Beach has (in developing Pier Wind) is access not only to a large pool of talented Southern California workers but also a full array of union training/certification programs and apprenticeship programs,” she emphasizes. “By leveraging that existing infrastructure to upskill workers in conjunction with our trade partners and educational partners, we plan to turn a challenging staffing task into a very achievable goal.”


Leaning Forward
Three legs of a FOSW foundation being connected with the help of a large crane.
FOSW turbine foundations will be assembled in ports using large cranes. PoLB artist concept

Under the Pier Wind concept, components for the wind turbine systems will be produced at other ports, then shipped by water to the Port of Long Beach. The turbines, including their foundations, will be assembled using large cranes in multiple 80-acre assembly and integration facilities within the new terminal.

 

“We estimate that we’ll need three to five of these staging and integration facilities to hit the 25 GW power capacity goal of AB 525 by 2045,” says Plezia. “Those facilities will also establish the upstream supply chain capacity needed to feed the staging and integration rhythm.”


Once integrated, the wind turbine systems will be towed upright to wind farms off the coast of California, moored in place, and then attached to cables and an offshore substation that will deliver electricity generated by the turbines to the onshore power grid.

 

The Port of Long Beach is currently shepherding the Pier Wind concept through the environmental review process which it hopes to complete in 2026. If all goes well, construction of the new terminal could begin in January 2027 with the first 100 acres operational in early 2031, the second 100 acres operational in late 2031, and the last 200 acres coming online in 2035.

 

Starting Early

Workdays begin early in the four-bedroom home that Plezia shares in Huntington Beach with her husband, two high school-aged sons and a pandemic-acquired Maltipoo named Daisy.


Surfer with board walking on beach near HB Pier at sunset
Huntington Beach, aka Surf City USA, is known for its consistent year-round swells. Mcclane 2010 via Wikimedia Commons

“Like any good engineer, I had a spreadsheet, a dollars-per-square-foot goal (for a home), and a maximum commute distance,” offers Plezia. “So 20 years ago, we landed in Huntington Beach.”

 

Her 25-minute drive to the Port is interrupted only by a quick stop at Starbucks to grab coffee.

 

“I love to get to work early,” she reflects. “I use that first hour to catch up, think about what happened the day before and prepare for the busy day ahead.”

 
Embracing Opportunity

Plezia leads an organization with more than 300 workers distributed among six divisions. She describes her days as “moving very, very fast,” often with back-to-back meetings from early morning to late afternoon.

 

Plezia feels blessed, however, to lead a team that has embraced the opportunity to help California solve a very challenging environmental issue while creating a new industry rich in high-paying jobs. But she knows her team can’t do it alone.

 

“The Port of Long Beach is just part of the ‘whole of government’ effort it will take at the local, state, and federal levels to deliver floating offshore wind,” she explains. “We’ll also need the other ports in Los Angeles, San Diego and Northern California to unlock the supply chain that will help achieve this critical mission.”


Ship towing completed floating wind turbine to offshore wind farm
PoLB photo

Sticking with Impossible

Through it all, Plezia focuses on keeping her team engaged, moving forward and inspired by the critical role that Pier Wind will play in making floating offshore wind a reality in California.

 

“One of the core values that led me to be a civil engineer and that feeds my passion for offshore wind is the notion that we’re all part of helping the greater good and responding to something bigger than ourselves,” she reflects. “Everyone supporting Pier Wind is making a huge difference. That’s why I encourage them to stay motivated in the face of tasks that seem impossible or extremely difficult. We can’t allow ourselves to be defeated by very difficult things.”

 

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