The nation's first offshore wind development may be coming to Texas. The Lone Star State has signed an agreement with Galvestone-Offshore Wind, a division of Louisiana-based Wind Energy Systems Technologies (WEST), to build a 150-MW development off the coast of Galveston Island. The development will sit on 11,355-acre situated about seven miles off the coast of the island and leased from the state.
Jerry Patterson, Commissioner of the Texas General Land Office, who approved the lease declared, "Today marks a new era for energy development in America, and what better place to begin than Texas. Texas knows energy, and we’re ready to lead the nation toward establishing clean, reliable coastal wind power as an energy reality."
The aggreement allows WEST to begin construction of two 80-foot meteoroligal towers on the lease site to begin collecting wind speed measurements and other data. The towers will be financed with $3-5 million of WEST's project funds and will collect data to confirm the suitability of the site for windpower development and to determine the optimum placements for the wind turbines. This valuable data will also be used by the Texas General Land Office to prove the Gulf’s wind possibilities, perhaps paving the way for more offshore development in the region.
Additionaly, while meteorological measurements are collected, the company will run studies of bird migration patterns for state and federal permits. This will likely to be the largest hurdle for the developer to clear as has often been the case for wind developments. WEST will focus on the 2006 spring migration and use the data to plan how best to reduce the wind energy development’s potential impact on birds.
Assuming the research phase confirms the suitability of the site, a construction phase will begin in which WEST will erect 50 turbines expected to generate 150 megawatts (peak). No confirmation on which turbine manufacturer they will contract with but those numbers assume 3.0 MW turbines likely with the hub of each turbine rising 260 feet above the sea, and turbine blades up to 55 yards long. The construction phase may cost as much as $300 million and take 5 years [notice this is significantly longer and more expensive than a similalry sized land-based wind development].
During this initial research and construction phases, which will last an estimated 12-18 months for the former and up to five years for the latter, WEST will begin making lease payments of $10,000/year until power production actually begins. At that time, the lease structure changes and WEST begins paying the state an escalating royalty, starting at 2.5% for the first eight years, rising to 4.5% for the next eight years, and capping at 5.5% for the final 14 years. The state should earn a minimum of $26.5 million in royalties over the 30-year lease. These funds will all go into the state's Permanent School Fund (as do royalties from natural gas and oil leases).
As Patterson recognizes, "This is important, because while oil and gas have been good for Texas, we need to think long-term and find new ways to put money into the Permanent School Fund. Oil and gas won’t last forever.”
Once completed, the wind farm is expected to produce enough electricity to power about 40,000 homes. According to the Texas General Land Office:
"an equivalent amount of electricity would require about 20.7 million barrels of oil, or 6.5 million tons of coal, over the 30-year lease. If burned to generate electricity, that much fossil fuel would release 270,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year. About 150 square miles of forest would have to be planted to absorb that much carbon dioxide. Similarly, a 150 MW wind energy development could prevent 21,000 tons of sulfur dioxide and almost 10,000 tons of nitrogen oxides from being emitted over the life of the lease. The wind farm will also conserve more than 6 billion gallons of water over the lifetime of the lease that would have been used in the cooling system of a typical power plant."
Texas is currently second only to California in total wind power production. However, the state legislature has mandated that 10,000 MW of renewable energy capacity must be developed by 2025. Current wind power generating capacity in the state is about 2,000 megawatts, with most of the wind turbines located in the western part of the state. Offshore wind power in the Gulf of Mexico may be a viable resource to tap in order to meet these targets.
Two other large offshore wind turbine farms have been proposed in the United States, one about four miles off the south shore of Long Island, New York, and the Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound, off Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Both are in federal, not state waters. The New York project is still awaiting approval by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Cape Wind project faces opposition from resident notables (mostly rich New England Democrats) because of fears it would ruin the ocean view from shore.
Still, the Texas project is not expected to produce a Watt of power for at least 5-6 years so either of these other projects, which have been in the works much longer, may still upstage the Texas project.
It is good to see more of these projects being proposed as each one increases the likelyhood that an offshore wind farm will be built in the United States. I don't think it will take long after the first one is built for people to begin to recognize their potential and to start to softening their attitudes towards offshore wind.
Really, which would you rather have off your coast, a Liquified Natural Gas terminal (a.k.a. terrorist bullseye), an oil refinery, or a wind farm? Which really has the larger environmental impact? Or would you rather simply stop using electricity? I thought not, so perhaps we ought to turn to this clearly least-bad alternative.
A hat tip to Green Car Congress