The federal government has selected the first two areas for offshore wind development in the Gulf of Mexico, paving the way for a process that could have windmills spinning over the waves near Louisiana by the end of the decade .
The US Office of Ocean Energy Management on Monday finalized the boundaries for the two areas: a 174,000-acre area south of Lake Charles and a 508,000-acre area near Galveston, Texas .
Both areas have the potential to generate enough energy for nearly 3 million homes, according to BOEM. That’s enough electricity for the combined populations of Houston, New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
The commercial leasing process for both areas is expected to begin in the middle of next year. After a multi-year site assessment, survey process and environmental review, offshore wind developers could begin installing turbines before 2030.
The Rep. US Rep. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans, said BOEM’s site selection is an “important first step” toward a stronger economy and cleaner energy for the Gulf region.
“Offshore wind is a key component in achieving our nation’s clean energy goals to lower costs and reduce pollution, while creating good jobs for Americans,” he said.
The region is well positioned to be a wind energy powerhouse. Thanks to the offshore oil and gas industry, the Gulf Coast already boasts many of the skills needed for the offshore wind industry, including steel fabricators, marine engineers and ship operators.
“These two wind energy areas represent exciting progress toward having the first offshore wind lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico, where there is a mature industry base and know-how to advance energy development on the outer continental shelf,” BOEM Director Amanda Lefton. he said.
Several Louisiana companies rooted in the offshore oil and gas industry helped design and build the United States’ first offshore wind farm, which was built off the coast of Rhode Island in 2016, and are have been active in other wind projects along the East Coast.
“The Gulf of Mexico is already integral to the U.S. offshore wind market with regional companies steadily providing the supplies, materials and expertise to build the first U.S. projects,” said John Begala, a policy expert with the Business Network for Offshore Wind. The development of offshore wind projects in the Gulf benefits all US wind projects because it will “open the door to a more robust national supply chain” from companies based in the Gulf, he added.
Wind projects have been formed in federal waters near Massachusetts, New York, Maryland, Virginia and other Atlantic states. Lease sales for the California coast are expected to begin in December.
The Lake Charles area, located about 56 miles from the coast, could generate power for nearly 740,000 homes — just under half of Louisiana’s households — and boost engineering and construction jobs for a region hit hard by Hurricane Laura and other storms.
The Galveston area could produce enough energy for 2.1 million homes, according to BOEM estimates.
A study conducted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in 2020 predicted that a 600-watt wind project near Lake Charles would create 4,470 construction jobs and generate about $450 million in goods and services. Once built, the relatively modest-sized wind farm will support 150 jobs and an annual infusion of $14 million into the economy from operations, maintenance and materials.
Opening more federal waters to offshore wind is part of a push by President Joe Biden’s administration to generate 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030.
Governor John Bel Edwards is also a supporter of wind power. His administration wants coastal Louisiana to generate at least 5,000 megawatts of wind power as part of a larger goal of “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050.
The world’s two largest offshore wind developers have already shown strong interest in building wind farms near Louisiana. Denmark’s Orsted and Germany’s RWE highlighted Louisiana’s political support for offshore wind in letters to BOEM.
RWE, which has renewable energy operations in 15 countries, urged regulators to focus on Louisiana despite studies showing the Texas coast has stronger and more consistent wind speeds.
“To date, Louisiana is the only state along the Gulf of Mexico that has signaled its interest in pursuing an offshore wind policy to meet its climate objectives,” an RWE executive told BOEM earlier this year .
The two wind areas of the Gulf total 682,000 hectares. That’s about 53,000 acres less than BOEM proposed earlier this year. The zones were cut after the agency heard concerns about overlapping uses by the US Navy and various industries, including transportation, fishing and oil and gas.
Much of the public input on the wind zones came from groups and Texas residents. The most common concerns expressed at BOEM were about the survival of migratory birds and ensuring that wind farms offer safe and well-paid jobs.
Lefton promised to continue to listen to stakeholders as leasing areas and construction proposals take shape.
“BOEM will continue to work with states and coastal communities as we move forward with our work and do so in a manner that seeks to avoid or minimize conflicts with other uses of the ocean and marine life in the Gulf of Mexico,” he said.
The next step in BOEM’s process is a “notice of proposed sale” with a 60-day public comment period beginning later this year or early next year.
Winds of Change: How the Gulf of Mexico could be the next offshore wind powerhouse
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