|The wind farm area off of Galveston. Click to enlarge.|
The state of Texas has signed an agreement to allow the first major offshore wind-energy project in the United States to be built off Galveston Island.
Galveston-Offshore Wind, a division of Louisiana-based Wind Energy Systems Technologies (WEST), will build the 150-MW development on an 11,355-acre lease about seven miles off the coast.
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.
Coastal wind power has come to the United States and found a home in Texas.—Jerry Patterson, Commissioner of the Texas General Land Office
Ask yourself this simple question: Are Texas and Louisiana in the energy business or the oil business? If we’re in the oil business, we’re all going to go out of business eventually, but if we’re in the energy business, these wind turbines will operate forever and furnish viable sources of energy.—Herman Schellstede, WEST President
The agreement has three phases. In the first phase, the research phase, WEST will spend between $3-$5 million of its own funds to build and operate two 80-meter meteorological towers designed to collect wind data in the Gulf of Mexico. Wind speed data gathered from the research towers will be used to determine locations for the turbines and to show the site’s potential.
Concurrently, the company will run studies of bird migration patterns for state and federal permits—likely to be the largest hurdle for the developer to clear. 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.To help mitigate any impact by the wind energy development, WEST may plan, for instance, to shut the turbines down for regularly scheduled maintenance during the neo-tropic migration.
WEST will also begin paying the state a lease rent of $10,000 a year until actual wind energy production begins.
The planners anticipate the research phase to last anywhere from one year to 18 months from the date the analysis is begun but with a deadline of February 2007.
Assuming the research shows the viability of a wind farm, the project moves into the second phase, the construction phase. WEST will build a field of about 50 wind turbines to produce an expected 150 MW. The hub of each turbine will rise 260 feet above the sea, and the turbine blades will be up to 55 yards long. Construction may cost as much as $300 million and take 5 years.
The wind turbines—and the meteorological towers—require approval and permitting from the US U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Once construction is complete, the 30-year production phase begins. The lease royalty structure is designed to encourage early production of energy and will create an entirely new stream of revenue from state-owned, submerged lands.
WEST will pay 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.
Like royalties from oil and gas produced on state lands, this money will flow into the state’s Permanent School Fund.
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.—Commissioner Patterson
Two other large offshore wind turbine farms have been proposed along the U.S. coast of the United States, one about four miles off the south shore of Long Island, New York, and one in Nantucket Sound, off Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
The New York project is still awaiting approval by the Army Corps of Engineers. The Nantucket project, also in federally controlled water, faces opposition from resident notables such as Walter Cronkite and Senator Ted Kennedy because of fears it would ruin the ocean view from shore.
Texas is second only to California in total wind power production. The state, however, must develop 10,000 MW of renewable energy capacity by 2025 to meet targets set by the state legislature. 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.