Offshore wind farm proposed for Gulf of Mexico near Galveston could power 2.3 million homes
Two proposed wind farms off the Texas and Louisiana coasts would join offshore oil drilling rigs in the gulf as the Biden administration tries to boost the country’s clean energy supply.
BY MITCHELL FERMANJULY 22, 2022
HOUSTON — The Gulf of Mexico’s first offshore wind farms will be developed off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana, the Biden administration announced Wednesday, and together they’re projected to produce enough energy to power around 3 million homes.
The wind farms likely will not be up and running for years, energy analysts and the state’s grid operator said, but the announcement from the U.S. Interior Department is the first step in ramping up offshore wind energy in the United States, which has lagged behind that of Europe and China. The only two operating offshore wind energy farms in the U.S. are off the coasts of Rhode Island and Virginia, which together produce 42 megawatts of electricity — enough to power fewer than 2,500 homes.
One of the new wind projects announced Wednesday will be developed 24 nautical miles off the coast of Galveston, covering a total of 546,645 acres — bigger than the city of Houston — with the potential to power 2.3 million homes, according to the U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. The other project will be developed near Port Arthur, about 56 nautical miles off the coast of Lake Charles, Louisiana, covering 188,023 acres with the potential to power 799,000 homes.
The reporting of this story is so bad that it’s not even wrong! No Gulf of Mexico (GOM) offshore wind farms or actual projects have been announced by anybody. The Department of the Interior announced that it was beginning the process of identifying leasing areas in the GOM, most suitable for the development of offshore wind resources. They will then hold lease sales in those areas. After which the high bidders (if there are any) will begin the process of designing, permitting and building offshore wind farms.
Department of the Interior Announces Next Steps for Offshore Wind Energy in Gulf of Mexico
NEW ORLEANS — In response to the President’s call to advance offshore wind development and accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy, the Department of the Interior today announced next steps to bring the opportunity of offshore wind energy to the Gulf of Mexico.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) works under its renewable energy competitive leasing process to identify the offshore locations that appear most suitable for development, taking into consideration potential impacts to resources and ocean users. BOEM is seeking public input on the identification of two potential wind energy areas (WEAs) in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).
“President Biden has called on us to address the climate crisis and Interior is taking that challenge to heart. The promise of renewable energy is undeniable, as is the momentum for a clean energy transition,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. “Today’s announcement in the Gulf of Mexico is one of many commitments we are making to spur innovation, create good-paying jobs, and collaborate with states, Tribes and communities to ensure that we are doing everything we can to care for our Earth.”
Over the past year, the Biden-Harris administration?has launched the?American offshore wind industry?by approving and celebrating the groundbreaking of the nation’s first two commercial-scale, offshore wind projects in federal waters. By 2025, the Interior Department plans to potentially hold up to five additional offshore lease sales and complete the review of at least 16 plans to construct and operate commercial, offshore wind energy facilities, which would represent more than 22 gigawatts of clean energy for the nation.
“BOEM used the most current scientific data to analyze 30 million acres in the Call Area to find the best spaces for wind energy development. We are invested in working in partnership with states and communities to find areas that avoid or minimize conflicts with other ocean uses and marine life in the Gulf of Mexico,” said BOEM Director Amanda Lefton. “We are committed to a transparent, inclusive and data-driven process that ensures all ocean users flourish in the Gulf.”
The first draft WEA is located approximately 24 nautical miles (nm) off the coast of Galveston, TX. The area for review totals 546,645 acres and has the potential to power 2.3 million homes with clean wind energy. The second draft WEA is located approximately 56 nm off the coast of Lake Charles, LA. The area for review totals 188,023 acres and has the potential to power 799,000 homes.
The two draft WEAs represent a subset of the original 30-million acre Gulf of Mexico Call Area that the Department of the Interior announced for public comment in October 2021. The draft WEAs were reduced to avoid potential impacts on other ocean uses and resources, such as commercial and recreational fishing, maritime navigation, military activities, marine protected species, avian species, and existing infrastructure.
Public comments on the draft WEAs will be accepted for 30 days beginning July 20, 2022.
In addition to the draft WEAs, BOEM has prepared a draft environmental assessment (EA) covering the entire call area to consider the potential impacts from site characterization (e.g., marine mammal surveys) and site assessment (e.g., installation of meteorological buoys) activities expected to take place following lease issuance. The EA analysis will inform potential lease stipulations necessary to address identified environmental impacts associated with offshore wind leasing activities. Public comments on the draft EA will also be accepted for 30 days beginning July 20, 2022.
During the comment period, BOEM will hold two virtual public meetings where the public can learn more about the environmental review process. There will also be an opportunity for participants to ask questions and provide comments on the draft EA.
One of the new wind projects announced Wednesday will be developed 24 nautical miles off the coast of Galveston, covering a total of 546,645 acres — bigger than the city of Houston — with the potential to power 2.3 million homes, according to the U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
The wind “project” covering 546,645 acres 24 NM offshore of Galveston is not a project. It’s the entire leasing area (Wind Energy Area, WEA) being proposed.
The first draft WEA is located approximately 24 nautical miles (nm) off the coast of Galveston, TX. The area for review totals 546,645 acres and has the potential to power 2.3 million homes with clean wind energy.
Assuming the entire WEA was leased and developed to the maximum density of wind turbines, all of these imaginary projects, combined, could have the potential to power 2.3 million homes, when the wind is blowing at the optimal speed.
While there seems to be some wind power potential in the GOM… It’s not outstanding.
Areas with annual average wind speeds of 7 meters per second (m/s) and greater at 90-m height are generally considered to be suitable for offshore development.
The average annual windspeed at 90-m in the proposed WEA’s is generally 7.5 to 8.0 m/s. Most of Texas’ wind power generation is located in West Texas, where the 90-m winds average 8.0 to >9.0 m/s. According to NREL’s current analysis, the GOM would seem to have wind power potential. Oddly enough, just a couple of years ago, the GOM was not considered to be a serious wind power candidate.
DECEMBER 3, 2021
The Gulf of Mexico is poised for a wind energy boom. ‘The only question is when.’
The Gulf of Mexico has long seemed an unlikely candidate for offshore wind development. Its winds are relatively weak until they reach hurricane strength, at which point they could be overpowering. While wind energy developers have swarmed across the East Coast in recent years, the Gulf has been largely ignored.
That is, until now. A recent federal study has recast the Gulf as a potential wind powerhouse. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory determined the Gulf has the potential to generate almost 510,000 megawatts of offshore wind energy per year. That’s twice the current energy needs of all five Gulf states, and larger than the potential offshore wind capacity of the Pacific Coast and Great Lakes combined.
In June, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the federal agency that oversees offshore oil, gas and wind permitting, initiated a process that will open the Gulf to wind lease sales by 2025. Offshore wind companies from Singapore, Germany and Portugal and large oil companies such as Shell are already showing interest in building turbines off the Louisiana and Texas coasts.
The Gulf makes up for its relatively weak winds with other attributes. Its shallow waters reduce the need for tall, expensive turbines, and its warm temperatures and smaller wave heights are expected to make construction and maintenance relatively easy and inexpensive, according to the study.
What truly sets the Gulf apart is its primed and ready workforce. Many of the skills needed in the offshore oil and gas industry are directly transferable to building and servicing wind farms.
“We have the most attractive full scope of abilities for offshore wind in the world,” Martin said. “It’s part of the DNA here to work offshore.”
Louisiana companies rooted in the oil and gas industry helped build the U.S.’s first offshore wind farm, a five-turbine pilot project that began operating off the coast of Rhode Island in 2016. The Block Island Wind Farm enlisted steel fabricators in Houma, ship operators from Galliano and engineers from Mandeville.
As the state’s oil and gas sector shrinks, many more companies that serviced oil rigs could find work in the offshore wind industry.
Hurricanes and birds
Offshore wind in the Gulf isn’t without challenges.
“The biggest question is hurricanes,” Celata said. The Gulf’s long and active hurricane season presents hazards unfamiliar to offshore wind developers in New England or the North Sea.
But with the fast pace of innovations in the industry, Celata is confident solutions are in the offing.
Engineers designed oil and gas structures that withstood Hurricane Katrina and other potent storms, so there’s no reason they can’t do the same for wind turbines, said Sara Ghazizadeh, of Keystone Engineering, the firm that designed the Block Island farm’s foundations.
“Hurricanes aren’t a challenge we can’t overcome,” she said. “By the time we need [turbines] in the Gulf, we’ll have it figured out.”
Birds are another big question. More than 2 billion birds cross the Gulf each year on a migratory pathway that follows the Mississippi River.
There’s no question some birds would be killed by spinning blades, said Erik Johnson, director of bird conservation science with the National Audubon Society’s Delta office covering Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas. But climate change is harming far more birds than wind turbines ever will, he said.
“The bottom line is we have to get off oil and gas,” he said. Emissions from burning fossil fuels are at the heart of dramatic climate shifts that rob birds of habitat and harm their ability to breed, migrate and find food. “With more offshore wind, there will be a net benefit for birds.”
There are worse threats to birds. House cats, for example, are blamed for killing about 2.4 billion birds each year.
How many of the 2.4 billion birds allegedly killed by house cats were eagles, hawks, falcons or other large migratory birds? I’d bet that wind power has a far better kill ratio than house cats when it comes to birds of prey.
Despite the Gulf’s challenges, offshore wind developers are already circling the Gulf in search of opportunities.
Nine companies responded to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s request for interest in possible wind energy leasing in the Gulf. Five are from Europe…
Here is a map of current oil & gas leases in the GOM:
Here are the WEA’s overlaid on the oil & gas lease map:
Is “the potential to power 2.3 million homes” bigger than an Olympic swimming pool?
The offshore Galveston WEA supposedly could power 2.3 million homes… It would have been more useful to state the capacity potential in Gigawatts (GW).
How much electricity does an American home use?
In 2020, the average annual electricity consumption for a U.S. residential utility customer was 10,715 kilowatthours (kWh), an average of about 893 kWh per month. Louisiana had the highest annual electricity consumption at 14,407 kWh per residential customer, and Hawaii had the lowest at 6,446 kWh per residential customer.
Assuming a 40% capacity factor (probably optimistic), that works out to about 7 GW of installed capacity with a 546,645 acre footprint. ERCOT currently has about 92 GW of installed capacity, including 35.7 GW of seasonally problematic wind power. Power Magazine estimated that the two WEA’s, combined, could accommodate about twice that capacity.
Combined, the draft WEAs cover 734,668 acres, and BOEM suggests they have the potential to power 3.1 million homes. The Department of Interior (DOI) agency that manages development of U.S. Outer Continental Shelf energy and mineral resources did not provide a power capacity estimation. However, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) estimates that 1 MW of electricity can power about 200 Texas homes during periods of peak demand. While unconfirmed by BOEM, that suggests the draft WEAs could host a combined 15.5 GW of capacity.
If I use the Department of Energy’s Offshore Wind Potential Tables, I get a maximum theoretical capacity of 11 GW in the offshore Galveston WEA. However, this is a gross installed capacity number. It doesn’t take into account “environmental or human use considerations.”
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has produced these estimates of the gross (not reduced by environmental or human use considerations) offshore wind potential expressed in “installed capacity.” This is the potential megawatts (MW) of rated capacity that could be installed at offshore areas with mean annual wind speeds of 7 m/s and greater at a 90-m height, assuming 5 MW of installed capacity per square kilometer of water. The offshore wind potential tables present the resource broken down by annual wind speed, water depth, and distance from shore.
So… My 7 GW estimate appears to be reasonable, if not overly optimistic.
While 546,645 acres doesn’t seem very big compared to GOM oil & gas leases, it is very big for 7 or even 15 GW of installed capacity.
This report considers the various direct and indirect land requirements for coal, natural gas, nuclear, hydro, wind, and solar electricity generation in the United States in 2015. For each source, it approximates the land used during resource production, by energy plants, for transport and transmission, and to store waste materials. Both one-time and continuous land-use requirements are considered. Land is measured in acres and the final assessment is given in acres per megawatt.
Specifically, this report finds that coal, natural gas, and nuclear power all feature the smallest physical footprint of about 12 acres per megawatt produced. Solar and wind are much more land intensive technologies using 43.5 and 70.6 acres per megawatt, respectively. Hydroelectricity generated by large dams has a significantly larger footprint than any other generation technology using 315.2 acres per megawatt.
While this report does not attempt to comprehensively quantify land requirements across the entire production and distribution chain, it does cover major land components and offers a valuable starting point to further compare various energy sources and facilitates a deeper conversation surrounding the necessary trade-offs when crafting energy policy.
Based on the electricity consumption of an average U.S. home, the offshore Galveston WEA would produce 2,813.3 MW from 546,645 acres.
546,645 acres ÷ 2,813.3 MW = 194 acres/MW
Even if my estimated 7 GW is too low… 15 GW would still be 90 acres per GW.
Currently active GOM federal oil & gas leases cover 10,352,543 acres. As of April 2022, the average daily production from GOM federal leases was 1.763 million barrels of oil per day (bbl/d) and 2.218 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day (Bcf/d). Let’s convert everything to Btu/d. Yes… I know it’s not a truly apples to apples comparison… But it will be as fun as unit conversions can get!
Offshore Galveston WEA
2,300,000 homes x 10,715 kWh/home = 24,644,500,000 kWh/yr
Nearly 1.2 million Btu per acre per day. It’s actually a lot more than that, because only about 40% of the active leases are currently producing oil & gas and the actual surface footprints of the production facilities are a lot smaller than the leased acreage.
Even if I doubled my wind power output estimate, it would still be significantly less than energy oil & gas. And that’s comparing the speculative output of windfarms, that won’t be producing anything, for years, if ever, to actual energy production… Energy production that the current maladministration is doing everything in their power to destroy.
Yes… I do realize that a lot of energy is consumed in the process of converting fuels to electricity. Since, oil is primarily used for transportation and industrial purposes, direct comparisons with wind power are not particularly useful, except to make wind look puny. But, we can directly compare it to natural gas. It typically requires 7.40 cubic feet (scf) of natural gas to generate 1 kWh of electricity.
2,218,000 mcf/d x 1,000,000 Btu/mcf = 2,218,000,000,000 Btu/d
1,000,000 Btu/mcf –> 1,000 Btu/scf
1,000 Btu/scf ÷ 7.40 scf/kWh = 135 kWheq/mcf
Dividing the energy output of natural gas yields the energy equivalent of electricity generation.
The numbers are closer than I thought they would be… But then there’s the cost. The levelized cost of electricity from offshore is more than three times that of natural gas combined cycle, Even if you assume the tax credits are free, it’s still more than double the cost.
$136.51/MWh is 13.651¢/kWh… That generation cost is higher than the average residential rate in Texas (13.15¢/kWh). Even if you deduct the tax credit from the cost, it’s still more than twice the cost of combined cycle natural gas, onshore wind and solar PV. It’s even more expensive than coal & nuclear, the most reliable and resilient generation sources. And don’t let the announcement of apparently affordable power purchase agreements fool you.
This report analyzes the power purchase agreements (PPAs) between Massachusetts electric
distribution companies (EDCs) and Vineyard Wind LLC filed on July 31, 2018. The analysis is
intended to derive insights for estimating cost of U.S. offshore wind systems and to inform
broader cost modeling activities. The documented first-year price for delivery of offshore wind
generation and renewable energy certificates under the Vineyard Wind/EDC PPA is
$74/megawatt-hour (MWh) (2022$) for facility 1 (400 megawatts [MW]) and $65/MWh (2023$)
for facility 2 (400 MW). This first-year PPA price, however, does not reflect the entire 20-year
PPA price schedule or the complete set of expected revenue sources and tax benefits available to the Vineyard Wind LLC project.
An extensive accounting of the PPA price schedule and expected revenue sources inclusive of those that are exogenous to the reported PPA is conducted in this study to estimate the project’s levelized revenue of energy (LROE). This allows for a more equivalent comparison of the reported PPA pricing with bottom-up modeled (unsubsidized) levelized cost of energy (LCOE) estimates. The reader should note that this analysis solely reflects the opinions of the authors and was conducted independently of the ongoing evaluation by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources of the PPA between Vineyard Wind LLC and Massachusetts electric distribution companies as filed on July 31, 2018. The analysis and conclusions described herein do not reflect actual cost data, which are confidential to Vineyard Wind and its partners.
The total calculated LROE from the Vineyard LLC/EDC PPA is estimated to be $98/MWh (2018$). This LROE estimate for the first commercial-scale offshore wind project in the United States appears to be within the range of LROE estimated for offshore wind projects recently tendered in Northern Europe with a start of commercial operation by the early 2020s. This suggests that the expected cost and risk premium for the initial set of U.S. offshore wind projects might be less pronounced than anticipated by many industry observers and analysts.
Now can someone explain to me why offshore wind should be in the GOM? Granted, the WEA’s are in areas where oil & gas production is mostly a thing of the past. It will be good for the workboat industry… But will more wind power be good for the Texas grid (ERCOT)? Particularly since it will cost far more than the seasonally reliable wind power we already have in the grid.
Beiter, Philipp, Paul Spitsen, Walter Musial, and Eric Lantz. 2019. The Vineyard Wind
Power Purchase Agreement: Insights for Estimating Costs of U.S. Offshore Wind Projects.
Golden, CO: National Renewable Energy Laboratory. NREL/TP-5000-72981.
Stevens, Landon. Footprint of Energy: Land Use of U.S. Electricity Production. 2017. Strata Policy, Utah State University. Logan UT. 2017.
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