November 12th, 2020 by Tina Casey
The states ringing the Gulf of Mexico are are sitting on an offshore wind power goldmine, but up until now the political landscape has been somewhat inhospitable to the idea of tapping into that reservoir of economic activity. That is all about to change, because suddenly along comes Louisiana with an ambitious plan to pepper the Gulf with wind turbines. That leaves Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida out in the cold, though probably not for long. Aside from the market for clean electricity in the region, green hydrogen is in play.
Offshore Wind Power For Louisiana
Among the group of five states, it would seem that Texas is in the best position to develop its offshore wind resources. The wind-rich state has been pumping up its renewable energy profile all throughout Trump’s term in office, including some recent news related to global power systems. Texas is already known for its early adoption of onshore wind turbines, but for various reasons it has been slow to take advantage of its offshore potential. That leaves the gate wide open for another Gulf state to jump through.
On Monday, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards announced an ambitious plan to plumb the waters of the Gulf for clean power — with the help of the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, no less.
It may seem odd that BOEM is aiding and abetting offshore wind, considering that President* Trump, who is still President until January 20, 2021, is notoriously not a fan of wind turbines in general, and offshore wind turbines in particular.
Nevertheless, BOEM holds the keys to accelerating offshore wind development through its authority to lease offshore areas. It has been doing just that all throughout Trump’s first and only term in office.
Somewhat ironically, offshore activity languished during the Obama administration, but that was partly due to wrench-throwing by Republican governors in coastal states.
A change in the political guard at the state level helped to turn the tide in several Atlantic coast states during the Trump administration, and Louisiana’s Democratic governor is eager to bring his state to a table that is already set.
A Head Start On Offshore Wind For Louisiana
By set, we mean set with all the fixings. Louisiana already has a head start on offshore wind development through the skill set and supply chain of its oil and gas industry.
In a press release touting the new plan, Edwards pointed out that several Louisiana companies were involved in the development of the first — and for now, the only — offshore wind farm in the US, for which Rhode Island claims bragging rights.
“Off the coast of Rhode Island, Lafayette-based Aries Marine Corp. and Galliano-based Falcon Global LLC are Louisiana liftboat operators that helped develop the nation’s first commercial offshore wind farm, Block Island. For that project, Metairie-based Keystone Engineering provided design assistance and Houma-based Gulf Island Fabrication built foundation jackets and piling,” Edwards’s press office reported.
Edwards has reached out to BOEM for help in building a task force to coordinate leasing proposals.
In the meantime, the state is already anticipating 4,400 jobs and $445 million in economic output from a single 600-megawatt wind farm, based on modeling by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
“By 2035, industry forecasts suggest U.S. offshore wind energy capacity could grow to 22 gigawatts through $70 billion of new capital investment in manufacturing and port infrastructure, as well as 45,000 new direct jobs,” Louisiana enthuses.
More Economic Activity In The Works
State policymakers are already eyeballing the potential for Louisiana to establish itself as a technology leader in the global offshore wind market. In 2018, GE offshoot LM Wind Power opened a new wind turbine blade test center on the historic NASA Michoud campus (birthplace of the Saturn V rocket) near New Orleans. It expanded the facility last April, adding 100 more jobs.
Our friends over at NOLA.com report that the expanded turbine test center is currently working on GE’s 12-megawatt, 170-foot offshore blade, billed as the largest in the world (possibly they’re referring to GE’s Haliade-X wind turbine).
That’s just the tip of the green jobs picture for Louisiana. Nola.com notes that the facility is planning to partner with universities and community colleges to build a qualified labor pool including manufacturing as well as STEM areas.
Despite Obstacles, Wind Power On The Upswing In US Southeast
Aside from political roadblocks, the region’s less-than-optimal wind resources also explain why the Gulf state, and the entire southeast region, have been reluctant to adopt wind power.
For onshore wind development, that obstacle can be overcome by building taller turbine towers. However, that can add to construction costs and chip away at the ability of wind power to compete with conventional electricity. Complicating matters is the low cost of conventional electricity in Louisiana and other parts of the southeast.
Those same factors are in play for offshore development. Louisiana’s coast is not in the path of the best wind along the Gulf coast, but it does provide for a low cost labor pool, and the relatively shallow waters of its coastline can provide for a break in construction costs, too.
Earlier this year BOEM released the results of detailed Gulf coast wind studies carried out by NREL, which laid out an economic pathway for offshore development among all five states (for the record, BOEM funded the work).
Aside from NREL’s assessment of a 600-megawatt wind farm, the studies added plenty of other juicy details to offshore wind potential in the Gulf of Mexico, including this tidbit:
“…when considering all US states and considering only sites with average wind speeds of greater than 7 meters per second (m/s) (15.7 miles per hour [mph]) and water depths less than 1,000 m (3,280 ft), three of the top four states with the highest offshore wind resource capacity are within the GOM (Louisiana, Texas, and Florida).”
CleanTechnica took a look at that Gulf of Mexico wind study back in May, noting that “NREL lists the Gulf’s shallow water, lower average wave heights, and existing oil and gas infrastructure on the positive side for developing all sorts of ocean energy, including tides and currents, thermal conversion, wave power, and hydrogen conversion in addition to wind turbines.”
“Wind power beat out the other resources by a wide margin with a potential for 508 gigawatts. According to NREL, that’s double the amount of energy currently consumed among the five Gulf states,” we added.
So, where is all that extra energy going to go? For one thing, as the climate continues to warm the demand for air conditioning in the region will go up. That doesn’t necessarily mean that overall electricity demand will rise, but it could, especially if population growth in the region continues apace.
Even if electricity demand falls flat, offshore wind in the Gulf could ride the green hydrogen tide, in which electricity is used to “split” hydrogen from water. The US is already casting a net into the global green hydrogen market, most likely with an eye on the potential for producing hydrogen at wind farms offshore.
That could be a particularly bountiful outcome for Gulf coast states. Hydrogen has a wide range of industrial applications, and stakeholders in the petrochemical and refinery sectors are beginning to take an interest. Agriculture is another booming market for hydrogen that also has a strong profile in the US southeast.
That’s over and above the use of hydrogen in fuel cells, by the way.
As for where this leaves oil and gas stakeholders in Louisiana, that depends on how flexible they are. Last month our friends over at LNG Insight recently noted that at least one LNG firm in the southeast, Georgia-based Chart Industries, is already looking to adapt its gas liquefaction technology to produce liquid hydrogen for the export market.
If you have any thoughts on that topic, drop us a note in the comment thread.
Follow me on Twitter.
Image (cropped): Offshore wind resources in Gulf of Mexico by BOEM, via NREL.
Have a tip for CleanTechnica, want to advertise, or want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.