A Louisiana company plans to install the first of 50 wind turbine platforms 10 miles off Galveston Island this week, moving the project closer to its goal of becoming the first U.S. offshore wind farm.
Galveston Offshore Wind, a division of Wind Energy Systems Technologies, plans to install a former oil production platform in about 50 feet of water in the coming days. At first weather-data-gathering instruments will sit on top of a tower some 300 feet above sea level, but by September the company hopes to have its first wind turbine in place.
By 2010 the $240 million development plans to have as many as 50 wind turbines installed, generating 150 megawatts of peak output, or about enough power for 45,000 homes, said Herman Schellstede, CEO of the companies.
While 1 megawatt of power produced by a natural gas or coal-fired power plant can power about 800 homes, the power industry usually estimates one megawatt of wind energy can power about 300 homes because of the variability of wind power.
There are two other projects on the East Coast that are farther along than Galveston Offshore Wind, but both have moved slowly and have run into community opposition, said Jeremy Firestone, an assistant professor of marine policy and legal studies at the University of Delaware.
The cost of wind projects has risen in recent years as material and labor costs have climbed and orders for turbines have piled up, but Schellstede said he believes the Galveston project is still on target.
“Some project costs have gone up, that’s true, but the platform costs have been going down,” Schellstede said.
15.1 new gigawatts
Wind power makes up a fraction of total world and U.S. power generation capacity, but it has been growing quickly.
Last year saw 15.1 gigawatts of new wind-generation capacity worth $23 billion installed around the world, according to the Global Wind Energy Council, increasing the installed base by 32 percent to 74.2 gigawatts.
The U.S. has the third-largest installed base of wind capacity, behind Germany and Spain, with 11.6 gigawatts. But the U.S. had the largest amount of new capacity added last year, with 2.5 gigawatts of equipment worth about $4 billion installed. Texas accounted for about one-third of all new wind generation installed in 2006 and overtook California as the top wind-energy-producing state, with 2,768 megawatts of capacity.
The U.S. has been relatively late in developing offshore wind projects, Firestone said.
“There’s a fair amount of activity underneath the surface,” Firestone said. “The East Coast activity is in large part because we have shallow coastal waters and strong offshore winds that are close to areas with heavy demand.”
The two largest projects in development in the U.S. are a 420-megawatt project off the southern coast of Massachusetts in Nantucket Bay, called Cape Wind, and one off Long Island, N.Y., with a planned capacity of 435 megawatts.
Delaware has received a proposal for a 600-megawatt wind-powered project off its shores by a firm named Bluewater Wind, Firestone said, and Rhode Island has said it wants as much as 15 percent of its power to come from wind.
Unlike onshore wind projects, which tend to have lower power output during the warmest parts of the day, offshore projects have their highest output in the afternoon because of the difference in ocean wind patterns. That means offshore wind projects have a better chance of getting higher rates for their power because they will be producing during times of peak demand.
On the fast track
The leasing process for the Galveston project moved quickly thanks in part to the Texas General Land Office, which set up a fast-track approval process in 2003.
That led to the 2005 agreement where Galveston Offshore Wind purchased a 30-year lease on the area, agreeing to pay $10,000 a year for the first five years.
And because the Texas project is in state waters, unlike the other two, it isn’t under the direct jurisdiction of the Minerals Management Service, the federal agency that was charged with overseeing offshore energy projects.
Galveston Offshore Wind still has to file environmental impact statements with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, however, and Firestone expects the corps will make its standards match those of the Minerals Management Service.
Effects on birds studied
Schellstede said the company has started a key study on how the project will affect birds, which use the Texas coast as a major migration route. The company is already using onshore radar to study bird patterns and will use platform-mounted radar to continue the study in the next two years.
“I don’t care who will be first,” Firestone said. “I just want someone to get one up there to see what it looks like, how it operates and the impact it has on the environment.”
By Tom Fowler
7 March 2007
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