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Offshore wind project gears up  

While offshore wind-energy projects have been slow to get off the ground elsewhere in the United States, two Louisiana businessmen quietly have been making history off the Texas coast.

Herman Schellstede and Howard Schoeffler and their company, Wind Energy Systems Technologies LLC, have received the first permit issued in the United States to build offshore wind towers to produce electricity. Last month, the company finished putting up a 280-foot tower with 17 instruments to test, among other things, the wind, waves and bird deaths.

Within six months, the men hope to be ordering their towers and turbines. Within a year, they plan to have started building the first of 100 wind towers eight miles off Galveston that will be capable of producing 300 megawatts of electricity – enough to power 240,000 homes, according to a Department of Energy estimate. The company hopes to supply electricity to Galveston by 2009.

Schoeffler and Schellstede aim to produce electricity for 6.5 cents per kilowatt-hour – 2 cents to 3 cents less than the average nationwide.

The men are riding a surge in popularity of wind-generated electricity as the generation cost has come down and turbines have become more efficient, putting the cost of wind power on par with other sources of electricity.

But wind still faces other obstacles, such as where to put the huge towers and how to connect to the power grid.

Schoeffler and Schellstede have avoided some of the problems by building off the Texas shore, where the towers won’t be visible and where they can easily hook into the grid.

They also are reducing their costs by using old oil platforms as bases. And they are recycling oil knowledge to get a head start on building turbines in the Gulf of Mexico.

“We have the luxury here of knowing how to put stuff in the water,” Schoeffler said.

A rich history of oil has led Texas to be open to new forms of energy.

“It’s an easy jump from oil to wind,” Schellstede said.

Offshore wind farms operate in Denmark, Germany and the United Kingdom. But in the United States, offshore wind projects, such as Cape Wind in Nantucket Bay in Massachusetts, have failed to gain ground.

Cape Wind applied for a permit in 2001 but it, like other proposals in the Northeast, has stalled because the towers would be visible from the shore and because they are proposed in federal waters. Regulations haven’t been approved for wind farms in federal waters.

Schoeffler and Schellstede chose to put their turbines in state waters closer to shore to avoid federal red tape. But the towers are far enough out that they won’t be visible.

Schellstede has worked for 40 years in the oil industry building platforms and is transferring his knowledge to developing the offshore wind project.

“We wrote the book on offshore technology,” Schoeffler said of Louisiana. “To apply that know-how to wind is a downhill slide.”

Schoeffler first made the connection between oil and wind. He asked Schellstede whether it would be possible to put turbines on old oil platforms. Schellstede said it was, and they went to work.

While others might be deterred by the idea of putting giant, wind-catching blades directly in the path of hurricanes, Schellstede and Schoeffler think that’s simply an engineering problem to be solved.

“We’re familiar with the hurdles,” Schellstede said.

Schellstede has designed and patented blades that can be folded down when a storm is coming. And Schoeffler said the company is also considering using the leg of a liftboat to hold the turbine. The leg has a winch to raise and lower boats. That winch can be used to lower and raise the 72-ton turbines to protect them from storms.

“Any oil and gas man will tell you the Gulf is pretty cruel, but you can prepare yourself,” Schellstede said.

Wind power has often been cited as one of the most promising renewable energy sources.

About 11,600 megawatts of wind power capacity is installed in the United States, said Christina Real de Azua, a spokeswoman for the American Wind Energy Association. That’s just a fraction of the 4 million megawatts that powers the nation.

But according to a study released late last month, the United States is leading the world in wind power growth, with wind capacity increasing 27 percent in 2006.

“Wind power is one of the most important emissions-free sources of energy being deployed to address climate change and improve our energy security,” said Alexander Karsner, assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy with the Department of Energy.

Real de Azua said economics is driving the wind boom as the price of turbines has gone down and the price of natural gas has gone up.

Building a wind farm costs about twice as much as a plant fueled by natural gas, but once the farm is built, there’s no cost for fuel.

“The price of wind is always zero,” Real de Azua said.

By Pam Radtke Russell
Of The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune

The Patriot-News

13 June 2007

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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