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Bids could open way for offshore wind farm near South Padre Island  

The Texas General Land Office’s ambitions for wind power could land an offshore wind farm near South Padre Island.

On Oct. 2, the GLO plans to seek bids for the nation’s first competitive lease sale for rights to develop offshore wind farms – including the rights to develop 19,628 acres northeast of the town of South Padre Island.

The southern end of the lease would start about eight miles northeast of the SPI Convention Centre and about five miles east of Park Road 100. The lease would then stretch north to include about 30.6 square miles, nearly the size of the city of Harlingen.

Once constructed, the wind farm may be visible from parts of South Padre Island.

The lease will not have restrictions on turbine height or density, according to Jim Suydam, press secretary for the land office.

The South Padre Island tract will be the second largest of four Texas offshore wind farm leases offered during the General Land Office sale. Other sites are off of Calhoun, Brazoria and Jefferson counties.

Combined, the four sites total more than 73,000 acres.

Developers who win the competitive bid for the leases would next need state and federal permits before constructing the turbines.

Leases for the four sites were requested by Wind Energy Systems Technologies, a corporation that is developing the state’s first offshore wind farm near Galveston, Suydam said.

WEST is testing its Galveston wind farm for optimal wind speeds and expects to have the first turbines erected there by 2009, Suydam said.

“(WEST) said they would like the rights to build wind farms on these four tracts,” Suydam said, adding they paid the land office $12,000 to nominate the sites for sale.

Rather than direct negotiations with WEST, the land office will offer the leases through a competitive bidding process similar to the protocol used for the sale of oil and natural gas leases, Suydam said.

“The future of our nation’s offshore wind industry is off the Texas Gulf Coast,” said Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson. “There’s international interest in these tracts, and this will be the first time the market will be able to place a value on what I think is a very valuable asset.”

Revenue from the leases will go into the Texas Permanent School Fund to support the state’s public schools, Suydam said.

The land office could not offer income projections for the offshore leases. However, land office bidding instructions state that the minimum annual fee would be $20,000 per lease tract until the start of energy production. The land office also would take a minimum of 3.5 percent of gross revenue from the tracts during the first eight years of production.

Those percentages would increase in later years.

Texas has approximately 367 miles of Gulf coast with sovereignty to 10 miles offshore, Suydam said. In the future, the land office will consider additional wind farm leases, including for sites directly offshore from coastal communities, such as South Padre Island.

That prospect worries some environment advocates, though they say it’s too soon to know what impact a large-scale wind farm would have there.

“We always have concern about anything that would affect birds,” said John Wallace, manager of the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, which owns 23,000 acres of protected land on South Padre Island.

In 2006, the state land office announced plans for the biggest offshore wind farm in U.S. history to be built off the coast of Padre Island National Seashore in Willacy County. The company that bought that lease, Superior Renewable Energy, was later bought by Australian corporation Babcock & Brown. Suydam said the acquisition ended plans to develop the wind farm.

A company spokesman said in June that Superior nixed the plans because the project was too expensive.

By Ryan Henry and Melissa McEver (Valley Freedom Newspapers)

The Monitor

15 September 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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