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Land deal a breeze for wind energy company  

A company already developing a wind farm eight miles off the coast of Galveston was awarded four more tracts Tuesday in the state’s first open bidding for offshore wind power, but conservationists remain worried that wind turbines could kill migrating birds.

Louisiana-based Wind Energy Systems Technology was the sole bidder on Tuesday. A British company had expressed interest but later backed out, Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said.

The tracts, totaling 114 square miles, further establish the company’s position as the sole developer of offshore wind energy in Texas. Another company contracted for offshore wind farm leases off South Padre Island but has reached an agreement with the state to let those leases lapse because it was bought by another firm that was focusing on other wind projects, Patterson said.

There are no turbines offshore yet. Herman Schellstede, president of Wind Energy Systems Technology, said his company is still in the research phase. A test turbine could be erected at the Galveston offshore site early in 2008. It may be equipped with microphones and radar to study birds, he said.

Schellstede also said he plans to install a platform so conservationists visit the test area and see potential bird problems for themselves.

Winnie Burkett, sanctuary manager for the Houston Audubon Society, said conservationists are eager to see whether the company sticks by its pledges to keep them involved in the development of the wind farm.

She and Schellstede both said there is little information about the effects of wind turbines on wildlife. While some European countries have offshore wind turbines, they don’t have the same migratory bird population that Texas does, they said.

Patterson dismissed the idea that the turbines will hurt flocks of migrating birds or be an eyesore for coastal visitors. Birds tend to fly higher than the wind equipment and, at eight miles offshore, the giant turbines can’t be seen by tourists on land, he said.

And, if they are in view, he said, “I don’t think it looks all that bad.”

Patterson said he expects to hold bidding for more offshore wind power leases in about a year. The Texas General Land Office oversees development of territory up to 10 miles from the state’s coastline.

“If you’re in the wind business, whether it’s onshore or offshore, Texas is the place to be,” Patterson said.

Although it’s not clear why more companies didn’t bid on the offshore tracts Tuesday, it may be that many are busy with wind power projects on land in Texas, said Christine Real de Azua, spokeswoman for the American Wind Energy Association.

Texas is now the nation’s top producer of wind power, according to the association. The state had 3,352 megawatts of wind-generating capacity installed by the end of the second quarter this year, ahead of California’s 2,376 megawatts.

Two other offshore wind farm leases were previously awarded by the state of Texas – one of them to Schellstede’s company for the wind farm off Galveston – but not through competitive bidding. Patterson has the authority to award leases through direct negotiations.

Patterson said after learning of interest from more than one company, he decided to treat the latest wind farm leases like an oil or gas lease sale and allow the market to place a value on the tracts. Tuesday’s bidding was part of the state’s regular oil and gas lease sale.

Wind Energy Systems Technology gets the right to develop offshore wind power in the tracts near Jefferson, Calhoun, Brazoria and Cameron counties. The company will pay $21,000 per tract for development rights.

When the wind farms are operating, the company will pay the state’s Permanent School Fund a minimum of $132 million during the 30-year life of the leases, or $258 million in today’s dollars, Patterson said. The state is to make even more money from a percentage of the company’s energy production.

The Louisiana company has a background in offshore construction in oil and gas.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

+++

On the Web

Texas General Land Office at www.glo.state.tx.us

Wind Energy Systems Technology at www.windenergypartners.biz

By Mark Collette

The Daily News

3 October 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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