Louisiana may have plenty of oil and natural gas, but the state comes up short in another source of power that’s skyrocketing in popularity – the wind.
Unlike other parts of the nation, Louisiana does not have a dependable supply of wind.
“The wind does not blow everywhere equally,” said Bryan Crouch, an engineer with Louisiana’s Department of Natural Resources.
But Herman J Schellstede, owner of an oil industry equipment company in New Iberia, is betting the Gulf of Mexico can produce enough wind to power thousands of homes and businesses.
He’s preparing to establish 62 huge wind turbines in the gulf off the coast of Galveston, Texas, that would produce 150 megawatts of power for electric generation.
Some of the turbines will be mounted on abandoned platforms like the oil rigs Schellstede constructed in the gulf for 42 years.
“We’re very, very familiar with offshore winds because we had to fight them all of our lives,” he said.
Schellstede said his company, Wind Energy Systems Technology, has approached state officials a number of times, but he got a better reception in Texas, which leads the nation in wind energy production.
Until Schellstede’s operation is on line, most wind energy will come from turbines in western Texas. Texas utility officials this week gave preliminary approval to build nearly $5 billion in transmission lines that would carry electricity generated from those wind farms to Dallas and other cities.
Texas utilities are willing to invest in wind power because state law mandates that a percentage of the electricity they produce come from renewable sources. Louisiana does not have such a requirement.
But Schellstede said there’s potential for Louisiana to make the same type of investment in wind. His company is about to set up two offshore tests, near Venice and Port Fourchon, that will measure wind strength and consistency for a year.
Schellstede said he is confident the sites he’s chosen get strong, constant winds, “but we have to prove it to the bankers.”
Academic research backs Schellstede’s claims. Stanford University researchers surveyed nearly 1,800 sites across the nation and found only 25 percent of the nation’s land is suited for wind power. The university’s 2003 findings ranked coastal Louisiana the highest in wind-power potential.
Wind power has liabilities. Turbines are expensive, clutter vistas and kill birds. They also would require an expensive new system for delivering the power.
Despite these problems, skyrocketing energy prices and Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens have spurred a rush to wind power.
Pickens has invested about $2 billion to build the world’s biggest wind farm in Pampa, Texas, and has spent millions more to advertise the virtues of wind power on television and radio. Pickens said wind power, generated in Texas and a wide swath of the Midwest, could replace natural gas as a generator of electricity.
The displaced natural gas could be used to fuel cars and other vehicles, Pickens said. That would almost cut in half the $700 billion the United States pays to purchase oil from other countries.
“On January 20, 2009, a new president gets sworn in,” Pickens says in his ads. “If we’re organized, we can convince Congress to make major changes toward cleaner, cheaper and domestic energy resources.”
While his investment is in western Texas, Pickens is pushing to make the Midwest “the Saudi Arabia of wind power” because of the advantages its central location offers in delivering power to both coasts. Pickens also said his plan would bring much-needed jobs to the Plains states – and income for farmers who would receive up to $50,000 in annual royalties from each turbine placed on their property.
Spokeswoman Melissa McKay said Pickens also would back efforts to develop wind energy in the Gulf of Mexico.
“He’s open to all possibilities,” she said.
But Crouch of the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources said wind power claims may be overblown.
“There’s a lot of potential for wind power, but it’s not going to replace natural gas,” Crouch said. “It’s all somewhat pie in the sky.”
By Ana Radelat
Gannett News Service
20 July 2008
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