- National Wind Watch: Wind Energy News - https://www.wind-watch.org/news -

Wind farm project tapped for federal funding

Baryonyx Corp., the Austin-based firm that’s been pursuing development of wind farms offshore of the Rio Grande Valley, is one of seven projects selected for funding through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind and Water Power Program.

Once the final contract details are worked out, Baryonyx will receive an initial DOE grant of $4 million to conduct environmental and feasibility assessments and pay for front-end engineering costs on a three-turbine offshore demonstration project capable of producing 18 megawatts, or 18 million watts.

Baryonyx has dubbed the project “Gulf Offshore Wind” or “GO Wind.”

Although seven projects were chosen for the initial grants, no more than three will receive additional DOE funding – up to $47 million each – for siting, construction and installation. The goal is for these projects to be in commercial operation by 2017.

The DOE effort to advance innovative offshore wind technologies is part of the Obama administration’s comprehensive National Offshore Wind Strategy to develop a sustainable offshore wind industry in the United States.

Ian Hatton, CEO of Baryonyx, said in a phone interview he feels confident his company will gain final approval toward actual construction. That’s because he and other Baryonyx executives were part of Eclipse Energy, a British company that conceived and developed the groundbreaking “Ormonde” wind farm project operating in the Irish Sea.

“We’re the only team in the whole application process who’s actually built one of these things before,” Hatton said.

Baryonyx leads the consortium that submitted the GO Wind application to DOE. The other members are Keppel AmFELS, the Brownsville-based offshore oil rig fabricator; Siemens AG, the German manufacturer of the massive 6MW turbines GO Wind plans to use; Offshore Design Engineering Ltd., Eclipse’s partner on the Ormonde project; and Texas A&M University, the lead partner of the project’s academic group, which also includes Texas Tech and the University of Texas (Austin and Brownsville).

Hatton said the key objective of GO Wind is to show how to drive down the unit cost of offshore power through the “excellent wind resource” the Gulf of Mexico provides, highly efficient turbines from Siemens, and the fabrication expertise of Keppel AmFELS.

He believes significant cost reductions should be achievable through the ability of Keppel AmFELS to mass produce the substructures to support wind farm towers and turbines. Siemens turbine technology has evolved rapidly, meanwhile, leading to a larger, lighter machine with very little internal friction and thus much more efficiency in recovering energy from the wind, Hatton said.

There’s a reason the focus is on lowering cost: The wind industry is facing new competition from cheaper natural gas thanks to several recent discoveries of gas reserves in the United States and worldwide. This has driven down the cost of producing electricity from gas-fired power plants. The challenge is to prove that electricity produced by offshore wind can compete price-wise with electricity generated by natural gas.

Onshore wind has proven itself to be competitive with gas-fired generation, Hatton said. Offshore wind energy costs more to produce, but it delivers a better yield-to-cost ratio, he said. Also, low electricity prices are discouraging construction of the new gas-fired plants necessary to satisfy growing electricity demand, Hatton said.

If everything goes as planned, the environmental study and other aspects of phase one for GO Wind will begin in February and take two years to complete. Assuming the project moves to the next phase it will be generating electricity by the third quarter of 2017, Hatton said. If the demo succeeds, the next step will be a larger, commercial-scale project.

Baryonyx’s ultimate goal is to erect hundreds of turbines on more than 41,000 acres offshore of Cameron County, on two leases it has secured from the Texas General Land Office and dubbed “Rio Grande North” and “Rio Grande South.” GO Wind, which would be built within the Rio Grande South lease, will cost about $120 million to develop and require matching contributions from the various consortium members in addition to DOE support.

Hatton said that having GO Wind selected for funding by the DOE is a big deal, though not as big as what will happen if Baryonyx is able to carry out its larger vision. For instance, the economic impact of Keppel AmFELS fabricating hundreds of giant substructures would be immense, he said.

“It’s going to be a pretty big thing for South Texas in terms of an economic shot in the arm if it all pans out,” Hatton said. “That’s one of the interesting things about renewable energy projects. They quite often benefit communities which historically haven’t often benefited from oil and gas or other forms of mineral extraction.”

Steve Clark writes for The Brownsville Herald.