HOUSTON – The Gulf of Mexico’s first offshore wind farms will be developed off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana, the Biden administration announced Wednesday, and together they’re projected to produce enough energy to power around 3 million homes.
The wind farms likely will not be up and running for years, energy analysts and the state’s grid operator said, but the announcement from the U.S. Interior Department is the first step in ramping up offshore wind energy in the United States, which has lagged behind that of Europe and China. The only two operating offshore wind energy farms in the U.S. are off the coasts of Rhode Island and Virginia, which together produce 42 megawatts of electricity – enough to power fewer than 2,500 homes.
One of the new wind projects announced Wednesday will be developed 24 nautical miles off the coast of Galveston, covering a total of 546,645 acres – bigger than the city of Houston – with the potential to power 2.3 million homes, according to the U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. The other project will be developed near Port Arthur, about 56 nautical miles off the coast of Lake Charles, Louisiana, covering 188,023 acres with the potential to power 799,000 homes.
“It’s exciting to see offshore wind in the Gulf getting closer to reality,” said Luke Metzger, executive director of Environment Texas, an environmental protection group. “With strong winds in the evenings when we need energy the most, offshore wind in the Gulf of Mexico would greatly complement Texas’ onshore renewable energy resources, help bolster our shaky electric grid and help our environment.”
The wind farms will join a growing number of oil drilling rigs off the coast of Texas, including near Galveston, where the oil platforms dot the horizon looking out from Galveston’s beaches. The Biden administration also recently has opened up land in the Gulf of Mexico for more offshore oil and gas drilling leases.
Gov. Greg Abbott’s office did not respond to a request for comment about the new offshore wind energy developments.
“Offshore wind has a great potential in Texas,” Brad Jones, president of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages Texas’ main power grid, told The Texas Tribune on Thursday. “It will take some time to develop, and that time will be based on how quickly we can put together port facilities, the specialized ships that are necessary and train our labor force to achieve this type of development. It is new for the U.S.”
Texas is already the country’s largest wind power producer and has land-based wind farms up and down the Gulf Coast, where winds typically blow harder.
Wind energy’s contributions to the Texas power grid vary depending on where, and how hard, the wind blows across the state. On Tuesday, when Texas hit a new record for energy consumption, wind and solar power combined to provide 25% of the energy on the grid, ERCOT said. On July 11, when ERCOT asked Texans to conserve electricity because demand threatened to exceed supply, wind generation dropped to less than 10% of its overall capacity.
ERCOT forecasters said they typically don’t expect a lot of wind energy during hot summer days because during summer winds tend to be stronger at night.
Offshore wind provides much steadier energy production than wind farms on land in Texas, Jones said. With the “extraordinary” growth of Texas’ population and economy, Jones said “we have to keep pace with that development.”
“So having an additional resource that can provide generation to Texans to keep the lights on is a value to all of us,” Jones said.
Metzger and energy analysts said companies are interested in developing offshore wind projects in Texas, but it’s too early to tell how quickly they will be built and how much they will cost.
New financial incentives from the federal or state governments could speed up completion of the projects, the analysts said, but it’s unclear whether that will happen.
“The commercial appetite is there – it really is about the regulatory hurdles that exist,” said Kenneth B. Medlock III, an energy expert at Rice University. “There’s a lot of interest, without a doubt. Companies are actively lobbying to try to get these projects done.”
Leaders in neighboring Louisiana have been actively working to attract wind energy production. Louisiana’s most recent climate plan, released in February, set a goal of generating 5 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2035, which could power millions of homes there. Texas does not have a state climate plan.
“Louisiana, unlike Texas, has been really bullish on developing offshore wind and offering economic incentives to offshore wind,” Metzger said.
Still, U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, D-Houston, said Texas “has consistently led in the offshore energy industry” and is well positioned to house the new project.
“Our region has the energy expertise and the existing infrastructure to support the expansion of wind opportunities while powering our country,” Fletcher said in a statement. “As an advocate for an all-of-the-above strategy for energy investment, I welcome this proposal and look forward to partnering with the Administration to create new jobs and to ensure our region and our country continue to lead the transition to a lower-carbon world.”
Disclosure: Rice University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
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