Two prospective wind farm sites in the Gulf of Mexico are spinning up criticism from some in Texas for various different reasons.
One of those zones is estimated to fit nearly 550,000-acres of wind farms off the coast of Galveston with the projected potential to provide 11,500 megawatts (MW) of electricity — enough to power 2.3 million homes at full capacity. The other is a 188,000-acre zone off the coast of Lake Charles, LA. The federal government will lease out the territory for private companies to develop and operate.
These two zones are in conjunction with the Biden administration’s call for constructing 30 gigawatts (30,000 MW) of offshore wind capacity by 2030. In July, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) opened the projects up to public input, and over 100 comments were filed.
Offshore wind projects cost the same as constructing a nuclear plant — $5,000 per kilowatt generated (a kilowatt-hour in Texas costs about $0.13) — and are substantially more costly than gas-fired generation. Installing and maintaining offshore mechanical operations is a costly operation whether it’s windmills or oil rigs.
Oil rigs operate in the water, the only place to drill where the petroleum beneath the waves may be reached. Advocates of offshore wind aim to tap into the same concept, except instead of underground petroleum, it’s the above-water winds they hope to harness.
State Rep. Mayes Middleton (R-Galveston), a soon-to-be state senator, was sharply critical of both the truncated process by which the projects have been approved and the efficacy of the wind farms themselves.
“Offshore wind will materially and significantly interfere with offshore shipping lanes and navigation; for reference of the magnitude of the economic impact for the nearby Port of Houston is $802 billion a year,” Middleton’s letter reads.
“We are also concerned that BOEM is not taking the devastating impact offshore wind has on both recreational and commercial fishing seriously, and that this pattern of disregard will continue in the Gulf of Mexico.”
Middleton and others, including fishermen, oppose wind farms on the grounds of potential disruption of traditional fishing area divisions — a way to prevent overfishing in specific areas.
“If BOEM leased portions of the Gulf’s Outer Continental Shelf for offshore wind projects despite knowing the project would undoubtably interfere with the use of the lease area as a fishery,” Middleton added, “not only would this violate OCSLA, but it would severely harm America’s food supply and decrease shoreside businesses’ profits, and make us more reliant on imported seafood from Asia.”
Middleton also stated that BOEM did not adhere to all the regulatory steps necessary before moving forward with auctioning off leases.
The conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) laid out the procedural argument at length in its letter. They charge that the BOEM violated the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act — a law that lays out the responsibilities of BOEM in granting offshore energy leases.
“[I]n 2011, BOEM amended its regulations to comport with its ‘Smart From The Start’ framework, which allows BOEM to issue, publish, and/or award an offshore wind lease without satisfying its mandatory duty to consider whether the proposed lease [meets OCSLA standards],” TPPF said.
“In order to avoid a violation of federal law that would likely expose it to litigation, BOEM should abandon the misnamed Smart From The Start framework and adopt a regulatory approach to offshore wind leasing in the Gulf of Mexico that does not skip statutorily mandated steps required.”
Both Middleton and TPPF are against the proliferation of wind generation due to its intermittence and, particular to Texas, “distortion” of the electricity market which has crowded out much of any new thermal generation development.
While far less pointed than Middleton or TPPF, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) cautioned BOEM in its letter about the buffer between the wind site and artificial reefs already in existence in the Gulf. “Artificial reefs should be provided a 1.0 [nautical-mile] protective buffer to avoid and minimize impacts to sensitive benthic communities that would result from pre-construction surveys as well as construction and decommissioning of the project,” TPWD recommends.
It is estimated that wind turbines kill 1.17 million birds per year in the U.S., with the blades doing most of the damage catching birds paying attention to the ground rather than the spinning metal in front of them.
Another potential point of tension comes with the prospective wind farms’ effects on existing shipping routes. The World Shipping Council (WSC) warned BOEM against establishing too narrow a buffer for the navigation pathways of cargo ships.
“[The zones] should be developed to take into account poor weather conditions, accommodating three vessels abreast of one another with a minimum of two nautical miles between each vessel (CPA), and another two nautical miles from any wind turbines that may be on the outer edges of the NSC,” wrote the WSC in its comment. “This results in the NSC being eight nautical miles across.”
Environmental groups like the Sierra Club and renewable energy organizations, along with Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, all supported the proposal for reasons spanning from economic development to increased use of renewables.
The comment period closed on September 2 and now BOEM will decide in the coming weeks how to proceed.
Disclosure: Unlike almost every other media outlet, The Texan is not beholden to any special interests, does not apply for any type of state or federal funding, and relies exclusively on its readers for financial support. If you’d like to become one of the people we’re financially accountable to, click here to subscribe.
Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.