There are certain parts of Texas where wind turbines are an expected part of the scenery. Currently, the Gulf Coast is not one of those – but that could change soon.
The prospect of offshore wind power in the Gulf of Mexico took another step forward on Wednesday, when the Biden administration released a new proposal to lease tracts of the Gulf for wind power. Companies could bid for the right to install turbines around Galveston and Lake Charles, La.
Tristan Baurick, environment reporter for nola.com and the Times Picayune, spoke to the Texas Standard about the plan.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: How big of a project are we talking about here? How much power, and where would these turbines go?
Tristan Baurick: Yeah, they would be in federal waters, so they’d be pretty far out there. It’s not anything people would probably see very well from the coast. The initial idea was that they would cover about 700,000 acres in the Gulf. But over time and in this new release of this sales process, the feds have basically reduced it by quite a bit. And in the end, we’re going to be at about 200,000 acres.
And in terms of power output, what are the experts saying, and who gets that power?
So initially they were saying they could generate about enough power for about 3 million homes. And so the new revised estimate is about 1.3 million, and that could shrink a little bit more, you know, power that would feed directly into the grid. It would probably power Houston, Dallas, the Lake Charles area, that sort of thing.
Does that affect the enthusiasm for this project at all? Because you’re talking about, from what I hear you saying, almost two-thirds right now, and that could go lower compared to the original plan.
Yeah, I was surprised about that, you know, because it is such a big reduction. But some of the folks in the industry that I talked to really aren’t that worried about it. You know, they kind of felt like the initial estimates were quite large and there wouldn’t be initial demand that large even with the smaller scope. They’re feeling like this is going to work pretty well for them.
And I know that some folks along the coast have been voicing some environmental concerns about putting turbines where they’re talking about right now. What are some of the things they’re worried about?
Yeah, there has been concern mostly from members of the public. And actually, most of the concern has come from folks in Texas, more than Louisiana. But one of those is just about the effects on migratory birds. We get millions and millions of birds crossing the Gulf of Mexico every year. You know, just how is that going to affect bird migration? Is it going to cause a lot of fatalities? As far as what I’ve heard from bird scientists, they’re not too concerned about it. There’s a sense that this technology can adapt to that, maybe during peak migration, that the turbines just shut down, that sort of thing.
You say you’ve been hearing a majority of these concerns raised by folks in Texas. Of course, we have quite the fossil fuel industry here. And I think some people may say, well, is that a kind of a subterfuge or a way to make an environmental argument out of concerns about renewable energy, replacing demand for carbon-based energy?
Yeah, I think that might be one of the concerns. But fossil fuel use is kind of on the wane. The oil industry in the Gulf of Mexico is in retreat, and a lot of people that were in that industry are looking for work. You know, they’re looking to retrain; they’re looking to do something else, because the economy in the Gulf just isn’t there. And there is the strong sense that a lot of the skills people had doing offshore oil can easily translate to offshore wind. So there’s a sense of a lot of economic opportunities to come.
Anyone talking about a timeline here?
There’s no strict timeline. You know, it could take a couple of years. There’s a sense that it’s an inevitable thing. It’s going to happen, but it could take, you know, five years from now before we actually see some turbines in the Gulf.