If you are feeling a sudden frisson of excitement issue out from Louisiana, it’s not just you. Clean power fans in the Pelican State are eager to shed a generations-old oil and gas legacy in favor of offshore wind turbines, and the US Department of the Interior has just served up the opportunity on a golden platter.
What About Onshore Wind?
Yes, what about it? Onshore wind is not a problem in many parts of the US, but it faces two huge obstacles in Louisiana and other parts of the Southeast. Wind resources are not optimal in that region, and the political winds have been less than favorable at times.
The US Department of Energy has been promoting taller wind turbine towers as a workaround. Taller turbines don’t resolve the political situation, but they do reach higher into the sky, where the winds blow stronger and steadier. With the hub higher up off the ground, there is more room for longer turbine blades, too. All of this adds up to the potential for harvesting more wind power at lower cost.
Despite former President and accused insurrectionist Donald Trump’s well known antipathy towards wind turbines, the Energy Department was hammering away at the taller-is-better case all through his first and only term in office.
In 2019, for example, the Energy Department posted an article noting that “hub heights of 110 to 140 m could also offer LCOE advantages relative to today’s common turbines, particularly in locations where wind shear is relatively strong, including much of the eastern United States.”
How About Some Offshore Wind For The US Southeast?
Despite some significant technological progress in the wind turbine department over the past five years, not much wind onshore activity has been stirring in the Southeast, which according to the US Geological Survey includes the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
Earlier this year, our friends over at S&P Global took a deep (very deep) dive into the topic and noted that the entire Southeast accounts for little more than 300 megawatts of installed wind capacity, almost all of which is situated in the farther-to-the-north states of Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee.
By comparison, as of March the total installed capacity of wind turbines across the nation currently stands at 122,465 megawatts.
“The Southeast is not home to the strong, low-altitude gales that developers prize, like those in the central plains, nor does it have the sprawling farm and ranch land of Texas and the Intermountain West, where landowners supplement their incomes by leasing land for wind projects,” S&P explained.
“Also, policymakers in the region have at times been resistant to wind power,” S&P concluded, while also winning the Understatement of the Year Award.
So much for the onshore wind picture. Offshore, things are looking brighter. West Virginia and Tennessee are landlocked, but the Atlantic coast state of Virginia is eyeballing wind turbines offshore, in the welcoming waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
The initial plan is a measly two wind turbines totaling a mere 12 megawatts, but that is just a test of the waters, so to speak. The sprawling utility company behind the project, Virginia-based Dominion Energy, is leveraging the two turbines to build an offshore wind farm totaling 2,640 megawatts with the enthusiastic backing of current Democratic Governor Ralph Northam, who has laid plans for 5,200 megawatts in offshore wind power by 2034.
Not to be outdone, just yesterday Democratic North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper announced an 8-gigawatt offshore wind target by 2040. The stepping stone is a 2,800 megawatt goal for 2030 which is already in the works through offshore areas leased from the Department of the Interior.
No, Really, How About Offshore Wind For The Southeast?
For governors with an interest in saving the planet from catastrophic global warming, the offshore wind sector is the path of least resistance. Offshore areas are leased by the federal government, and that limits the extent to which other state office holders can try to throw hurdles in the path of clean kilowatts.
With that in mind, we skip down the Atlantic coast from North Carolina past South Carolina and Florida, which have yet to dip a toe in the offshore wind waters, and find ourselves in the Gulf of Mexico.
Offshore wind resources in the Gulf of Mexico are not as strong as they are off the Atlantic coast, but they are there. Even during the Trump administration, the Interior Department and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory were laying plans to lay the groundwork for offshore wind in the Gulf of Mexico coastal states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.
Democratic Governor Jon Bel Edwards of Louisiana (see any pattern there?) was already ready to pounce last November, when he asked the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to lead a task force to make the economic case for Louisiana to plant wind turbines in the Gulf of Mexico. Aside from generating electricity, the new wind turbines could help kickstart the green hydrogen and green ammonia industries in Louisiana.
“The Interior Department is committed to developing a robust and sustainable clean energy economy,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland enthused. “We know that offshore wind development has the potential to create tens of thousands of good-paying, union jobs across the nation. This is an important first step to see what role the Gulf may play in this exciting frontier.”
BOEM already has a Gulf of Mexico task force in the works, with representation from Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama. No word yet from Florida, but perhaps Governor Ron DeSantis is busy with other matters.
Now Is The Perfect Time For Wind, Offshore
The Gulf of Mexico is late to the wind party, compared to the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Still, the timing is perfect. Wind developers are scrambling to keep up with the latest generation of taller, more efficient wind turbines, and technology improvements are popping up in related areas, too.
Of particular interest to oil-and-gas states like Louisiana is the potential for pivoting generations of offshore fossil energy knowhow into the wind turbine area.
For example, consider Switzerland-based Hitachi ABB Power Grids. Last week the global engineering firm cited a legacy dating back 250 years, by way of announcing a portfolio of new transformer facilities specifically designed for floating offshore turbines.
Interesting! CleanTechnica has spilled plenty of ink on floating offshore turbines in recent months, because they can open up vast new areas for wind development. Conventional fixed-platform turbines can only go down to about 60 meters. Floating wind platforms can ride deeper depths, where wind conditions are optimal and shoreline communities can’t see them.
“Floating substations and floating wind turbines offer a solution, which can be used in deeper waters, vastly increasing the available global capacity for developing offshore wind energy. Yet floating systems come with their own challenges: over their entire lifetime they are constantly in motion and can be exposed to vibrations and shocks from waves up to 15 meters in height,” Hitachi ABB explains.
Yikes! The waters of the Gulf of Mexico happen to be deeper than you might think, so keep an eye on the floating factor that as Governor Edwards pushes the Louisiana ahead of the offshore wind pack.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Image: New transformer for floating offshore wind turbines courtesy of ABB Hitachi.