For better or worse, the offshore wind profile of the United States has broken down cleanly along partisan political lines. However, one huge crack has finally appeared. Officials in the deep red state of Louisiana have just approved not one but two new offshore wind farms in the Gulf of Mexico. In an interesting twist, neither project is located in federal waters controlled by the Biden administration. Instead, dozens of new wind turbines will be planted in state waters — if all goes according to plan, that is.
Louisiana Leads The Southeast On Offshore Wind
Louisiana has a heavy footprint in the oil and gas industries, so it’s not surprising to see the state’s Congressional delegation consistently vote against federal renewable energy initiatives. Nevertheless, the state’s current governor, Jon Bel Edwards, has managed to jockey Louisiana into the pole position for offshore wind development among the five states bordering the Gulf of Mexico.
To garner support, Governor Edwards has apparently leveraged the fact that key elements of the state’s offshore oil and gas industry are transferable to offshore wind, providing existing stakeholders in the state with new business opportunities.
When Edwards launched an offshore wind initiative for Louisiana back in 2020, CleanTechnica observed that “Louisiana already has a head start on offshore wind development through the skill set and supply chain of its oil and gas industry.”
“In a press release touting the new plan, Edwards pointed out that several Louisiana companies were involved in the development of the first offshore wind farm in the US, for which Rhode Island claims bragging rights,” we also observed.
In addition to support from existing energy industries, the state’s ammonia fertilizer industry could also be in play. CF Industries, for example, is interested in decarbonizing its supply chain by shifting to green hydrogen (ammonia = three parts hydrogen, one part nitrogen), but they need renewable energy to complete the circle.
Two New Offshore Projects For Louisiana
The two new wind farms were approved by the Louisiana Mineral and Energy Board and announced by Governor Edwards on Wednesday.
“The board approved a 6,162-acre property agreement for Diamond Offshore Wind La (DOW Wind) off the coast of Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes and a 59,653-acre agreement for Cajun Wind off the coast of Cameron Parish,” the Governor’s office explained.
The Diamond offshore project is a branch of the global industry powerhouse Mitsubishi, and Cajun comes under the wing of the equally formidable wind energy developer Vestas.
In his official statement, Governor Edwards downplayed the planet-saving angle of renewable energy in favor of emphasizing the business opportunities. His office positioned the wind farms as a “natural fit for Louisiana’s working coast.”
Louisiana “already has infrastructure and a network of support industries with decades of experience in designing and operating complex projects in the offshore environment,” his office continued.
“For generations, the state of Louisiana has been a leader in energy production and offshore wind energy is the next chapter in that great history as we expand our options for clean energy production and open new avenues for the development of our state economy,” Edwards added.
“Wind energy projects off Louisiana’s coast will benefit from having transportation, fabrication and engineering expertise that has long supported our traditional offshore industry already in place,” he emphasized. “And our existing ports and offshore support companies will benefit from new customers and new opportunities to work and grow jobs.”
One Small Step For Louisiana …
The new offshore leases in state waters could help smooth the road for offshore development in federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico, too.
Wind resources in the Gulf are not particularly optimal, but in 2020 the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory assessed the economic case for offshore wind in the region, and they spotted some potential opportunities there. Accordingly, last summer the Department of the Interior opened up three new federal offshore lease areas in the two states for bid.
Texas was provided with two lease areas totaling 2.4 gigawatts in potential capacity but failed to attract any bidders.
Louisiana fared slightly better, skating through with two bids. The Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which administers the federal lease program, awarded the Louisiana offshore lease to the firm RWE Offshore Wind for a capacity of up to 2 gigawatts.
RWE will “tap into the Gulf’s existing energy workforce and world-class supply chain to bring offshore wind into a new market,” the company stated in a press release dated August 29, echoing Gov. Edwards’s emphasis on economic development.
… One Giant Step For Offshore Wind In The Gulf Of Mexico
Between the two leases in state waters and the lease in federal waters Louisiana is well on its way to stirring its own economic pot, and RWE is there for it.
“RWE has made early investments into jumpstarting the offshore wind industry in the region, including a collaboration with Greater New Orleans, Inc. to accelerate the engagement of Louisiana’s supply chain to identify companies with transferable capabilities for offshore wind,” the company notes.
It’s a safe bet that energy stakeholders in Texas will be watching the activity over in Louisiana, and RWE is there for that, too.
“According to a report by the Business Network for Offshore Wind, the Gulf Coast has already received 24% of offshore wind contracts in the U.S.,” the company said. “Additionally, RWE has a signed Memorandum of Understanding with Entergy, which owns and operates one of the cleanest large-scale US power generation fleets, to evaluate the delivery of clean energy from offshore wind to customers in Louisiana and Texas.”
Whenever Texas is ready to jump back into the offshore wind energy pool, the Interior Department will be ready. On October 27, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced that it is moving forward with four lease areas in the Gulf of Mexico, three off the coast of Texas and one off the coast of Louisiana.
What About Mississippi, Alabama, & Florida?
If you’re wondering about the other three Gulf states, that’s a good question. In one of its 2020 reports, NREL identified six potential lease areas for offshore wind development, including one in Florida along with five covering Texas and Louisiana. The Florida site was tagged for further investigation, but apparently nothing came of that.
Too bad for Florida. Texas still has a chance, though. Perhaps state officials may be tempted to put aside partisan politics in favor of economic benefits for their constituetns. NREL based its 2020 study on a 600-megawatt reference site at Port Arthur, Texas and concluded that “a single offshore wind project could support approximately 4,470 jobs with $445 million in gross domestic product (GDP) during construction and an ongoing 150 jobs with $14 million GDP annually from operation and maintenance labor, materials, and services.”
On the other hand…nah. For that matter, anything could happen to Louisiana’s budding wind industry. Governor Edwards, a Democrat, was term-limited out of office on October 14 and voters in the state tapped former Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry to fill the position.
In a November 9 report detailing the Governor’s relationship with the state’s oil and gas industry, the Louisiana Illuminator noted that “Landry won election this fall after calling climate change a ‘hoax’ and defending polluters.”
Hold on to your hats!