Company leases 11,000 acres for Texas wind farm

AUSTIN (AP) – In a history-making move to develop offshore wind power along a U.S. coast, the state of Texas announced Monday it has signed a lease for a Louisiana company to build a wind-energy project.

“Coastal wind power has come to the United States and found a home in Texas,” state Land commissioner Jerry Patterson said.

The state, which has jurisdiction out to 10 miles along the Texas Gulf Coast, has agreed to lease 11,355 acres to Galveston-Offshore Wind, LLC, about seven miles off of Galveston Island. The company is a division of Wind Energy Systems Technologies, or W.E.S.T., of New Iberia, La.

Construction of the Texas project is expected to be completed within five years and cost about $300 million. W.E.S.T. plans to construct about 50 wind turbines, expected to produce 150 megawatts of wind energy- enough to power about 40,000 homes.

The first phase of the project will be the construction of two meteorological towers to collect wind data, which have already been permitted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Patterson said.

Data collected by the towers will help pinpoint where in the lease area to construct the turbines.

The 30-year lease agreement is expected to generate at least $26.5 million for the state’s Permanent School Fund for public education. The project also will help fulfill the state’s new goals of increasing the percentage of energy produced by renewable resources, Patterson said.

“The economics work, and they work well, and we’re excited about it,” he said. “The environmental impacts are very positive.”

Patterson said he doesn’t think the Texas project will draw the same criticism other offshore wind projects in the United States have received. In some cases, prominent residents have complained about the view.

Attempts to build offshore wind power in New York and Massachusetts, for example, have not been successful because of concerns about coastal views and jurisdiction conflicts.

“Texans are used to looking at offshore production of oil and gas,” Patterson said.

Herman Schellstede, W.E.S.T. president, said his company has been building offshore oil platforms for almost 40 years, so embarking on an offshore wind project is a natural move.

“Ask yourself this simple question: Are Texas and Louisiana in the energy business or the oil business?” he said. “If we’re in the oil business, we’re all going to go out of business eventually, but if we’re in the energy business, these wind turbines will operate forever and furnish viable sources of energy.”

Worries that tall offshore wind turbines could interfere with migratory birds will be addressed by studying the birds’ northern migration paths near Galveston Island as early as next spring, company officials said.

There are some 300 species of “neotropical” migratory birds, said Harold Schoeffler of the Sierra Club of Acadiana, who appeared with Schellstede in Austin to announce the wind project.

Texas already has wind turbines on land in West Texas. The state ranks second in the nation behind California in electricity generated by wind.

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