Do you ever enjoy the cool breezes on the beaches of the Gulf Coast? Well, those winds could one day be cooling you down in your own home.
A few years from now, you might stand on the shore and see miles and miles of massive three-pointed stars rotating along the surface of the sea. They’re offshore wind turbines, and hundreds of them may one day dot the horizon.
Mention “offshore wind” to Mark Leyland, and he becomes almost wistful. “Ahh, offshore wind,” the Senior Vice President for Wind Energy Projects at Baryonyx says. “Even though a lot of people in Texas have seen onshore wind, I always say that offshore wind and onshore wind are only similar in one respect: they [both] have the word “wind” in their title.”
Even though he grew up in Britain, or as he likes to call it, “East Texas,” Leyland has spent the last few decades building offshore oil rigs in the gulf. He now wants to bring that drilling expertise to wind, and so his company has leased 67,000 acres of land off the coast of Texas to build hundreds of giant wind turbines.
“We believe that the immediate future of it is in what I call the windy crescent,” he says, “which is the area offshore between Corpus Christi and Brownsville. That basically is the windiest part of the Gulf of Mexico.”
The company estimates that on the high end, those turbines could generate up to 3 gigawatts of power. That’s enough to power two to three percent of the Texas grid. And the turbines would generate electricity during crucial times of peak demand: hot, dry summer afternoons when the grid nears capacity.
“It blows every day, as some of my friends down there say — “It blows every bloody day!” — and it does,” Leyland notes. “Clearly, during those [summer] months it’s seen as a potential really serious reinforcement for the grid.”
How does offshore wind work? They are single turbines anchored on rigs similar to ones used for oil. Once they start turning, they essentially become offshore power stations.
But a challenge with offshore wind is that it’s more expensive to build, and will take time. The company is waiting while the Army Corps of Engineers does an environmental impact study of the offshore wind farm. It could take up to two years.
“The fact that you’re building something offshore and it’s renewable satisfies my soul,” Leyland says. “But ultimately you’re coming down to a construction project. And that construction project needs to be achievable. And I believe in the Gulf of Mexico that it is achievable.”
Texas is an attractive option for offshore wind because state waters here go out over ten miles, much further than other states. That means its easier to lease offshore areas for wind. And Texas has a long history of offshore drilling to draw on.
“It has all the facilities you really need in order to sustain offshore activity,” he says. “It’s developed it over years. All it is is making sure you turn that industry around and direct it towards supporting offshore renewables.”
While the energy industry finds the potential for offshore wind promising, some environmental groups are wary. Among their concerns: how the turbines could affect migrating birds and other species.