Texas has sold a lease for an 11,000-acre tract in the Gulf of Mexico that backers believe could become the first wind energy farm along the U.S. coast.
The wind turbines planned by Galveston Offshore Wind, a subsidiary of Louisiana-based Wind Energy Systems Technologies, would be seven miles off Galveston Island and could provide 40,000 homes with power and generate millions of dollars for state schools.
“This could be the Spindletop of this century,” Texas General Land Office Commissioner Jerry Patterson said in a story published Sunday in the Houston Chronicle. Spindletop was the oil strike that launched Texas’ energy boom a century ago.
Galveston Offshore Wind purchased a 30-year lease for $10,000 a year, for the first five years. The company estimated production to begin between 2010 and 2012. The state will then receive a minimum of $4.9 million in royalties, growing to at least $14.9 million in years 17 to 30. All the money will go to a fund that pays for schools statewide.
Two other offshore wind turbine farms have been proposed along the coast of the United States, one about four miles off the south shore of New York’s Long Island, and one in Massachusetts’ Nantucket Sound, off Cape Cod.
The New York project, backed by environmentalists, is awaiting approval by the Army Corps of Engineers. The Nantucket project, also in federally controlled water, faces opposition because of fears it would ruin the view from the shore.
The Texas proposal would face fewer obstacles. The Texas General Land Office oversees territory up to 10 miles from the coast, limiting federal involvement. And the state’s coastline already is home to industry, with oil and gas platforms visible from beaches.
“Texans will be receptive. ... We know energy,” Patterson said.
However, there is a question of how the wind farm’s structures will affect coastal and migratory birds, which can be struck by the turbines’ rotating blades, said environmental attorney Jim Blackburn.
If the project passes the environmental and public scrutiny needed to obtain a federal construction permit, Wind Energy Systems eventually will erect 53 turbines.
Texas ranks second in the nation behind California in electricity generated by wind turbines located on land, but company officials believe offshore turbines can tap more consistent wind.
“We know it’s a good site,” said Herman Schellstede, president of Wind Energy Systems.