Offshore wind stakeholders have been duking it out with opponents all along the US Atlantic coast, but clean power fans in Louisiana are not waiting for the dust to settle. In a unique move for a deep South state, Louisiana policy makers have shoehorned an ambitious offshore wind development goal into a new climate action plan, to the tune of 5 gigawatts by 2035. Break out the popcorn for a bruising fight with the state’s entrenched oil, gas, and petrochemical stakeholders…
Offshore Wind Power In The Gulf Of Mexico
Regardless of who has a stake in what, Louisiana’s green energy advocates are holding the short end of the offshore wind stick. Here in the US, the Atlantic coast states are ripe for offshore development because they combine sufficient wind resources with relatively shallow water, providing for the construction of conventional, fixed-platform offshore turbines at a relatively low cost.
That’s not the case for Gulf Coast states like Louisiana. The Gulf waters have hosted a considerable amount of fixed-platform construction for fossil energy operations, but wind speeds in the region are less than optimal, making it difficult to make the economic case for offshore turbines.
Difficult, but not impossible. Back in 2020, the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory assessed the situation and noted that smaller wave heights and easy access to onshore energy infrastructure could help offset shortcomings in the wind resources department for Gulf Coast states, under the right conditions.
In addition, offshore wind turbine efficiency has improved significantly compared to just a few years ago. Developers are also beginning to eyeball new value-adding piggyback technologies that could improve the bottom line case for offshore wind in the Gulf, including wave energy converters, floating solar panels, and turbine-sited electrolyzers for green hydrogen production.
Louisiana Takes A 5 GW Bite Of The Offshore Wind Apple
Louisiana’s 5-gigawatt goal should not come as a surprise. By November of 2020, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards was already positioning his state to lead the Gulf Coast in the offshore race. Having created the state’s Climate Initiatives Task Force earlier in the year, Edwards unveiled an ambitious vision for harnessing the state’s offshore wind resources with help from the US Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
“This is not some ‘pie in the sky’ promise of economic opportunity,” Edwards said. “We already have an emerging offshore wind energy industry, and Louisiana’s offshore oil and gas industry has played a key role in the early development of US offshore wind energy in the Atlantic Ocean.”
He wasn’t kidding. Several Louisiana companies were instrumental in the construction of the Block Island wind farm in Rhode Island, which put its first “steel in the water” back in 2015. Seven years later, the pint-sized 5-turbine array is still the only offshore wind farm in commercial operation anywhere in the US, which just goes to show how effective the opposition has been.
5 Gigawatts Is Just The Beginning Of The Greenhouse Gas Battle
Technically, NREL estimates that more than 500 gigawatts in offshore wind energy is recoverable in the Gulf of Mexico, so 5 gigawatts is a rather modest start. Nevertheless, it caught the media spotlight last week because giga-anything is an attention grabber these days.
That oversimplifies the decarbonization challenges that lie ahead for the Louisiana economy. In the new Climate Action Plan forwarded to the Governor’s office last month, the Task Force noted that carbon emissions from power generation is not the worst of the state’s greenhouse gas headaches.
“The industrial sector accounts for a disproportionately large share of GHG emissions in Louisiana, as compared to other states, due to demand for products produced in Louisiana that are then exported and sold to the rest of the nation and world,” the Task Force observes, adding that “facilities that have been permitted but not yet built could potentially add 100MMT CO2e to industrial emissions if no action is taken.”
Yikes! Then there’s the issue of methane emissions from oil and gas operations, including a significant contribution from so-called orphan wells for which nobody claims responsibility.
Green Hydrogen To The Rescue
On the bright side, the clean kilowatts from offshore wind turbines will go at least part of the way towards resolving greenhouse gas emissions in Louisiana’s industrial sector.
“Some electrification technology is readily available and deployable across various industrial processes, particularly for those of low- and medium-heat and for green hydrogen in high-heat processes,” the Task Force explains, though warning that Louisiana will have to invent its own blueprint for holistic decarbonization.
Among the areas to be blueprinted are the widespread use of petroleum, natural gas, and their derivatives in Louisiana’s sprawling petrochemical industry.
“Louisiana is one of the largest producers of bulk chemicals, like ammonia, in the country, and chemical manufacturing accounts for over half of Louisiana’s industrial GHG emissions,” the Task Force observes. “As well as being a large producer of bulk chemicals, Louisiana also utilizes bulk chemicals as intermediate products to create end products like plastic containers and fertilizers.”
That’s both a huge problem and a huge opportunity for businesses and investors in the state. To cite just one example, the green hydrogen market has already sparked a green ammonia trend, providing the Louisiana’s ammonia fertilizer industry with a pathway for removing fossil-sourced hydrogen from the supply chain.
About Those 5 Gigawatts In Offshore Wind…
Louisiana also has plenty of opportunities to catch up in the area of solar power, but that thing about 5 gigawatts in offshore wind is especially interesting from a broader energy policy perspective. If Louisiana manages to get the ball rolling, it would leapfrog over Atlantic coast states that have had a long headstart in developing their offshore wind resources, yet failed to take advantages of it.
Twelve years ago, the Obama administration tried to coordinate offshore development among the Atlantic coast states only to see the usual suspects throw a monkey wrench into the wind power works (looking at you, Chris Christie). If Louisiana gets its act together, the state’s 5 gigawatts in offshore wind will throw all kinds of shade on the Block Island array, which clocks in at a measly 30 megawatts.
However, they better act fast. The offshore wind industry has finally picked up in Massachusetts, New York State, and New Jersey, along with other states on the northern end of the coast. That includes Maine, which is eyeballing floating wind turbine technology due to its difficult coastal conditions.
Farther to the south, activity has been slow to develop but signs of change are emerging. Last week, North Carolina governor Roy Cooper bucked longstanding political headwinds to organize wind power advocates under the state’s Department of Commerce.
That leaves South Carolina and Florida dragging their feet. If you have any thoughts about that, drop us a note in the comment thread.
Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.
Photo: Offshore wind turbine courtesy of US Department of Energy.