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Offshore wind Texas-style: fast and big

Offshore wind Texas-style: fast and big

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Texas may beat Cape Wind to getting the country's first taste of offshore wind power? Yes, but perhaps with just one turbine, at first.

The country’s first offshore wind farm just may rise in Texan waters. Coastal Point Energy aims to get a single 3-megawatt wind turbine up and running off Galveston by year's end.

How could this upstart beat out Cape Wind, New England’s controversial wind farm that's been over a decade in the making? Location, location, location. You've likely heard about Cape Wind's struggles with blocked scenic views in Nantucket Sound, but you may not be familiar with Texas' state history. The German American Chamber of Commerce of the Southern US explains how Texas’ unique laws, set up when the U.S. annexed the state in 1845, help streamline offshore wind farms. Its state waters, for instance, extend about 10 miles into the Gulf of Mexico. Typically state jurisdiction ends 3 miles off the coast. Anything further out requires more approvals from the feds.

With its state permits in order, the project only lacks a power purchase agreement before it is good to go.

Texas tends to go big, however. While Galveston's one-turbine wonder project may grow over time to 300 megawatts of capacity, there's a bigger fish planned for waters south of there. The Austin-based Baryonyx Corporation wants to place a total of 600 turbines in three areas off Corpus Christi and South Padre Island.

The 3-gigawatt wind project has sailed into a few snags regarding placement. Corpus Christi's Naval Air Station is worried turbines off Mustang Island could interfere with radar systems. How the wind farms might effect populations of migratory birds, fish and Kemp's ridley sea turtles (the smallest and rarest of sea turtles) is also a concern. The project has not conducted an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). And as of June, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it doesn’t need one.

The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club disagrees. While the environmental group supports wind energy in general, they say it’s too early to form a stance on the Baryonyx project. An EIA could help clear things up.

In public comments to the Corps’ decision, Sierra Club’s Ken Kramer writes:

Certainly offshore coastal wind projects could be an important addition to our state’s energy portfolio.

But if that is to be the case these projects must be properly sited, designed, and operated, and any major impacts of the project on the coastal and other natural resources which Texans value so highly and which are key to the coastal economy must be addressed properly. Since the proposed Baryonyx project may be the first such offshore wind project to go forward in Texas, it is essential that this project be done right – it may well set the precedent for many other projects to come.

Baryonyx Corp reportedly agrees, telling the Sierra Club that an EIA is appropriate. The Galveston project, which may actually represent Texas' first wind farm, doesn't have an EIA yet either. In 2008, the Corps permitted them to build their test turbine on a platform (above) that they've been using to collect meteorological data.

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Images: Wikipedia Commons, Coastal Point Energy, and Baryonyx Corp

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Melissa Mahony

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Melissa Mahony has written for Scientific American Mind, Audubon Magazine, Plenty Magazine and LiveScience. Formerly, she was an editor at Wildlife Conservation magazine. She holds degrees from Boston College and New York University's Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure