Louisiana Environmentalism: Big Chem-EZ – Is the Gulf of Mexico coast a viable location for offshore wind power?

Dear Big Chem-EZ,

I know that Louisiana is a hub for fossil fuel production, but that industry is not environmentally friendly. From reading your article “Big Chem-EZ: Is solar energy closed to NOLA?”, I learned that solar energy is a sustainable solution but what about other options? Is wind power a viable solution for renewable energy production in the Gulf of Mexico?

Example of a typical offshore wind farm (Credit: American Clean Power (1))

The push for more renewable energy development has become an even more important topic since the Biden Administration announced their goal of 100% clean electricity in the United States (U.S.) by 2035 (2). There are many types of clean energy sources that will need to be utilized to reach this goal, none more important than wind power. 2020 was a record year for wind power development in the U.S. as new installations in the industry accounted for 42% of new U.S. renewable energy capacity (2). As it pertains to the topic at hand, the pipeline for U.S. offshore wind energy projects grew to 35,324 MW, a 24% increase over 2019 (2). However, all this offshore wind power growth occurred off the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. This begs the question, is the Louisiana gulf coast a viable location for offshore wind power?

The Louisiana gulf coast has abundant shallow water resources which lends itself nicely to offshore wind power. In fact, the Gulf of Mexico bordering states combined have 32% of the shallow offshore wind resource potential in the entirety of the U.S. (3). Louisiana specifically boasts approximately 220 GW/year of technical potential in offshore wind energy, with about 120 GW/year of that potential located in waters less than 60 m deep (3). The depth of the water is important because the deeper the body of water, the more expensive the wind power structure will be. Another benefit of wind energy in the Gulf of Mexico is the mild climate. This means that these turbines will be more accessible year-round for maintenance compared to offshore wind farm locations off the Northern Atlantic coast (3).

However, there are some challenges that would come with offshore wind farms, the most obvious one being tropical weather activity. Hurricanes and other tropical weather would certainly put a strain on an offshore wind turbine, and safety measures would have to be in place. The current design specifications for offshore wind turbines have recently been updated to include a Typhoon Class of wind turbine which is capable of withstanding gusts up to 179 mph (3). Another issue with wind power in the Gulf of Mexico is that the body of water has lower wind speeds compared to the Atlantic Ocean. The average wind speed in the Gulf of Mexico is between 15.7 mph and 20.1 mph while the average wind speed in the Atlantic Ocean is between 19 mph and 22.4 mph (3). This will affect the efficiency and overall cost of the energy produced from these offshore wind farms since on average the turbines will be operating at lower wind speeds than they are built to accommodate.

Even with all these issues, it seems as though the advantages outweigh the challenges. By 2030, the Biden Administration wants 30 GW of new offshore wind power development. The Gulf of Mexico could play a large role in this since it is a relatively untapped resource that contains open and shallow spaces perfect for offshore wind farm development (4).

Much investigation has been ongoing into the possibility of this development, even with the objections of companies such as Entergy, who claim that the cost of offshore wind power would be too high (4). However, expect to see more development on this topic soon, especially as New Orleans seems to have become a hub for wind turbine production as the largest turbine blades in the world are now being developed in New Orleans East (5).

-Big Chem-EZ

1 – Acp. (2021, November 16). Offshore wind power facts. ACP. Retrieved December 6, 2021, from https://cleanpower.org/facts/offshore-wind/.

2 – DOE Releases New Reports Highlighting Record Growth, Declining Costs of Wind Power. (n.d.). Energy.gov. https://www.energy.gov/articles/doe-releases-new-reports-highlighting-record-growth-declining-costs-wind-power

3 – Musial, W., Beiter, P., Stefek, J., Scott, G., Heimiller, D., et al. (2020, February). Offshore Wind in the US Gulf of Mexico: Regional Economic Modeling and Site-Specific Analyses. National Renewable Energy Laboratory. https://espis.boem.gov/final%20reports/BOEM_2020-018.pdf

4 –Mosbrucker, K. (2021, June 8). Feds take big step forward to evaluate wind energy off the coast of Louisiana; here’s how. NOLA.com. https://www.nola.com/news/business/article_598693bc-c883-11eb-b160-c3ac90f62e6a.html

5 – Masson, R. (2021, July 6). GNO Inc. says Louisiana is prime for wind power future. Https://Www.fox8live.com. https://www.fox8live.com/2021/07/06/gno-inc-says-louisiana-is-prime-wind-power-future/

This piece was edited by Evan Price as part of Professor Kelley Crawford’s Digital Civic Engagement course at Tulane University. 


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