Louisiana lawmakers advance proposal to attract coastal wind energy projects

Bill would expand wind leases in Gulf of Mexico

By: - March 23, 2022 5:18 pm
Louisiana lawmakers advance proposal to attract coastal wind energy projects

Middelgrunden offshore 40 megawatt wind farm observed in Øresund. (Creative Commons photo by Kim Hansen/CC BY-SA-3.0; https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/97/Middelgrunden_wind_farm_2009-07-01_edit_filtered.jpg )

A proposal to expand the size of wind energy projects off the Louisiana coast advanced Wednesday in the Legislature. Proponents say it will make the state more attractive to developers and investors in the renewable energies market. 

House Bill 165, sponsored by Rep. Jerome Zeringue, R-Houma, was approved without objection in the House Committee on Natural Resources and Environment. 

“We know that alternative energy is coming, and it’s something that we can and should take advantage of,” Zeringue said, adding that studies show a single offshore wind project could generate more than 5,000 jobs. 

The bill would increase current limits on individual oil and gas leases from a maximum of 5,000 acres to 25,000 acres for a wind energy lease. Zeringue said wind turbines typically require more space than oil and gas rigs. The industry standard, he said, is between 500 and 1,000 acres per turbine. 

Two federal studies conducted under the Trump administration found the Gulf of Mexico’s untapped wind energy could generate an estimated 508,000 megawatts of power per year — twice the current energy needs of all five Gulf states.

Louisiana Department of Natural Resources Secretary Thomas Harris, who testified in favor of the bill, said a number of developers have approached his office with an interest in building wind energy projects but walked away upon learning of Louisiana’s 5,000-acre limit. One investor in particular would have had to acquire eight separate leases for the wind farm he wanted to build, Harris said. 

Rep. Joseph Orgeron, R-Larose, who co-authored the bill, said many Louisiana companies experienced in building and servicing offshore oil platforms have the equipment and skilled labor required for offshore wind farms.

Although most Gulf of Mexico wind energy projects will eventually be built in federal waters, Orgeron said the exploratory pilot projects will be built in state waters closer to the coast. Louisiana’s less populated coastline allows more development within the 3 nautical miles of state waters that extend from shore, he said. 

The proposal also removes a requirement that the Legislature approve a minimum dollar amount and revenue percentage to be produced by each wind turbine before advertising bids for each lease. The change would allow lawmakers to come up with a revenue system for wind turbines, which do not sever raw minerals from the seafloor like oil and gas platforms, Orgeron said.

“This is not picking the curtains or the drapes for the house,” Orgeron said. “This is basically getting the lot and the foundation settled for a good start for us to move forward.”

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Wesley Muller
Wesley Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the years since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked on staff at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Much of his journalism has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and coverage of municipal and state government. He has received recognitions including McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus and a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his two sons and his wife, who is also a journalist.

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