Offshore wind energy leasing opens in Gulf of Mexico for first time

Louisiana challenged by utility companies resistant to renewables

By: - July 20, 2023 2:55 pm

Federal regulators held the first ever Gulf of Mexico offshore wind lease auction on Tuesday, opening three sites off the coast of Lake Charles and Galveston that can power nearly 1.3 million homes. (Image credit: BOEM)

Federal regulators announced Thursday the first ever Gulf of Mexico offshore wind lease sale, opening sites off the coast of Lake Charles and Galveston, Texas, that could potentially power nearly 1.3 million homes. 

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) will auction off the lease sites on Aug. 29. BOEM published the final sale notice for three areas, each roughly 100,000 acres in federal waters. One is off the coast of Lake Charles, while the other two are offshore from Galveston. 

The areas have the potential to generate 3.7 gigawatts of electricity, according to a U.S. Department of Interior press release.

The sites include 20-nautical mile buffers for migratory birds and menhaden fisheries and exclude waters considered moderate or high shrimping zones. 

Thursday’s announcement marks the Biden administration’s third approval of large offshore wind projects in the country. The president’s goal is to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030, offering companies a variety of renewable energy tax incentives that Congress enacted through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act. 

Leasing is the early phase of development. After companies purchase the leases, they conduct site assessments that can take up to five years before construction begins. 

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Renewable energy advocates welcomed the announcement.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Simon Mahan, executive director of the Southern Renewable Energy Association, who has been pushing for Gulf of Mexico offshore wind power for 15 years.  

Studies show Gulf of Mexico wind power is one of the largest untapped energy resources in the nation. During the Trump administration, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory found Gulf winds can provide double the energy currently being used in all five Gulf states. 

Gulf wind speeds are highest in the west off the coast of Texas and southwest Louisiana, so most development will likely be concentrated in those areas with wind turbines that can withstand Category 5 hurricanes.

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One of the biggest challenges for Louisiana will be finding a buyer for the electricity, Mahan said. Louisiana’s utility companies have long resisted incorporating renewables into their generation portfolios, unlike Texas, which has a big head start in that area. Texas leads the nation in utility-scale wind power generation, and one-fourth of the state’s electricity comes from renewables.

However, Mahan said there is growing interest in using wind energy to produce hydrogen fuel, a process known as “green hydrogen.” A wind turbine generates an electrical current that passes through a container of water, splitting the water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen gas is captured and then used as a fuel, which doesn’t emit carbon dioxide when burned. 

Mahan pointed out that Lake Charles is already part of the largest hydrogen hub in the nation. 

“We’re seeing such a growing interest particularly around green hydrogen production,” he said. “We may be able to pair offshore wind with green hydrogen to kickstart that industry.”


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Wesley Muller
Wesley Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots to 1997 when, at age 13, he built a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. Since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune and worked on staff at WAFB/CBS, the Sun Herald and the Enterprise-Journal, winning awards from the SPJ, Associated Press, Mississippi Press Association and McClatchy. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Muller is a New Orleans native, Jesuit High School alumnus, University of New Orleans alumnus and a U.S. Army veteran and former paratrooper. He lives in Southeast Louisiana with his two sons and wife.