AUSTIN, Texas – Texas (search) has sold a lease for an 11,000-acre tract in the Gulf of Mexico that backers believe could become the first wind energy farm along the U.S. coast, state officials announced Monday.
"Coastal wind power has come to the United States and found a home in Texas," state Land commissioner Jerry Patterson (search) said.
The wind turbines planned by Galveston Offshore Wind (search), a subsidiary of Wind Energy Systems Technologies of New Iberia, La., would be seven miles off Galveston Island.
"The economics work, and they work well, and we're excited about it," Patterson said. "The environmental impacts are very positive."
Construction is expected to be completed within five years at a cost of about $300 million. W.E.S.T. plans to construct about 50 wind turbines, expected to produce 150 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 40,000 homes.
Patterson appeared at a news conference with Herman Schellstede, W.E.S.T. president.
"Ask yourself this simple question: Are Texas and Louisiana in the energy business or the oil business?" Schellstede said. "If we're in the oil business, we're all going to go out of business eventually, but if we're in the energy business, these wind turbines will operate forever and furnish viable sources of energy."
The company already has permits from the Army Corps of Engineers to build two meteorological towers to collect wind data, which will determine where other towers will be built, Patterson said.
Galveston Offshore Wind purchased a 30-year lease for $10,000 a year, for the first five years. The company estimated production to begin between 2010 and 2012. The state will then receive a minimum of $4.9 million in royalties, growing to at least $14.9 million in years 17 to 30. All the money will go to a fund that pays for schools statewide.
Two other offshore wind turbine farms have been proposed along the U.S. coast of the United States, one about four miles off the south shore of New York's Long Island, and one in Massachusetts' Nantucket Sound, off Cape Cod.
The New York project, backed by environmentalists, is still awaiting approval by the Army Corps of Engineers. The Nantucket project, also in federally controlled water, faces opposition because of fears it would ruin the ocean view from shore.
The Texas proposal would face fewer obstacles. The Texas General Land Office oversees territory up to 10 miles from the coast, limiting federal involvement. And the state's coastline already is home to industry, with oil and gas platforms visible from beaches.
There is still a question of how the wind farm will affect coastal and migratory birds, which can be struck by the turbines' rotating blades, said environmental attorney Jim Blackburn.
A study of bird migration paths near Galveston Island will begin as early as next spring, company officials said.
Texas ranks second in the nation behind California in electricity generated by land-based wind turbines, but company officials believe offshore turbines can tap more consistent wind.