Winds of Change Blowing Off the Gulf Coast
States along the Gulf Coast, such as Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida—all of which have longstanding ties to the oil and gas industry—have especially felt the impact of the national crusade to spurn fossil fuels in favor of carbon-free renewable electricity generation. Indeed, Nichola Groom of Reuters reported just last month that a court order voided the most recent auction of offshore oil and gas drilling rights in the Gulf of Mexico. Serendipitously, however, those same waters boast another resource that may keep those states just as important in the new energy climate (no pun intended): wind.
The Biden Administration has made no secret of its goal to have 30 GW of U.S. offshore wind capacity online by 2030, and two studies by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) completed two years ago suggest that the Third Coast actually has the potential to provide much more—508 GW—through that technology. Moreover, the NREL report projects that each new wind facility in the region could realize pure economic gains of roughly 4,500 jobs and $445 million of additional GDP from its construction and 150 jobs and $14 million of GDP from its ongoing operation.
Writing for Politico last month, Kelsey Tamborrino conceded that Gulf states must contend with perennial hurricanes and negotiate the challenge of protecting billions of birds from the hazard of wind turbines and do not even have winds as strong as those blowing off the Atlantic Coast. She observed, nonetheless, that established infrastructure in the form of human know-how and skilled labor, best exemplified by the role of Louisiana oil and gas outfits in building the first U.S. offshore wind farm in Rhode Island in 2016, should keep the region in the national conversation and calculus on the proliferation of wind energy. As Amanda Lefton, Director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, told Tamborrino, “The people, the companies, the manufacturers that know how to do [Outer Continental Shelf] energy development are in the Gulf of Mexico.” Tristan Baurick of The Times-Picayune / New Orleans Advocate elaborated on that point last November: “Many of the skills needed in the offshore oil and gas industry are directly transferable to building and servicing wind farms.”
Rather than view renewable wind generation as a threat to the legacy energy industry of his state, Louisiana Governor John Edwards is confident that offshore wind turbines will complement existing offshore assets such as oil rigs. Beyond the boon of extra, clean energy itself, however, plans to adapt local expertise to the development and deployment of the new technology are certainly encouraging. Perhaps they can set a positive example for other parts of the U.S. to ensure that all energy workers throughout the country thrive as the inevitable transition away from fossil fuels comes closer to fulfillment.