Wind development marching forward off Texas coast

When it comes to the topic of offshore wind, most of the discussion centers on the Northeast and projects like the much-discussed Cape Wind. But it was the state of Texas that issued the first lease for development of an offshore wind farm.

That lease, along with two subsequent leases, went to Baryonyx, a company formed by former senior managers of Eclipse Energy, which successfully developed offshore wind projects in Europe. Baryonyx is currently negotiating the permitting process for development in the Gulf.

The company’s senior vice president of offshore wind projects, Mark Leyland, spent a number of years in the offshore oil and gas construction industry and joined Eclipse Energy because he was intrigued by the prospects for offshore wind development. Leyland recently spoke with TransmissionHub about the projects underway and his company’s hopes to produce energy by 2016.

TransmissionHub: Your company has done projects overseas; how are the Texas projects similar to, or different from, the projects you’ve successfully completed?

Leyland: The original concept of our Ormonde project of 30 – 5-MW turbines in the U.K. was a wind/gas hybrid project, which was quite unique. That was really the first commercial development of 5 MW technology offshore and they sat, not on monopiles, but on jacket-type foundations, which are more usually seen in the oil and gas industries.

We achieved a lot of firsts in that project. By going with larger turbines, we stuck out the largest turbines that had ever been installed offshore, we stuck them on top of jacket-type foundations for the first time, and it was the first off-shore wind development that was actually delivered on time and on budget.

A lot of it came really down to the fact that we used a lot of offshore oil and gas approaches to the way we went about doing things because an offshore wind farm is very much an offshore construction project, and that is expertise that we have.

We don’t want to reinvent the wheel. Take the existing expertise that’s out there, modify it, adapt it to what’s appropriate to the new scenario, and march forward. And much of that same expertise exists in the Texas coast area.

THub: What do you have planned for the Gulf of Mexico?

Leyland: We have three lease sites with the Texas General Land Office, in total about 67,500 acres. Theoretically, it has the potential to site 2.5 – to – 3 GW of power. We’re in the middle of the permitting process right now. We filed our applications in June 2011 and we will have to do a full environmental impact statement, and we’re in that process now. A lot of what we are actually able to develop will fall out of what the Army Corps of Engineers sees as being appropriate for what we’re trying to do.

THub: Given your options, what would you like to do?

Leyland: I think our background speaks for itself; we always seek to use larger turbines. One of the reasons I got bored with the oil and gas industry is that most of it’s all been done before. I got an absolute buzz out of doing something that nobody had ever done before, and it was exciting because you were making the rules as you went along.

That’s really why we’re in Texas while everybody else is in the Northeast. We see the difficulty in these things actually delivering power, and delivering it most effectively. Clearly, the expertise that exists in the Gulf of Mexico, for the engineering, design, fabrication, installation – all of those issues are very much issues that don’t come as startlingly new to the people of the Gulf region who’ve been putting oil and gas platforms up there for years. And in fact, they taught the rest of the world how to do it.

THub: How does the fact that the Gulf Coast is already a working coastline make it easier for you to site and build your projects?

Leyland: That’s certainly an aspect we see as being important. Clearly, we need to take into account everybody’s concerns. There are issues out there we need to make sure we address appropriately to make sure we don’t cause any adverse impacts. By no means does being in Texas allow us to short-circuit any of the existing regulations or issues that anybody would have to rightly face.

Migratory birds are an issue, of course, and we fully understand we will have to carry out surveys to verify our initial desktop studies that indicate we will not cause an unacceptable impact to birds or any other issue.

THub: Do you have a target date for which you hope to be generating power?

Leyland: These projects are going to be developed in phases. In an ideal scenario, they’re going to roll out portions of each project year on year on year, possibly between 250 – 300 MW a year, which roughly equates to 50 to 60 structures a year, from 2016 onward. Of course, we are in a permitting process and we are in an environment where you’re constantly reviewing the economics of these things, which of course are very capital-intensive.

THub: What are some of the differences between turbine used onshore and those used offshore?

Leyland: You really have to be conscious of the fact that any turbine requires maintenance, and the extent to which you can reduce the number of moving parts helps reduce the scope of maintenance and the number of things that could go wrong.

By and large, the trend for offshore generators is to go for permanent magnetic generators and direct-drive rather than gearbox turbines. This is a relatively new departure. Certainly, the ones we put up in Ormonde had gearboxes. They were classic turbines: very big, very heavy, very efficient German turbines.

One of the things that people are looking at now is trying to reduce the number of moving parts, and people are doing this by looking at ways they can actually remove the gearboxes from turbines and thereby reduce the number of moving parts by half. That has several advantages: it reduces the weight of the top end of the turbines, and reduces the maintenance requirements.

Onshore, you don’t have the same drivers. You can roll up to a turbine in your service truck with a tool kit in the back, climb up the tower, and put a wrench on it if something goes wrong. Offshore, it’s not quite the same.

THub: Texas was the first state to issue a lease for offshore wind development, which your company has, and Texas officials told TransmissionHub that the state could be the first to actually generate power. What is your prediction?

Leyland: I genuinely want every offshore wind development in the U.S. to be successful. I don’t really care whether we’re first or second or third or fourth; I just want to do it properly.

It’s not my desire to be first, though I’d like to be among the first, certainly. I really want offshore wind to be successful in the United States, and I think the Gulf has a lot of inherent advantages, which may help it be among the first.