GOM - Offshore Wind in the Gulf of Mexico: Holistic Project Approach Indicates Promising Opportunity

Offshore wind (OSW) development in the Gulf of Mexico (the Gulf) is an opportunity that has, arguably, received less focus than East and West Coast prospects, and one which some in the industry surmise, developers may have difficulties creating a winning strategy for.

However, the same can be said for any one of the Call Areas currently being evaluated by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), as each region has unique factors that require consideration. A more holistic project approach indicates that the Gulf region may be among the most appealing in terms of costs, available maritime and industrial resources, and solutions for minimizing physical and environmental constraints.

The challenges. Wind energy potential is generally weaker in the Gulf than in other regions within the United States (US), and there are additional engineering solutions necessary to enable turbines to combat the intensity of hurricanes. The extensive Oil & Gas (O&G) infrastructure and sea bottom conditions can make siting and transmission routing more complicated; there are numerous active and abandoned pipelines within potential project areas, many of which have shifted due to the lack of structure within the seabed. In addition to these physical constraints, the Gulf hosts extensive vessel traffic and fishing activities, which is one of the primary reasons BOEM may consider implementing turbine spacing requirements for project design and layout [2].

Key elements of any infrastructure project subject to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) permitting process include assessment and mitigation of potential stakeholder and environmental impacts. Active stakeholder groups in the Gulf include fishing organizations and both Tribal and coastal communities while marine and avian populations known to migrate to the region influence the environmental concerns.

Recent events. In February of 2023, BOEM released the Proposed Sale Notice (PSN) announcing potential auction of three lease areas off the coasts of Louisiana (LA) and Texas (TX) and potential lease stipulations, prioritizing investment into local workforce training, domestic supply chain development, fishery protection, and community engagement [1][2].

During the April Gulf of Mexico Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force (Gulf Task Force) Meeting, BOEM’s Regional Director stated that the Gulf states are workforce and port infrastructure ready, backed by over 70 years of offshore Oil & Gas (O&G) industry-related expertise [3]. DNV’s observations confirm this based on project engagements related to early-stage planning, monitoring of federal and state regulatory frameworks and jurisdictions, and technical reviews of potential technological advancements (including storage and hydrogen opportunities) within the region.

Here’s why.

Wind Resource, Cost, and Technology. According to the 2017 BOEM-funded National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Study on the Gulf, the generating potential is nearly 510,000 megawatts (MW) of energy per year [10].

While larger rotors generate more electricity, wind project Capital Expenditure (CAPEX) typically increases with increased wind turbine generator (WTG) rating and decreased specific power density. A recent DNV study concluded that the range of WTGs from 12-20 MW are most optimal [7]. The NREL also supported the use of the smaller, less costly WTGs, as their studies revealed that the shallow waters of the Gulf reduced the need for tall, more expensive models [10]. Despite much interest in developing “bigger and better” turbines, currently available models are perfectly feasible and efficient for this region.

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