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GALVESTON — The federal government on Thursday announced the first-ever chance for companies to lease areas in the Gulf of Mexico to build wind farms, including two parcels roughly 30 miles off the Texas coast near Galveston.
Renewable energy developers will likely compete for the leases with firms that are better known for another kind of offshore construction: Oil and gas giants such as Shell and TotalEnergies qualified to join the bidding.
Leaders of the traditionally fossil fuel-focused companies say their climate goals make investing in offshore wind critical. Both businesses are already involved in developing wind power in the Atlantic, including near New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts.
The auction will take place Aug. 29, and the highest bidders will win the leases. After that, putting together the construction and operation plans will likely take years. Environmental advocates, fishermen and other energy companies all have a stake in what happens.
When they’re built, the wind turbines could feed energy into the Texas power grid. Companies suggest the energy could also be used to produce hydrogen, which in turn could fuel planes or long-haul trucks. The leases are expected to be able to generate some 3.7 gigawatts of power, or enough for almost 1.3 million homes.
Along with the leases near Texas, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management offered a site for wind power to be built off the coast of Louisiana. The Gulf parcels will add to the few dozen active commercial leases federal officials already issued, most recently near California. They’ve approved three commercial-scale projects for construction so far.
“By catalyzing the offshore wind energy potential of the Gulf of Mexico, we can tackle the climate crisis, lower energy costs for families and create good-paying jobs,” U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said in a statement.
Offshore wind turbines can help countries transition to using more clean energy and slow human-caused climate change, which has been spurred by the burning of fossil fuels. But building and operating wind farms in the Gulf comes at an environmental cost.
The huge turbines will harm wildlife such as the billions of migratory birds that cross the Gulf and might crash into the blades, while the boats involved in the initial construction could strike endangered turtles and whales.
Environmental groups are pushing for developers to lessen the damage as much as possible, perhaps by limiting ships’ speed during construction and posting lookouts to help prevent collisions with animals. The leases don’t stipulate exactly how wildlife will be protected; those decisions will come as companies develop the construction plans, which federal officials will review.
“We don’t ever want to hide from the fact that this is still heavy industrial development,” said Helen Rose Patterson, who focuses on offshore wind energy for the National Wildlife Federation. “But I think we always turn back to … the biggest challenge that all of those species and habitats are facing is climate change.”
Federal officials balanced input from fishermen in offering the leases, too, meeting with stakeholders as they whittled down the lease areas from a broad swath of ocean that they initially considered to a pair of sites covering roughly 100,000 acres each.
The process “was based on rigorous science” to avoid interfering with other industries and the Gulf’s natural resources, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s regional director for the Gulf of Mexico, Michael Celata, wrote in an internal memo.
Shrimpers asked the government to avoid blocking their most productive fishing areas, which officials largely did. Commercial and recreational fishermen, meanwhile, see a benefit to building turbines in the Gulf because they expect red snapper and other fish will be attracted to the turbine foundations, as they are with oil rigs.
Buddy Guindon, a Galveston-based commercial fisherman who also owns a restaurant, considered this future from his bustling seafood market on a recent morning as men unloaded thousands of pounds of glistening, chilled red snapper caught over a five-day fishing trip.
Guindon said he and other fishermen feel hopeful that new wind turbines could boost their businesses since many of the oil rigs they used to fish around were removed during the West Texas fracking boom.
Scott Hickman, who leads fishing charter trips from Galveston, said building more structures in the Gulf means “there’s going to be more opportunity” to catch fish. And he sees a second reward that wind energy would bring: Sustainable energy will mitigate the impacts of climate change that he already sees affecting fish populations in the Gulf.
“We’ve got to do something about climate,” Hickman said. “We’re super supportive.”
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