Louisiana Should be the Heart of the Green New Deal

MiNO Marine designed L/B Jill performing O&M work at the Alpha Ventus Offshore Wind Farm in the North Sea.

Twenty-eight miles north of the German island of Borkum, a New Orleans-designed, Houma-built liftboat is performing operation and maintenance work on Germany’s first offshore wind farm — Alpha Ventus Offshore Wind Park. An American vessel performing work in the North Sea may not strike readers as extraordinary, but it is exceptionally so, considering that the United States has only one offshore wind farm. Louisiana’s vessels and businesses are already playing a role in the global wind market.

The American offshore wind market (just five turbines) is considerably behind both Europe and Asia with both regions already boasting thousands of installed turbines and are planning or actively building new large scale projects. But the American offshore wind market is gaining momentum. Since 2012, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Office of Renewable Energy has held 8 competitive offshore wind lease sales generating $473 million in bids. These 15 active leases along the American eastern seaboard will need offshore support vessels, liftboats, barges and tugs, engineering expertise, and people to install turbines and provide ongoing maintenance. That’s a lot of jobs.

The American Offshore Wind Industry is Gaining Speed

Remember that first American offshore wind farm? The Rhode Island adjacent Block Island Wind Farm just powered up in 2016. A Louisiana shipyard built steel jackets, decks, and piles for the Block Island Wind Farm and a Louisiana firm designed the foundations for those steel jackets. A Louisiana liftboat assisted in the installation of those foundations. And that liftboat was designed by a New Orleans firm and built in a Houma shipyard. Louisiana has a head start in fulfilling this demand. We have the people and talent. We have the infrastructure. All we need now is the vision and the will.

Yes, in our backyard

In 2016, a National Renewable Energy Laboratory offshore wind energy resource study estimated that three out of four offshore wind states with the highest net technical resource potential are in the Gulf of Mexico (Texas, Louisiana, and Florida). Gulf states possess 2,383 terawatt hours/per year of offshore wind net technical potential, a quarter of the nation’s yearly offshore net technical wind resources and a little over half of the US total electricity consumption in 2017.

Louisiana’s shallow continental shelf is ideal for next-generation wind turbines which can produce between 12 and 15 megawatts each.

Louisiana’s web of oil and gas supply chains, vessels, canals, ports and infrastructure can and should support a sustaining offshore wind program, not just for the Gulf Coast, but the nation’s. Louisiana’s trade schools, engineers and welders, fabrication yards and shipyards are uniquely poised to take advantage of this historic moment. Louisiana can and should become the center of offshore wind expertise and manufacturing.

Our Heritage, Our Future

While the American offshore wind era is just beginning, much of global offshore tech can trace its origins to Louisiana’s shores. In the 1930’s, “the technology and know-how did not exist for building a platform, getting it into position, drilling into the ocean floor — or even for servicing the operation. Moreover, essential knowledge about such important matters as weather (including hurricanes), tides, and currents was either rudimentary or almost nonexistent.” (Daniel Yergin, 1990.) A clear Sunday morning in October 1947, ten and a half miles off the Louisiana coast changed all of that. Early pioneers struck oil and the rest is history. But now it’s time to build upon that legacy and look to the future.

Louisiana businesses and workers are ready. But Louisiana citizens and their elected representatives need to begin laying the necessary legal and policy framework to build towards that future. While local businesses took the risk to embark into the Gulf many decades ago, local and federal government also established leasing programs, royalty arrangements and tax regimes to nurture and protect the new offshore oil and gas markets. It’s time for our elected representatives to diversify and envision new markets and secure new blue water jobs. Stop investing in the past, fossil fuels, and start investing in our future, renewables.

The city of New Orleans’ recent addition of solar projects are a step in the right direction, but we must also recognize the tremendous opportunity our existing blue water economy poses in supporting our national green economy. Louisiana must work with the Department of the Interior to establish a Louisiana intergovernmental renewable energy task force. This is the official trigger to jumpstart Louisiana’s nascent wind energy industry in federal waters. Meanwhile the Louisiana Legislature must get to work on supporting legislation and the Louisiana’s State Energy Office to begin simultaneously planning an offshore wind energy program in state waters. Finally, the state and the City of New Orleans must establish renewable portfolio standards (RPS). RPS standards will help build a local renewable utility market.

Louisiana has a bright green opportunity, but we must seize it. Before it’s too late.

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