Group heads offshore for wind energy venture

December 23, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — Austin-based Baryonyx Corporation continues to vie for funding from the U.S. Department of Energy to move forward with its GoWind project, a three 6-megawatt Seimens wind turbine demonstrator offshore wind project

The project would serve as a guinea pig for a larger commercial wind farm buildout.

The corporation is looking to bring the offshore wind industry to the Gulf of Mexico about 5 miles from the South Padre Island coastline.

“This location is ideal. I think it’s probably the best spot in the United State as far as existing infrastructure. You have the Port of Brownsville, the Port of Corpus Christi, and both completely capable right now for the three turbine demonstrator,” said Heather Otten, chief development officer for Baryonyx Corporation.

“You may need some additional work once you go commercial, but they have the space and they have the capacity. We also have Port Isabel, which is even closer to the project which is great as an operations and maintenance station,” Otten said.

The Department of Energy, which maintains an all in approach to energy development, said it is working to jumpstart the offshore wind industry in the United States, and hopes to mirror the success of land-based wind power, which the department estimates was responsible for more than 40 percent of electric capacity additions last year.

“We are working with our partners in the industry, national labs and universities to launch an offshore wind industry that mirrors the success of the land-based development,” said Niketa Kumar, a DOE spokesperson. “Our national labs have done some analysis on the resource potential. They found there is about 4,000 gigawatts of electricity potential in U.S. offshore wind, which is about four times our current total generation capacity in the United States. It’s a huge opportunity.”

The United States currently lags behind in the global offshore wind market. According to an Offshore Wind Market and Economic Analysis by Navigant, an energy consulting firm, there are 5.3 gigawatts of offshore wind installations worldwide. However, the majority of activity is located in northwestern Europe, and China continues to progress in its own installations as well, the report says.

In the Rio Grande Valley, the construction phase of the Baryonux GoWind project would have a significant impact on the local economy, experts said.

“The preliminary economic impact of the GoWind pilot project reveals that the construction phase will generate $10.2 million to the local economy and will generate approximately 70 jobs with an average annual salary of $44,000,” said Mostafa Malki, professor of economics and finance at the University of North Texas at Dallas, working out of the University of Texas at Brownsville.

“Most of these jobs will be in construction, architectural engineering and related services, and specialized design services. The economic impact of this pilot project can be scaled up proportionally as the size of the project is increased,” Malki said.

Baryonyx has proposed a commercial buildout of the GoWind project that would involve between 100 to 200 6-megawatt turbines, estimated at about 167 turbines, that would be built on submerged land in the Gulf of Mexico leased from the Texas General Land Office. According to the Navigant report, the estimated completion date for the commercial buildout is 2019.


Kick-starting the U.S. offshore wind market comes with a wide variety of difficulties, including a significant upfront cost, an uncharted permit process, and low power prices. However, DOE officials said the seven offshore wind projects phase one funding recipients are expected to help pave the way for future offshore wind development.

“We are trying to do two things, one is lower cost so they are competitive in the marketplace and drive better performance. Because they are a part of an emerging industry in the United States, these projects are also going to help clear hurtles to installing these utility scale turbines in U.S. waters,” Kumar said. “Going through the process of connecting to the grid, navigating citing and permitting processes really helps model and clear those hurdles for early participants in this market.”

Baryonyx, however, is depending largely on the second phase of funding by the DOE in order to be able to proceed with its projects. Baryonyx officials said the company is also proceeding with the assumption that current tax credits for such projects will not be available for their South Texas projects.

“If we can’t make it viable we won’t be able to build it,” Otten said. “I think it will ultimately happen. If we make it through the next period and we are selected by the Department of Energy, then definitely you will see the three turbines.”

Because of logistical installation reasons it is also currently more expensive to install wind turbines offshore. But officials said the upfront cost can be mitigated due to a larger wind energy potential than on-shore wind farms, and through state-of-the-art turbine foundation design that would result in savings.

Baryonyx officials said they have been working with the University of Texas for their designs, and are incorporating lessons learned from oil and gas rig engineering already existent in the Gulf of Mexico. They said for the GoWind project, they are likely to retrofit oil and gas rig installation vessels to make it possible to install the Baryonyx turbines, as there are currently no U.S. vessels specifically designated for the task.

Perhaps most significant, though, is low energy prices largely due to low-cost gas from the Marcellus shale. According to the Navigant report, lower electricity prices can make investment in offshore wind and other power generating projects less economically attractive, but added they believe steadily rising prices will continue to rise.

“Our biggest issue is the power prices are exceptionally low because of natural gas. It’s pretty much setting the power prices,” Otten said. “If at that point (after the GoWind demonstrator installation) the market is still low and power prices are low, then I think it probably pushes the commercial buildout a little farther out. But I think ultimately it will happen. It is just a matter of when.”

DOE officials said up to three recipients of the second phase of funding will be named in 2014.


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Galveston district is the lead agency for the National Environmental Policy Act documentation for the Baryonyx projects, and concluded the commercial buildout requires an Environmental Impact Statement.

Corps officials said the GoWind project does not require environmental evaluation, but Baryonyx officials said information collected from the demonstrator project will provide significant insight as to the impact of the commercial buildout project.

Baryonyx officials said they are confident the projects will not have detrimental environmental impacts, and may even help local fishermen by creating artificial reefs.

“We are pretty confident that we are not going to have a detrimental impact on the migratory bird paths. They migrate a little higher than our rotor swept area is the thought. We are studying that to prove it out. We don’t want to put our turbines right in the middle of a migratory path,” Otten said.

“We are studying the turtles and we won’t disturb the nesting season onshore. We are most likely going to directionally drill under into a substation so we wouldn’t disturb the beach,” Otten said. “It’s funny because once these foundations are in, a lot of fishermen have been very excited about them because they are going to create artificial reefs.”

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement is scheduled to be published by the end of 2014.

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