Two years later, the Louisiana PSC is still studying its options when it comes to wind energy. But WEST isn't waiting around anymore and pinning its hopes on the Louisiana coast. Under a subsidiary named Galveston-Offshore Wind LLC, WEST recently signed a 30-year lease with the Texas General Land Office to develop the nation's first offshore wind farm off the coast of Galveston. Over the next three to five years, WEST plans to erect 50 turbines on the 11,355-acre site at a total cost of almost $240 million. The offshore wind farm is expected to generate 150 megawatts of electricity a day, enough to power 40,000 homes.
"We can have power in 2008 in Galveston," Schellstede says. "That's the goal."
For WEST, setting up its first wind energy project in Texas was much more practical than trying to work off Louisiana's coast. While the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources did get a bill through the state Legislature last year to allow for the leasing of offshore state waters for wind farms up to three miles off the coast, the Public Service Commission hasn't adopted regulations that would allow WEST to sell its power.
At the end of last year, the PSC looked at a study from a consulting firm that examined different incentives other states have implemented to encourage the development of renewable power. Texas is one of 20 states that have set up systems to require utility companies to buy a portion of their power from renewable energy generators. The requirement helps to seed the renewable power industry in a state, eventually allowing for renewable power to become a competitive alternative to traditional fossil fuel power generation. Until Louisiana adopts a similar system, WEST is shut out by utility providers and has no way of selling its power.
WEST hasn't been the only one lobbying the PSC to promote the use of renewable energy. Several other parties, including state Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom's office, have touted the benefits of generating electricity by burning agricultural byproducts such as wood chips, sugar cane residue and rice hulls. Not only is this a clean, renewable source of energy, advocates say, but it also gives farmers a profitable way of disposing of byproducts.
"Beyond wind, we have outstanding renewable energy opportunities in Louisiana," says Schoeffler, who also chairs the Acadiana Chapter of the Sierra Club.
The state's three largest utility companies, Entergy, Cleco and Southwestern Electric Power Company, have rallied against any regulations that would require them to purchase renewable energy. They insist the power sources are unproven and that other auxiliary costs from transmitting the power and adjusting the power grid for intermittent sources ' like wind ' will drive up their expenses.
Schoeffler and Schellstede maintain all of these issues have been worked out. Because Louisiana's coast is ideally suited for wind power, they say, the utility companies are passing on a golden opportunity. Unlike onshore wind, offshore wind blows primarily during the day, when demand for electricity is at its peak. As for transmission costs, offshore wind farms can help greatly reduce the distance that electricity currently must travel to reach several coastal communities, like Port Fourchon. "We can do [wind energy] better and cheaper than anybody," Schoeffler insists.
Right now, the PSC is siding with the utilities, opting to hold off on any renewable requirements. Bill Robertson, who serves as Commissioner Foster Campbell's executive assistant, says commissioners are cautiously optimistic when it comes to renewable energy. He says it's really unknown how cost-competitive these renewable energy projects will be in Louisiana, "because nobody's doing it right now."
"Right now," Robertson says, "the commissioners are focused very carefully on anything that affects the price of electricity because the prices are really high right now based on our general dependence on natural gas.
"That's kind of a double edged sword," he continues, "because the higher the price of conventional fuels, conceivably the lower the price of a renewable product. But since it's still largely unknown how much the renewable energy is going to come in, in terms of price, the commissioners are a little bit leery about putting their toe in the water."
The debate may be just beginning. The PSC has now directed its consultant to go one step further and develop a detailed analysis on the feasibility of renewable energy projects in Louisiana. They also ordered a proposal for a green pricing program. Green pricing requires that utilities give their customers the option of paying a little more each month for electricity by guaranteeing that it come from a renewable source. Robertson expects the PSC will be able to review these studies in about three months. WEST is also considering a small, PSC-approved 35-megawatt pilot project off the coast of Port Fourchon.
For Schoeffler and Schellstede, both elderly white-haired men, the slow-moving bureaucratic process has been frustrating.
"Does a wind turbine work in Louisiana?" Schoeffler asks incredulously. "I mean if it works in Germany and Spain and England and Australia, why wouldn't it work here? What kind of nonsense is that? Texas is grinding out 3,000 megawatts of windpower. In Texas, they know the wind works. We don't have to prove it to Texas; they've got it figured out. We had no choice but to go to Texas."
Jim Suydam, spokesman for the Texas General Land Office, says the deal with WEST will generate a minimum of $26 million for Texas' permanent school fund through royalty payments on the energy. In addition, the state is already collecting on the $10,000 annual lease. Schellstede, who has 37 years of experience in the offshore oil business and whose father worked on the crew of the nation's first offshore oil rig in the Gulf, makes the project a sound bet for Suydam's office.
"He's literally grown up with the business of building offshore platforms," Suydam says. "He wants to continue to build platforms. We want to continue to be able to make money for the permanent school fund. We're both just looking for different ways to do the same thing, and wind seems to be the way to do it. They found that Texas was an easier state to do business in than Louisiana.
"We're the first people to be getting paid for this right now," Suydam adds, "and we think as the years go by, we stand to make a lot of money off this. We've got 367 miles of coast, 10 miles out. We would hope to lease a good portion of that to wind energy development because it makes sense."
Many Texans are already experiencing the benefits of wind energy. Austin's municipal utility has a green pricing program, which locked customers who wanted renewable energy into a 10-year fixed rate for their electricity. With the current increase in natural gas prices, green power customers in Austin are getting lower energy bills than customers using traditional energy sources. Demand for the program has exceeded supply, and Austin's utility recently raffled off the remaining renewable power capacity.
"I don't think the price of natural gas is going to go down any," Suydam projects. "And at [current prices], wind is cheaper. So, it's not about feeling good, and it's not about being groovy and green or anything. It's all market-based economics. And the fact that it is good for the environment is like frosting on the cake."
Schellstede wouldn't be investing in wind power if he didn't see enormous potential. He and Schoeffler often point to a 2003 Stanford University study that identifies Louisiana's Gulf coast as the most opportune location to develop wind energy.
"We've always known this from the oil and gas operations," Schellstede says. "[The wind] blows you out of the Gulf. But we never put two and two together."
A mild-mannered man who towers over 6 feet tall, Schellstede's always been a shrewd wildcatter. His company is currently involved with one of the deepest offshore natural gas drills in the Gulf. At the Schellstede and Associates office, housed in a historic 19th century wood floor schoolhouse building along the Bayou Teche in New Iberia, Schellstede proudly displays large-scale models of oilfield work boats his company helped design. (Schellstede and Associates holds more than 80 patents.) One model of the world's largest barge rig occupies an entire corner of a room.
Schellstede has set up the WEST office with five employees in an adjacent building on the old school campus. Mounted on a pedestal outside the WEST office is a new 5-feet-tall model of a red wind turbine hooked into a yellow base that resembles an oil derrick. The turbine tower is adjustable, able to slide up and down into its support base. Schellstede says with this design, WEST will be able to pull down its turbines' collapsible propellers in the event of a Gulf storm or hurricane.
There's still a lot of work to be done before WEST can put these turbines on the leased property off the coast of Galveston. Within the next two months, WEST will erect two 80-foot high meteorological towers to identify the best locations for its turbines. Schoeffler will conduct a study examining the Gulf flights of neo-tropical birds to ensure that the turbines do not endanger their migration. And through a partnership with Texas A&M, WEST plans to collect data on Gulf wind and water currents. Schellstede says the yearlong study will cost the company about $5 million before it puts up a single turbine, but in the end, he thinks it will pay off. He is courting big investors interested in partnering in the project once the study verifies the Gulf winds.
"We're going to learn more about that area than anyone's ever learned before," Schellstede says. "It's very expensive to do, but at the same time it's worth everything. The economic models that we have, especially if oil goes up to $100 a barrel, there's a really reasonable payout on these wind farms."
Despite sweeping changes enacted by Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration, the health insurance program for state workers and public school employees will have to use $88 million from its reserve fund to cover its costs this year.
The LPSB races are sure to get heated between now and Nov. 4, and with only 9 available seats, this year's field of 20 candidates will surely be wanting to set themselves apart from the crowd early; they'll get their chance next week, starting Tuesday with the kick-off of a three-day series of candidate forums.
Lawmakers say they've received complaints that waits have spiked, with people being forced to wait in line for more than an hour — and sometimes three hours — to handle routine tasks.
The campaign announced that Rep. Stuart Bishop of District 43 and Nancy Landry, District 31, have thrown their support behind the Naval Academy graduate and entrepreneur in his bid to unseat current Hunter Beasley in District 8.
A Lafayette man with an alleged taste for child porn was busted Thursday evening during a cyber crime sting launched by the Attorney General’s Office.
U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister says his chief of staff is on temporary leave after being booked with drunken driving.
It was a rare moment in Congress this week as Republicans briefly put aside partisanship in support of President Barack Obama's request to train and arm Syrian rebels, and while a number of Democrats opposed the measure, Louisiana's Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu found herself on the same side of the issue as her Republican challenger Rep. Bill Cassidy.
Home Depot breach bigger than Target; Alibaba IPO could be big; Rivers' last project and more national and international news for Friday, September 19, 2014.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
City-Parish President Joey Durel is asking the council to sign off on a resolution approving a pair of deals that would lead to razing the seedy Lesspay Motel at Four Corners to build a new police substation as well as transforming nearly a block Downtown where the old federal courthouse building now molders into a mixed-use development.
In 2013, the IRS — already the least popular governmental agency in the country — became the target of intense investigations after it was revealed that they had specifically and improperly scrutinized applications for tax-exempt status from organizations associated with the nascent Tea Party movement.
Improving the running game was "a point of emphasis" during the offseason and the results have manifested themselves in the form of substantially greater production.
Louisiana's health department said Wednesday that its evaluation of the state's Medicaid privatization was on target, despite criticism from the legislative auditor that it lacked key data and contained inconsistencies.
The feds converge on your office, seizing records on several employees as part of a pay-for-plea investigation. WWYD? If you’re Mike Harson, you give yourself a $12k raise.
It’s football season and after back-to-back winless weekends for the Saints and the Cajuns many citizens are finding it difficult to be civil much less happy. Well, chew on this.
Considering his repeated stays in the local penal system, David Narcisse Jr. should have known that having a semiautomatic shotgun, even one given to him by a friend, wasn’t the brightest of ideas.
A state district judge on Tuesday threw out a last-minute retirement hike lawmakers gave to the state police superintendent, ending a political firestorm over a pension boost passed without public scrutiny on the last day of the legislative session.
The House has passed a bill to increase oversight of veterans' hospitals under construction, following a report that some medical centers take three years longer to complete than estimated and cost an extra $366 million per project.
An obvious follow-up question for any Republican politician who accuses Democrats of being science deniers is one about science, to which Jindal bobbed and weaved like a welterweight champ.
The Lafayette City-Parish Council is expected to decide tonight (Tuesday) whether to go along with a proposal City-Parish President Joey Durel made in February’s State of the Parish Address and consolidate taxes for mosquito control and the parish health units into a broader tax program that would also cover animal control.
U.S. District Judge Richard Haik has dismissed Greg Davis’ lawsuit against the LPSB, yet in his ruling, the federal judge doesn’t bite his tongue in pointing out the "threat" being posed by certain board members.
Of all the political offices being contested throughout Lafayette Parish, the race for Broussard’s top police post has literally become one of the most heated.
A state district judge is deciding whether to issue an injunction against the enforcement of a last-minute retirement hike that lawmakers gave to the state police superintendent.
A new website is up for Louisiana's state government employees and retirees to choose their health insurance plans for next year, a choice they must make by October.
That fact that New Orleans led both games in the final 10 seconds of regulation, and lost each by a field goal or less, is of little solace.