Americans want more wind, less costs

Americans overwhelmingly want more wind energy, but projects that could make that happen have been mired in controversy and concern, experts said at a Houston conference on Tuesday.

About 76 percent of Americans want more wind energy to be added to electric grids nationwide, according to a Texas A&M study that was cited at the Texas Offshore Wind Energy Roundtable Conference in Houston’s Galleria area.

While offshore wind projects could tap into an abundant resource of wind, the United States has been slow to add any turbines in its waters.

This year alone, Europe has added 6 gigawatts of offshore wind power generating capacity, said John Pappas, director of the Texas A&M Wind Energy Center. The United States has only ever added 20 kilowatts, a fraction of 1 percent of the European 2013 total, Pappas said.

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“This is all we’ve got,” Pappas said, while showing a video of a small research project at the University of Maine.

Although seven U.S. offshore wind projects are currently in the development phases, with all of them receiving some funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, many of them have been halted amid concerns about funding, risks and costs, he said.

John Pappas, interim director of the Texas A&M Energy Institute, speaks during the Texas Offshore Wind Energy Roundtable Conference. (Zain Shauk/Houston Chronicle)

John Pappas, interim director of the Texas A&M Energy Institute, speaks during the Texas Offshore Wind Energy Roundtable Conference. (Zain Shauk/Houston Chronicle)

Politicians have even proposed legislation to cut funding for offshore wind research and have argued that the University of Maine project is a sham, Pappas said.

Some have claimed, erroneously, that wind energy resources can cause congestion in the electric grid, in an effort to boost opposition to projects, he said.

“I think we need to take care of that problem as well as taking care of the cost problem,” Pappas said.

Cost remains the largest challenge for the advancement of offshore wind energy. Pappas estimated the costs of the seven proposed U.S. projects range from as low as $4 per watt to as high as $13 per watt. By comparison, residential solar systems can cost about $4 per watt for installations in Houston.

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Despite slow movement in offshore wind, onshore wind energy plays a major role in Texas, the largest user of wind energy in the country.

Energy reporter Zain Shauk will be live tweeting from the Texas Offshore Wind Energy Roundtable Conference in Houston throughout the day: