Feds announce largest-ever competitive lease sale for offshore wind

HOUSTON — The federal government today announced that it will hold its largest-ever competitive lease sale for offshore wind development in January.

The feds will allow a dozen developers to bid on access to more than 742,000 acres off the coast of Massachusetts (map) starting Jan. 29, the Interior Department said Monday.

The sale would triple the amount of federal offshore acreage available for commercial-scale offshore wind development, the department said.

That area — if fully developed — could support as much as five gigawatts of commercial wind generation, enough to power more than 1.4 million homes, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

“This offshore wind energy area not only has the capacity to generate enough electricity to power half the homes in Massachusetts, but it will create local jobs and a renewable and home-grown source of power,” Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said in a statement.

Ten companies have expressed interest in the lease area, according to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

The federal government has awarded seven commercial wind energy leases off the Atlantic coast to date.

Offshore wind projects were first developed in 1991. Since then, they’ve primarily operated in Europe. The federal government has been trying to promote them here in the U.S., since more than half the country’s population lives in coastal areas, and offshore winds tend to blow more forcefully and uniformly than wind over land.

Globally, about 4.45 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity has been installed across more than 50 projects, according to the BOEM.

Texas leads the nation in wind power generation, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, but it is all land-based — mostly arrays of turbines in West Texas and the Panhandle.

Lafayette, Louisiana-based Coastal Point Energy said Monday it has necessary permits and plans to install a 3 megawatt wind turbine system early next year at an offshore platform about 10 miles from Galveston.

Austin-based Baryonyx Corp. had been pursuing a 300-turbine wind farm off the coast of South Padre Island, but its status today is unclear. Emails to its chief financial officer bounced back as undeliverable Monday, and the voicemail box for its Austin office was full.

Federal documents indicate Baryonyx withdrew its applications to the Army Corps of Engineers in May. At the time, the developer said it would re-evaluate the project and re-submit an application.

Earlier this year, it failed to win selection from the U.S. Department of Energy as an offshore wind demonstration project, which would have entitled it to millions of dollars in federal assistance.