Louisiana Wind Farm Economically Unviable

Published January 1, 2005

A proposed wind farm off the coast of Louisiana is economically unviable, wind farm supporters admit, and will fail unless the state forces its citizens to purchase the power at up to three times the cost of conventional power. Wind power supporters are seeking just such a requirement in a proposed renewable portfolio standard.

Turbines Visible from Shore

Wind Energy Systems Technologies (WEST) seeks to build up to 10 wind farms of as many as 25 giant wind turbines each. Targeted areas for the windfarms include pristine offshore waters near Grand Isle and the mouth of the Mississippi River. According to company officials, each wind farm would cover between 200 and 400 acres of coastal waters with 27-story high wind turbines. Many, but not all, of the proposed turbines would be visible from the shoreline.

Company officials stress that if the state and nation are serious about wind power, then offshore Louisiana is an ideal place to locate wind farms. As noted by the September 30 New Orleans Times-Picayune, “several studies indicated about a year ago that areas along coastal Louisiana offer some of the best winds in the country for wind power generation.”

Costs High, Despite Ideal Location

Even so, the costs of generating wind power at these ideal locations remain prohibitively high, noted the Times-Picayune. Although “support has grown across the country in recent years for so-called green power,” the newspaper observed, “in most cases, green power costs more– sometimes considerably more–than electricity produced by more conventional methods.

“That’s the case with the Sidney Murray Jr. Hydroelectric Power Station near Vidalia on the Mississippi River,” continued the Times-Picayune. “The plant, which supplies power to Entergy Louisiana, produces electricity that costs three times more than power sold on the wholesale energy market.”

With the significantly higher costs of wind-generated electricity in mind, members of Louisiana’s Public Service Commission questioned Wind Energy Systems officials at a September 29 public meeting in Baton Rouge.

“We’re certainly in this to make a profit,” admitted Harold Schoeffler, a partner at WEST.

Forcing Citizens to Buy

Commissioner Foster Campbell, a strident supporter of the wind farm proposal, argued that public utilities and citizens will choose not to purchase expensive wind-generated electricity unless they are forced to. Accordingly, he suggested the state impose a renewable energy portfolio requirement on public utilities and citizens.

“Without a renewable energy portfolio standard, this project will be dead,” said Campbell.

Commissioner Jay Blossman responded that he was uncomfortable forcing public utilities to buy wind power if the price is significantly higher than electricity from conventional sources.

“I don’t want to force anyone to buy more expensive power, because that is going to increase costs to ratepayers,” Blossman explained.

Entergy Louisiana’s regulatory affairs manager, Mark Kleehammer, agreed with Blossman. “On this project, we are concerned about the economics,” Kleehammer told the Commission.

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.