Wind energy exports making port’s role more important

Source: By Chris Ramirez, Corpus Christi Daily Caller • Posted: Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Rachel Denny Clow/Caller-Times file Wind turbine pieces are unloaded from a ship in the Port of Corpus Christi late last year. A total of 99,300 tons of wind energy-related equipment and materials passed through the port last year, compared with 57,000 tons in 2014 and 21,000 tons in 2013.

Rachel Denny Clow/Caller-Times file Wind turbine pieces are unloaded from a ship in the Port of Corpus Christi late last year. A total of 99,300 tons of wind energy-related equipment and materials passed through the port last year, compared with 57,000 tons in 2014 and 21,000 tons in 2013.

Who needs oil?

Well, OK. Pretty much anybody with a car, truck, SUV or any of the 22 million vehicles registered in Texas, that’s who.

But wind energy is quickly muscling its way into Texas’ crowded energy landscape.

And the Port of Corpus Christi has become the tip of the spear in the industry.

Texas ranks first in the nation for both installed and under-construction wind capacity, while also supporting more than 24,000 wind-related jobs. The state is home to at least 40 manufacturing facilities and numerous component suppliers, and its wind energy industry has provided nearly $33 billion in capital investment.

The parts to make a windmill are big; a tower can stretch several hundred feet.

That’s where the Coastal Bend’s largest port can play a vital role in getting blades, turbines and other materials from a transaction sheet to someone’s property.

“They’ve done an exceptional job helping the industry,” Jeffrey Clark, executive director of Austin-based The Wind Coalition, said of the port. “We are going to need them as we continue to grow and branch out.”

In 2001, Texas received only 1 percent of its energy from wind. Today, the state’s wind energy infrastructure, nearly 18,000 megawatts of power, is roughly three times larger than second-place Iowa.

Wind provides almost 10 percent of the state’s energy and powers over 3.6 million homes.

“The simple fact is there’s a lot of room in Texas,” said Michael Goggin, senior director of Research for the American Wind Energy Association in Washington, D.C. “It’s more than able to meet climbing energy demands.”

Much of that growth is being funneled in the port’s direction.

A total of 99,300 tons of wind energy-related equipment and materials passed through the port last year, compared with 57,000 tons in 2014 and 21,000 tons in 2013, according to port financial records

Roughly 25,000 tons of such material made its way through the port between January and May, according the most updated port data.

Some of the growth resulted in a recent shortage of storage space the port recently resolved.

The port had, on average, about 85 acres available just two years ago along the Corpus Christi Turning Basin to store wind energy-related materials. Last summer, orders for parts began to back up. That gobbled up waterfront space at the Port of Corpus Christi.

Port officials at one point were left with less than 6 acres available upon which to store blades, mounts and other windmill equipment.

They had to use undeveloped portions of Rincon Industrial Park, a 200-acre parcel on the north side of the Corpus Christi Ship Channel, for storage and were also considering other land west of Cargo Dock 9, including the port’s Permian Yard, as a backup if the space crunch continued.

Even land near the Texas State Aquarium was packed with blades.

Eventually, companies began moving their equipment. Patricia Cardenas, a spokeswoman for the port, said they did so on their own as orders began filling up; the navigation district did not have to force any of them out.

Still, the port may need to prepare for another wave of congestion at some point. Texas’ wind energy success is now opening opportunities to export energy to growing markets in Central and South America, Clark said.

For example, wind power is now the fastest growing source of electrical power in Brazil.

That country installed 56 new wind farms between August and December, increasing its capacity by 23 percent, according to Brazil’s Electric Power Trade Chamber. Brazil hopes to reach 18.8 gigawatts of wind capacity by 2019 with an average annual growth rate of 20 percent.

Clark said experts expect growth in Texas to remain steady the next few years, after a “real boom period” earlier this decade. Costs to build and manage wind farms have dropped 65 percent since 2010, and companies also are shelling out less to transport towers. Blades also are lighter and more durable.

The lower costs have begun to build confidence among those looking to make long-term investments that can generate reliable returns.

“Corporate America is buying wind power not necessarily because it’s clean, but it’s one of the … few sources of energy that can guarantee its costs for 20 to 30 years,” Clark said. “While it’s good for the planet, it’s great for the bottom line.”