Date of Award

12-2013

Degree Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Geography and Geology

Committee Chair

Bandana Kar

Committee Chair Department

Geography and Geology

Committee Member 2

George Raber

Committee Member 2 Department

Geography and Geology

Committee Member 3

Greg Carter

Committee Member 3 Department

Geography and Geology

Committee Member 4

Clifton Dixon

Committee Member 4 Department

Geography and Geology

Abstract

Development of offshore renewable wind energy for coastal states, counties and federally owned regions must account for numerous constraints and factors. In the northern Gulf of Mexico, decisions on developing sites for renewable wind energy have traditionally stemmed from environmental, socioeconomic, and political bases. Environmentally, new renewable off-shore projects cannot infringe on wetlands, marine sanctuaries, and fragile ecosystems (EFH). Placement of an offshore wind turbine should not significantly impact the surrounding environment. Taking into account maritime concerns, shipping lanes must not be impeded, and active military fly zones must be avoided.

Offshore projects must be financially self-sustaining for states and counties. Profit-sharing is important when within state waters (up to 3 nm), and federal oversight is necessary when working outside of state waters and within federal waters (the 3 to 200 nm range). Each offshore variable that requires pre-deployment evaluation is location specific and geographically significant, as well as interconnected with its surrounding environment. Decisions involving development of offshore renewable wind energy sites require analyzing the amount of available energy at specific locations; studying existing activities, barriers, and exclusion zones; and providing results to the public. In this research, a number of these factors impacting offshore renewable wind development were combined in a Geographic Information System (GIS)-based site suitability model to identify and map how key pieces interrelate.

The results indicated that there are limited, yet highly suitable locations for new offshore wind projects along the northern Gulf of Mexico coastline and continental shelf (near the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama), and that geo-spatial tools and techniques can be used to make more efficient decisions using existing data, while mitigating risks in the rapidly expanding industry of offshore renewable wind. Using certain suggested turbine spacing and full capacity, the Central Planning Area of the Gulf of Mexico could host over 5,000 wind turbines of variable sizes. Looking at three turbines operating at 30% efficiency, and using a calculated average wind speed of 8.6 m/s at 90 m above the surface, there is an estimated 10.3-19 Gigawatt hours of energy available in this area every year.

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