State’s first energy wind farm planned in St. Mary Parish

St. Mary Parish could be the site of the state’s first commercial wind farm of energy-producing turbines under a plan by a Metairie company.

Southern States Renewable Energy is proposing a $40 million project that, under the current plan, would bring eight 498-foot-tall wind turbines to an isolated patch of coastal land near the Port of West St. Mary.

Frank Fink, economic development director for St. Mary Parish, said the project offers the parish an opportunity to branch out from the conventional oil-and-gas projects, which drive the local economy, into renewable energy.

“Now we are going from black gold into a little bit of green gold,” he said.

Louisiana is generally not considered a prime area for wind-energy projects.

But the coast is an exception, and the site in St. Mary Parish offers some of the best potential in the state, said Bill Gallardo, with Southern State Renewable Energy.

“Our winds are very generous for us down there,” he said.

The St. Mary Parish Council this month approved the permit needed for the facility, and the last major hurdle is finding a utility company to buy electricity produced by the wind turbines, Gallardo said.

The company hopes to strike a deal with Cleco, the major utility provider in the area, but an agreement has not been finalized, he said.

Gallardo said the wind farm will have the capacity to produce about 20 megawatts of electricity at peak operation but will likely generate an average of about 10 megawatts, enough to power several thousand homes.

Any utility company that agrees to buy the power would pay market rates, he said, noting that the project is economically feasible in part because of ever-improving technology that has made wind turbines more efficient and in part because of tax incentives.

Gallardo said he is working with venture capital investors to pay for construction of the facility. The company hopes to break ground on the project before the end of the year, he said, and the wind turbines could be producing power from six months to eight months after construction starts.

“The project is almost shovel ready,” he said. The proposed wind farm would create about 40 temporary construction jobs and from six to 10 full-time jobs, Gallardo said. If the project moves forward, it would be the first commercial wind farm in the state, as well as the first in the Gulf coast region outside of Texas, according to information from the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group.

“In St. Mary Parish, of all places,” Fink said. “It would be the first of its kind.”