But Corpus Christi continues rolling in project cargo

In recent years, onshore wind energy components have been strong project cargo trade for the Port of Corpus Christi.

Priscilla Torres heads wind cargo within her role on the port’s five-person trade development team. Two years ago, a wind component company became her first customer in the category, which now is Corpus Christi’s largest project cargo. “The business has been pretty steady,” she tells AJOT.

Torres, and undoubtedly her port competitors along coasts of Texas and Louisiana, were pleased that U.S. Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management (BOEM) was offering the first offshore wind lease areas in the Gulf of Mexico for sale. Bids were due on August 29, 2023, to buy a wind farm location off Louisiana’s coast, and two such Gulf sites near Galveston.

In August 2023, The Business Network for Offshore Wind promoted this opportunity in a 24-page publication. Among the highlights, it was noted, “Once the U.S. Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management (BOEM) executes these three lease areas, companies in the Gulf will have their opening shot to showcase their unparalleled expertise in offshore energy development — skills that have been honed over decades in the heart of America’s oil and gas industry. This is a welcome development both for a rejuvenation of economic activity on the Gulf Coast, as well as an opportunity for decarbonization in some of the most hard-to-abate sectors of our economy. The Gulf has already played its part in offshore wind’s 10-plus years in the U.S. by providing critical offshore construction experience. This knowledge, bolstered by American business ingenuity paired with European expertise, and the dedicated work of U.S. federal and state policymakers, has advanced projects up and down the East Coast. And the region still has more to give.”

In preparation for the Texas wind farms, Torres and her Corpus colleagues “were really ramping up, specifically looking at infrastructure. What would we need for improvement where we could potentially house these large components in the sense of marshalling a port staging port?”

Then, Aug. 29 rolled around. There were no bidders for either of the two Texas sites! These “received zero bids,” Torres reiterates. “Meaning, no one wants them at this time, for various reasons.” Her research indicates that “right now it’s just too expensive to develop offshore wind. The Gulf of Mexico was one of the last offshore wind leases in the states to go for sale. “We think it’s just inflation and until those prices come down, we won’t see any movement.”

She adds, “When you compare how much money the Louisiana site brought in, versus the California or the Northeast Coast sites, it’s miniscule. It’s maybe an eighth of the cost” of wind farm locations on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts.

The ocean and energy management companies are “seeing that until the prices and inflation come down. It’s not going to be cost effective to lease an offshore wind farm.”

So, for Texas, “that was kind of a bummer,” Torres admits. “But that’s not to say we don’t expect to see those sites or other sites reopen for sale in coming years.” In the interim, Corpus Christi will “stay prepared.” The port has available land to serve as a marshalling site for large offshore wind farms when the time is right.

Onshore Wind Farms Still Thriving

Corpus Christi’s onshore wind farm component business thrived before recent developments, and it will continue to do so.

“This does not affect our onshore wind business,” Torres says.

Among U.S. seaports, the Port of Corpus Christi’s Authority (PCCA) ranks in the top three, if not number one, in the nation, for handling wind power cargo.

PCCA’s main wind cargo is wind turbine blades and hubs/nacelles. These are primarily imported from Spain and India, but occasionally from Brazil, Argentina, and China. These components are shipped by rail or truck throughout the continental U.S. and into Canada. BNSF and Union Pacific service are key assets for Corpus.

Wind blade shipping is no small feat. The largest wind blades handled by the port were a staggering 242 feet long. “That’s been a really big factor on getting more business coming to our port.”

This business, “I would say is definitely steady. We expect it to grow with the Inflation Reduction Act,” which will encourage inland wind farms. “Right now, what we suspect is that a lot of the wind components that are coming in are from projects that were delayed in the supply demand chain. And so that’s keeping the business.”

To prepare for growth in the next one to two years, “We continue to look at our infrastructure across the board.” Infrastructure improvements may involve buying more land, building storages, or heavy-haul roads accessing highways.

“We want to be prepared when those larger offshore wind components are making their way to our area,” while assuring the port grows with oncoming onshore wind farm construction.

Other Project Cargo

With Corpus Christi’s public docks, there are pipe steel projects and steel coil. Plywood imports are a recent new import business.

“We’re largely focused on the military. So, year-round we’ve got the military coming to our port whether it be a deployment or a redeployment. We’ve even seen the British military come to our port. And there are some other cargo commodities that come in that are not specified because they are going to be project specific.”