About once a week, cranes lift blades, nacelles and hubs for wind turbines out of a giant ship at Pier 34.
The parts will either be placed on trains or carried by trucks to West Texas and Colorado, where they will be assembled at wind farms to spur America’s quest for more renewable energy sources.
While wind-related business has been booming at the Port of Galveston, the future beyond this year is uncertain because of national political shifts.
“The port has been very active,” interim Port Director Peter Simons said. “It looks like it will be this busy through August. This is our second shipment this week.”
In search of more diverse cargo at the Port of Galveston, officials have seen wind turbine imports turn into a strong source of revenue.
Wharfage revenue, or money made from storing materials at a port, went up about $321,000 for wind energy cargo in 2016, documents show.
The port made about $324,000 in wharfage revenue in 2015, records show.
In total, the port made about $645,000 from wharfage, $206,500 in docking fees and another $121,300 in storage from its wind-related cargo in 2016, Simons said.
Part of the increased revenue comes from an agreement with Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy — a manufacturing company specializing in wind turbines that is headquartered in Spain.
“As part of the agreement, Gamesa gets 30 days of free time on the ground and then we start to charge tariffs on the equipment stored here,” Simons said. “It’s been a really good source of revenue for us.”
The company has an agreement with the Port of Galveston to ship in the parts from Brazil and Spain about once a week and unload them using the port’s cranes and specialized rail equipment.
“The tracks are about two times farther apart than on a normal track,” Simons said. “It gives more room to play with and allows you to get equipment between the lines.”
The specialized rail lines were built in 2011 after General Electric said it would import wind-related cargo through the port, Simons said.
The port has been involved in wind-related imports since 2008, said H.L. “Bubba” Smith, director of cruise operations and cargo statistician at the port.
The port’s agreement with Gamesa, which runs through 2017, is funded in large part on tax credits, Simons said.
This year, money from wind-related imports is expected to be strong for the port, Simons said.
The port has budgeted $162,000 in docking fees and $423,000 for wharfage, Simons said.
Storage fees are not budgeted for since the port is never sure how long components will be on the ground and all other numbers are budgeted conservatively, Simons said.
What will happen after this year is uncertain, Simons said.
“Our current tax scheme features declining production credits,” Simons said. “Our 2017 forecast looks very good — next year’s forecast is less so.”
The reason for the uncertainty rests in politics at the federal level, Simons said.
President Donald Trump in March signed an executive order cutting back some of the renewable energy measures put in place during the Barack Obama presidency.
Despite the executive order, Simons said there was some optimism moving forward.
“I met with representatives from the offices of John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and twice with Randy Weber’s office,” Simons said. “One message has been that with tax reform, we need to focus on developing infrastructure.”
Simons said he came away from those meetings with a feeling that some of the Trump administration infrastructure plans could include tax credits to continue things such as the port’s efforts in the wind industry.
“It’s a critical component of our efforts to diversify the cargo coming into the port,” Simons said. “Part of the port’s plan is to diversify and spread out the types of industry coming into the port.”
The current business from wind industry has helped create jobs for the area, Simons said.
“I’d definitely like to see the continuation of those tax credits,” Simons said. “And I think I shared that message with the hill when I was there.”