The U.S. Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions are growing and face numerous energy constraints. Vast wind energy resources exist just miles from the shore. However, getting this potential power source from the ocean to consumers represents one of the biggest challenges for the emerging industry. Strategic transmission planning is essential to identify where and how the offshore infrastructure will connect with the onshore grid.
From a technical standpoint, strategic system planning is essential to identify where high-capacity offshore wind resources can interconnect with the onshore grid without compromising system reliability or creating transmission congestion. There are numerous proven, technological solutions for interconnection. Northern Europe, which has a mature offshore wind market, connects “hubs” of wind turbine islands to land via high-capacity cables, or “spokes.” There’s also the possibility of connecting backbone high-capacity transmission lines with onshore substations.
While potential technical solutions are fairly straightforward, gaining the permits to execute potential projects is not a simple process. Because transmission lines cross numerous local, state and federal boundaries, planning and permitting involves a complex collection of local governments, federal stakeholders, state governments and utility regulatory commissions, sometimes including the U.S. Congress and the president. Each state and regulatory commission has its own energy policy and framework. Each has its own methods for cost allocation and environmental rules. In addition, any plan must also meet Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), independent system operator (ISO) and regional transmission operator (RTO) requirements.
Offshore wind, with its 30 percent to 60 percent capacity factor, is a reliable and clean source of power and is becoming a larger part of state renewable portfolio standards and clean energy standards across the region. For example, Massachusetts has a renewable energy goal that includes aiming for more than 1,500 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind resources. In his recent State of the State address, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced plans to increase the state’s offshore wind energy targets to 9,000 MW by 2035. Maryland legislators are looking to boost the state’s renewable portfolio standard to 50 percent by 2030, including 1,200 MW of offshore wind.
A regional offshore wind transmission master plan, developed in coordination with the states, ISOs, RTOs and federal agencies involved, can set forth common standards, policies and financing mechanisms to enable offshore wind interconnection. Such a plan would also identify transmission corridors and essential infrastructure investments needed to support the renewable energy goals of the states within the region.
As the U.S. power industry begins to transform the country’s offshore wind potential into a reality, it will need to consider how a large-scale generation and transmission system should be built.