Renewable, affordable and abundant, offshore wind holds promise to transform our energy supply. Some 14,000 MW of capacity could be tapped off the southeastern coast of New England lease areas alone. But there’s an urgent policy debate happening now about how to efficiently maximize our offshore wind potential. At Anbaric, we embrace a fundamental, forward-thinking policy: multi-user transmission systems from wind farms to shore — an OceanGrid — that will be the catalyst for scaling offshore wind. Open-access transmission that delivers energy from more than one wind farm is critical infrastructure to build a new era of renewable energy as we phase out our dependence on fossil-fuel power.
Now we’re finding the wind at our backs as more industry leaders and environmental groups support open-access transmission developed independent of generation and call for a separate bid for transmission in Massachusetts’ procurement policy. RFPs in the Commonwealth have to date bundled transmission with generation — creating projects with single generator leads to shore, ultimately short-changing potential offshore wind supply. However, following the direction of the state legislature, the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) has been exploring the implications of creating separate RFPs for transmission for future procurements. The topic was the subject of a daylong technical conference in March.
After the conference DOER posed a second set of question to which developers and industry experts responded with written statements that expressed strong support for separating transmission from generation as a critically important improvement to Massachusetts’ procurement process. The written responses from many industry leaders add up to an endorsement for an independent OceanGrid.
Among the key themes and comments in the responses:
Separate, independent transmission is the worldwide industry standard:
Avangrid Networks, among global leaders in transmission development, writes: “The separation of transmission vs generation is the standard in any onshore transmission planning worldwide. …The long-term planning with the separation of the transmission due to its specific scope, required skills and interests, is the sustainable approach for offshore transmission planning.” Avangrid’s comment reflects offshore wind practices in Europe, where the open-access approach already is yielding large, low-cost procurements of affordable offshore wind energy – with much more planned.
Open-access transmission brings cost efficiency and fewer environmental impacts:
Shell New Energies writes that it “encourages the Commonwealth to establish well-planned, backbone transmission infrastructure.” Ultimately, they added, it will serve to “reduce the overall capital costs of the implementation of the Commonwealth’s offshore wind mandate.” (It should be noted that costs also will come down as a result of increasing the number of transmission companies bidding for the projects.) Comments from a group of environmental groups — the Conservation Law Foundation, Acadia Center, Environmental League of Massachusetts, and National Wildlife Federation — also underscore benefits: “Separating transmission from generation procurement, while complex, has the potential to deliver optimal outcomes for consumers and the environment.”
Importantly, separate, planned transmission optimizes use of onshore interconnection points:
Developers and researchers pointed to the pivotal role of landing spots for offshore wind, given their environmental and political sensitivity. Transmission Investment, a company with significant experience in the United Kingdom writes: “The main benefits of independent offshore wind transmission are in the delivery of a coordinated offshore transmission system design that can do more than simply interconnect one offshore wind generator to the onshore grid.” While Tufts Power Systems and Power Research Group warns: “…the size and speed of OSW installations could overwhelm and congest our current land-based coastal grid, damaging the industry’s reputation and shortchanging its growth potential.”
A planned grid means fewer cables and more efficient use interconnection points, creating a better outcome for fishing industries and onshore communities that will be impacted:
The Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, an organization focused on impacts to the fishing industries, writes: “A separate contingent solicitation for structure installation offshore could result in greatly fewer impacts to fisheries, and must have the primary goal of developing a more efficient (less cable used) and better-sited structure in the water.” And Tufts Power Systems offers the perspective that, “Low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately required to bear the social costs of facilities deemed undesirable by the public… a regionally coordinated offshore transmission network would encourage stakeholder engagement by driving a discussion around efficient and equitable utilization of points of interconnection.”
Scaling wind through shared transmission will build a new industry:
Independent transmission has the support of business groups and unions, for they recognize the job-growing potential of producing offshore wind at scale. Massachusetts Speaker Pro Tempore Patricia Haddad, who represents several towns on the South Coast, including Somerset, writes to the DOER: “Separately procured transmission infrastructure which would establish a multi-user energy grid can provide the conduit for offshore wind growth and development.”
There’s a growing consensus about the value of separate transmission in nearby states as well as they plan ambitious offshore wind procurements:
In comments to New York State Energy Research and Development Authority as New York targets a 9000 MW offshore wind goal, the Joint Utilities state: “A well-planned and coordinated effort to integrate New York State’s offshore wind resources with the land-based electric grid will yield cost-effective and efficient outcomes for customers and maximize environmental benefits.”
Now with 1,600MW bid out to developers, the DOER will soon decide on the how to manage new procurements. Many other industry experts join us in urging the process to include a separate bid for transmission.