Report: Collaboration, Planning Needed to Solve Wind Power Transmission Issues
February 13, 2023
The New England region could save up to $20 billion in transmission-related costs and exceed its renewable energy goals with collaboration and proactive planning, according to a new report.
Last month the Brattle Group released a new analysis on transmission issues concerning the nation’s offshore wind projects. The report, co-funded by the Natural Resources Defense Council, GridLab, the Clean Air Task Force, the American Clean Power Association, and the American Council on Renewable Energy, cites problems such as slow and costly interconnection processes, a lack of long-term transmission planning, and disjointed efforts on the part of federal and state governments.
Transmission is the infrastructure, export cables, converter stations, and substations that feed power from offshore wind turbines into the electrical grid for use in powering homes and businesses.
The cost of these shortcomings? Time and money. And states are running out of both.
Up and down the East Coast, states including Rhode Island have pledged a total of 77 gigawatts (GW) of green energy over the next 15 years. Right now, these states have only procured a total of 17.6 GW. Lopa Parikh, the head of electricity policy at Ørsted, a Danish energy company that is a developer of the Revolution Wind project, noted “the current points of interconnection (POI) are not sufficient to cover all the offshore wind expected to come online over time.”
The Biden administration has set a goal of procuring 30 GW of offshore wind by 2030, with another 110 GW by 2050.
That amount may not even be enough to meet renewable energy goals. According to the report, the nation as a whole could need as much as 460 GW of renewable energy by 2050. The Northeast, which has benchmarked 18 GW, may need as much as 69 GW. Rhode Island has a goal of 1.4 GW by 2035, and is estimated to need 5 GW of offshore wind by 2050.
All of which will require coordinated planning and incentives to connect offshore wind with the electrical grid.
“It takes a decade to develop major transmission lines,” said Johannes Pfeifenberger, the chief author of the study and a principal at the Brattle Group. “Even if we started major processes now and have results in a few years and got approval to build, that planning process wouldn’t yield new transmission lines until the early 2030s.”
Proactive, collaborative planning between federal agencies, states, and grid operators could yield at least $20 billion in transmission-related cost savings, reduce the amount of shore crossings and onshore transmission upgrades by 60%, and result in 2,000 fewer miles of marine export cable on the ocean floor.
The report recommends multistate collaboration for offshore wind projects, additional federal support and funding, standardizing offshore transmission technologies, and improving existing planning processes. It also advises for more staffing at federal and state agencies and enabling legislation to empower multistate entities to make decisions. Grid operators would also need to identify and perform feasibility and cost-effectiveness studies at potential new POIs.
Delaying proactive planning by even five years could halve some of its benefits, according to the report.
Permitting for offshore wind projects can get complicated. Developers of the SouthCoast Wind project (formerly known as Mayflower Wind), which would install export cables under the Sakonnet River and across the town of Portsmouth, told residents at a virtual town hall last August they were required to get 60 permits across 30 different regulatory agencies.
“The offshore wind industry is held to extremely rigorous regulatory requirements,” Dugan Becker said at last year’s town hall. “Significantly more so than a lot of other energy sources.”
SouthCoast Wind has indicated it is also working out lease payments with the town of Portsmouth for running export cables underneath the town into Mount Hope Bay.
In Rhode Island, depending on the project, offshore wind developers have to seek permits from the Coastal Resources Management Council, the state Department of Environmental Management, the state Department of Transportation, the Energy Facility Siting Board, and whatever town the project may choose to land in — all of which have different jurisdictions, timelines, and processes for permitting.
The Revolution Wind project, an offshore wind project that will land at Quonset in North Kingstown, is currently making its way through the last few rounds of federal and government approvals. The project almost had an extra twist. Agency staff stipulated, citing state law, that Revolution Wind may need to seek approval from the General Assembly, which sets the lease fees for state waters. CRMC allowed the project to proceed without this stipulation.
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