The concept of a planned approach to offshore transmission, that proponents argue is the best way to bring massive amounts of American offshore wind power ashore, is to get an important airing at a conference held by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
The ‘technical conference’ FERC plans to hold later this year will focus on one of the most significant project risks for any offshore windfarm or windfarms, grid connection, and whether transmission system operators have taken steps to enable a co-ordinated approach to transmission system development.
For the most part, generation developers, who build offshore windfarms, plan to install their own export facilities to bring electricity ashore, but many in the US argue that, such is the massive amount of offshore wind planned on the US east coast, that a planned approach, with transmission built independently of generation assets is the best approach. A May 2020 report by consulting firm The Brattle Group found that a planned approach to transmission – that co-ordinates onshore and offshore transmission investment in New England – would provide ‘significant benefits’ for industry and customers
Bernstein Shur energy and environmental lawyer David Littell told OWJ, “FERC announced that it would hold a technical conference on offshore wind transmission on 27 October 2020.
“FERC will examine whether existing regulatory frameworks can accommodate anticipated offshore wind development consistent with its principles of open access to transmission. These open access transmission principles require non-discriminatory access by regulated transmission utilities to their transmission infrastructure.
“FERC will examine its transmission, interconnection, and merchant transmission facility frameworks in regional transmission organisations and independent system operators (RTO/ISOs). The question for examination is whether those frameworks can accommodate the 20-30 GW of planned offshore wind by states ranging from New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Maine down to New Jersey, Maryland and even North Carolina.”
Mr Littell said, “Because US offshore wind proposed or underway to date involves only generator lead lines and no open access transmission, there are substantial issues here. In fact, PJM, the largest RTO/ISO which encompasses the mid-Atlantic states, does not even allow offshore transmission interconnections into its grid without offshore wind generators.
“PJM turned down interconnection of an integrated offshore transmission grid when it was proposed. The result is the merchant transmission proposals seemingly encouraged by FERC are not actually entertained for offshore wind transmission proposals into New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Delaware, or Virginia.”
As Mr Littell noted, onshore interconnection points in the region and their capacity is limited. Even with onshore transmission upgrades, onshore grid capacity can only be expanded at substantial cost.
As highlighted previously by OWJ, there are also substantial concerns raised by fishery and environmental interests who would like the environmental effects of connecting large amounts of offshore wind to the grid to be minimised.
“While it seems obvious that integrated transmission development, offshore as onshore, can maximise grid efficiency, flexibility and resilience while minimising costs and environmental footprint, these issues are, and will be, hotly contested,” Mr Littell said.
Anbaric senior vice president of transmission strategy and counsel Theodore Paradise said the technical conference arises out of a complaint filed by the company against PJM, a regional transmission organisation, regarding how transmission projects for offshore wind are addressed under the current PJM tariff.
Mr Paradise said the PJM Tariff evolved with the idea of generator interconnections in mind, that is resources seeking to interconnect to the existing grid. There are also provisions for elective, non-reliability, upgrades to the grid.
“What is missing, however, is a way to study new transmission being built for later generation,” Mr Paradise explained. “This is the case when you have a state, for example, doing a transmission for an offshore grid to interconnect several windfarms over a period of possibly several RFPs and multiple years.
“These transmission projects – we call them ‘transmission platform projects’ – do not come with associated generation up-front, so in the PJM queue and study process, they are studied as if they will bring zero MW of energy to the grid. “It is this ability to study a grid, or expandable components of grid, designed to accommodate multiple future windfarms, that is missing from the PJM Tariff,” he explained.
Mr Paradise noted that ERCOT, the electricity reliability council of Texas, embraced just this type of transmission-first planning to enable its onshore wind boom. Designed originally for approximately 14 GW of wind from ‘yet-to-be identified’ projects, the grid was built out to windy areas in west Texas, an area Mr Paradise described as ‘a sea of grazing land, but little load and native transmission.’
“That system saw wind come on in waves, quickly surpassing original targets and is now over 20 GW, “ Mr Paradise said. “It is still being added in large blocks. California ISO also allows for transmission-first, as was seen in the Tehachapi project, and has had tariff provisions in place for years to allow it.
“The advantages and importance of planned transmission, rather than an ad hoc approach to each windfarm, is clear as we look at scaling the grid to large amounts of energy to meet states’ renewable energy targets,” said Mr Paradise.
“Recent work by Brattle supported by GE and CHA, shows that you can interconnect much more wind to the existing grid before large upgrades are needed. By taking a planned approach to transmission you can cut cabling in half and save more than US$1Bn while minimising environmental impact.”
Mr Paradise said although FERC rejected the complaint Anbaric made, it embraced the issues raised. Speaking at an open meeting, FERC commissioner Bernard McNamee said, “The fact that we are going to be having a technical conference on how to develop offshore wind and the transmission issues involved with it is very important.”
Mr McNamee also made a statement highlighting the importance of the upcoming technical conference and Commissioner Richard Glick noted that the issues raised in the Anbaric complaint “warrant further investigation.”
Commissioner Glick also said, “Offshore platform transmission projects, where the transmission is built in anticipation of generation, may be the most efficient approach for accommodating the growth of offshore wind.”