Concerns have again been raised that without significant investment in the transmission system in the US, President Biden’s recently announced target of 30 GW of offshore wind by 2030 could run into problems
Experts told a 6 May 2021 webinar organised by Reuters Events, From Offshore to Onshore: Resolving Transmission Constraints with US Offshore Wind Deployment, that massive investment in the transmission system is required if the huge amount of offshore wind energy expected to be built off the US east coast is to reach demand centres ashore.
It was suggested that although the first round of US offshore wind projects and an initial 10 GW of offshore wind could be accommodated using the existing transmission system, partly making use of connection capacity from thermal generation that has been or will be closed down, offshore wind ‘could stall’ if new transmission capacity isn’t added in a timely manner.
In the webinar, Black & Veatch associate vice president and global transmission technology portfolio manager Kevin Ludwig highlighted concerns that, beyond the first round of projects, new transmission lines would need to be built on land to take offshore wind generation. A huge amount of planning, investment and new technology would be needed, he said. That raised the question whether transmission capacity is best added on a project-by-project basis or whether a co-ordinated approach was required.
Avangrid Renewables director new business offshore wind Eric Thumma agreed that, after an initial 10 GW, meeting the transmission needs of much more offshore wind could be challenging.
Mr Thumma noted that in the longer term, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management recently identified nearly 800,000 acres in the sea area off the east coast known as the New York Bight which would add more offshore generating capacity. Several other areas are also being proposed for new lease areas, among them the Gulf of Mexico, which are being touted as potential offshore wind provinces, all of which would require a connection onshore and upgraded transmission infrastructure.
ISO New England director transmission strategy and services Al McBride told the webinar that the keys to ensuring the transmission system was ready for huge amounts of offshore wind are “timing, co-ordination and communication.”
PJM vice president of interconnection Ken Siler said there was a “huge queue” of offshore wind projects that need to be connected to the grid, in addition to much other new renewable capacity that is also queuing up.
Mr Siler said although some generation is retiring, the industry as a whole “needs to have its eyes wide open” to ensure it efficiently accommodates offshore wind into the transmission system. He said processes used to address transmission and identify how to connect new generating capacity had worked well, but date from the late 1990s, when there was little or no renewable generation and no offshore wind whatsoever.
Mr McBride said it was also important to avoid a situation in which multiple projects seek the same connection, but only some are built. This needs to be addressed individually, rather than in a co-ordinated fashion.
State and public policy need to be better aligned, Mr Thumma suggested. Beyond the immediate needs of east coast states who have made big commitments to offshore wind capacity, he highlighted the need to enable power from offshore windfarms to be transmitted to states further inland.
Mr Ludwig suggested one way to address the huge transmission challenge the US faces would be to use renewable electricity from offshore windfarms on the east coast to produce green hydrogen, which could be used to decarbonise hard-to-abate sectors of industry.
Concerns expressed in the 6 May 2021 webinar echoed statements made regularly over the past 12-18 months. As highlighted by OWJ, Power Advisory president John Dalton told a 2020 webinar that “interconnection is already one of the most significant project risks” for US offshore wind, and a co-ordinated approach to transmission system development could be the key.
Tufts University professor of civil and environmental engineering Eric Hines told the same webinar that the scale of the second round of offshore wind projects in the US is such that they will really need a joined-up approach and ‘strategic’ thinking about transmission infrastructure.
In his March 2021 plan to jump-start offshore wind projects in the US, President Biden said he wants to use investment in the grid to bring cheaper, cleaner electricity "to where it is needed most." He said this starts with the creation of an investment tax credit that incentivises the buildout of at least 20 GW of high-voltage power lines and mobilises tens of billions in private capital.
In addition, President Biden’s plan will establish a new Grid Deployment Authority at the Department of Energy that allows for better leverage of existing rights-of-way and supports creative financing tools to spur additional high-priority, high-voltage transmission lines.
Riviera Maritime Media’s Offshore Energy Webinar Week is being held 14 June 2021 – use this link for more details and to register