Dominion Resources Inc. has asked the federal government to suspend a Google-backed venture to build a $5 billion transmission line for future offshore wind power projects in the Atlantic Ocean.
The Richmond-based utility said Atlantic Wind Connection’s request for a right-of-way through potential lease areas off the coasts of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey is premature, according to documents filed with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
Dominion said the right-of-way should be awarded only if the transmission line is approved by the region’s electricity grid operator, PJM Interconnection, and after the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management awards leases to energy companies seeking to build offshore wind turbines.
Until that occurs, “BOEM should suspend these proceedings,” Guy Chapman, Dominion’s director of renewable energy research and program development, said in paperwork filed Feb. 21 with BOEM.
Atlantic Wind Connection CEO Robert Mitchell said he was not surprised by Chapman’s comments. He noted that Dominion, the state’s dominant electricity provider, plans to bid on the lease areas off Virginia’s coast. It is also studying how to build a transmission line that would connect to a substation it owns in Virginia Beach.
“They like to do everything themselves,” Mitchell said. “It’s just in their DNA.”
Atlantic Wind Connection is led by Maryland-based Trans-Elect Development Co. Investors include Google Energy, a subsidiary of the Internet giant, New York-based private equity firm Good Energies and the Japanese trading company Marubeni Corp.
Plans call for looping underwater cables roughly 10 to 20 miles offshore that would function as a “backbone” for wind turbines from New Jersey to Virginia. The cables would carry up to 7,000 megawatts, enough power for millions of homes.
Expected to take 10 years to complete, the line will ease strains on the electric grid and help jump start a potent renewable source of energy, Mitchell said. The company hoped to start construction next year, but Mitchell said it is now eyeing a 2014 start.
Chapman said during a phone interview that it would be unfair to grant the right-of-way without first conducting the lease sales. He argued that Atlantic Wind Connection’s work could potentially interfere with companies building turbines.
He also noted that the transmission line has yet to receive approval from PJM, which distributes electricity to approximately 60 million people from North Carolina to Pennsylvania and as far west as Illinois.
A spokesman for the group, which has more than 750 members, many with ties to the commercial power industry, said the project doesn’t meet PJM’s goal of providing reliable and low-cost energy to its customers.
“It’s something that doesn’t fit into our existing framework,” Ray Dotter said.
Atlantic Wind Connection can receive the right-of-way without PJM’s approval, Mitchell said. But the company will need PJM’s blessing to receive incentives from the Federal Electric Regulatory Commission that could attract investors. FERC ruled in May 2011 it would authorize the incentives pending PJM’s inclusion of it its long range plans. Mitchell said Atlantic Wind Connection will continue to work with PJM.
Other groups, such as the Virginia Offshore Wind Development Authority, which is appointed by Gov. Bob McDonnell, expressed concerns to BOEM about the right-of-way. But many of the 53 comments the agency received, including those from environmental groups and energy firms, support the project.
“We see from our European experience that this project can be a catalyst for the US market,” John Robertson, operations manager of Pharos Offshore Group, Scotland.
BOEM is expected to issue a decision on the right-of-way in the coming months.
Ken Salazar, secretary of the Department of the Interior, which oversees BOEM, has spoken favorably of the transmission line. During a visit to Norfolk in February 2011, he noted that only one offshore wind project, Cape Wind in Massachusetts, has cleared regulatory hurdles in the U.S.
The Obama administration has made it a priority to fast track other projects. In February, it announced that wind farms off the Mid-Atlantic coast pose no environmental threats.
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