BOSTON – The Baker administration wants to look into the potential of having one underwater transmission line that could feed electricity generated by multiple offshore wind farms into the regional power grid, but that plan got a cool reception from offshore wind executives attending an industry conference in Boston this week.
In a report issued on May 31 recommending that the state double the amount of possible offshore wind power in Massachusetts, the Department of Energy Resources also proposed that the state stop soliciting clean energy generation and the transmission of that energy as a single package.
The agency suggested, instead, that it move forward in 2020 with a solicitation for a main transmission system that future generation projects would be required to tie into. Having one primary transmission system “has the potential benefit of minimizing impacts on fisheries, optimizing the transmission grid, and reducing costs,” the report concluded.
“We are certainly open for business if somebody can deliver the transmission more efficiently than we can do,” Vineyard Wind CEO Lars Thaaning Pedersen said Monday when asked about the idea of independent transmission on a panel at the U.S. Offshore Wind conference. “I just think we have seen in other jurisdictions that if you want to overbuild the transmission, you have a number of problems.”
Pedersen described offshore wind power transmission as having three parts. “There is the wet part getting from turbines into the shoreline, there is the dry part where you get from the shoreline to the interconnection point and then you have the backbone,” he said, referring to the regional power grid.
Pedersen said developers would be wary of investing so much money into a project only to find out when power generation begins that the transmission feed, which would be controlled by a different entity, is unable to deliver that power to land.
“I don’t see a lot of reasons for a grid that serves many projects for a number of reasons,” he said. “As a developer, we put $2 or $3 billion in the water and you want to make sure the grid is there on time, on cost and on budget, and if somebody else owns it you want to make sure they have an incentive to keep it up and running at all times.”
Mayflower Wind CEO John Hartnett, who oversees the joint venture of EDPR Offshore North America and Shell, said he and other developers think that moving towards independent transmission would not necessarily make offshore wind projects any more affordable.
“From the developer’s side, there is the uncertainty in the costs associated with that right now. That uncertainty adds risk, which adds costs that have to be borne by someone,” Hartnett said.
DOER Commissioner Judith Judson, who spoke about the state’s offshore wind efforts on a separate panel at the U.S. Offshore conference Monday, said her office has not yet made up its mind about whether independent transmission or individual generator lead lines are better.
“So we want the ability to evaluate those two options,” Judson said. “One of the challenges in the original 1,600 [megawatt] procurement was that the developers could get in with another transmission developer and do a joint bid, but there was no way in that process for someone to bid in transmission, someone to bid in generation and for us to put two bids together.”
The commissioner said there will be “a lot of learning that’s yet to come” and said she wants to hold a technical conference to hear more from developers and other interested stakeholders.
“We have definitely heard concern from the environmentalists, from the fishing industry, about lots of cable running many different places under the sea and the potential challenges with that,” Judson said. “But then we’ve also heard from developers of what a developer wants and that’s that if it’s up and running that that energy can get into the market … and concerns about not having full control over that connection into the grid. So we’ve heard both sides.”
As it moves ahead to procure the next 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind energy, the DOER has suggested a schedule that would involve a procurement for transmission in 2020, the solicitation for the first-800 megawatt chunk of the new procurement in 2022, solicitation for the second chunk of the new procurement in 2024 and a solicitation in 2026 if the first two do not attract the full 1,600 megawatts.
While the state may be looking at the connection between wind farms and undersea transmission lines, the connection between the transmission line and the regional power grid is a greater concern to developers like Pedersen and Hartnett.
“A shift in the dialogue from the wet side, as Lars called it, to a backbone policy push would be very beneficial,” Hartnett said.
Pedersen added, “I think the biggest challenge as we deliver this is going to be the backbone. The backbone has not been tailored to take in massive amounts of energy from the coast into the population centers and that is actually where I see the biggest challenge.”
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