The U.S. Department of the Interior has opened a public comment period on the potential environmental effects of the proposed Atlantic Wind Connection project, which will be able to connect up to 7,000 MW of offshore wind when complete.
DOI on Dec. 20 also said that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is asking whether other developers are interested in constructing transmission facilities in this area in order to determine whether there is overlapping competitive interest.
Atlantic Grid Holdings has requested a right-of-way grant to develop the HVDC line that would collect power generated by wind turbine facilities off the coasts of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, DOI said.
The project is led by Trans-Elect Development Company and involves Google, Good Energies and Marubeni Corporation.
“[Something] that I think is also a huge positive that gives me optimism that this is going to happen is the fact that you have an applicant and partners in this application [who] have significant financial resources,” Salazar said during a media teleconference call Dec. 20. “They are pioneering an effort here because they see what we see and that is that when you look out at the future of the United States and the future of offshore wind, that there’s a great opportunity there. If there wasn’t that opportunity there, you wouldn’t have these major players.”
AWC’s proposal to build a “backbone” for an offshore electrical transmission system is an encouraging sign that there is significant interest in developing the infrastructure to support offshore wind development, BOEM Director Tommy Beaudreau said in the statement. “We will conduct the appropriate analyses to evaluate the potential environmental impacts of issuing renewable energy right-of-way grants,” he said.
During the teleconference call, a DOI official said the first step involves the right-of-way; that is, whether DOI grants exclusive right for this area to establish the transmission backbone.
“We put this out for a 60-day comment, we’ll evaluate the comments and then make a determination in the next several months about the right-of-way,” the official said. “Then we move from the right-of-way into an evaluation of the potential environmental effects of getting transmission [developed] … so, at this point, it’s difficult to speculate on the specific timeline between now and granting a lease because we have to see what shape the project actually ends up taking, but we’re moving forward very promptly on this.”
AWC CEO Robert Mitchell told TransmissionHub Dec. 20 that there may be a couple of parties that will express interest, not in building the entire backbone transmission line as AWC is proposing, but in building a transmission line to their wind farms, for instance.
“The ocean is pretty big and there is plenty of room for more than one project, more than one line, so I don’t think that [DOI] will necessarily have to declare a competitive process and therefore hold an auction just because one or two parties express an interest in some small portion of our project,” he said.
Furthermore, the advantages of the AWC project over a single lateral line coming from a wind farm onto shore are superior as, for instance, a single line is going to be able to deliver wind to one point only. Additionally, there are advantages for utilities because the variability of any one wind farm is smoothed out by having several wind farms “blending the wind so you don’t get these radical shifts up and down.” Also, it helps offset the cost of offshore wind by being able to lower the congestion charges, he said.
In a separate Dec. 20 statement, AWC said the notice advances public and private efforts to develop areas in the Atlantic for offshore wind energy.
AWC said its project will be built in several phases designed to link offshore wind energy areas identified by DOI, and to complement the progression of the mid-Atlantic offshore wind industry while maximizing grid reliability and the most efficient use of existing electric generation plants.
AWC also said it is advancing the project in other ways, including by preparing the project’s general activity plan filing, which is expected to be ready in 2012. AWC is also continuing with project engineering and transmission planning with PJM Interconnection and the mid-Atlantic states.
The project will ultimately span about 300 miles of state and federal waters from the northern New Jersey/New York City metropolitan area to Virginia, AWC added.
In preparing the application, almost 9,700 square miles of the Outer Continental Shelf were examined in a process that included analyzing the offshore marine environment, seafloor conditions, conflicting uses, wrecks and obstructions, cable and other infrastructure crossings, protected species, cultural resources, geologic and geotechnical hazards and public safety. AWC also said it modeled wind speeds, offshore turbine foundation costs and wind turbine output to identify the best places to locate offshore wind farms within the offshore areas BOEM has designated for wind energy projects.
In a separate statement, Jim Lanard, president of the Offshore Wind Development Coalition, noted that Interior Deputy Secretary David Hayes announced that DOI expects to finish its environmental assessment of the wind energy areas proposed for New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia in January. “The timing of this decision is critical to enable our industry to continue to make progress,” Lanard said.
During the call, DOI officials also discussed the NRG Bluewater Wind project, which has been put on hold for the near term by parent company NRG Energy (NYSE:NRG).
Mitchell told TransmissionHub that AWC was not counting on Bluewater Wind connecting to the backbone project.
“They had a more aggressive timetable than any other wind developer,” he said. “We were going to make special accommodations to service them. We were willing and able to do that, but our project isn’t going to rise or fall based on that one project. It was a disappointment for the industry, but not a huge surprise. I would also not be surprised if somebody else steps up and comes in to take over [the proposed wind farm].”