Several entities, including mid-Atlantic state agencies and wind energy developers, have voiced support for, and concerns about, the proposed Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC) project.
The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) said in December 2011 that it has opened a public comment period on the potential environmental effects of the proposed AWC project. DOI also said the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is asking whether other developers are interested in constructing transmission facilities in the area to determine whether there is overlapping competitive interest.
In a Feb. 21 filing with BOEM, Atlantic Grid Development President Markian Melnyk said Atlantic Grid Holdings is not aware of any offshore transmission projects that have the same purpose or fill the same need that would compete for the same right-of-way (ROW) area proposed for the AWC project. To the extent that development of radial transmission lines to the onshore grid or cable arrays associated with their projects could require crossing the AWC project cables, engineering solutions are readily available.
He also said BOEM’s timely issuance of a determination of no competitive interest is needed so that Atlantic Grid Holdings may move forward with its data collection plans for the project.
The project, which will be able to connect up to 7,000 MW of offshore wind when complete, is led by Trans-Elect Development Company and involves Google, Good Energies and Marubeni Corporation.
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality said in its Feb. 17 comments that the agencies that responded to the department’s request for comments on the proposed project indicated there would be no significant adverse impacts to the resources under their authority that cannot be avoided or mitigated as a result of the proposed construction of transmission lines and converter stations. Furthermore, the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission expressed support for the development of offshore wind energy facilities as an important part of the country’s energy infrastructure.
The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) noted in Feb. 17 comments that in partnership with the Delaware Geological Survey and the US Army Corps of Engineers, four areas of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) were identified as containing compatible sediments for beach nourishment projects. DNREC has requested BOEM to consider designating these four areas as “areas of significant sand resources” to help manage the multiple uses of these areas.
DNREC also noted that ships frequently anchor in an anchorage area in the Delaware wind energy area while waiting to come to port. “BOEM should consider the possible use conflicts in this area as the potential for anchor strikes and drag events that could damage the transmission cable in the anchorage ground is significant,” DNREC said.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection said in its Feb. 21 comments that the state has concerns about potential issues that could occur in future stages of the project, including cost allocations and the implications for ratepayers and offshore wind developers. Conflicts may also occur when radial and export cables serving turbines are located in the same OCS blocks as the AWC backbone. Furthermore, conflicts may occur between cables serving turbines, existing telecommunication cables and AWC.
“Potential conflicts may be reduced by locating the AWC backbone outside the wind energy areas (WEAs) or along the outside edges of the WEAs,” the department added.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said in Feb. 21 comments that while large backbone transmission solutions may offer significant reductions in total offshore wind development cost, BOEM and AWC should determine project development in a way that prevents or minimizes the impacts to existing and planned human uses and safeguards important natural resources. DNR also requested that BOEM consider the information that DNR collected from resource experts, the fishing community and others that was used to help BOEM refine the proposed boundaries of the Maryland WEA during the project evaluation process for the transmission line project and during the development of the terms and conditions for the award of a grant, if granted.
Apex Wind Energy, which is developing offshore wind energy programs in the mid-Atlantic waters, said in Feb. 21 comments that the AWC will allow for offshore wind transmission to be developed in a way that minimizes environmental disruption, lowers the cost of offshore wind energy projects and supports the scale of offshore wind projects needed to drive significant economic development on the Atlantic Coast.
“[W]e ask that BOEM remain flexible in its siting process within these WEAs with respect to the AWC cable and offshore hubs,” the company said.
OffshoreMW, which has submitted commercial wind lease applications for the New Jersey WEA, said in Feb. 20 comments that it is supportive of the AWC concept but is concerned that the proposed ROW routes may undermine much of the work, time and compromise that went into developing the WEAs in the first place.
A relatively simple solution, the company said, is to adjust the ROWs and platform locations to minimize the amount of ROW within the WEAs and therefore maintain the WEAs’ integrity. “Making relatively easy changes now, so as to capture the opportunity of AWC without hindering wind projects within the WEA, would truly be smart from the start,” the company said.