The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) said May 14 that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has found no competitive interest for the proposed Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC), allowing the offshore backbone transmission project to move forward in its permitting process.
Specifically, BOEM made a determination of no competitive interest (DNCI) after soliciting input from other potential competitors and the public, AWC said in a separate May 14 statement. The DNCI issuance allows BOEM to grant the project a right-of-way (ROW) on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) once the project’s environmental impact is reviewed under NEPA and with further public input. The AWC also noted that the lack of competitive interest means that the delays associated with an auction are avoided.
The BOEM’s finding is “a significant step that opens the doors now for us to get into the serious level of development,” AWC CEO Bob Mitchell told TransmissionHub May 14. The project had been waiting for the BOEM’s finding to go forward with the NEPA review as that is quite expensive to undertake, he said.
“Assuming we’re able to do the environmental impact statement in 24 months, we would have a financial close toward the end of 2014,” he said. “Construction would begin immediately after that and we would be looking at being operational in the late 2017, 2018 time period for the early development of wind farms and then we would continue developing years thereafter.”
BOEM issued a request for competitive interest in December 2011, and solicited public comment on site conditions and multiple uses within the ROW grant area that would be relevant to the proposed project or its impacts, DOI said. Following the 60-day open comment period, BOEM has determined there is no overlapping competitive interest in the proposed ROW grant area, DOI said.
“It’s the type of project that will spur innovation that will help us stand-up a clean energy economy to power communities up and down the east coast,” Deputy Secretary of Interior David Hayes said of the AWC in DOI’s statement.
AWC said the project configuration will allow up to 7,000 MW of offshore wind turbine capacity to be integrated into the regional power grid operated by PJM Interconnection, increasing system reliability and reducing congestion costs for ratepayers in the corridor between Washington, D.C., and the metropolitan New Jersey/New York City area. The high voltage, direct current subsea backbone transmission system will be built over about 10 years, 12 miles to 15 miles off the coasts of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, spanning about 300 miles.
The project is led by Trans-Elect Development Company and involves Google, Good Energies, Marubeni Corporation and Elia.
In the statement, Mitchell said DOI’s decision is a key step to advancing the project. “Studies conducted in Europe and the [United Kingdom] show that a backbone grid is critical to the success of large-scale offshore wind and could reduce the cost of offshore wind by 25%,” he said. “This milestone allows the AWC to proceed to intelligently plan for the backbone transmission system that is necessary for an entirely new robust offshore wind industry to develop in America. There is no reason for the United States to have to yield all of the factories and jobs to Europe and China.”
The next step is for the AWC to ask states in PJM, namely, Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey, to endorse the project’s efforts in getting into PJM’s regional transmission expansion planning (RTEP) process, he told TransmissionHub.
The AWC project will be built in several phases aimed at linking DOI-identified offshore wind energy areas and complementing the progression of the mid-Atlantic offshore wind industry while maximizing grid reliability and the most efficient use of existing electric generation plants, AWC said.
The project continues to advance in other areas, including preparing the project’s general activities plan filing, project engineering and continued transmission planning with PJM and the mid-Atlantic states.
In choosing the ROW, AWC said that nearly 9,700 square miles of the OCS were examined in a process that included analysis of the offshore marine environment and seafloor conditions, among other things.
AWC also 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 that BOEM has designated for wind energy projects.
Markian Melnyk, president of Atlantic Grid Development, AWC’s development company, said in AWC’s statement that the mid-Atlantic region’s offshore waters hold vast opportunities for wind energy production. “Compared to each wind farm building its own transmission lines, our project is the most affordable, efficient, and environmentally-sensitive solution for connecting offshore wind,” he said.
Rick Needham, director of green business operations at Google, said in the statement, “Transmission is one of the key constraints to the wider adoption of clean energy, so this project was a natural fit with our corporate goal of investing in attractive renewable energy projects that can have dramatic impact.”