As TransForum East, to take place Oct. 29-30 in Washington, D.C., approaches, TransmissionHub presents a round-up on renewable energy happenings, from a look at how offshore wind advances in Europe but lags in the United States, to industry stakeholders calling for more coordination between states and regional transmission organizations to plan transmission as efficiently as possible as more renewable energy is brought online and coal generation retires.
A panel, “Connecting renewables to the eastern grid: Offshore wind, solar and other,” will be held on Oct. 29 as part of TransForum East.
Offshore wind energy advances in Europe, lags in U.S.
While transmission supporting offshore wind energy is deemed by some as a solution to the transmission challenges of the United States, development of this renewable resource has lagged in this country while advancing in Europe.
Offshore wind energy transmission can help “solve the heavily congested transmission systems that are bringing power to our heavily populated areas along the East Coast from Massachusetts to Washington, D.C.,” where there is significant transmission congestion but few opportunities to build transmission on land, Offshore Wind Development Coalition President Jim Lanard told TransmissionHub. Power to the East Coast currently comes from the west, but the offshore wind transmission systems will provide power flowing from the east onto the East Coast grid. “[T]hese power lines from offshore can meet the demand right where it’s needed and reduce the congestion,” Lanard added.
According to the European Wind Energy Association, 5 GW of offshore wind generation was installed by the end of 2012.
Carolyn Heeps, development strategy manager with RES Offshore, which is part of the RES Group, told TransmissionHub that one of the key transmission challenges in Europe involves the need to invest in grid infrastructure.
“[T]here’s recognition that there is aging infrastructure and … the other key element is that infrastructure was not constructed to accommodate the integration of large-scale renewable energy from offshore,” Heeps said.
The fact that Europe wants to generate a lot more electricity from offshore resources means that “we are going to have to see quite a substantial change in Europe’s power grid,” which will require technological and market solutions, Heeps said.
“We’re also going to have to be much more innovative about how we balance supply and demand throughout Europe,” she said, adding that there is also talk about interconnected grids throughout Europe.
In the U.S., efforts to streamline the permitting process include the U.S. Department of the Interior’s “Smart from the Start” initiative, launched under then-Secretary Ken Salazar in November 2010, which identified priority wind energy areas for potential offshore wind energy development.
Lanard noted that the U.S. does not have a national energy policy because energy policy is, to some extent, set by the states.
Heeps said the U.S. can draw upon Europe’s lessons learned by, for instance, partnering with European developer or bring in European experience into project management teams.
With more renewables in the mix, coordination needed between states, RTOs
Panelists at the Great Plains Clean Energy Transmission Summit said on Oct. 21 that as the country’s energy mix evolves and more renewable energy is brought online as coal generation retires, more coordination is needed between states and regional transmission organizations to plan transmission as efficiently as possible.
Rolf Nordstrom, executive director of the Great Plains Institute, said that more than 60% of energy is lost over the entire energy system.
He also noted that even if more distributed generation is available, transmission is still the key to unleashing vast amounts of wind.
While FERC Order 1000 would be helpful in furthering coordination efforts, states should still undertake more proactive planning processes that involve their neighbors.
Beth Soholt, executive director for Wind on the Wires, said that the Midwest, in large part the Midcontinent ISO, has been successful in building out transmission in part because of the types of entities involved in seeking a consensus.
“Eastern states have had more difficulty coalescing … around policy for clean energy, getting a clear vision of what the infrastructure needs are vis a vis their renewable energy policies,” Soholt said. “They don’t have uniformity of vision on how to approach the infrastructure piece.”
One example of coordination in the Midwest includes CapX2020, a series of transmission lines built out by a coalition of 11 investor-owned utilities, municipals and cooperatives.
One of the challenges facing the states farther east is determining where to get their renewable energy: import it from the Midwest or build offshore wind farms?
Michael Skelly, president of Clean Line Energy Partners, said offshore wind is almost 10 times as expensive as some of the cheapest wind in the Midwest. “I think that’s the opening for more dialogue around, OK, not only do you have to solve the equation here in the Midwest but now you have to help PJM [Interconnection] and all the eastern states to reach their full potential.”
Soholt said that it is more pragmatic to choose a balance of both approaches – importing Midwestern wind and building offshore generation – than make them mutually exclusive.
Jewell: Need for balance is key when developing renewable energy sources on public lands
The need for balance is important when developing renewable energy sources on public lands, and developing a “landscape-level understanding” of the public lands under its control will aid the U.S. Department of the Interior in siting energy facilities in areas where the impact would be the lowest, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said during a web chat on Sept. 25.
Noting that protecting the future “in new ways” is one of the department’s roles, Jewell credited her predecessor, former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and his team for facilitating renewable energy projects and permitting 13 GW of renewable energy since 2009 on public land.
“These are projects that can really help power ourselves into the future with renewable energy sources, and they’re being done in ways that really pay attention to … the conservation ideals on the landscape,” she said.
Jewell said one of the priorities for the department under her leadership will be to develop a more thorough understanding of the lands under DOI stewardship by taking what she called a “landscape-level” approach.
“That is, really understanding where are the resources, where are the sacred sites that are important to our nation’s first people, where are the areas that are critical habitat,” Jewell said.
NRG acquires 1,700 MW of wind in Edison Mission Energy transaction
In one of the biggest deals in the independent power business in recent years, NRG Energy (NYSE:NRG) is taking over Edison Mission Energy (EME), the Edison International (NYSE:EIX) subsidiary that has been in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection since December 2012.
NRG said on Oct. 18 that it has entered into a plan sponsor agreement with EME, certain of EME’s subsidiaries, the unsecured creditors committee, certain of EME’s unsecured noteholders and the parties to the Powerton and Joliet sale leaseback transaction to acquire substantially all of the assets of EME, including its equity interests in certain of its subsidiaries.
The deal is for an aggregate purchase price of $2.635bn, or $1.572bn net of $1.063bn retained cash within EME.
The assets to be acquired include EME’s generation portfolio, which consists of almost 8,000 MW (net) of generation capacity located throughout the United States, including 1,700 MW of wind capacity.
With the transaction, NRG and its affiliates will become the third largest U.S.-based renewable energy generator within the country with more than 2,900 MW (net) of wind and solar capacity in operation or under construction. The transaction will substantially increase the scale and geographic diversity of NRG’s renewable generation portfolio by almost quadrupling the company’s existing wind generation capacity with the addition of 1,700 net MW of wind capacity, including 1,150 net MW of wind outside NRG’s existing renewable footprint in Texas and the Southwest.
A look at renewable energy 40 years after Arab oil embargo
Renewable energy advocates recently used the 40th anniversary of the onset of the 1973 Arab oil embargo, which began on Oct. 17, 1973, as a springboard to a discussion of renewable energy.
The amount of petroleum used in electric generation was 17% in 1973, and is now 1%, Scott Sklar, an adjunct professor at George Washington University and member of the Department of Commerce Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Advisory Committee, said during an Oct. 16 webinar arranged and facilitated by the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE).
During the same time period, the amount of private investment in renewable forms of energy, including hydropower, has increased significantly.
“In 1973, we had about $3.8bn worth of investment in renewable energy, and it was virtually all hydropower,” Sklar said. “Now, depending on whose figures, we have $220bn to $275bn in private-sector investment. It’s almost inconceivable; it’s mind-boggling.”
The incorporation of those larger amounts of renewable generation has also helped drive infrastructure improvements.
Michael Zimmer, industry attorney of the law firm Thompson Hine, said that transmission and distribution improvements are on the table today to modernize the grid for the future.
Another panelist, Michael Ware, speaking on behalf of ACORE, acknowledged concerns about the intermittent nature of various forms of renewable generation and the associated challenges of incorporating those forms of generation into utility generation stacks, but said that the issue of intermittency is not a problem anymore.
“Wind technology and the intermittency issue was put to rest in Texas,” Ware said. “The grid [operator] knows when the wind is going to blow and when they can bring the combined-cycle gas-fired plants on to be available when the wind is not blowing.”
He cited improvements in forecasting and recent advances in technology as some of the factors responsible for reducing the impact of variability.
Various transmission proposals in New York address renewable needs
A New York state regulatory procedural conference will be held on Oct. 23 to address several proposals related to the New York Energy Highway initiative.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in his 2012 State of the State Address, announced a plan to build a private sector-funded $2bn “Energy Highway” system that will tap into the generation capacity and renewable energy potential in upstate and western New York to bring low-cost power to downstate New York.
NextEra Energy Transmission New York (NEETNY), a direct subsidiary of NextEra Energy Transmission and an indirect, wholly owned subsidiary of NextEra Energy (NYSE:NEE), is among the companies that have proposed projects.
The company said in its Oct. 1 application filed with state regulators that it is seeking a certificate of environmental compatibility and public need under Article VII of the New York State Public Service Law to build and operate a new, approximately 148-mile, 345-kV single-circuit line parallel to and adjacent to existing transmission lines between the existing Marcy substation in Oneida County and the existing Pleasant Valley substation in Dutchess County, with an expected in-service date of September 2017.
Among other things, NEETNY said the project “is necessary to relieve congestion, improve local and regional reliability and enable new renewable and conventional generation,” noting that a key finding of the New York Energy Highway Blueprint was the need to expand transmission by 1,000 MW in the corridor that traverses the Mohawk Valley Region, the Capital Region and the Lower Hudson Valley to reduce the congestion that limits the ability to carry excess power downstate.
Also making a filing, North America Transmission and North America Transmission Corporation (together North America Transmission or NAT), said in its Oct. 1 initial application that it proposes an alternating current transmission upgrade project consisting of an Edic to Fraser 345-kV line and a New Scotland to Leeds to Pleasant Valley 345-kV line.
“The New Scotland-Leeds-Pleasant Valley transmission line will serve to increase transmission capability between upstate New York and downstate New York, and thereby address one of the key recommendations of the New York Energy Highway Blueprint,” NAT said. “The new 345-kV line will relieve well-established energy transfer limitations on the NY electric transmission system and ensure efficient transmission of clean renewable energy from upstate NY to consumers in downstate NY.”