Planned transmission key to offshore wind race

A grid could attract more bidders, better prices

THE MASSACHUSETTS LEGISLATURE – in the 14 days it has until adjournment – is continuing to lead the nation in its careful deliberation over “what’s next” in the Commonwealth’s determined push for a cleaner energy economy.  The State is fresh off its first procurement of the first 800 megawatts out of 1,600 megawatts of procurement authority that the Legislature previously authorized for offshore wind.  Legislators have initiated debate setting the stage for larger and accelerated development of offshore wind.

Meanwhile, although the Energy Diversity Act of 2016 put Massachusetts in the offshore lead, other parts of the East Coast, notably New York and New Jersey, have plans to vault ahead of the Bay State. What are these nearby states doing and why they are motivated to do it? They see what the Massachusetts lawmakers have seen: an offshore wind revolution is underway. Prices are plummeting, but only where the development is on an industrial scale.

Meanwhile, New York’s review of its 2,400 megawatt goal has recognized the value of the German and Dutch model of an offshore grid that allows wind developers to plug and play. The Netherlands’ 7,000 megawatt  offshore plan – anchored by a well-designed transmission backbone — sets a standard of best practices that enables an offshore wind version of Moore’s Law to manifest itself.

The question confronting Massachusetts is not, should it go bigger with offshore wind? The verdict is in and it is a resounding “yes.” The real question is: How best to do it? How does Massachusetts maintain its lead in offshore development and the jobs that go with it?

It is vitally important to recognize that the common denominator for offshore success, both domestically and abroad, is well-planned transmission. It has proved definitively to lower costs and speed up the delivery of offshore energy. Now that the first 800 megawatts in Massachusetts is headed toward the starting gate, it’s time to develop a process for the timely, environmentally acceptable development of as much as 4,000 more megawatts that could be developed off the coast of the Commonwealth.

Why is an offshore grid the most efficient and fastest way to harness abundant quantities of wind power? Planned transmission takes the burden of delivering energy to the mainland off the shoulders of the wind farm developers, allowing more bidders and better prices for ratepayers while streamlining the often-problematic connection problems onshore. A planned transmission process will enable offshore wind to come online more quickly and cheaply.

For example, in the first procurement of 800 megawatts, none of the offshore wind will come to an industrial site — Somerset — the best connection point on the South Coast. Instead, the power will land in the densely settled Barnstable area where siting could prove more complicated. It’s critical that as the Commonwealth procures more and more offshore wind – which is available in abundance and at reasonable cost – much more thought is given to the best transmission plan to optimize both the onshore and the ocean grid.

Meet the Author
The economic stakes that come with domestic offshore wind leadership are huge. The lion’s share of jobs will go to the region that has created the manufacturing and installation supply chain as ever more massive turbines are built and erected. Massachusetts’ favorable ocean assets make it a natural leader. It will take a sound transmission foundation to keep it in the lead.

Edward N. Krapels is the CEO of Anbaric Development Partners, an energy transmission developer.