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US begins getting to grips with offshore wind grids

Posted on April 10, 2024

Offshore wind is a big part of California’s new transmission plan as New Jersey proposal is unveiled and Equinor gets FERC boost

After a difficult period in 2023, the offshore wind sector in the US is recovering quickly, but much remains to be done to build a transmission network that supports the rapid expansion of offshore windfarms on the US East Coast and to plan for the development of floating offshore windfarms off the West Coast of the country.

The Biden administration has set a target of 30 GW of offshore wind by 2030, but the US does not have the transmission infrastructure and market co-ordination mechanisms to support the large-scale build-out of offshore wind, although co-ordination of transmission infrastructure is beginning to happen. As has often been pointed out, one potential issue jeopardising transmission upgrades is that, in the US, the project developer is currently responsible for transmission infrastructure and connection to the grid and a developer must work with a transmission system operator to co-ordinate transmission upgrades, significantly complicating – and potentially delaying – the process.

Several studies have been undertaken that focused on transmission for offshore wind on the West Coast of the US, but no work has been undertaken to date to actually develop transmission infrastructure. However, in April 2024, the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) posted a draft of its 2023-2024 Transmission Plan, recommending 26 new projects at an estimated cost of US$6.1Bn at buildout, including the first phase of development that would bring energy generated by North Coast offshore wind to the Californian grid.

Continuing last year’s more synchronised and strategic approach for advancing infrastructure projects that reliably and efficiently help meet California’s clean-energy objectives, the draft plan was due to be the focus of a public stakeholder call on 9 April. Stakeholder comments on the draft plan are due by 23 April, with a final version scheduled for consideration by the ISO Board of Governors at its May meeting.

The draft plan recommends 19 projects classified as “reliability driven.” As the plan states, these are to accommodate forecast “load growth and evolving grid conditions as the generation fleet transitions to increased renewable generation.” They have an estimated cost of US$1.54Bn. Most of the costs identified in the draft plan – another US$4.59Bn – are from three major transmission lines that would deliver energy produced by floating wind turbines off the coast of Humboldt County.

CAISO vice president for infrastructure and operations planning Neil Millar says, “These projects off California’s North Coast area represent the first wave of development for offshore wind to meet the state’s portfolio needs while also being flexible enough to expand in the future to meet any increased requirements.” Planning done by the California Public Utilities Commission anticipates the first offshore windfarms to start generating power around 2034.

The transmission plan is based on projections that the state needs to add more than 85 GW of clean generating capacity. That target reflects greenhouse gas reduction goals and load growth including the potential for increased electrification occurring in other sectors of the economy, primarily in transport and the building industry. As currently drafted, the plan will enable development of more than 4.7 GW of offshore wind with 3.1 GW in the Central Coast (Morro Bay call area) and 1.6 GW in the North Coast area (Humboldt call area).

The Biden administration wants 30 GW of offshore wind by 2030 (source: Brooke Carney/NOAA)

At about the same time that the draft transmission plan for the Golden State was unveiled, National Grid Ventures and Con Edison Transmission submitted a proposal to build transmission infrastructure that will carry offshore wind power to New Jersey’s electric grid.

The Garden State Energy Path will enable delivery of approximately 6 GW of offshore wind power from its point of landfall at the Sea Girt National Guard Training Center to the Larrabee Tri-Collector Station in Howell Township. The project will be underground, allowing the cables to be protected from storms and other extreme weather that can cause customer outages.

The project consists of ‘pre-build infrastructure’ that will house the cables carrying electricity generated by four wind projects to the grid. The project is foundational to helping New Jersey reach its goal of 11 GW of offshore wind by 2040.

National Grid Ventures president northeast Will Hazelip says the Garden State Energy Path will provide a route that reduces disruption and maximises benefits. Working with Con Edison Transmission, he says a cost-effective project has been designed that has the flexibility to support the latest grid technologies. “Pre-build infrastructure is a smart and co-ordinated approach to transmission for offshore wind, reducing the need to separately construct transmission infrastructure for each offshore wind project,” says Mr Hazelip. Con Edison Transmission president Stuart Nachmias says the Garden State Energy Path “will enable the grid to accommodate new sources of renewable energy and handle increased demand as customers transition from fossil fuels.” If the project goes ahead, the Garden State Energy Path will be in operation by early 2029, ready for use by selected New Jersey offshore windfarms.

A month earlier, another important development took place when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the ‘Large Generator Interconnection Agreement’ (LGIA) executed between Equinor’s Empire Wind 1 offshore wind project, New York ISO (NYISO) and Consolidated Edison Company of New York. The announcement was the first FERC approval for any offshore wind project to connect directly into the New York City transmission system.

FERC’s approval allows the Empire Wind 1 offshore wind project to connect through the Sunset Park Onshore Substation at South Brooklyn Marine Terminal into the New York City electrical grid at Con Edison’s Gowanus substation, delivering 810 MW of power.

Equinor Renewables America vice president Teddy Muhlfelder describes execution of the LGIA as “a key milestone for Empire Wind and for New York City.” He says federal approval was the culmination of a years-long process under NYISO and “another important step in allowing Equinor to advance a project that will connect offshore renewable power to Brooklyn and into hundreds of thousands of New York homes.”

The announcement was the latest in a series of milestones for Empire Wind 1, which was selected as a provisional winner in New York’s fourth offshore wind solicitation on 29 February 2024. The project has also received approval of its federal Construction and Operations Plan from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the New York Public Service Commission issued the project’s Article VII Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need in December 2023.


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