Offshore Wind Transmission System Picks Up New Investor

Tom Johnson | July 25, 2011 | Energy & Environment
Belgian company Elia brings fresh funding and firsthand expertise to $5 billion, 250-mile submarine backbone project

The Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC), an ambitious plan to create a 250-mile offshore wind transmission system from the New Jersey coast to Virginia, is getting a fresh infusion of funding and expertise to help finance and develop the project.

Elia, a Belgian company with experience in operating transmission in that country and in Germany, is joining the effort to build this country’s first offshore wind backbone. The project, backers claim, will promote the more rapid development of an offshore wind industry and eventually reduce costs to consumers.

“Europe has 20 years of experience with offshore wind supported with separate transmission lines for each wind farm,” said Robert Mitchell, chief executive officer of AWC. “Now Europe is moving to develop a Super Grid similar to the AWC, and Elia is one of first movers. Elia joining the AWC is a strong confirmation that we are on the right track and that we will see a new offshore wind industry in the United States. We can learn a lot from each other.”

First-Hand Experience

By joining the project, Elia adds first-hand experience in building transmission systems to bring offshore wind power to where the onshore demand is located. As both an investor and a provider of consulting services, Elia’s participation brings the benefit of its experience working to develop and build the European Super Grid, an initiative of similar size and scope to the AWC.

Launched in 2010, the Atlantic Wind Connection is proposing to build a $5 billion offshore undersea wind transmission system running from Virginia to South Jersey, about 20 miles off the coast. The project in May received approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for special incentive rates, which could improve its ability to attract financing.

The backers of the project, which include Google and Trans-Elect, an independent transmission company, have been holding a series of information hearings in South Jersey over the past few weeks, but have yet to link up with any of the developers bidding to build wind farms off the state’s coast.

Eleven developers have expressed interest to the federal government in bidding for offshore leases to build wind turbines. Four of those developers, who are the furthest along in the process, already have lined up their own onshore transmission connections — all at a considerably cheaper cost than that of Atlantic Wind Connection.

A Hefty Price Tag

The project also has raised concerns among state officials who fear the big price tag associated with AWC might undermine their own efforts to establish New Jersey as the center of an offshore wind industry, a goal that would bring well-paying manufacturing jobs to the state, according to the Christie administration.

The project backers claim the undertaking will help speed the development of an offshore wind industry, an argument echoed by Elia.

“The AWC will provide the foundation for creating an entirely new offshore wind energy industry in the U.S.,” said Daniel Dobbeni, Elia’s CEO. “Elia’s first-hand experience constructing the North and Baltic Sea portion of the European Super Grid will be valuable to the AWC team, as the European offshore grid will entail many of the same challenges that AWC will face.”

The agreements between Elia and AWC provide that Elia will become a 10 percent co-investor in the project and offer consulting services. The consulting is designed to take advantage of Elia’s overall transmission expertise, as well as its direct experience with offshore transmission development in Europe.