How Best to Bring Offshore Wind Power to New Jersey

Tom Johnson | October 25, 2019 | Energy & Environment
Board of Public Utilities considers most cost-effective transmission framework for ratepayers, who should build transmission lines as well as environmental impact on land and sea
Credit: Pixabay
New Jersey is working to integrate offshore wind power with the customers who may need it most.

With New Jersey poised to build enough offshore wind capacity to provide power to up to 2 million households annually, the state is now looking for the best way to bring all that electricity to the homes and businesses that need it.

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities is holding the first of what is certain to be several sessions to establish an offshore wind transmission framework that will be most cost-effective for ratepayers.

The issue is fraught with pitfalls, touching on other difficult questions such as who is best suited to build the transmission lines, as well as which option is best for the environment, both on land and sea.

One developer in the sector has argued a regional wind-power transmission system off the coasts of New Jersey and New York ought to be considered. The proposal has been considered in the past but never seriously pursued.

Anbaric Development Partners, LLC asked the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to gauge interest in building a 185-nautical mile submarine version of such a system off shore this past June.

Ocean Wind project takes off

In New Jersey, the BPU already has approved a 1,100-megawatt offshore wind project about 15 miles of the coast of Atlantic City. Ørsted is overseeing the Ocean Wind project, which is the first of three solicitations off the Jersey coast to be approved; the project will help achieve the Murphy administration’s goals of building 3,500MW of offshore wind capacity by 2030.

In the case of that project, the agency approved an underwater transmission line to the closed Oyster Creek nuclear plant. Ørsted and the other two companies competing in New Jersey’s first solicitation all sought to build their own transmission lines to deliver power to customers.

Clean-energy advocates welcomed the state’s move to figure out how to integrate offshore wind power with the customers who may need it most.

“The most critically unanswered question about offshore wind is what is the best economic and environmentally way to bring that power on shore,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “We need to look at what are the costs and benefits to the wind developers and the ratepayer.’’

William O’Hearn, a spokesman for the Business Network for Offshore Wind, agreed. “The industry is definitely looking for some kind of general agreement on how this goes forward.”

Citing Anbaric’s application to the ocean energy management bureau, O’Hearn said his organization hopes that the federal agency makes a ruling on it to bring some clarity to the issue. Like the Sierra Club, the network has no position on the issue, but believes it deserves scrutiny by states seeking to build offshore wind capacity.

Legislature weighs in

The issue also has drawn the Legislature’s attention. Sen. Bob Smith, a Democrat from Middlesex, introduced a bill (S-3985) just before the summer recess that would encourage development of offshore wind transmission lines, which would be eligible for ratepayer subsidies.

The transmission issue is likely to become more heated as the state moves through additional solicitations in 2020 and 2022, not to mention offshore wind developments now moving forward in New York, Maryland and Virginia, among other states.

“There is a fundamental disagreement on what is the best way to build the offshore wind mousetrap,’’ acknowledged Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “Obviously, transmission is the third rail of offshore wind. It has been hugely controversial in Europe.”

Ørsted, emerging as the sector’s biggest player on the Eastern Seaboard, has often cited its problem bringing an offshore wind farm on line in Germany because of problems a transmission company had building the connection.