No Consensus on How to Bring Offshore Wind Power Ashore in NJ

Tom Johnson | November 13, 2019 | Energy & Environment
As state starts search for cost-effective means of transmission, different stakeholders propose different approaches
Credit: David Will/Pixabay
The two main choices are to build a backbone offshore-wind transmission system or to allow developers to build transmission lines directly to on-shore facilities.

The state yesterday began soliciting input on how to deliver power from offshore wind farms off the Jersey coast to customers, a dilemma that will get more complicated as the sector grows more critical to meeting New Jersey’s energy needs.

For the short term, offshore wind developers will likely have relatively few problems hooking up with the electric grid, at least to achieve the Murphy administration’s goals of developing 3,500 megawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2030, according to offshore wind developers at a meeting held at the War Memorial in Trenton on Tuesday.

Long term is another issue altogether, especially if the state opts to adopt a consultant’s projection that the state will need to nearly triple that goal and build up to 11,000 MW of offshore wind capacity by mid-century to achieve its target of 100% clean energy by then.

If so, developers, consultants, and an executive from PJM Interconnection, the regional power grid, urged the state to begin assessing long-term projections of its own, and even of other states’ energy demands and profiles.

“You need to start thinking about what is the ultimate build-out,’’ said Suzanne Glass, director of infrastructure planning for the PJM, the nation’s largest power grid, stretching from the Eastern Seaboard to Illinois.

A question of ‘backbone’

The meeting, held by the state Board of Public Utilities, yielded no clear consensus on whether a regional so-called backbone offshore-wind transmission system would be more cost-effective than allowing developers to build transmission lines directly to on-shore facilities.

The same debate is raging in Europe, where offshore wind farms are much more prevalent and established. Ørsted, which has won approval to build a 1,100 MW wind farm 15 miles off Atlantic City, has typically insisted it is better to allow the developer to also build the transmission line.

“The synergies of doing offshore wind and transmission together are huge,’’ said Utrik Stridboek, a vice president of regulatory affairs in Ørsted. “The key is I don’t think you want to create impediments to those synergies.’’

Yet, with the tremendous growth in offshore wind in Europe, he argued that a regional backbone system is probably inevitable there, and possibly even in the U.S., depending on the growth of the sector and the value it brings to investors.

After the meeting, Ørsted issued a statement, saying, “There may be benefits to a planned transmission system for offshore wind but there are also significant risks.’’

Finding suitable landing places

In New Jersey, the BPU has approved an underwater transmission line from Ørsted’s proposed wind farm to the closed Oyster Creek nuclear plant to bring ashore its power to customers. A big issue for the offshore wind developers is finding suitable places to bring power on shore to customers, with most saying such options are limited.

“Just getting one cable landing to shore is very challenging,’’ noted Kirsty Townsend of Ørsted.

If the state chooses to expand its goal of offshore wind capacity to 11,000 MW, there are not nearly enough interconnections onshore to accommodate that much capacity, agreed Janice Fuller, president of NJ Ocean Grid, a subsidiary of Anbaric Development Partners, LLC.

Anbaric asked the federal government to gauge interest in building such a transmission line earlier this year, in this instance, a 185-mile submarine line mostly off the Jersey coast.

Doug Copeland, development manager for Atlantic Shores, an offshore-wind farm project being pursued by EDF Renewables and Shell Energy off the Jersey coast, predicted that developers will be able to solve the technical issues relating to transmission, but offered the political issues may be more daunting.

The BPU is aiming to select the least-cost option to building an offshore-wind transmission system. Yesterday’s hearing was the first of several it expects to hold with stakeholders to determine how to bring ashore the power from the wind farms.