- With state goals across the U.S. aiming for a total deployment of 200 GW of offshore wind by 2050, there is an increasingly urgent need to build out the onshore grid and ensure that the U.S. power system can handle that new generation, Ørsted America’s Head of Electricity Policy Lopa Parikh said during a panel at Wednesday’s American Council on Renewable Energy Grid Forum.
- The panelists said this task is made more difficult by factors such as regional transmission organizations, or RTOs, lacking experience with offshore wind. In addition, there is a lack of familiarity with the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and states continuing to disagree on transmission cost allocation.
- Recent efforts toward multistate cooperation are promising, said Nicole Pavia, program manager for clean energy infrastructure deployment at the Clean Air Task Force — but she said collaboration has to extend beyond “a meeting that happens every so often, with no teeth.”
In September, the Departments of Interior and Energy released an action plan for offshore wind transmission that included a goal of coordination among federal, state and regional leaders, and on Oct. 4, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut signed a memorandum of understanding to coordinate offshore wind procurement — the first of its kind in the U.S.
The three states had also joined five other Northeastern states in sending a letter to DOE in June, asking the agency to help fund and support an interregional transmission planning collaboration.
Stephen Boyle, director of RTO and government affairs at WindGrid USA, said that the “fundamental challenge” with bringing groups of states together is navigating the balance of what each one is authorized to do, and reaching agreements on cost allocation for transmission.
Boyle said that during his involvement with the Atlantic Wind Connection, a 2012 proposed electrical transmission backbone for offshore wind, he saw the project “break down” due to state disagreements over “who would pay what.”
“And that's still a fundamental challenge with these multistate compacts,” he said.
Parikh added that the sheer number of regulatory agencies involved with offshore wind also makes the regulatory landscape “significantly different.”
In addition, Parikh said, offshore wind has different operational characteristics than other resources, such as operating continuously at high-voltage.
“The onshore grid needs to be able to accommodate that, so there needs to be coordination,” she said. “You can't just build out the grid assuming a certain voltage level and a certain megawatt threshold. We have to take into account what is expected to come on to the grid in the future.”
Because all offshore wind that is built will have to connect onshore, there is “extreme urgency” to build out the onshore grid and increase interconnection capacity, Parikh said.
In 2023, the need to solve issues of transmission and interconnection has become more acute — the Inflation Reduction Act is pumping billions of dollars into renewable energy production, and an April study from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found more than 2 TW of capacity waiting in the interconnection queue, with the vast majority of it renewable energy and storage.
“In 2017, 2018, nobody, absolutely nobody wanted to discuss transmission,” said Emmanuel Martin-Lauzer, director of business development and public affairs at Nexans. “All they cared about was generation, and hoping that magically the power would go from the turbine to your house.”
Today, transmission has become a “center-stage topic,” but any “easy interconnection points” are long gone, Martin-Lauzer said. He said that with the amount of offshore wind energy anticipated to come in off the coasts, there is a need in the U.S. to reverse the current grid system, which was designed to bring power from the West to load centers in the East.
Parikh said that some of the near-term goals included in Interior and Energy’s action plan stood out to her as being “very doable by a coalition of states” — including the recommendation for stakeholders to provide regulatory guidance and data to decision-making entities issuing right of way grants.
“The right of way issue in particular, given the limited points of interconnection on the Atlantic coast, is especially important for the offshore wind developers who are trying to interconnect,” she said.
Parikh suggested agreements between states to help facilitate rights of way for offshore transmission going from one state to another, which would help integrate offshore wind resources.
“Cost allocation, we're going to be talking about that until FERC or Congress mandates something – it's going to be very difficult,” she said. “But I think these other near-term goals are very actionable... if the states are willing to have those conversations.”