Winds off the extensive coasts of the US hold enormous potential, not only as sources of clean, renewable energy, but as a natural resource base that can power sustainable socioeconomic development. Altering the course of US energy policy after decades of supporting the fossil fuel industry, the Obama administration has managed to put in place the policies and institutional framework and is capitalizing on it.
Winds off the US Atlantic coast could produce enough clean, renewable electricity to power at least one-third of the entire US or the entire East Coast from Maine to Florida, at least theoretically, according to a study performed by a Stanford University research team. Key to realizing all this potential is building the high-voltage transmission lines that would carry and deliver the electricity generated via offshore winds to urban centers and other areas.
With sponsors including Google, Marubeni, private equity firm Bregal Energy and Belgium transmission system operator Elia, the Atlantic Wind Connection announced January 14 that it had selected New Jersey as the the for the first phase of a project that entails laying a high-voltage, direct current (DC) electricity transmission backbone under the US Atlantic seabed that would stretch from New York City to Virginia.
Blow, Wind Blow
Independent transmission company Trans-Elect and Atlantic Grid Development are AWC’s project developers. With a planned capacity of 3,000 megawatts (MW), the so-called New Jersey (NJ) Energy Link is to extend the length of the Mid-Atlantic state, linking offshore wind energy resources and consumers in northern, central and southern Jersey, according to Atlantic Wind Connection’s (AWC) press release.
Winds in the Mid-Atlantic region’s shallow Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) hold more than 60,000 MW of offshore wind energy potential, according to assessments performed under the aegis of the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). The Dept. of Interior and BOEM last May paved the way forward for an environmental review of AWC’s build-out, issuing a finding of “no competitive interest” and granting Atlantic Grid Holdings LLC right-of-way.
Building a backbone for the transmission of electricity produced from these offshore winds is the most efficient and effective means of enabling offshore wind power project developers to build out offshore wind turbine arrays and deliver clean, renewable electricity where it’s needed, AWC and offshore wind power proponents assert.
An offshore Atlantic power transmission backbone would also lay the groundwork for building a new marine clean energy industry, one that would provide jobs, income, investment returns and tax revenue while avoiding the carbon and greenhouse gas emissions that result from burning coal and fossil fuels to generate electricity for generations to come, they add.
Clean, Renewable Electricity for Nearly 2 Million Households
When completed, the AWC will be able to carry as much as 7,000 MW of offshore wind energy to consumers along the US East Coast, enough for some 1.9 million households, according to AWC.
With a project plan that envisages construction extending from 2016-2026, Atlantic Grid Energy intends to build out the offshore transmission backbone in five phases at an expected cost of $6.311 billion.
Completing the project would enable transmission of clean, renewable offshore wind power to consumers in NY, Pennsylvania, NJ, Delaware, Maryland, Washington D.C. and Virginia. According to a project analysis performed by IHS Global Insight, the AWC transmission backbone would be able to deliver 3,417 MW of electrical power to consumers in NJ (44% of AWC’s total capacity); 1,015 MW to those in Delaware (13%); 1,013 MW to those in Maryland; and 2.297 MW to consumers in Virginia (30%).
IHS projects that the NJ Energy Link will create more than 20,000 jobs in the state, injecting $9 billion into NJ’s economy and adding some $2.2 billion to the state treasury. These figures are based on construction of offshore wind turbines in NJ OCS waters with a total capacity of 3,400 MW.
Contrary to opponents’ contention that building out the AWC and offshore wind farms will increase electricity rates to consumers, AWC contends that the NJ Energy Link will reduce them by improving the flow of electricity to minimize energy peaks that cause high prices; moving the cheapest and cleanest energy to where it is needed, when it is needed; and minimizing costly upgrades to the grid.
“The NJ Energy Link can make the grid more reliable and lower the cost of energy in New Jersey by delivering both offshore wind and conventional electricity to where it is needed and when it is needed along the coast, whether that be southern, central or northern New Jersey,” AWC CEO Robert Mitchell asserted in the company’s press release.
Addressing critics who point to the intermittent nature of wind power generation, AWC says the offshore transmission backbone will be able to supply electricity to consumers 100% of the time, “not just when the wind is blowing.”