Atlantic backbone lengthens for offshore wind power

The Atlantic Wind Connection takes another step in creating a network of underwater transmission lines off the East Coast. The proposed backbone might help usher in offshore wind, from off New York City to Virginia.
Written by Melissa Mahony, Contributor on

For wind turbines to harness the wind energy blowing over the Atlantic Ocean, we'll need means for bringing the power home to land. Offshore wind farms could do this themselves or they could hook into an existing network of transmission lines.

While Massachusetts' Cape Wind (the wind farm expected to be the first off the U.S. coast) has yet to surface, a plan to construct a transmission "backbone" for the country's emerging offshore wind industry is materializing further south.

Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC) has asked the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (formerly the Minerals Management Service) for the right-of-way to construct a network of transmission lines for 7,000 megawatts of offshore power generation. The proposed transmission backbone, funded partly by Google,would span 300 miles down the Eastern Seaboard, from New York to Virginia. The previous plan was for between New Jersey and Delaware, with a capacity of 6,000 megawatts.

The company made the request after examining four offshore wind energy development zones on the Outer Continental Shelf. AWC also included 7 onshore points, where the gridwill take up the power. The idea is that with this existing transmission infrastructure, wind farms may find connecting to the grid quicker and easier.

Markian Melnyk, president of Atlantic Grid Development, says in a statement:

The Mid-Atlantic region’s offshore waters hold vast potential for wind energy production. AWC offers a superhighway allowing large-scale development of this strategically important clean domestic energy resource efficiently, economically and with the least environmental impact.

According to AWC, the project could complete 650 miles of transmission circuits 5 phases. First up? A section off southern New Jersey and Delaware, with a capacity of 2,000 megawatts. The line would come ashore at Indian River, Delaware.

On the same day AWC submitted their request, Dominion Virginia Power announced it will conduct a year-long feasibility study of an underwater transmission line lead to offshore wind farms from Virgina Beach. According to a study, the company finished last year, a Virginia Beach substation could take in 1,500 megawatts without encountering transmission troubles.

Yet difficulties could lie elsewhere.

The reportedly $3 billion to $5 billion endeavor will undergo various reviews and comment periods, checking for competing interests and environmental concerns, before construction could begin. This could be as early as 2013.

The New York Times reports:

In one potential obstacle, the organization that runs the regional grid, called PJM (it used to stand for Pennsylvania-Jersey-Maryland, but it now covers 13 states) ranks transmission projects by the relative need for power but does not yet take account of requirements like portfolio standards for renewable energy, the state quotas that are driving wind development.

PJM is discussing a change in its rules, and the federal agency that oversees it, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, may order such changes nationwide.

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Images: Gunner Britsc and Atlantic Wind Connection

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