N.J. to host first leg of Atlantic ‘backbone’ for offshore wind

Source: Nathanael Massey, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, January 17, 2013

NJ offshore power cable

The first link of the proposed underwater “backbone” that would transmit electricity from offshore wind generation to East Coast users. Drawing courtesy of Atlantic Wind Connection.

The first leg of a 350-mile-long underwater transmission line that would run power to and from offshore wind turbines along the Atlantic Coast will be laid in New Jersey, its developers announced yesterday.

The decision marks an important step in the construction of the Atlantic Wind Connection, the “backbone” transmission project that would carry electricity from New York to Virginia. The New Jersey Energy Link, the first phase of the AWC, would run submerged cable over about half that distance, from Jersey City to Atlantic City.

As a stand-alone project, the Energy Link will spur development of offshore wind power off the coast of New Jersey and could also reduce reliability problems in the state’s electrical grid, said Robert Mitchell, CEO of Trans-Elect, the company leading AWC

The first link of the proposed underwater “backbone” that would transmit electricity from offshore wind generation to East Coast users. Drawing courtesy of Atlantic Wind Connection.

“The cost of energy in New Jersey is among the highest in the nation because there’s inadequate transmission in the state, particularly in congested areas to the north,” he said. “You end up with price spikes” during periods of peak demand.

By distributing power between northern and southern ends of the state, the Energy Link should lower those spikes for a net savings to ratepayers, he added.

Though no offshore wind capacity currently exists in the United States, New Jersey has taken steps to encourage a domestic industry of its own. It is the only state in the nation with a tax credit specifically for offshore wind, which was passed with bipartisan support by the state Senate and signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie (R) in 2010.

The state Board of Public Utilities has yet to arrive on a workable system for those subsidies, however.

Garden State wants more green energy

Without any domestic fuel reserves, New Jersey currently generates more than half its electricity from nuclear power and another third from natural gas. Wind power is a negligible fraction of its energy mix but could grow as some of the state’s reactors age out over the next decade.

A robust wind industry would help the state meet its renewable portfolio standard of 20 percent renewable energy by 2020, said Mitchell, while at the same time spurring the growth of local business.

“The point is to create new jobs, but not just the short-term jobs building turbines,” he said. “The goal is to attract new industry. You won’t get the wind industry excited about coming here if offshore wind development doesn’t reach a critical stage.”

That is where the New Jersey Energy Link comes in. Unlike most submarine transmission lines currently installed in the United States, the Link, along with the rest of the AWC, will have many converter stations along its length, allowing installations of wind turbines at varying points along the cable. Power hubs connected to the backbone will extend the possible range of installations farther out to sea.

Those converter stations will also give operators greater control to manipulate and redistribute the flow of electricity along the cable, according to Trans Elect.

Once constructed, the New Jersey Energy Link will be able to carry 3,000 megawatts of electricity — the equivalent output of three large nuclear power plants — along the length of the New Jersey coast. The AWC will carry twice that.

The project is expected to begin construction in 2015 or 2016, followed by a three-year testing period set to coincide with the establishment of several offshore turbine installations. Both the transmission backbone and the turbines are expected to be operational by 2020.

The project’s fate is still to be decided by regional transmission organization PJM Interconnection, which would purchase power from the AWC.