Offshore Transmission Line Takes a Step Forward

Source: By MATTHEW L. WALD, New York Times • Posted: Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A schematic view of the proposed transmission system.
Atlantic Wind Connection. A schematic view of the proposed transmission system.

A pioneering proposal to build a wind power transmission line on the ocean floor from southern Virginia to northern New Jersey cleared a hurdle on Monday when the Interior Department opened the way for the project’s sponsors to start work on an environmental impact statement.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, part of the Interior Department, said that no competitor had emerged for the right-of-way for the proposed transmission line, known as the Atlantic Wind Connection, allowing the bureau to issue a “determination of no competitive interest.” By linking wind farms 15 to 20 miles off the coast, the backbone would greatly reduce the number of individual radial lines needed to bring the energy to shore.

David J. Hayes, the deputy secretary of the Interior, said in a statement that the Interior Department was “moving ahead to responsibly evaluate and expedite appropriate projects.” In a conference call with reporters, he said his department could issue its first permit for a wind farm by the end of the year.

Mr. Hayes noted that offshore mid-Atlantic wind power had yet to be developed “despite the world-class nature of the wind resource” and “its proximity to some of our nation’s largest load centers.‘’

“We’ve been working to change that,’’ he said.

The major investors in the project are Google; Good Energies II, a New York-based investment partnership; the Marubeni Corporation, a Japanese trading firm;, and Elia, a Belgian transmission operator.

Robert L. Mitchell, the chief executive of the Trans-Elect Development Company, the project’s developer, said that an environmental study would take about 18 months. The decision also clears the way for his company to begin negotiating commercial terms for the right-of-way with the Department of Interior, he said.

Construction of the full project would take about 10 years, according to the company. The right-of-way corridor, including branches to reach the shore at intermediate points, would run about 790 miles, the Interior Department said.

The offshore wind farm that might be approved this year would presumably be in New Jersey, given that proposed projects off the coasts of Delaware and Maryland have suffered setbacks in the last few months.

Late last year, NRG, a New Jersey-based power generator, announced that it was putting plans on hold for a 200-megawatt wind farm off the coast of Delaware because it could not find an investment partner.

The Maryland legislature adjourned its regular session this spring without passing a bill designed to encourage wind off its coast. In both cases, a decline in prices for conventional electricity made offshore wind power look less attractive. The economic slowdown has cut the demand for electricity, which makes all new projects seem less urgent.

But in New Jersey, plans are still moving forward.

Mr. Mitchell suggested that the Atlantic Wind Connection could eventually cut customers’ bills by bringing electricity from low-cost areas like southern Virginia to northern New Jersey.The Northeast is prone to grid congestion, a situation in which low-cost generators in distant places stand idle but higher-cost generators closer to load must operate because there is no space on the transmission lines to bring electricity in from farther away.

“There’s at least a billion dollars a year that ratepayers are paying extra just because of congestion,’’ Mr. Mitchell said. “Our line, even the first leg of it, will make a contribution to reducing that. ‘’

The first segment of the transmission line will probably stretch from northern New Jersey to the Atlantic City area, he said.