Recap: Offshore Wind Transmission Panel

September 3, 2020

On August 6th, 2020, the New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund held a virtual forum on the role of energy transmission in New York’s plans to expand offshore wind power. The event was co-hosted with Anbaric Development Partners and the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School and sponsored by Con Edison. This forum was the first in NYLCVEF’s series focused on the implementation of New York’s Climate Leadership & Community Protection Act (CLCPA). The law requires New York to generate 9,000 megawatts of offshore wind energy by 2035. In response to its first round of solicitations, the state has already awarded projects that will total 1,700 megawatts. Announced just days before the forum, the state released a second solicitation for a record-setting 2,500 megawatts of additional offshore wind capacity.

To get all of this power to land and to the people who need it, New York must upgrade significant portions of its energy infrastructure. The goal of the forum was to look at some of the key questions surrounding offshore transmission, including cost and environmental impacts.

The first part of the forum featured a presentation from The Brattle Group covering the findings from their study on different approaches to offshore energy transmission. The second part of the event featured a panel of experts to discuss their views on the report’s findings.

The report from The Brattle Group, which was commissioned by Anbaric, made the case that New York actually needs to generate more than its target of 9,000 megawatts of offshore wind energy to reach its overall carbon emissions reductions goals. They estimate that in order to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040, we need to generate between 14,000 and 24,000 megawatts of offshore wind capacity.

The Brattle Group’s presentation focused on two different approaches to offshore wind transmission: the radial approach and the planned approach. In a radial approach, each wind farm would use separate cables to connect their energy to the grid. A planned approach would involve connecting multiple wind farms to the same or to fewer cables. 

Cost, risk, and environmental and community impacts are all factors that experts and policy makers must consider when determining which approach to take. The Brattle Group’s report examined these factors. and as a result of their research, recommends a planned approach. According to the report, a planned approach is estimated to save $500 million in expenses compared to the radial approach. That is a conservative estimate, as competition for bids between corporations was not taken into account. Their view is that planned transmission makes better use of points of interconnection (POI) on transmission lines, essentially resulting in more efficiency. Using fewer cables by maximizing POI lowers the environmental impact and allows generated energy to be directed toward larger substations.

The report also found that there are issues with curtailment. While the goals to increase energy production are admirable, the existing energy grid is not able to handle such a large amount of power at this time and infrastructure upgrades are necessary.

The next part of the event focused on the panel Q&A. Moderator Joe Martens, Director of New York’s Offshore Wind Alliance, asked experts to discuss funding for energy upgrades. Who will be paying for this? The Brattle Group explained that New Yorkers would likely pay for these costs, but the amount and method of payment would differ between the two approaches. A planned grid would allow New York to recover the cost of transmission over a longer period, while a radial approach would cost less in the short term but would bring less benefit.

Panelists discussed Europe’s approach to offshore wind transmission. Europe is more advanced in their offshore wind development than the U.S. The Brattle Group discussed how many projects in Europe began with radial approaches but eventually moved toward a planned grid. The UK, Belgian, and German governments now use planned systems

Joe Martens then asked, “Where does the Department of Public Service stand on the two system choices?” Tammy Mitchell, Chief of Bulk Electric Systems at DPS, responded that given the ambitious energy goals in New York, there is a real need for a coordinated planning process related to transmission. Significant infrastructure is needed to connect these new energy sources to the grid, and DPS has commissioned a power grid study to identify where upgrades are needed.

Kirsty Townsend, Director and Head of Special Projects at Ørsted, an offshore wind company, added that for the Northeast, a shared system is necessary. Geographical and electric constraints have created concern about rushing into the build process and not learning from mistakes made in Europe. We should plan ahead and be ready for future offshore wind development with an upgraded system.

This forum made it clear that offshore wind development in New York State faces challenges in getting the energy generated offshore to land, on the grid, and to consumers. We likely need an all-of-the-above approach to ensure that the State implements a cost-effective and safe transmission plan.

NYCLVEF would like to thank our speakers, moderator, and sponsor for participating in this interesting conversation. You can watch a recording of the panel here. Stay tuned for more forums in our series on CLCPA implementation. 

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