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Treading Water

With no guidance yet from FERC, Atlantic Wind is forced to wait.

Fortnightly Magazine - May 2011

in Docket RM10-23. That’s the case in which FERC has proposed that projects like Atlantic Wind, which help further a governmental policy (such as development of renewable power), should win favor from regional transmission planners. That’s the ruling that perhaps someday—if congressional Republicans ever agree to go along—will create a perfect fit for Atlantic Wind and other such projects that aren’t needed in an economic or engineering sense, but only to help states go green.

Until then, Atlantic Wind is left to tread water.

Key to the Highway

Described by sponsors as “the first offshore transmission highway in the United States,” the Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC) would be constructed off the coasts of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, comprising perhaps nine offshore raised platforms to serve as hubs for collection of wind farm energy output, plus 750 or so circuit miles (650 miles offshore, 38 miles in close-in state-controlled waters, and 67 miles onshore), to create two separate and parallel backbone circuits (four 320-kV DC cables). These circuits would be located in two separate rights-of-way running about 20 miles offshore, and separated by enough ocean floor to minimize potential risk of damage from a single unplanned event, such as anchor drag from a passing ship.

The project would enable some 6,600 MW of offshore wind capacity to be developed and integrated into the PJM regional grid on a timetable necessary to allow the region to meet state renewable portfolio standards and other state and federal renewable energy goals.

“The Mid-Atlantic region’s offshore waters hold vast potential for wind energy production,” said Markian Melnyk, president of Atlantic Grid Development (AWC’s development company), at a press conference held on in Washington, D.C., on March 31. That’s the same day that AWC filed what spokesman and Director of Outreach Bryan Lee reported was the first-ever unsolicited right-of-way application with the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, for use of certain areas of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf to construct an offshore electric transmission system.

“AWC offers a superhighway,” Melnyk added, to allow “large-scale development of this strategically important clean domestic energy resource.

“AWC supports … renewable energy policy objectives … and would enhance the competitive regional electric market by increasing supply options and reducing congestion on existing facilities.”

A key selling point for Atlantic Wind lies in its backbone design and platform hubs, all to be located in federal waters. As noted at the press conference, AWC will take responsibility for procuring all necessary state permits, and for building all transverse ship-to-shore lines needed to interconnect with the interstate grid. Any participating wind farm (or cluster of farms) need only link up with one of AWC’s platform hubs in federal waters, and won’t have to deal with a radial facility interconnection with PJM. The interconnecting party would be AWC.

This backbone design, say the sponsors, is the key to the project. In its application filed at FERC late last year seeking financial incentives, AWC claimed that, “compared to a radial approach [where each wind farm arranges for its own direct connection to