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Broad consensus : Reworking the USA grid for offshore wind is a matter of ‘extreme urgency’

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Challenges and Opportunities in U.S. Offshore Wind Deployment

According to Lopa Parikh, Ørsted head of electricity policy for the United States, there is an urgent need to build out the onshore grid to ensure that the country’s power system can handle new generation, especially given state goals aiming for a complete deployment of 200 GW of onshore wind by 2050. This urgency stems from the growing demand for renewable energy sources and the need to transition away from fossil fuels to meet climate goals.

The panelists highlighted the challenges due to the inexperience of local transmission organizations, or RTOs, with onshore wind. This inexperience, coupled with the ongoing disagreements among states on transmission cost allocation, adds layers of complexity to the deployment process. Moreover, there is a noted lack of familiarity with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management of the U.S. Department of the Interior, indicating a need for increased training and knowledge sharing in this sector.

Nicole Pavia, program manager for clean energy infrastructure deployment at the Clean Air Task Force, emphasized that while current efforts toward multistate cooperation are promising, they need more concrete actions and commitments, rather than sporadic meetings without substantial outcomes.

Obtain Insight: Multistate Cooperation and Offshore Wind Procurement

On October 4, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut signed a memorandum of understanding to coordinate offshore wind procurement. This agreement, the first of its kind in the U.S., followed the Departments of Interior and Energy’s action plan, which included the goal of coordination among federal, state, and local leaders for offshore wind transmission.

In June, these three states, along with five others in the Northern U.S., requested assistance from the DOE for funding and support in an interregional transmission planning collaboration. This collaboration is seen as a critical step in addressing the growing demand for renewable energy and the integration of various energy resources across state lines.

Stephen Boyle, director of RTO and government affairs at WindGrid USA, pointed out the “fundamental challenge” in bringing groups of states together. This challenge lies in balancing the individual authorities of each state and reaching agreements on transmission cost allocation. Boyle recounted his experience with the Atlantic Wind Connection project, where state disputes over cost allocation led to its breakdown, illustrating the complexity of multistate collaborations in renewable energy projects.

The complexity of regulatory frameworks for offshore wind significantly alters the regulatory landscape, as noted by Parikh. Additionally, the operational differences of offshore wind, such as consistent high-voltage operation, necessitate specialized coordination, as the onshore grid must be equipped to handle these specific characteristics.

The Urgency of Onshore Grid Development

There is a pressing need to expand the onshore grid and increase interconnection capacity, as underscored by Parikh. This expansion is crucial because all offshore wind developments will ultimately need to connect to the land-based grid. This situation is further highlighted by the Inflation Reduction Act’s investment in solar energy production and the findings of an April study from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which identified over 2 TW of capacity in the interconnection queue, predominantly for storage and renewable energy.

Emmanuel Martin-Lauzer, director of business development and public affairs at Nexans, reflected on the evolution of the energy conversation. In 2017, the focus was primarily on generation, with little attention to transmission. However, transmission has now become a central topic, especially as “easy interconnection points” have become scarce. The U.S. faces the challenge of restructuring its grid system, which was originally designed to deliver power from the West to the East, to accommodate the influx of offshore wind energy from coastal areas.

Parikh highlighted some attainable short-term goals in the Interior and Energy’s action plan, including the need for stakeholder involvement in providing governmental guidance and data for decision-making entities issuing right-of-way grants. This involvement is particularly crucial given the limited interconnection points along the Atlantic coast, which poses a significant challenge for offshore wind developers seeking to interconnect.

To facilitate the integration of onshore wind resources, Parikh suggested interstate agreements to ease the rights of way for offshore transmission. Despite the anticipated difficulties in cost allocation, she remains optimistic about achieving these near-term goals, pending further directives from FERC or Congress and the willingness of states to engage in these discussions.

This analysis underscores the complexities and urgent need for coordinated action in expanding the U.S. onshore grid to support the growing deployment of onshore and offshore wind energy. The collaboration among states, regulatory bodies, and industry stakeholders is crucial to overcoming these challenges and advancing towards a more sustainable and resilient energy future.

Viktor Musil

Victor Musil, pen name for Edouard Py, advocates for inclusive, people-centered city development. His work underscores the importance of ethical considerations and equitable access, shaping the discourse on urban innovation worldwide.

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