As Massachusetts signals its intent to pursue enough additional renewable energy to double the amount of possible offshore wind power in Massachusetts, some lawmakers are hoping to begin a conversation about how that power generated at sea should be brought onto shore and into homes.
For the first 800 megawatts of offshore energy the state has secured and the next 800 megawatts it is currently soliciting, the project developer is expected to submit a bid that encompasses the power generation as well as its transmission to the onshore power grid. House Speaker Pro Tempore Patricia Haddad and Rep. Paul Brodeur on Thursday touted legislation to split the two and have one process to pick a developer to generate the power and a separate solicitation for an independent and shared transmission line system.
“The infrastructure is going to be as important as the windmills themselves and so we’re now looking for the right way to go with this infrastructure,” Haddad said. “At first it was that developers would take care of that, but now we realize that if we’re going to use the whole 10 gigawatts that people tell us are available out there, then we have to have other partners.”
Brodeur filed a bill (H 2814), which Haddad co-sponsored, that would direct the Department of Energy Resources to “competitively solicit proposals for expandable transmission that will deliver power produced by offshore wind energy generation” by the end of 2019.
Having one transmission system that could deliver power from multiple offshore wind farms would minimize impacts on the ocean environment and allow the state to optimize each of the limited locations at which offshore wind power can be brought onto shore. And by splitting the generation and transmission procurements, Brodeur said, companies that specialize in transmission like Anbaric, which is headquartered in Brodeur’s district, could get a piece of the action.
“Right now we have the potential for a million different transmission lines, which can be very disruptive to the environment and arguably is not cost-effective,” Brodeur said. “What I’m hoping we do with the bill I filed is to open up the process a little bit more … is there a way within our procurement to do a little bit of a better job of ensuring we have the best infrastructure, the most efficient infrastructure we can have to get the power into folks’ homes?”
Though Brodeur filed his bill before DOER announced its plan, the DOER is conceptually on board with the main thrust of his legislation. In late May, the department proposed that the state stop soliciting clean energy generation and the transmission of that energy as a single package.
Instead, the agency suggested that it move forward in 2020 with a solicitation for the main transmission system that future generation projects would be required to tie into, having been given the authority to split the procurements under a 2018 clean energy law. Having one primary transmission system “has the potential benefit of minimizing impacts on fisheries, optimizing the transmission grid, and reducing costs,” the report concluded.
One of the companies that would be interested in bidding for a transmission project is Anbaric, a Wakefield-based company that focuses exclusively on transmission. Stephen Conant, an Anbaric partner and project manager, described the idea of independent or expandable transmission as being like a power strip.
Conant said most of the conversation around offshore wind has focused on the power generation rather than the transmission. He said the 2018 Massachusetts law that authorized another 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind power and allowed the DOER to split generation and transmission was the first offshore wind law in the country that “actually mentioned transmission.”
“There’s been a lot of discussion about offshore wind, about the generation part of things,” he said. “But the transmission part, let’s just say it’s assumed it will be there.”
At an offshore wind industry conference in Boston last week, developers were cool to the idea of independent transmission. Lars Thaaning Pedersen, CEO of the company chosen to provide the state’s first 800 megawatts of offshore wind power, said developers would be wary of investing so much money into a project only to find out when power generation begins that the transmission feed, which would be controlled by a different entity, is unable to deliver that power to land.
“I don’t see a lot of reasons for a grid that serves many projects for a number of reasons,” the Vineyard Wind chief said. “As a developer, we put $2 or $3 billion in the water and you want to make sure the grid is there on time, on cost and on budget, and if somebody else owns it you want to make sure they have an incentive to keep it up and running at all times.”
Haddad and Brodeur on Thursday also pitched a bill (H 2867) Haddad filed to direct DOER to procure a total of 3,200 megawatts of offshore wind – which DOER also recently said it plans to do on its own – to reduce the time between solicitations from two years to one year, and to remove a provision of the 2016 clean energy law that requires each winning bid be cheaper than the last. Haddad said her bill would spur more local growth in the offshore wind industry.
“The industry and all of the ancillary pieces of the industry want to be in Massachusetts, they want to come to Massachusetts. But we have to be welcoming and we have to provide help. By help I mean good policy, incentives would be wonderful, because we have the other things. We have the people, we have the brainpower, we have the people who want to work blue-collar jobs, we have the land and we have the opportunity.”
While Massachusetts pursues its own offshore wind generation, states up and down the East Coast are doing the same. Rhode Island has one small offshore wind farm and is pursuing more, Connecticut lawmakers have authorized the state to procure 3 percent of the state’s energy load from offshore wind, and New Jersey has authorized procurement of up to 3,500 megawatts by 2035, according to the DOER report.
New York had already authorized up to 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind by 2030, and in the early hours of Thursday morning, New York lawmakers approved a plan to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the bill “the most aggressive climate change legislation in the nation.”