On the Horizon: Overcoming Offshore Wind Transmission Challenges by Connecting Forward-Thinking Policy to Domestic Actions

On the Horizon: Overcoming Offshore Wind Transmission Challenges by Connecting Forward-Thinking Policy to Domestic Actions

Erin McClelland

As the world espouses the clean energy transition—within the U.S.—offshore wind is verging on being left behind. The danger of leaving a renewable source behind is not only a detriment to that industry, but to the clean energy transition as a whole. The culprit of offshore wind’s downfall is the current U.S. regulatory structure for connecting an offshore facility to the grid onshore.

Traditionally, the grid and project development regulatory framework supports a project-by-project approach, because every project has the responsibility to connect themselves to the grid onshore.[1] The resulting reality for offshore wind is that every project has an individual transmission line come ashore and cross a beach.[2] This exact regulatory result endangers the industry.

One of the biggest challenges facing offshore wind transmission is finding environmentally and economically viable locations where the transmission cable can make landfall to connect to the grid. This occurs for two reasons. First, geographic locations for sitting must comply with state and federal permit requirements and be viable for the cables.[3] Second, community resistance can delay project permit acquisition.[4] Both challenges can create too high an economic cost that burdens and kills the project.

While overcoming these challenges need to be individualized to the U.S. system—catering to the separation of powers. The success of other nations can shed light on the direction to aim change in the system. Studying others’ growing pains and success in their path to increase offshore wind in a rapid, economic, and just way can help the U.S. overcome its own challenges. Unless regulatory change occurs quickly, offshore wind development will cease far below targets and technical potential the resource provides.

This note asserts that emerging federal and state actions to overcome challenges facing offshore wind need to be drafted to promote state-to-state collaboration, state-to-federal government collaboration, federal government big-picture long-term planning, and incentives to promote transmission innovation. These broad frameworks will foster an environment where an offshore grid can be created, rather than following U.S. regulatory transmission project-by-project custom. Part I addresses the necessity of offshore wind in the energy transition. Part II evaluates U.S. approaches to the interconnection of offshore wind and the challenges facing future development. Part III analyzes the European Union’s approach to offshore wind transmission. Part IV integrates successful EU regulatory standards in U.S. state proposed legislation to overcome transmission challenges.

[1] See Syed Rahman et al., A Comparison Review on Transmission Mode for Onshore Integration of Offshore Wind Farms: HVDC or HVAC, 10 Electronics 1, 1 (2021) (“This paper elaborately reviews and explains the offshore wind farm structure and performance requirements for bulk offshore power transfer”).

[2] See Stacy Feldman, As Offshore Wind Power Grows, a Push for Transmission ‘Supergrids’, Inside Climate News (Apr. 16, 2010), https://insideclimatenews.org/news/16042010/offshore-wind-power-grows-push-transmission-supergrids/.

[3] See Johannes Pfeifenberger et al., U.S. Offshore Wind Generation, Grid Constraints, and Transmission Needs, The Brattle Group (Sept. 18, 2019), https://brattlefiles.blob.core.windows.net/files/17151_u_s__offshore_wind_generation_grid_constraints_and_transmission_needs.pdf.

[4] See Ros Davidson, Cape Wind: Requiem for a dream, WindPower (May 1, 2018), https://www.windpowermonthly.com/article/1462962/cape-wind-requiem-dream; See generally Offshore Wind Farm Cape Wind Officially Comes to an End, RENEWABLE ENERGY WORLD (Dec. 4, 2017), https://www.renewableenergyworld.com/2017/12/04/offshore-windfarm-cape-wind-officially-comes-to-an-end/ (telling the story of Cape Winds hopes, dreams, and ultimately what caused the projects death and why); South Fork Wind, https://southforkwind.com/ (last visited Jan. 21, 2022); South Fork, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, https://www.boem.gov/renewable-energy/state-activities/south-fork (last visited Jan. 21, 2022).

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