Offshore Wind Backbone Begins to Take Shape

The company planning a “transmission backbone” for wind farms off the Atlantic coast has broadened its sights slightly and asked the Interior Department to give it a right-of-way of hundreds of miles.

The Atlantic Wind Connection was originally supposed to run from Virginia to northern New Jersey and pick up about 6,000 megawatts of wind energy along the way from wind farms far enough from the shore to avoid complaints from neighbors and pick up strong ocean breezes.

But when the company applied to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on Tuesday, the proposal had grown to 7,000 megawatts and an option to connect with Manhattan or Brooklyn.
 
The engineers have chosen several alternate routes. Among the factors they are considering are the water depth, which determines the cost of building a foundation for a wind machine; the wind speeds at various sites; and other elements that are likely to influence Atlantic Wind’s probable customers, the wind farms. They have also identified seven potential connection points on land.

The line, if it can be built, would be “a magnet for wind farms,” Markian Melnyk, president of Atlantic Wind Development, said.

The application with the Interior Department gives the approximate location of nine offshore platforms, each of which would be about 600 feet long, 150 to 240 feet wide, and 150 feet high. Cables from wind farms would tie into the system at the sea floor, and equipment would convert power from AC to DC, a better form for submarine transmission.

But the application is somewhat vague in some instances; the location of one of these platforms is described as being somewhere within a space of 36 square miles.

The project would be built in phases, with the first making landfall at Indian River in Delaware, not far from the beach resort of Bethany Beach, and Cardiff, N.J., near Atlantic City. The cable would extend between those points and further north into prime wind territory farther up the New Jersey coast.

That area is described as relatively ideal because it is somewhat shallow and receives strong wind. Water depths in the area that the cable would cover run from 45 to 100 feet, according to Deniz Ozkan, the project coordinator.

Many economic and bureaucratic hurdles remain. In one potential obstacle, the organization that runs the regional grid, called PJM (it used to stand for Pennsylvania-Jersey-Maryland, but it now covers 13 states) ranks transmission projects by the relative need for power but does not yet take account of requirements like portfolio standards for renewable energy, the state quotas that are driving wind development.

PJM is discussing a change in its rules, and the federal agency that oversees it, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, may order such changes nationwide.

And then there is the matter of money. Atlantic Wind Connection is shy about saying what it will cost, partly because it has not yet sought bids on the work, Mr. Melnyk said. Astudy by the Brattle Group, a consulting firm, put the price at $3 billion to $5 billion and said this was cheaper than letting each wind farm connect to shore independently.

The next step is for the Interior Department to publish a formal notice asking if others are interested in applying for the same right-of-way.
The most advanced proposal for a wind farm in the area is from Blue Water Wind, off the Delaware coast. A question, not yet settled, is whether all of the potential developers, including Blue Water, will want to sign up with Atlantic Wind or will try to connect to shore on their own.

Atlantic Wind argues that its backbone will simplify the connections because an offshore wind developer will not have to seek permits from a state to come ashore. But on land or off, companies that build power plants and companies that build transmission do not always have the best relationship.

In fact, some of the area mapped out by Atlantic Wind overlaps with land that Blue Water Wind wants to use for its wind farm. But there is room for both, said Bryan Lee, a spokesman for Atlantic Wind. “It’s a big ocean,’’ he said.

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