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offshore wind

Urgent and highly coordinated offshore wind planning needed to reach U.S. clean energy goals, new report finds

January 24, 2023

The U.S. offshore wind energy industry is poised to expand enormously in the coming years, driven by ambitious federal and state directives. President Biden has set a goal of building 30 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind capacity by 2030 and 110 GW by 2050. Independently, states on the Atlantic coast, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific coast have set 74 GW of offshore wind deployment goals. A Princeton University study finds that even more offshore wind could be required to meet 2050 national and state-level decarbonization targets – between 220 GW and 460 GW. 

Reaching these levels of deployment quickly, cost-effectively, and with minimal environmental impact requires a new paradigm of regional coordination for electricity transmission development. Vast amounts of transmission will be required to connect offshore wind facilities to land and move electricity from offshore to communities and businesses that need it. However, a host of issues make it challenging to efficiently build the appropriate type and amount of transmission: 

  • New offshore cables will need to reach new or upgraded onshore points of interconnection, requiring significant infrastructure deployment with long lead times for planning, workforce mobilization, materials, permitting, and construction. 
  • In the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, these points of interconnection will link to transmission grids operated by different regional transmission operators (RTOs) or independent system operators (ISOs). These operators have their own distinctive rules and planning processes. 
  • States individually determine how, and whether, to coordinate transmission development efforts with other states and/or power markets. 
  • Transmission technologies are designed using various technology standards, preventing interoperability. 

The build-out and operation of transmission infrastructure needed to accommodate offshore wind will be less efficient if these challenges go unaddressed, increasing costs to customers and the cost of interconnection and construction. More ocean floor and beachfront would be disturbed than is necessary, impacting coastal habitats and communities. Finally, failure to move quickly and plan appropriately could lead to the U.S. missing its ambitious offshore wind and critical decarbonization targets. 

Benefits and Challenges with Proactive Offshore Wind Transmission Planning 

Now is the time to tackle these transmission coordination challenges and set the nation, states, and the emerging offshore wind industry up for success. Offshore wind auctions are picking up in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. States are developing innovative and forward-looking solicitations and regulations anticipating interconnections between offshore wind projects. Congress has provided billions of dollars of applicable federal financial support and technical assistance for offshore wind transmission development available to states, transmission operators, and project developers. 

Given the momentum of the offshore wind market and the criticality of quick action to avoid unnecessary financial, climate, and environmental costs, the Brattle Group, in collaboration with Clean Air Task Force (CATF), the American Clean Power Association (ACP), the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), GridLab, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), released a report highlighting (1) tangible benefits of a proactively planned, well-designed offshore wind transmission network and (2) key steps needed to get there.  

The Brattle report estimates, based on extrapolating findings from UK, national, and state-specific offshore wind studies, that proactive planning efforts for at least 100 GW of offshore wind by 2050 would result in at least $20 billion in transmission-related cost savings, up to 70% fewer shore crossings and onshore transmission upgrades, and 50% fewer miles of marine transmission cable installations. Additionally, coordinated transmission planning would likely improve reliability, regional interconnectedness, and community relations. 

Recommendations for Efficient Transmission Planning 

Realizing these benefits will require unprecedented and rapid collaboration between policymakers, regulators, agencies, and grid operators at the state, regional, and federal levels. The report recommends the following immediate actions: 

  • Increase staffing and budgets for state and federal regulatory agencies involved in offshore wind planning to enhance their abilities to develop, evaluate, and execute on updated regulatory frameworks. 
  • Create and empower regional, multi-state decision-making bodies capable of planning and procuring effective regional and interregional transmission solutions (perhaps modeled after the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative). 
  • Provide IRS guidance to confirm the applicability of the investment tax credit to offshore wind-related interconnection facilities owned by generators or third parties. 
  • Proactively identify feasible, cost-effective points of interconnection in each state for all generation interconnection needs associated with existing state clean energy goals within each Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) jurisdictional planning region. 
  • Develop and implement “network-ready” standards for modular offshore substations and export cables. 
  • Clarify and modify Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) permitting requirements to clarify the permitting process for third-party offshore cable routes between lease areas and interconnection points on the existing grid. 

The report offers additional actions required over the next couple of years to address various cost allocation, technology, transmission planning, and permitting challenges, and proposes contractual, regulatory, and market design actions over the next three to five years. 

Successfully unlocking the potential of this emerging industry in a timely and cost-effective way depends on policymakers and other key stakeholders identifying and addressing significant infrastructure, planning, and coordination challenges to offshore wind transmission planning at local, state, and regional levels today. While there is a lot at stake, federal, state, and regional stakeholders are in an ideal position to be proactive and maximize the benefits of a well-designed offshore wind network. 

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