A 350-mile undersea electricity transmission project designed to be the "backbone" of offshore wind energy on the Atlantic Coast of the United States received an indirect boost on Thursday as the Obama administration began the leasing process for prime offshore wind energy areas off the New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia coasts.
The Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC), led by independent transmission company Trans-Elect and backed by investments from Google, Good Energies, Elia and Marubeni Corporation, would stretch nearly 350 miles from New Jersey to Virginia and be able to connect 7,000 megawatts of offshore wind turbines, enough to serve approximately 1.9 million households.
The supergrid project would be able to serve all of the areas opened up for leasing on Thursday.
Consisting of two parallel high-voltage DC (HVDC) transmission lines, the project would facilitate the development of offshore wind energy throughout the length of its Atlantic Coast route by eliminating the need for grid tie-in points for each project.
“Compared to each wind farm building its own transmission lines, our project is the most affordable, efficient, and environmentally-sensitive solution for connecting offshore wind,” Markian Melnyk, president of Atlantic Grid Development, AWC’s development company, said in December.
Placing wind farms well offshore, where they would be virtually out of sight from land, would also limit the "NIMBY" problems that plagued the decade-long permitting process for the Cape Wind project off the coast of Massachusetts.
The HVDC backbone could also connect to additional installations even further out at sea where the wind resource is stronger, more consistent — all while reducing line voltage loss that plagues AC transmission.
First proposed in 2010, the multi-billion dollar AWC project is currently in the early stages of review by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The Interior Department announced it had concluded internal review of the project's request for right-of-way on December 20, 2011, opening up a 60-day comment period at the time.
“I think the granting of a right of way for public lands is a huge positive," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said at the outset of the comment period.
But timing will be critical for both AWC project developers and wind farm developers alike as each will be dependent on the approval of the other to move forward: without offshore wind farms, the transmission project will not go forward, and without the transmission project, wind farms will face substantially higher construction costs — perhaps, prohibitively higher.
If right-of-way for the proposed route is granted to the AWC in the next few weeks or months as expected, the project would still have to undergo environmental assessment, which could take an additional 18 to 24 months.
Project developers are optimistic, however, saying that laying of the transmission cable could begin as early as 2014.