MASSACHUSETTS HAS A ONCE-IN-A-GENERATION opportunity to build a world-class offshore wind industry. The Commonwealth has embarked on a series of procurements to develop at least 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind, enough to power 600,000 homes over the next 10 years, and will likely build much more than that. Millions of Bay State consumers will depend on this new ocean-based renewable energy. It will entail the construction of hundreds of the most modern wind towers.
This enormous array of large wind projects will be procured over the next 10 years. But one essential component hasn’t been given adequate consideration: At its very foundation, the offshore effort requires a new, world-class, ocean transmission system. And it has to be built right — with a vision that anticipates the inevitable expansion of offshore wind power and the compelling benefits of shared infrastructure that will take it to shore. Massachusetts needs to ramp up its renewable portfolio rather than being forced to burn dirty fossil fuels during cold snaps like the one we just experienced.
Only three wind developers were allowed to submit the first bids, which were due on December 20, 2017. Massachusetts – unlike other states – allowed the existing electric distribution companies both to submit bids and to be integrally involved in selecting the winner. The bidders were required to offer 200 to 800 megawatts of generation, and to provide transmission ideas for up to 1,600 megawatts.
Whatever bid is selected in this first round, there are three improvements that should be made before the next procurement, either by the Legislature or by the Baker administration, to ensure that the offshore wind program delivers jobs, reduces the cost of electricity to Bay state consumers, and protects the environment.
First, the state has to make a firm commitment not only to 1,600 megawatts but more (such as 3,200 megawatts). This commitment is essential: the offshore wind program will only create jobs if it’s big enough to attract the supply chain to New England. The best way to signal such a commitment is to design and build a master offshore transmission system. Without such a master plan, the market will assume there will only be one procurement. With a master transmission plan, the wind equipment will increasingly be procured from new facilities in Massachusetts.
Second, the competitive procurement of the design, development, and construction of the offshore transmission system will reduce the cost of offshore wind in two ways: It will enable transmission companies to enter the competition (something that was not allowed in the first round). Once the specifications of the transmission system are known, generators can bid to deliver their power into the offshore grid, instead of having to solve the transmission challenge on their own. In Europe, the existence of the offshore transmission grid has even enabled “subsidy-free” bids from generators (in other words, no long-term contracts). Thus, the development of an offshore grid independent of generators heightens the competition between generators and reduces prices.
Third, the careful development of a master transmission plan for offshore wind is likely to dramatically reduce the environmental impact on the ocean floor and on the coasts. Simply put, Massachusetts should create a system that entails the fewest cables between offshore wind and shore. Each cable is intrusive and damages the ocean bottom and the seashore. Thus, it is far preferable to have four cables with a large carrying capacity than 12 cables with a smaller carrying capacity.
The Massachusetts offshore wind campaign is a vast project whose infrastructure implications haven’t yet been adequately addressed. Placing the master transmission grid into the center of the campaign requires Massachusetts to solicit bids to design, develop, and build transmission infrastructure for 1,600 megawatts and more of offshore wind to ensure (a) Massachusetts builds an industry instead of simply buying parts from Europe and Asia, (b) obtains renewables at the lowest possible cost, and (c) protects the environment.
As nearby states consider the potential of wind power, they are going big. So must we. That’s how we build a nation-leading offshore wind industry.
-Ed Krapels is the CEO of Anbaric Development Partners, a developer of energy transmission infrastructure.