One often-overlooked aspect of offshore wind energy development is how the energy will be brought onshore. Transmission cables carrying the energy created by offshore wind turbines must cross the ocean, make landfall – often in working waterfront areas – and connect to land-based power stations.
As much as offshore wind development may affect your operations on the water, do not overlook its onshore impacts. Major cabling project proposals are up for consideration now, making it imperative for fishermen to ensure their voices are heard.
The critical question for coastal residents and fishermen is where the transmission cable will come ashore. The most direct line from the offshore wind energy site typically dictates the result. Cape Wind, for example, plans to interconnect the power generated by the 130 turbines it wants to build on Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound at NSTAR’s West Barnstable, MA substation.
Considerations such as the area a wind farm will serve also greatly influence its transmission cable route. Deep Water Wind’s Hudson Canyon Wind Farm, which is proposed to consist of up to 200 turbines, is intended to serve western Long Island, northern New Jersey, and New York City. It will link to the three regions via a submerged transmission cable.
Transmission cables are laid either on top of or buried below the seafloor. Submerged cables are laid typically by jet plowing through the sediment and burying the cable at a depth of 6′ below the surface. The benthic community in the vicinity of these cables may suffer as a result of the installation (see Guest Column CFN June 2013 for more details).
Isolated wind farms and their accompanying transmission cables should be a major concern of coastal communities up and down the Atlantic coast. If each separate wind farm has its own transmission cable, the number of connections needed to bring the power to the grid could disrupt a significant amount of seafloor and impact working waterfront communities.
This fact in part has prompted a proposal to construct an extensive offshore “backbone” electric transmission system in the Mid-Atlantic. The project is financially backed by a group of high-profile energy and investment companies, including tech giant Google, and led by the independent transmission company Trans-Elect with Atlantic Grid Development LLC acting as project developer.
Known as the Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC), the proposed transmission project would connect wind farms off New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia with each other and then bring the generated power onshore in only a few areas.
As proposed, the AWC will have three geographically distinct parts and each part will be built in phases.
The New Jersey Energy Link will be built first. The initial phase of this project will connect to northern and southern New Jersey. The cables will transport energy to the electrical grid in Hudson, after traversing the Sandy Hook area, and to Cardiff near Atlantic City. The second phase adds an offshore electrical platform. The third phase adds a cable that crosses Barnegat Bay and links to the grid in Cedar.
The AWC’s Delmarva Energy Link will connect Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. The first phase of this part of the project involves laying cables that will run ashore at Delaware’s Cape Henlopen before reaching Cape Springs and in Ocean City, MD before reaching Vienna, MD on the western side of the Eastern Shore.
These will link the Delaware Wind Energy Area (WEA) and the Maryland WEA to the shore-based power grid. The second phase connects the first phase to Virginia and adds a cable that makes landfall in the northern Virginia Beach area.
The last part of the AWC system is a connection between the system’s southern circuit, the Delmarva Energy Link, and the northern circuit, the New Jersey Energy Link. This connection across the Delaware Bay is called the Bay Link. The Bay Link will complete the continuous north-south offshore backbone.
Once constructed, the AWC will support new offshore wind energy projects in addition to those already underway. The backbone connection will remove one hurdle faced by all developers – bringing the energy to shore.
The idea is that future wind farms will be able to link to the backbone system and not have to seek separate rights of way to bring their energy onshore. For this reason, developers likely will favor building near the AWC, causing a portion of offshore energy projects to be concentrated in this region.
In addition to being heavily endorsed by supporters of renewable energy, the AWC also is seen as a boon for transporting land-based power. And, because it will be a direct conduit for “green” and “brown” energy, meaning both renewable and traditional polluting energy sources, inland public and private interest groups see it as a way of modernizing the East Coast’s power grid system.
Despite being a massive undertaking with a lot of momentum behind it, there is room for fishermen’s input in the AWC project. The project is moving through the federal permitting process now and still is in its early stages.
AWC’s project leaders have been very active in seeking out one-on-one meetings with affected stakeholders. For those skeptical that such outreach is just a box-checking exercise, consider that Atlantic Grid Development already has responded to stakeholder concerns by moving paths of the proposed cables, reducing the length of the cabling to be laid by 255 miles, and reducing the number of outer continental shelf lease blocks that it will affect by 143.
To date the company has worked diligently “to do the right thing” by engaging directly with stakeholders instead of relying on the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management or other government agencies to lead the way.
The AWC and each wind farm proposed has the potential to affect your business if it is located where you fish. That is why it is critically important that fishermen assess the impacts these types of projects will have on their businesses and communities.
Fishermen must learn the facts and timelines of offshore wind energy projects that will affect their operations and of the cabling system that will bring the energy to shore.
These two project types may not be one in the same, but both could have major implications for working waterfronts and inshore and offshore fisheries. Most importantly, make sure you are heard in all venues available – through the planning and permitting processes and one-on-one with developers if you are afforded the chance.
Michele Hallowell is an associate in the Washington, DC office of Kelley, Drye and Warren, LLP and former in-house counsel to the Maine Lobstermen’s Association.
More information on the Atlantic Wind Connection backbone transmission project is available online at <www.atlanticwindconnection.com>.