Offshore Electricity Transmission

This morning's story in the New York Times about the partnership of Google and Good Energies (among others) to construct a underwater transmission line 15 to 20 miles off the Atlantic coast between New York and Norfolk in order to serve off shore wind projects along the coast speaks to the centrality of transmission capacity to tapping wind resources.  However, it also speaks to the importance of independent transmission as a mechanism to accelerate clean energy and Electricity 2.0.

Last week, we released our acceleration agenda for Electricity 2.0.  Among other things, we noted the importance of access to long distance transmission capacity as a way to get renewable power onto the grid and also as a way t get it off.  While there is an open mechanism in place to access so-called bulk power lines currently under FERc rules, capacity is constrained. Limited capacity makes access a difficult proposition for renewable energy developers.  Taking down bulk power directly, meanwhile, is prohibted by law for all but utilities.

The Google-Good Energies backed project, led by Trans-Elect, a transmission developer faces a number of hurdles before construction can begin . But as the article points out it has received praise from most quarters. ( A key variable is distance from shore.  A two hundred foot windmill is visible up to 28 miles away so a windmill 15 miles from shore could be visible on clear days.)  However, a number of other large independent or merchant transmission projects are underway or have been completed.  ITC, originally a spinoff of Detroit Edison, has begun building transmission capacity throught the Midwest.  One prominent merchant transmission line is the high voltage DC or HVDC line connecting New Haven and Long Island.  A similar HVDC line connects San Francisco with Pittsburg, CA to the East where San Francisco draws much of its power.

Over time, a larger more robust independent network, complementing utility owned lines would provide additional flexibility to our nation's electricity architecture, allowing large electricity users to source their power where it is cheapest.  Combine that with the smart grid and it is possible to envision enterprise sourcing and management of power--analagous to enterprise management of information technology.  And, of course, new transmission capacity such as the Trans-Elect project would provide is critical to developing wind resources.