Coalition Supports New England Offshore Wind Transmission Grid Plan


New England for Offshore Wind has filed comments in response to a request for information issued by five New England states seeking information concerning the development of a networked offshore electric grid to help unlock offshore wind power in the Northeast.

In its Oct. 28 comments, the coalition applauded the states’ efforts and urged them to jointly move forward with plans for a networked offshore grid to save money, avoid unnecessary impacts, and improve the reliability and resilience of the electric grid while unlocking the region’s full potential for wind power. The coalition further urged the states to make transparency and community engagement a central feature of all grid planning, including the next steps to develop a networked offshore grid.

“New England for Offshore Wind is excited by the New England states’ efforts to seek information on joint transmission solutions for offshore wind, and we encourage them to maximize benefits for the region through development of a networked offshore grid that unlocks the promise of wind energy, reduces overall costs, and improves the reliability of the electric system,” states Susannah Hatch, regional lead for New England for Offshore Wind. “The states should begin planning and procurement processes as soon as possible to ensure that offshore wind can be a key solution to helping avert the worst impacts of climate change.”

“This collaborative initiative is very exciting,” says Melissa Birchard, director for clean energy and grid transition at Acadia Center, a co-author of the coalition’s comments. “This is an innovative step forward to help secure the clean energy we need to power a reliable, modern electric system. New England and its neighbors can lead the nation in developing a networked offshore grid that maximizes the cost savings and reliability benefits of offshore wind, reduces the impacts of transmission, and forms the backbone of a future Atlantic offshore grid.”

“New England states are leading the way in equitable transmission planning that lifts up the voices of coastal communities, minimizes the onshore impacts of energy infrastructure, and ensures a just transition to clean energy jobs for workers in the fossil fuel industry,” comments Kelt Wilska, energy justice manager at Maine Conservation Voters, a co-author of the coalition’s comments.

The coalition submitted the comments in response to the Sept. 1 RFI issued by Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island for the new Regional Energy Transmission Infrastructure Initiative.

In their comments, the coalition responded to questions about the regional transmission system and a draft modular offshore wind integration plan. The comments reiterated the coalition’s recently released set of six core transmission principles for guiding the siting and development of all transmission infrastructure, including the need for community engagement.

In keeping with the transmission principles, the coalition asked the states to prioritize workforce development in the selection of any project under the initiative, including training programs and targeted recruitment for communities that bear environmental and health burdens from fossil fuels. The coalition urged the states to adopt the transmission principles to serve as the foundation for a successful joint procurement process stemming from the initiative. The transmission principles establish a framework that maximizes benefits and minimizes impacts of New England offshore wind transmission planning and development. They include features that benefit impacted communities; avoid, minimize and mitigate environmental impacts; secure environmental justice; inclusive and early stakeholder engagement; coordinate on transmission investments; and supply local jobs and economic development.

The coalition recommended that the New England states consider taking advantage of three funding opportunities under the Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act (IIJA) and two under the Inflation Reduction Act.

These opportunities include formula grant program funding for improving grid resilience (with a target of meeting or exceeding the federal government’s Justice40 goal); transmission facilitation program funding to help developers build power lines that enable low-cost clean energy growth; smart grid investment program funding for short-term transmission upgrades; transmission facility financing loans for transmission construction in as-yet undesignated National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors; and grants for accelerated siting and analysis for the construction of onshore and offshore transmission infrastructure (prioritizing efforts to deploy a networked offshore grid).

To ensure minimal impacts and maximum benefits from new offshore wind infrastructure, the coalition supported swift action by the states in issuing a joint solicitation to take advantage of the cost benefits of regional collaboration. They also encouraged the states to seek a coordinated approach to developing a networked offshore grid.

“A well-planned and networked offshore grid that channels more wind to communities using fewer cables will reduce costs and impacts while expediting and optimizing benefits,” they said in the comments. The coalition asked the states to explore cost allocation mechanisms that create equitable benefits for ratepayers in their respective regions. Following best practices on cost allocation proposed by the coalition, Acadia Center, Sustainable FERC, and other commenters in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Transmission Planning (Docket No. RM21-17-000) and observing MISO’s recent cost allocation approach can help to ensure equitable cost-savings, according to the coalition.

To ensure the regional transmission initiative focuses on environmental and economic equity, the coalition emphasized that states should center procedural justice in siting and planning processes and prioritize workforce development opportunities.

Inclusive siting and planning will “advance equity in transmission development while building out a grid that can meet state and federal clean electricity goals with the region’s abundant offshore wind resources,” they said.

Additionally, the coalition asked states to prioritize workforce development, such as training programs and targeted recruitment for communities that bear environmental and health burdens from fossil fuels.

In response to the states’ request for input on specific transmission technologies, the coalition supported high-voltage direct-current (HVDC) lines as an option that will minimize impacts of offshore wind transmission infrastructure on marine ecosystems. The coalition also urged the states to prioritize advanced planning of a complete networked offshore grid that maximizes generation opportunities and minimizes impacts, including land-based impacts.

They recommended that, when considering proposals, the states should prioritize projects that pair with energy storage, which would increase reliability while reducing needed infrastructure.

In their response to the clear need for some additional on-land infrastructure to help deliver clean offshore wind to New England communities, the coalition recommended the least invasive forms of interconnection to the preexisting grid, including optimizing existing points of interconnection, such as retiring coastal power plants. Prioritizing existing rights of way would help avoid impacts to sensitive ecosystems, the comments advised. Where new infrastructure is necessary, the coalition encouraged the states to select carefully planned projects that avoid, minimize and/or mitigate impacts on important resources and communities.

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