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New England states propose coordinated transmission development to support wind power

Biden Offshore Wind. AP photo for NHPR.
David Goldman
The five turbines of America's first offshore wind farm, owned by the Danish company, Orsted, stand off the coast of Block Island, R.I., Monday, Oct. 17, 2022. Hundreds of offshore wind developers and experts gathered in Rhode Island to talk about the future of clean energy— how to grow the offshore wind industry and address shared challenges. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

New England states have taken a new step in building out regional transmission infrastructure.

In two proposals to the U.S. Department of Energy, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont have requested federal support for projects to update and expand the region’s transmission system in preparation for an influx of clean energy resources.

As big, new projects like offshore wind farms get closer to launch in the region, the poles and wires that carry electricity where it needs to go need an upgrade. Doing that work in a coordinated, proactive way could minimize environmental and human impacts and save money – about $20 billion nationally, according to a report from The Brattle Group, a consulting firm, this month.

One of New England’s proposals, called the “Joint State Innovation Partnership for Offshore Wind,” outlines how the states would work with wind developers and transmission providers to develop new lines that support offshore wind.

Jared Chicoine, the commissioner of New Hampshire’s Department of Energy, said the proposal was an effort to take advantage of wind power, especially because of constraints on natural gas coming into New England.

“We're really looking at: what are other options out there to bring power into the region,” he said. “What’s driving this conversation is knowing the needs New England has for additional energy resources and then when it comes to transmission, how we get it to the grid.”

Patrick Woodcock, the commissioner of Massachusetts’ Department of Energy Resources, said the effort was especially important in the light of recent spikes in the price of fossil fuels.

“It is imperative that we transition to a regional electricity system that can support the delivery of both affordable and reliable clean energy to residents and businesses,” he said.

The proposed approach is focused on developing more transmission for offshore wind in the near-term with current technology, while building toward a future system where offshore wind projects are connected to one another along the coast with offshore cables.

Building coordinated transmission offshore could allow projects to connect back to the grid in more strategic places, and reduce the upgrades needed on land. It could also reduce costs that ratepayers might need to shoulder, and be more reliable and resilient than a system where offshore wind developers independently plan how their projects connect with the transmission system, according to the proposal.

The second proposal, which came from Vermont with the support of other New England states, would have the federal government support a transmission line that would bring hydropower from Quebec to Vermont and the rest of the New England market.

The initiatives are part of a call for proposals from the federal energy department associated with the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The department is expected to award up to $2 billion to projects funded in this round of applications. Federal officials will invite some projects to submit full proposals by May.

Mara Hoplamazian reports on climate change, energy, and the environment for NHPR.