New England states unite to build new offshore wind HVDC transmission, seek DOE funding

Four New England States – Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, and Rhode Island – recently submitted a concept paper to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) proposing to build up to three new high voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission lines and related onshore system upgrades to support the injection of new offshore wind resources in New England.

Onshore and offshore transmission constraints are a major barrier to the successful deployment of large-scale offshore wind along the Atlantic coast. Under the current approach to offshore wind transmission, developers are often incentivized to interconnect their projects at locations closest to their projects requiring the fewest onshore upgrades, but this approach can lead to curtailment of offshore wind resources or higher-cost onshore reliability upgrades.

The multi-state collaboration proposed by the states’ concept paper would instead proactively plan and integrate HVDC “to unleash the full potential of offshore wind resources in the New England leasehold to achieve decarbonization goals, increase resource diversity to alleviate winter gas reliability issues, significantly improve grid resilience, and avoid congested areas of the grid.” The states’ approach is likely to result in regional cost savings, further reduce the cost of offshore wind energy, and mitigate potential environmental impacts associated with transmission.

The concept paper was crafted by the states in collaboration with transmission providers, wind developers, and ISO-NE, and with support from New Hampshire and Vermont. The states’ approach aligns thematically with their 2020 Vision for a Clean, Affordable, and Reliable 21st Century Regional Electric Grid which, in part, recognizes the need to integrate significant levels of new offshore wind resources at the lowest cost possible in order to achieve a decarbonized system in New England.

The concept paper, titled “Joint State Innovation Partnership for Offshore Wind,” was submitted in response to the DE-FOA-0002740 GRIP Topic 3: Grid Innovation Program. Under this Topic area, DOE anticipates making between four and 40 awards, with a maximum per-project award of $250 million and maximum per-project award for interregional transmission projects of $1 Billion.

In a January press release announcing the submission, Commissioner Katie Dykes of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection said:

New England is pioneering the innovative partnerships, technologies, and approaches the nation needs to modernize the transmission system, unlock clean energy, and ensure price stability and affordability by providing reliable clean electricity in the face of fossil fuel-driven price spikes and climate disruption.”

In the same release, Rhode Island Acting State Energy Commissioner Christopher Kearns added:

This will help our regional New England grid make the transition to clean energy, reduce our collective carbon emissions significantly, and deliver a major victory in our fight against climate change.”

A Competitive Multi-state Transmission Solicitation, Potential for Interregional MTDC

If ultimately selected by the DOE for funding, the states will engage in a to-be-designed, multi-state solicitation process to competitively identify transmission solutions. The solicitation process will likely require bidders to design their transmission projects with an ability to accommodate a first-in-the-nation networked or “meshed” multiterminal high voltage direct current (MTDC) system as that technology becomes commercially available. While mesh-ready requirements are not new, the concept paper recognizes the current early stage of MTDC technology development in the U.S. and describes its potential benefits:

A fully networked MTDC system would provide greater reliability and resiliency benefits and improve regional (and eventually interregional), capacity transfers and set the path for the possibility of an innovative offshore backbone system along the Atlantic coast. Additionally, offshore wind transmission coordination and planning will facilitate the interconnection of offshore wind projects at lower costs, reducing the cost impacts of the states’ offshore wind goals for ratepayers.”

While the concept paper does not expressly state whether the proposed HVDC lines would be terrestrial or submarine, it notes that a submarine MTDC backbone system “may be the most cost-effective long-term solution for the region when considering numerous reliability and resilience benefits” that would flow to New England. Such a system could also provide benefits to neighboring regions through increased regional transfer capacity.

Several news sources indicate that Vermont’s Department of Public Service also submitted a separate concept paper in response to the GRIP funding opportunity, with support from the other New England States. That concept paper, which is not yet publicly available, requests DOE funding for the long-proposed New England Clean Power Link, a 1,000 MW transmission line between Vermont and Québec.

What happens next?

DOE will respond to successful concept papers with an invitation to submit a full application for funding this spring. Full applications are due in May 2023, and DOE is slated to select award winners in Fall 2023.

We’ll continue to monitor transmission developments at the state, regional, and federal level.

Interested in more transmission news? My colleague, Kevin Chen, just published a post on the DOE’s draft National Transmission Needs Study. The post explores the study’s significant implications for federal transmission planning and permitting.

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