By David Wojick
I’m looking at a fat study called The Benefit and Urgency of Planned Offshore Transmission: Reducing the Costs of and Barriers to Achieving US Clean Energy Goals. The term FERC occurs a total of 92 times. See https://www.brattle.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/Brattle-OSW-Transmission-Report_Jan-24-2023.pdf
Not surprisingly, the 103-page report is mistitled. It’s actually about onshore transmission of offshore wind energy, not offshore transmission. The urgency is that the current power system cannot handle all the offshore juice that is coming ashore. FERC is in the crosshairs because they are in charge of the grid. Technically, it is the Independent System Operators or ISOs, who are also mentioned again and again, but are subordinate to the FERC.
This study is laudable in its own way because it recognizes a deep problem that is not widely discussed. The current power system is not designed to handle huge new incoming flows in locations that happen to be amenable to offshore wind. It doesn’t work the way it is.
In fact, the term “lattice” is somewhat misleading. It suggests that power can move freely in large amounts, which is false. The actual term is “Eastern Interconnection” and that much is true. Every major utility is connected to its neighbors, but the amount of current flow allowed is fairly limited. It is typically less than 20% of peak demand.
A little history is useful here. In the olden days – 1870-1970 – pretty much every utility company was responsible for generating its own electricity. Then in the 1970s we built a huge fleet of huge coal plants that were (1) close to the coal, not the cities, and (2) jointly owned. This led to many interconnections, followed by the emergence of a relatively limited wholesale electricity market.
Now let’s talk about building a huge fleet of offshore generators. According to the study, there is already around 52,000 MW of generation capacity in the US “Pipeline” project, with more to follow. The general reference in the news to the Biden target of 30,000 MW is a gross understatement. It’s a rush.
Given that 600 MW is a well-sized power plant, that’s a heck of a lot of juice. The existing transmission system wasn’t designed to handle this massive flow of power from a new direction, so it won’t. Hence the ‘urgency’ referred to in the report’s title.
52,000 MW is about $200 billion in new generation capacity, none of which is needed, so someone’s electric bills are going up a lot. One of the most pressing things they are asking FERC to do is share the costs. No surprise.
The reason FERC is referenced 92 times is because they want the power system to be physically and contractually rebuilt to handle this onslaught of new, unnecessary, intermittent power generation. What’s amusing is that FERC has a rule that restricts renewable energy because it messes up the grid. See my https://www.cfact.org/2022/12/27/ferc-considers-constraining-renewables/
What seems to have sparked this study is a New England ISO report saying they need to upgrade or rebuild 4,500 miles of transmission lines to handle this new tide of offshore juice. New England is very small when it comes to ISOs.
To my knowledge, none of the ISOs in the offshore wind crosshairs have approved the connection of any of these wild winds. You and FERC have yet to contend with the onslaught. I wonder if the people investing hundreds of billions of dollars even know this. As things stand, they may not be allowed to hook into the net.
Of particular interest is that the primary sponsor of this study is the Natural Resources Defense Council or NRDC. You are, or once were, one of America’s largest environmental organizations. Now they are “green industrialists,” a living oxymoron. They want to rebuild the global energy system in the name of environmental protection. This is surely senseless madness.
In any case, connecting all this unnecessary, intermittent wind generation to the grid is a huge problem that has yet to surface let alone solve. Stay tuned to CFACT as this monster tale unfolds.
David Wojick, Ph.D. is an independent analyst working at the intersection of science, technology and policy. For origins see http://www.stemed.info/engineer_tackles_confusion.html For over 100 previous articles for CFACT see http://www.cfact.org/author/david-wojick-ph-d/
Available for confidential research and advice.