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Firm Proposes ‘Backbone’ to Bring Offshore Wind Power to Market

Among the many roadblocks that have prevented offshore wind farms from proliferating off the Atlantic coast is how to get the electricity generated from the Outer Continental Shelf to the mainland.

A transmission “backbone” that would run under the ocean floor parallel to the coast is being proposed as a solution to that problem. The Atlantic Wind Connection, which counts Google Inc. among its corporate sponsors, seeks to connect up to 7,000 megawatts of offshore wind power to locations on land between northern New Jersey and southern Virginia.

The backbone transmission line would allow many individual wind turbines to connect to it and then deliver that electricity to land through a handful of connections.

The alternative would be aboveground individual lines from one or a handful of wind turbines, lines that typically operate at a lower capacity and present more environmental challenges.

Earlier this year, Atlantic Wind Connection announced that the first phase of the project would be constructed off the New Jersey coast because of the state’s commitment to developing the industry, not to mention the electricity potential off the state’s southern shores.

The line would benefit state energy consumers by connecting resources in South Jersey with the congested market in the north, said Bob Mitchell, the project’s CEO. By improving the flow of power across the state, he said, “you now have enabled the very big prices in northern New Jersey to get reduced and balanced because the electricity in southern New Jersey is quite a bit cheaper.”

Of course, that means South Jersey residents would see their electricity bills increase in the name of helping out their neighbors closer to New York.

Given the state’s emergence as an early mover in establishing a viable offshore wind industry in the United States, the project’s backers see a path forward to making the transmission line a reality.

But the project still faces a long regulatory process that must begin with New Jersey itself. No construction can begin until the state submits a request to PJM Interconnection, the regional grid organization, that the line be built.

“That is the single largest immediate challenge that we have in getting the approval to go forward with the line,” Mitchell said.

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