FERC’s Role In The Offshore Wind Stampede

Posted on Tue 02/07/2023 by


By David Wojick, Ph.D. ~

I am looking at a fat study titled “The Benefit and Urgency of Planned Offshore Transmission: Reducing the Costs of and Barriers to Achieving U.S. Clean Energy Goals”. The term FERC occurs a whopping 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 is actually about the onshore transmission of offshore wind power, not offshore transmission. The urgency is that the present power system cannot handle all that offshore juice coming ashore. FERC is in the crosshairs because they are in charge of the grid. Technically it is the independent system operators or ISOs, which are also repeatedly mentioned, but they answer to FERC.

This study is welcome in its way because it recognizes a deep problem that is not much discussed. The present power system is not set up to handle huge new incoming flows at places that happen to be convenient to offshore wind. As it is it cannot be done.

In fact the term “grid” is something of a misnomer. It suggests that power can move about freely in large amounts, which is false. The proper term is the “Eastern Interconnection” and that much is true. Every major utility is connected to its neighbors, but the amount of allowable power flow is quite limited. It is typically less than 20% of peak need.

A little history is useful here. In the olde days — 1870-1970 — pretty much every utility was responsible for generating its own power. Then in the 1970s we built a huge fleet of huge coal fired power plants that were (1) near the coal, not the cities, and (2) jointly owned. This led to a lot of interconnection, followed by the rise of a relatively limited wholesale power market.

Now we are talking about building a huge fleet of offshore generators. According to the study there are around 52,000 MW of generating capacity already in the US project “pipeline” with a lot more to come. The common news reference to the Biden goal of 30,000 MW is seriously understated. It is a stampede.

Given that 600 MW is a good sized power plant this is a hell of a lot of juice. The existing transmission system was not designed to handle this enormous power flow, coming from a new direction, so it won’t. Hence the “urgency” referenced in the title of the report.

52,000 MW is something like $200 billion in new generating capacity, none of which is needed, so somebody’s power bills are going way up. One of the urgent things they want FERC to do is spread the cost around. No surprise there.

The reason FERC is referred to 92 times is that they want the electric power system rebuilt, physically and contractually, to handle this stampede of new, unneeded, intermittent generation. What is amusing is that FERC has a rule making ongoing on constraining renewables, because they screw up the grid. See my https://www.cfact.org/2022/12/27/ferc-considers-constraining-renewables/

What seems to have triggered this study is a report from the New England ISO saying they will have to upgrade or rebuild 4,500 miles of transmission lines in order to handle this new flood of offshore juice. New England is very small as ISOs go.

To my knowledge none of the ISO’s in the offshore wind crosshairs have approved the hookup of any of this wild wind juice. They and FERC still have to come to terms with the stampede. I wonder if the people investing hundreds of billions of dollars even know this. As things stand they might not be allowed to hook into the grid.

Of particular interest is that the lead sponsor of this study is the Natural Resources Defense Council or NRDC. They are, or used to be, one of America’s biggest environmental advocacy outfits. Now they are “environmental industrialists” a living oxymoron. They want to rebuild the global power system in the name of environmental protection. Surely this is mindless madness.

In any case, connecting all this unneeded intermittent wind generation to the grid is a huge issue that has yet to even surface, much less to be resolved. Stay tuned to CFACT as this monster story unfolds.

David Wojick contributes Posts at the CFACT site. He is an independent analyst working at the intersection of science, technology and policy.

Read more excellent articles at CFACT  http://www.cfact.org/