If offshore wind is to become a big part of New England’s energy mix, the region will need huge upgrades to the electric grid onshore.
Toward that end, Governor Maura Healey’s administration on Monday announced it has applied for up to $250 million in federal funds to bolster the electricity infrastructure in Southeastern Massachusetts, where much of this wind energy is expected to come ashore.
The application represents the first phase of a broader, multistate effort to improve how the grid will work both on shore and in the water, in part by coordinating proposals and avoiding the pitfall of each wind farm developer pursuing its own transmission work on a project-by-project basis.
The grant request from the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources is aimed at the US Department of Energy’s “Grid Resilience and Innovation Partnerships Program" — a $10.5 billion, five-year initiative funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that Congress passed in 2021. Massachusetts, along with Eversource and National Grid, is applying for up to $250 million to help toward roughly $1 billion in upgrades to those utilities’ systems in and near the South Coast. The rest of the costs would be shouldered by the utilities and their electric ratepayers.
“This is exactly what the governor’s been talking about since day one, going after federal money to help people’s pocketbooks, and to get our offshore wind industry going at a lower cost for everyone," said Rebecca Tepper, Healey’s secretary for energy and environmental affairs. “I’m hoping it’s really going to make a difference, in an innovative way, in doing planning for transmission. ... It’s not very often National Grid and Eversource work together, but on this one they did."
The Cleaner Grid New England Project, as it’s being called, actually consists of several projects in National Grid and Eversource service territories. The Healey administration said the upgrades will help pave the way for roughly 3,600 megawatts of offshore wind, or enough electricity for more than one million homes, as well as 300 megawatts of solar power.
At National Grid, the utility will upgrade an existing substation in Somerset and build a new one nearby on another site the utility owns, more than doubling the capacity of the transmission infrastructure there.
“This is the first step, basically, for making the onshore grid ready for offshore wind," said Reihaneh Irani-Famili, vice president of clean energy development with National Grid.
Eversource, meanwhile, is planning a new substation in the region to accommodate offshore wind, a new substation to accommodate solar power, and some transmission line upgrades. Eversource declined to disclose the precise locations of its work, and state officials declined to release the grant application document at this point, citing the confidentiality of the submittal process.
Bill Quinlan, Eversource’s president of transmission and offshore wind projects, said in a prepared statement that the transmission work will help Massachusetts achieve its clean-energy goals. He added: “With the anticipated amount of offshore wind and solar energy that will be entering the region’s electric grid in the next decade, this project represents the great potential in moving that energy to homes and businesses."
The Healey administration is seeking these federal funds just weeks after launching a new round of bidding for offshore wind contracts. The administration gave wind-farm developers until Jan. 31, 2024, to submit proposals to provide up to 3,600 megawatts of offshore wind power, more than one-fourth of the state’s annual electricity demand. Tepper said if Massachusetts wins this federal grant, it could reduce the cost of those proposals, and thus their potential impacts on local ratepayers.
“If we can get some federal money to find the optimal interconnection points and give a break to developers so they don’t have to pay that much for doing these big upgrades, we [could] get lower bids from the developers," Tepper said.
Construction began recently on the 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind project, which would consist of 62 giant turbines installed on the ocean floor south of Martha’s Vineyard.
Vineyard Wind, a partnership of Avangrid and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, would be financed with contracts from the first round of offshore wind contract bids in Massachusetts, in 2018. But questions remain about the finances regarding the winners of rounds two and three — Commonwealth Wind and Mayflower Wind (now SouthCoast Wind) — because of rising interest rates and significant increases in the costs of supplies and materials. The fourth round, launched earlier this month, would be the biggest yet for Massachusetts.
Jon Chesto can be reached at email@example.com.