A New Grid: How Do We Get There?

By Robert Freudenberg, Vice President of Energy and Environment for Regional Plan Association

First constructed in the early 1900’s, the grid (a vast and long-established network of power plants, substations, transformers, and power lines known as the electric grid that power our communities) is continually being added to and improved to ensure reliability, reduce vulnerabilities, meet growing demand, and connect to new sources of power generation. Given our ever-increasing reliance on electricity, the grid is an essential component of everyday life, even if it is largely out of sight or in the background.

As state policies and commitments around greenhouse gas emissions reductions mandate more renewable sources of energy into our power mix, the grid must be updated to accommodate them.

But adding offshore wind power to the grid is no small feat. Currently, all power in New Jersey is generated from land-based sources: primarily, nuclear power plants, fossil-fueled power plants (i.e, natural gas, oil, and coal), and solar panels. The power generated by these facilities moves along power lines through substations and transformers, where electricity is stepped up or stepped down depending on where it is in the network, eventually reaching your home. Most of the power generated in the state starts at the power plant, and moves out from there.

With offshore wind, the power will be generated from sites 10 miles or more in the ocean. In order to get the power from the wind farms into the grid, new infrastructure will need to be constructed. Transmission cables will connect from the turbines, buried along the ocean floor, and then consolidate into a smaller number of cables at substations in the ocean. These cables will then connect to a point on land that is already plugged into the grid. Planning for this process is underway for New Jersey’s offshore wind projects. Connection to the grid for a project called Ocean Wind 1 is being advanced at two former power plant sites, B.L. England Generating Station in Upper Township, and Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station in Lacey Township. The companies developing this infrastructure work closely with the federal, state and local governments to ensure that projects provide community benefits, and minimize long-term impacts. Orsted, the offshore wind developer constructing the project, has studied and chosen a transmission path that minimizes impacts on communities and natural resources, such as wetlands and other aquatic and terrestrial habitats. For example, in order to reach the Oyster Creek site from the ocean, the cables will need to cross Island Beach State Park, installed within/beneath parking lots and roadways, before proceeding for the bulk of its route along a channel on the floor of Barnegat Bay. This path largely avoids sensitive habitat, and minimizes disturbance thanks to horizontal drilling, a technology that makes digging trenches for infrastructure lines far less disruptive to local environments. The cables will finally make landfall in Lacey Township on property owned by Holtec, the company that decommissioned the Oyster Creek nuclear power generating facility. Moving along the nuclear plant property, the cables will connect to a substation that will be constructed on 11 acres of land previously used for storage and construction preparation. From the substation, transmission wires will connect directly into the grid allowing offshore wind power to flow directly into our homes and businesses.

As described above, most of the new energy infrastructure to support offshore wind will be constructed out in the ocean. The cables that make landfall will largely be installed underground with minimal disturbance. Most disturbances will be temporary, similar to road repairs or other infrastructure upgrades. The most significant new infrastructure will be the substations that will house energy infrastructure and buildings that enable the power to enter the grid. These projects represent an evolution in our century-old grid and will ensure that we have the power we need to go into a better future.

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