by Theodore Paradise
Senior Vice-President for Transmission Strategy, Anbaric
I wanted to share some background and a window into the work that we’ve undertaken to cost-effectively address power system needs in New England. This is an overview of the design thinking that has gone into the Mystic Reliability Wind Link, a highly developed project designed to keep the lights on, avoid hundreds of millions in reliability payments, and allow for up to 2,400 MW of clean energy to power Boston.
Like so many of you, the Anbaric family is working in various locations, able to share these strange times with loved ones and appreciative of the grocery store workers, truckers, first responders, electric line workers, physicians, nurses and researchers who are truly holding things together.
During this time, we’ve continued work that began in earnest a few years ago with some earlier development that formed some of the knowledge base for a concept we arrived at in 2019: a novel concept for transmission to solve the region’s reliability and renewable energy needs. It started with: could we solve the electric reliability needs in the greater Boston area that will arise from the retirement of the 2000MW Mystic power plant in an extremely cost-effective way, and what would that look like? We combined that thinking with: how is the system changing as we decarbonize the grid and what is needed to make that happen? Then we asked: what if you could solve the Boston reliability needs with a project that avoided hundreds of millions in additional transmission costs otherwise needed to integrate thousands of offshore wind MWs that the New England states are already targeting?
As we explored these questions, back in April 1, 2019 we asked ISO New England Inc. (“ISO-NE”), the regional transmission organization, to look at renewables integration through an economic study request. The results shared at the Planning Advisory Committee in August of 2019 showed that the system would hit limits between the Southeast MA zone (“SEMA”) and Northeast (Boston) zone (“NEMA”) requiring transmission that would cost over $900M (Anbaric’s current estimate) – if it could be sited and built.
We recognized another factor: transmission was also very, very difficult to build in the streets of Boston. The Greater Boston Reliability Project (“GBRP”) entered siting in 2015. As of today, it’s years behind schedule with components that were already supposed to be in service now slated for 2021, and still other sections without a commercial date. Why is this a problem? Traditional utility solutions to replace Mystic Generating Station mean going back into the same areas, in the same or similar routes that have been so challenging. And delays in executing projects will cost consumers hundreds of millions of dollars.
The situation giving rise to the reliability RFP is the impending retirement of the Mystic Generating Station in Everett, MA – across the street (literally) from the Encore casino. The plant’s owner, Exelon, had filed for retirement through the ISO-NE rules. While one of the units has been cleared for retirement, around 1,400 MWs were found to be needed for power system reliability. Given the reliability need, the plant was able to secure a cost of service contract for not only the power station but for the LNG terminal, also owned by Exelon. The contract costs can run over $200M a year for both.
These costs are currently paid by all six New England states, but that changes on June 1, 2024. If the plant is still needed because a reliability solution is not yet in place, it will continue to qualify for a cost of service agreement, but the entire amount will be paid by ratepayers in the Northeast MA / Boston area. So now our question was: how do we do everything we’ve already identified with a project that can actually be built and be in service by June 1, 2024 to avoid more years of these exorbitant reliability payments? Given the six-plus-year time frame of the current Boston reliability project, the answer is clear to us: let’s do something different.
Enter the retirement of Pilgrim nuclear generating station in Plymouth, MA. Here was a location in Southeastern Massachusetts, where all of the offshore wind power so far procured is slated to come ashore, providing electric supply far in excess of the SEMA demand. What if we could create a transmission path from that point, utilizing the area around the now-retired nuclear station and create a new circuit about 40 miles long linking SEMA to NEMA? What if that project could solve the reliability need in the Boston area, allow for much more wind power to come on-line and scale up quickly, and then flow this power to the Boston area? And in so doing, create a project that can be built much more quickly than trying the same old ideas again, thus avoiding hundreds of millions in extra reliability payments? A two-for-one.
We partnered with trusted environmental consultants, power system engineers – some of whom have worked for the utilities in the Boston area in the past – and civil construction experts to test out the thinking. Could it be done? Sited, constructed, on-line by June 1, 2024? What would it cost compared to alternatives? Would it meet all the system needs? At the same time, our internal engineering team – experts in bringing large projects around the world to life – worked with vendors, checking on footprints, capabilities, and very importantly for this timeline: supply chain. How fast could equipment – including cables – be manufactured and delivered to the site?
With all of these pieces moving at the same time, the electrical design came into detailed relief. We knew what and where and at what cost and how long it would take to build it. Placing the subsea cable in state waters avoids federal waters and eliminates US Department of Interior/BOEM permitting issues. A desktop analysis proved out several route alternatives which were then investigated further. This culminated in a January 2020 sea vessel survey of the route to establish feasibility. Where suboptimal soil conditions were encountered, we were able to locate alternative routes. At the same time, we identified the required onshore sites and negotiated leases for the required switchyards.
But what about electrical performance? It wasn’t going to mean much if the project didn’t perform well. This work began fairly early in 2019 with draft needs assessments from ISO-NE. We found that we would meet all of the identified needs and, because of the new circuit design, we actually improved system performance even in the areas identified as “time critical” by the ISO. Further, modeling showed our project would meet additional system reliability needs in the Boston area if the Northeast Clean Energy Connect project in Maine is delayed or cancelled. Since that modeling work, the concern about NECEC has increased as now a Maine voter referendum on the project is slated for November 2020.
Bringing all of the elements together, Anbaric further developed, modeled and tested what has now become known as the Mystic Reliability Wind Link. With significant development, engineering, and early partnerships in place, the project is now well past the concept stage and is a well understood, highly designed project that can move forward quickly. Two versions were submitted into ISO-NE’s RFP. Both solve the reliability needs – and by the nature of the design, do even more. The project:
- creates a path for wind from SE Mass to NE Mass, thus avoiding several hundred million dollars in just a few years for otherwise needed transmission upgrades, and allows the region to meet it renewable integration targets in the most cost-effective way that removes a roadblock to larger offshore wind targets.
- enables the flow of electricity to be controlled by system operators so that power can be pushed north or south as needed. This allows the project to help with system needs should the fossil Canal 1 and 2 generating units on Cape Cod retire.
- provides more than the minimum power needed into the Boston area, headroom to help allow the fossil Kendal generation to retire.
- can be sited and constructed in the needed time frame by avoiding repeats of the delays of in-Boston reliability upgrades. This avoid hundreds of millions in subsidy payments that must be taken into account as real costs to consumers from what might at first glance seem attractive more-of-the-same, and difficult to permit, in-city designs.
But there was one more thing. Wouldn’t it make sense to look at the project and see if forward-looking infrastructure could be installed while this reliability project was being constructed, avoiding later costly siting and construction costs? And could we do it in a way that wouldn’t be added to the cost of the project? Anbaric decided the answer had to be yes to both. The result is that the Mystic Reliability Wind Link has been designed so there is room for an additional circuit for a later HVDC cable to offshore wind lease areas. This will allow the cable to be installed at a later time without siting delay and at significantly lower costs. And this additional cost is being carried by Anbaric. It is NOT being added to the cost of the Mystic Reliability Wind Link.
We’re all tremendously proud of the work the team has done on this project. We released more details about it on March 19th in the linked press release, including announcement of the groundbreaking 7.9% percent return on equity or “ROE”. This reduction makes everything the Mystic Reliability Wind Link brings even more affordable to consumers in the region.
Keeping the lights on. Avoiding hundreds of millions in reliability payments. Allowing for up to 2,400 MW of clean energy to power Boston. That’s the Mystic Reliability Wind Link.