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Wind Power Proposals Surpass Natural Gas Plans

The nation's first off-shore wind farm off the coast of Block Island, Rhode Island in October 2016.
The nation's first off-shore wind farm off the coast of Block Island, Rhode Island in October 2016.

The manager of New England's power grid says for the first time ever, there are more proposals for new wind power projects than there are for natural gas. But getting those wind turbines up and running is a totally different ballgame.

About half of those new proposed wind projects would be onshore -- in northern parts of New England. But here's the problem: many don't have a way to plug into the grid.

“Half of the wind projects would be sited in remote areas of northern New England. Tapping into this onshore wind would require a sizable investment in transmission lines,” said Gordon van Welie, CEO of ISO New England, the regional grid manager.

That could be a tough sell. Regulators in New Hampshire just blocked a major transmission project called "Northern Pass," which would have brought in hydropower from Canada.

Van Welie said offshore wind could be more promising. It's easier to connect, ocean winds are steadier, and prices are dropping.

“The downside, historically, has been that it’s very expensive to build the wind turbines in the ocean because it’s a much more difficult environment,” van Welie said. “I think that gap is narrowing rapidly.”

Still, he said it will be "many years" before New England can rely on sources like wind and solar for all its power needs.

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