By Stas Margaronis, AJOTBob Mitchell, president of Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC), which proposes to build an off-shore transmission line between New Jersey and Virginia, says his company has won project approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). In an interview with the AJOT, Mitchell says AWC must still undergo a federal environmental impact review that could take up to two years as well as find off-shore wind farms that will use AWC to distribute power to onshore customers. Mitchell says that hooking up to AWC will save wind farms $150 million apiece as opposed to building their own transmission connections. “We have applied for permit approval from the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management, which will commence an 18-24 month environmental impact  review of the project commencing in 2012.We must also win permit approvals from state agencies as well.” Mitchell says AWC has also “submitted our Regulatory Transmission Expansion Plan to the regional transmission operator, PJM (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland) with the first leg to be built between New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland and the final leg to be extended to Virginia.” If  PJM  approves the AWC plan then the cost of construction and operation of the AWC transmission complex will be paid for by rate payers within the PJM  transmission region.  PJM is a regional grid operator that manages the transmission of power for utilities in 13 states extending  from New Jersey to Illinois and as far south as Virginia. PJM was started because “utilities agreed that it would be more efficient to have their grid operations managed on a regional basis rather than each utility trying to manage transmission operations individually.  So FERC created PJM to operate as a regional transmission operator.” Mitchell says AWC is proposing that “ the off-shore transmission line that we  build will provide off-shore wind farms  a means to connect to a regional market that extends from New Jersey to Virginia. This will save new wind farm builders as much as $150 million each as opposed  to building their own power connections to on shore utilities.“ More importantly it will allow the wind farms to sell their power through AWC’s off-shore network or what is technically called a “backbone” system. This is important because wind does not blow all the time. However, a University of Delaware study led by Willett Kempton found that wind is almost always blowing along a wide stretch of the Atlantic coast. This means that the AWC backbone would allow for a string of wind farms, connected to AWC’s offshore transmission line  to be constantly generating power for utilities at some point along the AWC backbone. A regional network of wind farms will more efficiently generate power than each wind farm trying to generate power to sell on its own. Mitchell It distributes the variability of wind: blowing in some places and not blowing in others: “ The analogy I use is that the AWC backbone is like a highway generating power from many users as opposed to each wind farm generating its own power through its own transmission like a county road. It is our hope that Atlantic coast governors will see the benefit in greater power generation from an off-shore transmission line serving  a region of off-shore wind farms . We argue that this backbone approach  will produce new power from  many new farms and reduce the  threat of brown outs and black outs from the current level of congestion that exists from older onshore transmission lines.  The AWC transmission line will reduce congestion by itself, but the real savings for consumers must come with the construction of new off-shore wind farms which we expect to see begin construction after 2017. By then we expect the AWC transmission lines to be built and be able to accommodate 6-7,000 megawatts or 6-7 gigawatts. From an economic development standpoint, ports, suppliers and  states seeking new jobs and economic growth are more likely to see dramatic