It’s the morning following President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech. Amid the clatter of coffee cups and flatware at a Chicago-area eatery, a voice percolates above the noontime crowd at the Moondance Café.
“There’s alternative energy and then—as the president said last night—there’s clean energy,” says Paul McCoy (EE ’72), a key figure in the planned Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC) wind farm project. “In my view as a practitioner in this area for decades, he correctly stated that we need it all—wind, solar, nuclear, and clean fossil fuels.”
A former ComEd senior executive and president of Trans-Elect Development Company, LLC, McCoy is widely regarded as an electrical-transmission systems expert and thought-leader on regulatory matters that have created new opportunities and directions in the energy industry. President Obama’s challenge to the country to produce 80 percent of its electricity from a mix of clean energy sources by 2035 underscores the role of the massive AWC project, slated to break ground in 2013.
“This project is transformative in that it would be the first U.S. effort to construct a transmission system in the ocean to integrate individual offshore wind farms and bring the energy to shore,” McCoy explains.
AWC investors are Good Energies, a leading global investor in renewable energy and energy-efficiency industries; Google, Inc.; and the Marubeni Corporation, a Tokyo-based publicly listed trading house.
In his 27 years with ComEd, McCoy became a recognized industry leader and regulatory specialist, assuming responsibility for all aspects of the company’s transmission and power systems, including governance and policy issues. He initiated and developed ComEd’s Wholesale Energy Marketing Group and was instrumental in the formation of the Chicago Board of Trade’s electricity futures contract.
During his tenure, the nation’s power market was undergoing dramatic change, and in 1996, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) ordered utilities to open up their transmission lines to competitors. McCoy expanded his leadership role beyond ComEd while exploring opportunities created by deregulation. He led the formation of the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator, Inc. and is a board member and immediate past-president of WIRES, a national nonprofit group that promotes and advocates for the economic expansion of a strong electric power infrastructure.
In 1999, McCoy co-founded the startup Trans-Elect. The first independent transmission company in the United States, Trans-Elect buys, builds, owns, and/or operates electric transmission systems to improve reliability in areas served by aging or overloaded regional power grids. This includes application of advanced technologies—such as discrete transmission, which foregoes traditional aerial lines—to increase efficiency of an existing grid and even facilitate smart grid integration. The company also serves as a transmission “common carrier” between electric generation and electric distribution companies.
From its inception, Trans-Elect has been involved in historic electric transmission transactions. It was the first non-utility owner of a transmission system in the nation, and was the first independent transmission company—now known as AltaLink—in Canada. Trans-Elect also developed California’s Path 15 transmission line, in a project to help solve the transmission shortcomings that contributed to the state’s rolling blackouts in 2000 and 2001.
“What will phase out in the coming decade or two will be legacy coal—coal developments that are from 20–50 years old. Some plants will be retrofitted with control technology to mitigate pollution issues; the oldest ones will quietly be retired,” says McCoy.
Energy efficiency and reliability remain a central focus of Trans-Elect, and the thrust behind the company’s Primary Power Transmission System, which it is building in partnership with Tangible, LLC, an engineering and professional-services firm. Primary Power, a discrete grid system, has been designed to attach to the existing Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland Power Pool Interconnection (PJM) regional grid to help relieve congestion and increase stability within the PJM Interconnection, which currently serves 54 million people.
In April 2010, Primary Power received a landmark ruling that could change the path of transmission development across the nation when the FERC decided that the project could recover its costs through regulated rates like any other existing transmission utility within PJM. The decision opened the door for independent transmission facilities, such as the Primary Power project, to be treated on equal footing with incumbent transmission owners in proposing new transmission projects. In addition to being the technical lead for Trans-Elect, McCoy directed the company’s law firm as the client architect of the filing and provided testimony during the case.
“Paul is a bold and visionary engineer who has big ambitions when undertaking projects. He puts his heart and soul into his work,” says Bodine Chair Professor Mohammad Shahidehpour, director of the Galvin Center for Electricity Innovation at IIT.
“I have always viewed the provision of electric service as critical to society’s safety, health, and welfare,” says McCoy. “Continuity of electric supply is increasingly important, whether from the common-carrier utility system or from cutting-edge projects like the IIT microgrid. Today’s electric system, especially the transmission portion where I spend most of my professional time, has become more efficient and reliable over the past several decades. I take a great deal of pride in having been a small part of that.”
Atlantic Wind Connection
A telescopic view atop a wind farm turbine rising 200 feet above the Atlantic Ocean and 20 miles from shore would reveal a region in transition. Stretching across New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia is a new wind industry supporting manufacturers of turbine blades, rotors, hubs, and bearings; tool and die shops producing molds and precision-cut parts; and heavy haulers for transporting turbine towers, which can weigh as much as 80 metric tons, to the coast.
Long-distance cables snake beneath the seabed, transmitting wind energy from offshore electrical converter platforms to land-based ones that deliver the power to the PJM (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland Power Pool) Interconnection regional grid. The turbine is one of a series that form a 350-mile scalable transmission backbone capable of providing 6,000 megawatts of electricity—the average yearly output of six coal-powered plants—to approximately 1.9 million households.