Google Inc. To Invest $5B in Wind Power ‘Superhighway’

Google Inc. is investing in an extensive network of deepwater transmission lines for future wind farms off the east coast of the USA.

Google and a New York financial firm have each agreed to invest heavily in a proposed $5 billion transmission backbone for future offshore wind farms along the Atlantic Seaboard that could ultimately transform the region’s electrical map. Photo: Google

Google Inc. has thrown its financial clout behind a proposed 350-mile (563 km) underwater electric cable off the U.S. East Coast that could form the backbone of a grid carrying power from future offshore wind turbines.

The Internet search giant announced the move, which it called an investment in ‘a superhighway for clean energy’ on its corporate blog.

“This will have a dramatic impact on accessing offshore wind, and we think it’s one of the things that’s almost required to take advantage of all of that potential,” said Rick Needham, Google’s green business operations director.

The transmission lines, which could cost up to $5 billion over the next 10 years, would run as far as 20 miles offshore from Virginia to New Jersey, the New York Times reports.

The initial phase of the project would be capable of delivering 2,000 megawatts of wind energy – enough to power about 500,000 homes.

The proposed cable would be installed under the seabed at a distance of 15 miles to 20 miles (24 km to 32 km) offshore, a distance that would make turbines all but invisible from the coast and head off one of the major complaints that has dogged Cape Wind, which was first proposed in 2001.

Opponents and supporters of a wind power project at Woods Hole, Mass., earlier this year. Developers of a new Atlantic project say they hope their proposal will meet less opposition. Photo: NY Times

Building such a cable could help reduce the cost and complexity of installing offshore turbines, while giving wind farm operators the option to sell the power they produce to more than one customer.

Google, which will own more than a third of the project, has teamed up with other technology companies and investment firms, such as New York investment firm ‘Good Energies’, Japanese industrial conglomerate Marubeni and Maryland transmission company Trans-Elect.

Robert L. Mitchell, Trans-Elect CEO, said the first phase is expected to cost $1.8 billion and run 150 miles in federal waters from New Jersey to Delaware and be complete by early 2016.

Google and Good Energies will each own 37.5 percent of the project. Marubeni will own 15 percent. A group led by Trans-Elect will own the remaining 10 percent, Mr Mitchell said. Google hasn’t disclosed how much money the company has devoted to the project so far.

The US is only beginning to develop projects to tap strong wind currents blowing along the Atlantic Coast. The network will tie into PJM’s electrical grid, which serves 13 states and Washington D.C.

The Google provided map shows a big footprint covering an area from New York City to Virginia. Photo: Google

Offshore wind in the region could generate about 127 gigawatts of power, enough to meet half current electric demand, according to a recent study by ocean conservation group Oceana.

The energy is expected to cost several times more than conventional electricity, but Rick Needham said Google still sees offshore wind as an attractive a long-term investment.

In May, Google Inc. made its first direct investment in clean energy, buying a $38.8 million stake in two North Dakota wind farms.

Google has also been trying to rely on renewable energy sources for its data centers, whose demands for power are increasing as the company sets up more computers in its bid to index all of the world’s online data.

There are currently no offshore wind farms in the United States, although developers including Cape Wind and Deepwater Wind have proposed installations for the waters off Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Jersey.

The rising interest has attracted the attention of major industrial companies including General Electric Co., Siemens AG and Vestas, which make wind turbines. [Google Blog via NY Times]

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