Google Invests in Eastern U.S. Wind Power

The Atlantic Wind Connection is a 'superhighway' for alternative energy eventually providing enough power to serve 1.9 million households.

Investors led by Google announced on Oct. 12 a $5 billion project to power the East Coast with wind from the Atlantic Ocean. Google said it would provide 37.5% of the initial funding. Good Energies, a company which invests in green energy, is also investing 37.5% in the project, while Japanese trading house Marubeni has a 15% stake.

The project would set up offshore wind turbines and a new transmission grid stretching 350 miles from New Jersey to Virginia, which suffered blackouts in 2003.

Rick Needham, director of green business operations and strategy at Google, described the project as a new "superhighway" for alternative energy, creating jobs and eventually providing enough power to serve 1.9 million households.

"We're willing to take calculated risks on large-scale projects that can move an industry. Indeed, that is what's made our company so successful to date," Needham told a news conference in Washington.

The companies said they hoped to begin work on the project, called the Atlantic Wind Connection, in early 2013 and complete it by 2020, subject to government approval. Needham said Google was open to further investment later.

Bob Mitchell, the chief executive of Trans-Elect, the private electric transmission company leading construction of the project, estimated total costs of five billion dollars.

John Breckenridge, an executive at Good Energies, described the Atlantic Wind Connection as landmark in its ambition, hoping that it would succeed in "fixing a lot of what's been done wrong" in renewable energy. "Renewables have been deployed in a very haphazard manner around the world, where you've installed solar farms, wind farms, without looking at the whole," Breckenridge said.

"This project enables us to do this in a planned way that will optimize this and really create the basis for the kind of energy infrastructure that we as a country and really as a world need to evolve to," he said.

Investors said they would not seek government funding. With elections approaching, President Barack Obama's administration on Oct. 12 ended a ban on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico which was imposed after the BP oil spill in April. But the administration has also backed alternative energy. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar last week approved the first U.S. offshore wind farm near Massachusetts and pledged to speed up approval for future projects.

The United States is already the world leader in wind energy in the raw amount of energy production, according to an industry study last year. But wind farms are concentrated in sparsely populated states in the Western plains.

Offshore projects have encountered opposition due to residents' objections that they present an eyesore, discouraging tourism and harming quality of life.

Mitchell voiced confidence that the Atlantic Wind Connection would not face significant opposition as the farms will be much farther from the coast, meaning they would be only partially visible on the horizon on a clear day.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2010

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