Offshore Wind Gets a Boost from Google and Good Energies: Introducing the Atlantic Wind Connection
Today, Google and Good Energies, a renewable energy investment firm, announced that they are investing an estimated $200 million apiece in the first phase of construction for a transmission backbone for future offshore wind farms along the Atlantic Seaboard called the Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC). This is indeed an exciting development for offshore wind, transmission and renewable energy policy in the United States. NRDC is a strong supporter of properly-sited off-shore wind projects and it is great to see such strong investor confidence by Google and Good Energies in this technology.
This offshore wind transmission effort is funded with cash and debt by Google Inc. (37.5%), renewable energy investment firm Good Energies (37.5%), a Japanese industrial conglomerate Marubeni (15%) and Maryland transmission company Trans-Elect (10%). Google touted in a blog on Monday that “[w]hen built out, the Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC) backbone will stretch 350 miles off the coast from New Jersey to Virginia and will be able to connect 6,000MW of offshore wind turbines. That’s equivalent to 60% of the wind energy that was installed in the entire country last year and enough to serve approximately 1.9 million households.” This project, expected to cost $5 billion in total over the next decade, with its 350-mile underwater spine, will unquestionably transform the region’s electrical map.
The first phase will run 150 miles in federal waters and is expected to be completed by 2016, the remainder to be completed at the earliest in 2021. Although several undersea electrical cables currently exist off the Atlantic Coast, this project is unique in its scope and size and would be the first to pick up power from generators along the way. The initial transmission lines would run from Virginia to New Jersey and deliver approximately 2000MW of wind energy. This output could serve 500,000 homes and tie into PJM’s electrical grid, which currently serves 13 states and the District of Columbia.
The Atlantic Ocean is particularly attractive for siting this project given its shallow waters and wind resource. While the AWC is undoubtedly ambitious and potentially incredibly rewarding for renewable industry as a whole, the regulatory hurdles that offshore wind projects like Cape Wind have endured for a decade must not be ignored. The permitting process formerly under the control of the Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service (MMS), now the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) must not slow down or delay currently proposed projects. Furthermore, BOEMRE must continue to refine its permitting process to enhance regulatory certainty by increasing clarity and transparency in the process and clearly define coordination with other federal and state entities.
This “transmission backbone” proposal will permit transmission lines to be connected to several offshore wind projects, potentially smoothing output from offshore wind. Connecting these projects, among other things, will reduce the need for additional isolated transmission infrastructure and allow offshore wind to be tremendously scaled up by mitigating the impacts of wind’s variability. These critical efforts will enable investors to make a proper assessment that this technology has domestic potential. Such assurances will provide the United States with the investments necessary to be competitive in offshore wind as our international neighbors continue to execute plans for current and future generations of offshore wind.
In offshore wind, we also have the opportunity to make sure that we choose the right locations for projects. We should ensure that we responsibly develop these offshore energy resources in a manner that is consistent with the protection of coastal habitats and marine resources including fish and wildlife. We have the chance to identify and protect those areas of the ocean that would be particularly sensitive to renewable energy production because they support vulnerable species populations, contain unique habitats, or have other important ecological attributes. We also have the ability to recommend those areas best suited for renewable energy projects because of their high energy yield characteristics, while ensuring that they will have the least impact on the marine environment. Environmental criteria should be developed to protect sensitive areas of the ocean that support vulnerable populations, contain unique habitats, or have other important ecological attributes.
I would further submit that properly accounting for the environmental impact of these large scale projects is a litmus test for longevity. As we anticipate the cost and impact of greenhouse gas emissions, sophisticated businesses and investors are observing the importance of transitioning to investments that support the benefits of sustainability that renewable energy provides. Google has previously demonstrated their interest and willingness to invest in renewable energy by relying heavily on these resources to power its data centers and their May $38.8 million purchase of a stake in two North Dakota wind farms.
Furthermore, since the AWC is a direct current (DC) transmission proposal, wind turbines can be further offshore, thereby reducing their visibility from beaches and backyards while potentially harnessing stronger wind resources. Cape Wind has demonstrated the potential pushback that offshore wind projects can experience because of their aesthetic implications. Additionally, the concept of hubs gathering power from multiple turbines means fewer subsea cables to shore, easing interconnections to the grid and reducing the required infrastructure in our oceans.
NRDC has tracked the developments in offshore wind over the past decade. The institution is intimately familiar with the regulatory, financial, and environmental obstacles that the industry faces. We’ve worked with environmental groups, developers and the government to identify the problems and seek opportunities to determine the best opportunities for our nation to capitalize on the incredible potential of environmentally sustainably built and sited renewable energy projects that offshore wind could provide. We look forward to maintaining our efforts and reviewing this new transformative effort in our nation’s energy infrastructure.
Click here to view the Google blog post with additional details on the AWC:
Click here to view NRDC’s most recent blog post on offshore wind:
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