Google announced last night that the company has invested “in the development of a backbone transmission project off the Mid-Atlantic coast” that will help support future harvesting of power from offshore wind turbines up and down 350 miles of the US East Coast. The windmills have yet to be built, but this is key infrastructure for the development of wind power on the Atlantic Coast.
According to the NY Times the “backbone” project is valued at $5 billion. Google, Good Energies and a Japanese company Marubeni have all invested in the first phase of development. Google and Good Energies are each taking a 37.5 percent stake while Marubeni is buying 10 percent of the project. The Google investment is worth roughly $200 million according to the Times’ report. The project is being developed by Trans-Elect.
According to Google, “the [Atlantic Wind Connection] backbone will be built around offshore power hubs that will collect the power from multiple offshore wind farms and deliver it efficiently via sub-sea cables to the strongest, highest capacity parts of the land-based transmission system. This system will act as a superhighway for clean energy.”
The power that could eventually be generated by offshore wind farms and conveyed along this backbone would be the equivalent of “five large nuclear reactors” and be able to serve roughly 2 million households.
There are also benefits that can be realized before the wind farms are constructed. According to the NY Times:
Yet even before any wind farms were built, the cable would channel existing supplies of electricity from southern Virginia, where it is cheap, to northern New Jersey, where it is costly, bypassing one of the most congested parts of the North American electric grid while lowering energy costs for northern customers.
The NY Times goes on to discuss all the bureaucratic and regulatory issues that may delay or challenge the project. However there’s general unanimity among politicians, industry and environmentalists about the positive outlook for wind power and its benefits to the local economies.
One question that arises is the “aesthetic” one: how unsightly would offshore windmills be? There have reportedly been objections to offshore wind projects in the past but “sponsors of the Trans-Elect project insist that the mid-Atlantic turbines would have less of a visual impact,” says the Times’ report.
This kind of bold thinking and corporate leadership is what makes Google in its best moments “a different kind of company.” So is pure technology development (without regard for monetization), exemplified by the self-driving car.
At a time when government seems hobbled by partisan agendas the private sector can provide missing leadership and investment in key policy areas, such as the development of sustainable energy. Bravo Google.