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Published: Tuesday, 10/12/2010

Google goes deep with offshore wind project

ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK — Google will invest heavily in a network of deepwater transmission lines to bring power from offshore wind farms, yet to be built, to states along the East Coast, the company said Tuesday.

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

Google will own more than a third of the project and has teamed up with other technology companies and investment firms to fund the rest.

“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.

Also buying into the project is investment firm Good Energies, Japanese industrial conglomerate Marubeni and Maryland transmission company Trans-Elect.

Trans-Elect CEO Robert L. Mitchell said the first phase is expected to cost $1.8 billion and run 150 miles in federal waters from New Jersey to Delaware. That phase, he said, will 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, Mitchell said.

Needham said Google may seek out other investors as the project grows. Google hasn't disclosed how much money the company has devoted to the project so far.

The U.S. is only beginning to develop projects to tap strong wind currents blowing along the Atlantic Coast. Another offshore project, Cape Wind, was opposed by residents worried about how it would affect the marine environment and ocean views.

The new project will not change ocean views from shore because the wind turbines will be so far out to sea, Mitchell said.

The network would tie into PJM Interconnection, an electrical grid that ties into mid-Atlantic states and Washington, D.C.

Construction could begin as soon as 2013 and when completed handle as much as 6,000 megawatts of energy, enough to supply 1.9 million homes.

The project has yet to be approved by PJM or federal regulators.

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

Efforts to cap emissions may also drive the cost of energy from traditional coal-fired power plants higher as well, which could bring prices in line.

In May, Google 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.



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