Google Invests In Wind Power Superhighway
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
To a very different kind of energy project now, off the Atlantic seaboard. Today, a group of investors announced plans to build a system for transporting wind energy from offshore wind farms. Those wind farms don't yet exist, and the project's early price tag is a hefty $5 billion. But the investors, including Google, hope their idea will take the development of clean energy to a new level.
NPR's Elizabeth Shogren reports.
ELIZABETH SHOGREN: The idea is to lay huge cables underwater, stretching all the way from southern Virginia to New Jersey. This new grid would be designed to carry power from offshore wind farms to big cities in the mid-Atlantic. Bob Mitchell is the CEO of Trans-Elect, the independent transmission company that wants to build it. He admits this project is unconventional. He says he usually gets the same reaction when he tells people what he's planning.
Mr. ROBERT MITCHELL (CEO, Trans-Elect, LLC): Are you kidding? This is a huge, huge, bold project.
SHOGREN: But Mitchell says a project like this is needed to help make it easier and cheaper for companies to build offshore wind farms. And such projects are key to achieving President Obama's goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and creating new jobs with a green economy. Mitchell says one of the companies that builds turbines told him that's exactly what the Atlantic Wind Connection would do if it's approved.
Mr. MITCHELL: You are going to see us scurrying to the East Coast, looking for sites to build facilities there.
SHOGREN: Google is one of the few firms that's investing tens of millions of dollars to kick-start the Atlantic Wind Connection.
Mr. RICK NEEDHAM (Green Business Operations Manager, Google): This will serve as a superhighway, with on ramps for wind farms and the ability to intelligently be expanded to increase even further the amount of offshore wind that's available.
SHOGREN: Google's Rick Needham concedes that these are early, risky days in such a big project. But he says he's hopeful.
Mr. NEEDHAM: This entire investor group is a very strong group of investors, and we have the financial wherewithal to make this project happen.
SHOGREN: Another big investor, John Breckenridge from the financial firm Good Energies, says up until now, wind farms and solar projects have been developed in a haphazard way.
Mr. JOHN BRECKENRIDGE (Managing Director, Good Energies): One a system-wide basis, 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.
SHOGREN: Environmental groups think it's a great idea to support offshore wind generation near the East Coast's big cities. But the Sierra Club's Bruce Nilles worries that if the wind farms aren't built, the Atlantic Wind Connection could instead become a big conveyor of electricity generated by dirty coal.
BRUCE NILLES (Sierra Club): We want to make sure that any new major investment in infrastructure is actually helping to solve the problem of climate change, not providing another avenue for more coal burning in places like Virginia.
SHOGREN: Before this project could become a reality, it would need lots of federal approvals. And it would need the okay of the big transmission company in the mid-Atlantic, PJM Interconnect. That's because, in the end, rate payers would foot the $5 billion bill to build the project. Mitchell says he thinks selling PJM on the project is his biggest hurdle. PJM's Ray Dotter says his company has never approved a project like this.
Mr. RAY DOTTER (Spokesman, PJM Interconnect): The existing process we have to follow doesn't anticipate building transmission in the anticipation of wind farms, for example, being developed.
SHOGREN: So far, Dotter says, new transmission lines have always been approved after new power plants were in the works. But the desire for clean energy is making PJM rethink its way of doing things.
Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News, Washington.
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