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Google-Backed US Wind Connection Project Moving Forward

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(Photo: D. Castrique)
(Photo: D. Castrique)

BUSINESS

  • US Department of the Interior clears $5 billion power line project
  • Project aims to begin distributing power by 2017
  • Project should transmit 7,000 MW of electricity or enough to power 2 million homes

Proposals for a $5 billion power transmission line serving wind farms off the United States East Coast have overcome an administrative obstacle, clearing the way for the next stage of the review process.

The US Department of the Interior found that the Atlantic Wind Connection project poses no conflict of interest with other activities in the area, allowing the Google-backed venture to proceed with its request for environmental approval.

Question marks about building transmission lines off the atlantic coast have also caused problems for other wind power projects, with administrative and regional stumbling blocks delaying projects for years.

Environmental approval for the project could take as long as two years as authorities look into the long-term impact on natural surroundings, the fishing industry and other industries.

The Interior Department’s approval has given investors in the AWC project hope that remaining obstacles will be cleared within two years, keeping plans on track to begin distributing power by late 2017.

Switching On To Wind Power

David Hayes, Deputy Interior Secretary, describes the AWC as a revolutionary project with major industry backing for the wind power sector. "It's the type of project that will spur innovation that will help us stand up a clean-energy economy to power communities up and down the east coast," he said in a statement.

The AWC is intended to transmit around 7,000 MW of electricity – enough to power around 2 million homes – from wind farms off the coast of New Jersey and Virginia.

Currently, the US has no offshore wind farms. Scheduled to go online within the next two years, the Cape Wind project off the coast of Massachusetts will be the first installation to begin producing commercial wind power.

The AWC power lines would also provide relief to the existing transmission line system from Massachusetts to Maryland, which is rapidly becoming outdated.

Tommy Beaudreau, the Interior’s Bureau Energy Management Chief, said the government is hopeful of securing lease agreements with energy companies to begin building wind farms over the coming months.

"Governors up and down the east coast are extraordinarily interested in broadening out their energy portfolio with offshore wind. We have seen a level of engagement and interest by the governors in getting steel in the water," he commented during a teleconference.

Alongside Google, private equity fund Good Energies, transmission systems company Trans-Elect Development Co, and Japanese trading company Marubeni Corporation have also backed the plan.

Key Statistics - US Wind Power Supply Chain (source: American Wind Energy Association)

  • New wind power installations in the US have grown at an average rate of 35% per year over the past five years.
  • In 2010, over 5.1 gigawatts of wind power were installed in the US, bringing total capacity to 40.18 gigawatts.
  • Around 2,900 wind turbines were installed in the US in 2010, taking the total to more than 35,600 turbines.

By James Mulholland for
James Mulholland is a Paris-based internet and broadcast journalist specializing in sports, current affairs and technology news, while also freelancing as a photographer.

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