Add the Jersey Shore to Google’s renewable energy portfolio. The Internet giant announced a plan that if successful, will stretch 350 miles and could provide power for up to 1.9 million homes within ten years.
In addition to Google, Good Energies, a private equity firm, as well as Japan’s Marubeni and Trans-Elect Development will provide tens of millions of dollars in funding to boost the project. Christened the Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC), the project could cost up to $5 to $6 billion dollars when completed.
The project will stretch from Northern New Jersey along the Atlantic’s continental shelf, and continue as far south as the Hampton Roads region of Virginia. Google claims that the AWC has a capacity of 6000 megawatts, and will become the nation’s largest “superhighway” for clean energy.
Wind energy has huge potential in the United States, but large scale operations like this have had difficulty getting off the drawing board. Many of us remember T. Boone Pickens preaching the virtue of wind power during the 2008 election cycle, but his idea had one huge hurdle: the transmission of power from the sparsely populated Great Plains states to the densely populated Eastern Seaboard. The first commercial offshore wind energy development, in Massachusetts’ Nantucket Sound, was only signed last week. The wind industry’s struggles for the most part lie in its greatest barrier: the creation of an infrastructure than would allow the United States to shift from fossil fuel dependence towards alternative and renewable forms of energy.
The AWC’s location makes sense: the turbines will be placed 10 to 20 miles offshore in the shallow Atlantic waters, far enough away not to mar the views from iconic Jersey vacation spots like Cape May and Wildwood, and of course, Atlantic City. Undersea cables will connect turbines to the grid—and if all goes as planned, the equivalent of six nuclear power plants’ worth of electricity by 2020.
Whether the results match the sales pitch remains to be seen. Wind energy has its doubters and critics, whether they stem from disputes over noise, marred views, the expense, and at times, heavy-handed tactics that dismayed locals. Nevertheless, if the US is going to become more energy independent, more projects like this will be necessary, and projects like these will have to be near the large population centers that crave electricity the most.