Google exec: Backbone transmission project ‘right way to bring offshore wind in’

The proposed backbone transmission project, Atlantic Wind Connection, represents the “right way to bring offshore wind in,” according to Rick Needham, director of green business operations and strategy with Google.

When complete, the $5-billion project, which also involves Trans-Elect Development Company, Good Energies and Marubeni Corporation, will be able to connect up to 7,000 MW of offshore wind along its 756 miles of 320-kV line, according to TransmissionHub project data. 

Needham told TransmissionHub Oct.12 that the project has “been making good progress over the last year,” including filings made with FERC and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, as well as talking with PJM Interconnection and state officials from Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia.

Another important development, he said, is that another investor, Belgian transmission company Elia, has been brought in to the project. 

Indeed, Atlantic Wind Connection said in July that the agreements provide that  Elia will become a 10% co-investor in the development of the AWC project and offer consulting services. The Elia Group operates transmission systems in Belgium and Germany that, among other things, accommodate large amounts of wind energy, the company added.

Needham said external developments include Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and his department pushing forward on the Smart from the Start initiative, which was launched in November 2010 to facilitate siting, leasing and construction of offshore wind energy projects on the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf.

The AWC is exciting to Google, which has invested more than $850m in renewable energy, because it has a great potential to have a big impact, Needham said.

“It has a unique capability to really help the states meet renewable portfolio standards using the best local resource they have, which is offshore wind,” he said.

The project also allows wind farms to be sited further offshore, which allows developers to capture greater wind and avoid any visibility issues. “It also allows you to aggregate the wind power, so that when you’re injecting it into the terrestrial grid, it’s firmer,” he added.

Furthermore, it allows developers to develop projects that do not have the additional expense of building a transmission line attached to their project, Needham said. 

“[T]his really could help kickstart the industry,” he said, noting that currently, there is only one project with a permit in hand.

Indeed, after years in the permitting process, Energy Management’s Cape Wind Associates received the nation’s first lease for commercial wind energy development on the Outer Continental Shelf last year. 

“It’ll be difficult to bring in manufacturers and service providers… for these wind projects if you’re building them out one at a time,” he said.

Helping to invest in an “industry of the future,” he said, can be pretty critical. “You’re kicking off an industry that allows you to have jobs that are involved in both the development of the wind farms, the construction of them, providing service to them over the life of those projects, and to do so in an industry that will continue to grow and actually expand…it’s not a short-term job fix,” he said.

Transmission is certainly an area that needs to be addressed regarding bringing large amounts of renewable energy to the load centers, Needham said. 

“The challenge is getting them approved and sited,” he said, noting that Google saw a great opportunity with the AWC. 

“Here, you’re not stringing up transmission lines over people’s homes and houses and getting people upset about looking at these large transmission lines,” he said. “It’s under water, it has a great benefit of not being seen and it provides a great parallel path for one of the most heavily congested transmission corridors in the country.” 

Needham also said that Google is hopeful that such matters as FERC’s Order 1000, issued in July, “makes siting, the regulatory approval of transmission lines a little bit more efficient and easier to get done.” 

On a national renewable portfolio standard, he noted that policies that allow the country to move forward and promote renewable energy “can make a lot of sense.”

Among other things, Needham said, “We’re doing what we can as a company…and we would encourage other companies to take a look at what they can do.”

About Corina Rivera-Linares 2807 Articles
Corina Rivera-Linares, chief editor for TransmissionHub, has covered the U.S. power industry for the past 13 years. Before joining TransmissionHub, Corina covered renewable energy and environmental issues, as well as transmission, generation, regulation, legislation and ISO/RTO matters at SNL Financial. She has also covered such topics as health, politics and education for weekly newspapers and national magazines. She can be reached at corinar@pennwell.com.