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Google Backs Wind Power Superhighway

By investing in offshore turbines, Google hopes to generate solid returns in addition to renewable power.

Google, renewable energy investment firm Good Energies, and Marubeni Corporation, a Japanese trading company, on Tuesday announced their support for a project to build an offshore energy transmission backbone to enhance the supply of clean power available to the Mid-Atlantic region.

The Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC) transmission project, led by independent transmission company Trans-Elect, aims to create a linked series of wind farms in coastal waters.

Google green business director of operations Rick Needham calls the project "a superhighway for clean energy."

The AWC will provide infrastructure that will allow offshore wind energy developers to move energy to land without forcing each one to engage in costly and time-consuming permitting processes or to build their own transmission lines.

When it's complete, the AWC will extend 350 miles, from off the coast of New Jersey to off the coast of Virginia, and is expected to provide 6,000MW of wind power. Needham says that's enough to serve 1.9 million households.

The project is being build off the Mid-Atlantic coast because the shallow coastal waters extend for miles. This allows the wind turbines to be placed 10-15 miles out to sea, thereby minimizing visibility and noise issues. A recent New York Times article noted that about a dozen of some 250 new wind farms that came online in the U.S. last year have generated complaints about noise.

Google is investing 37.5% of the equity development stage funding, which amounts to about $200 million. Good Energies is investing a similar amount while Marubeni Corporation is investing 15%. The cost for the project is estimated at $5 billion, with construction possibly beginning as soon as 2013.

Oceana, an ocean-conservation group, estimates that coastal wind energy development could generate 133,000 to 212,000 jobs. The Department of Energy anticipates the creation of 43,000 permanent operations and maintenance jobs by 2030, given the installation of 54,000 MW of offshore turbine capacity.

While Google's stated mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible, the company has become more and more concerned with promoting and developing the infrastructure necessary to carry out its mission. Delivering information at scale turns out to depend on the delivery of affordable energy.

Some of the information that Google aims to organize is itself generated by energy usage. Google joined with AT&T, GE, Intel, and other companies earlier this year to urge the White House to promote rules that give consumers access to more information about their energy consumption.

In 2008, Google presented a proposal to reduce fossil fuel use by 2030.

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