Transmission Project for Offshore Wind Power Clears Hurdle

The Interior Department on Monday cleared the way for a proposed offshore transmission line backed by Internet giant Google, which could potentially enable up to 7,000 megawatts of wind energy generated offshore to be brought to the national power grid.

Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Tommy Beaudreau announced that the agency found "no competitive interest" for the proposed offshore cable, meaning the project can now move forward to an environmental review that would then enable Atlantic Grid Holdings to begin building the project.

"The first-of-its-kind Atlantic Wind Connection is an encouraging sign of significant industry interest in developing the infrastructure to support offshore wind development," Hayes said. "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."

The proposed project would stretch along the coasts of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia and is backed by Google, Good Energies, Japan's Marubeni Corp., and the Belgian transmission company Elia. The transmission line would collect wind power generated by offshore facilities along the Atlantic coast and bring it to the grid.

Before beginning the environmental review and issuing a right-of-way grant for the project, the Interior Department had to determine whether other developers were interested in constructing transmission facilities in the same area. In December, the agency put out a request for such competitive interest and solicited public comment on that project.

Now that the agency has moved that process forward, the next step is to evaluate the potential environmental impacts of building the transmission line. A right-of-way grant would then begin the expected 10-year, multiphase construction of the 790-mile project.

Despite the progress on the transmission line, however, its future still depends on the development of offshore wind projects to generate the electricity. Many offshore wind projects are still in limbo either because of onshore opposition or uncertainties about the economics of renewable-energy projects.

Most recently, global wind giant Gamesa announced that it will shift focus to a wind turbine project in Spain instead of a planned project in Virginia, citing concerns over the market and regulatory hurdles it would face in the United States.

Though Gamesa won regulatory approval from Virginia last month to move forward with a 5-megawatt wind-turbine prototype off the Eastern Shore, the company said that a viable commercial market for wind power in the United States is still years away. Specifically, the company noted uncertainty over tax credits for such projects, the lack of an offshore grid, and the lack of a clear federal energy policy. Gamesa is just one example of a company that has put its offshore wind plans on hold in the United States.