Why Is Google Investing in Wind Farms?

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Adding another extracurricular to the checklist, Google is investing in a "mammoth" offshore wind farm along the Atlantic seaboard. The search giant is taking a 37.6 percent equity stake in the project, which will connect 6,000 megawatts of offshore turbines (or roughly 60 percent of the wind energy built in the U.S. last year). The project is called the Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC) and will connect wind turbines across a 350-mile stretch from New Jersey to Virginia. Here's what we know about the project and why Google is undertaking it:

  • Google Is Just Getting the Ball Rolling, explains Erick Schonfeld at TechCrunch: "The entire project is expected to cost about $5 billion, but Google is only investing in the first phase to help get it off the ground (or, rather, out to sea). The first phase includes only getting the necessary governmental approvals and financing before the wind power line can actually begin construction. While it is the least expensive part of the process, it is actually the trickiest because of popular opposition to offshore wind farms in general. Other investors include Good Energies and Marubeni Corporation."
  • It's Great PR, writes Seth Weintraub at Fortune: "Projects like these aren't just to make the electricity that Google needs more reliable and less expensive (and a return on their investment), it also helps foster an environmental image for Google which is much more valuable than any profits they'll receive."
  • They'll Never Have to Worry About Blackouts, writes Chris Dawson at ZDNet: "It isn’t hard to imagine Google’s investment in AWC paying serious dividends long-term on priority access to clean energy on the east coast. Clearly, 5 years from now when the AWC is anticipated to actually begin bring projects on line, Google will have extraordinary power needs and will require datacenter growth in major population centers to ensure speed, redundancy, and security. This is where investments in the AWC will truly pay off, when a data center in Virginia or New York isn’t susceptible to summer blackouts, an inefficient power grid, or environmental criticisms. If Google is hooked directly into a clean energy backbone because of its investments, then the company will be well-positioned on many levels."
  • Gives Wind Power a Big Vote of Confidence, writes Heather Clancy at ZDNet: "The project is significant for another reason: Even though there are a handful of wind projects proposed in the United States, none have actually been started. In the blog post about the project, Google says that wind is a particularly viable option in the mid-Atlantic region. Turbines can be installed about 10 miles to 15 miles offshore, where they are out of sight and out of earshot. The company estimates that potential capacity in this area to be 60,000 megawatts. The backbone will help enable wind developers because otherwise they would have to build their own individual transmission lines."
This kind of bold thinking and corporate leadership is what makes Google in its best moments “a different kind of company.” So is pure technology development (without regard for monetization), exemplified by the self-driving car. At a time when government seems hobbled by partisan agendas the private sector can provide missing leadership and investment in key policy areas, such as the development of sustainable energy. Bravo Google.
  • They've Got Their Work Cut Out For Them, writes Kyle VanHemert at Gizmodo:

The plan is an ambitious one, but regulators, investors, and environmentalists agree it's one of the most interesting of its type thus far. "These kinds of audacious ideas might just be what we need to break through the wretched logjam," said Melinda Pierce, the deputy director for national campaigns at the grassroots environmental group Sierra Club. Hopefully the administrative work that needs to be done can keep up with that audacity.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.