A Google-sponsored wind energy project moved closer to reality this week, thanks to a favorable ruling from the Department of the Interior. Known as the Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC), the proposed $5 billion transmission line will stretch some 790 miles along the ocean floor, transporting up to 7,000 megawatts of energy generated from offshore windfarms. The initiative must clear a series of regulatory and environmental hurdles before construction can begin, but on Monday the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced that no competing regional bodies have contested the AWC, thereby allowing the project to go forward in the approval process.
AWC CEO Bob Mitchell told reporters that Monday's ruling will allow his company to "intelligently plan for the backbone transmission system," which will run from southern Virginia to northern New Jersey. In theory, this backbone would connect wind farms located 15 to 20 miles off the Atlantic coast, and, as a result, would make it easier to bring wind energy to coastal cities.
The only problem, of course, is that there aren't any offshore windfarms in the US. Proposed projects in Delaware and Maryland have suffered setbacks in recent months, though New Jersey's legislature is still deliberating over its own offshore plans. AWC and its investors, however, are banking on a rise in windfarms by the time the project reaches full completion, in about ten years. David J. Hayes, deputy secretary of the Interior, told reporters Monday that the department is "moving ahead to responsibly evaluate and expedite appropriate" windfarm initiatives, and that it could issue its first offshore permit by the end of this year.
Now that the project has been cleared by the Department of the Interior, Mitchell and his team can begin work on the next phase of the approval process — an environmental evaluation that could take 18 to 24 months. The company can also begin negotiating financial terms with the government, with the aim of beginning operations by the end of 2017.