Bryan Russo Special to the Dispatch OCEAN CITY — Proponents of offshore wind turbine farms got a big boost of encouragement this week as search engine giant Google got on the proverbial bandwagon, allotting potentially billions of dollars toward the green movement. On Tuesday, Google sent shockwaves through the environmental community as it announced it would spearhead a group of investors that would set aside more than $5 billion over the next 10 years to build hundreds of miles of underwater transmission lines.
These lines will enable future offshore wind farms in the Atlantic Ocean, like the one proposed 10 miles off the Ocean City coastline, to essentially plug into Google’s “smart grid”, which will channel the wind energy harnessed offshore back to the electrical grid on the mainland via an underwater superhighway of sorts. Yet, environmentalists were quick to point out that while the announcement is certainly a huge development in the country’s race to go green, it shouldn’t be seen as a deciding factor. “If the project takes shape as it was described, it will really improve the chances of getting this one Gigawatt project off the coast of Ocean City off the ground, or water as they say,” said Ian Heines, of the Maryland Energy Administration. “These transmission lines aren’t necessarily required in order to make offshore wind farms a reality, but this will make them much easier and much more efficient.” Heines said the transmission lines would be much like a power strip in your house where future offshore wind farms up and down the eastern seaboard will be able to literally plug into the grid and channel the energy back to millions of households. “Instead of each wind farm having to build costly transmission lines, this Google smart grid will enable the wind farms to be built for less, and it will create a more efficient link back to the mainland, so eventually, it will give customers lower energy rates”, said Heines. As far as what Google’s announcement means for Ocean City, City Engineer Terry McGean says it could be a good thing. “My initial thought is that it could benefit us here in Ocean City because these transmission lines will allow the wind farms to be placed farther offshore and the farther offshore the farms are, the less impact on the views for our visitors and residents, and of course, the wind is stronger the farther out you go,” McGean said. At a town hall meeting in downtown Ocean City last month, dozens of curious residents came out to hear from the people who are pushing for offshore wind to become a reality in Maryland and to see for themselves what it would look like. Like many in attendance, McGean was interested in how the turbines would look from a person’s beach chair. “Our biggest concern has always been the visual impact these turbines could be on the view and how that could affect tourism, “but from what I’ve heard so far, it seems like these transmission lines will enable them to build farther offshore at less of a cost for consumers, so it sounds like a step in the right direction, even though there is a long way to go.” The first phase for the project is slated for a 2016 completion and will include about 150 miles of underwater lines from New Jersey to Delaware. The line will continue all the way to southern Virginia by the time the estimated $5 billion project is completed. Google’s partners in the venture include renewable energy investment group Good Energies, Maryland based Trans-Elect and Japanese company Marubeni. Google reportedly holds a 37.5 percent share of the total cost of the project. The one thing that the state of Maryland lacks in this so-called race to go green is legislation that would basically enable projects like the proposed wind farm off the Maryland coast to become a reality. Massachusetts, Delaware, and New Jersey have all passed such legislation, but Massachusetts is the only state with a planned offshore wind farm that has received federal approval.
The proposed wind farm off the coast of Rehoboth Beach in Delaware, has received state approval, but still waits for the nod from the federal government. Chesapeake Climate Action Executive Director Mike Tidwell believes that Google’s involvement could be a major factor in getting politicians in Annapolis to act quickly on offshore wind in Maryland. “The fact that Google and its partners is willing to potentially put billions of dollars into offshore wind basically signals that Maryland needs to keep up,” said Tidwell. “They need to pass legislation that will enable the state to get a piece of this action and be at the forefront of the manufacturing and the creation of jobs.” Tidwell believes that 2011 will be a “landmark year for offshore wind” in the Maryland General Assembly, and he notes that convincing private companies, such as Google, that there is money to be made by investing in green technologies is a step in the right direction. “We don’t just need smart energy, but we also need a start grid, so this is big news for not only the future of offshore wind in Maryland but also for the United States,” said Tidwell.