Search engine giant Google has announced plans to invest in a clean energy “superhighway” off the Mid-Atlantic coast to help accelerate offshore wind energy development. 

The proposed Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC) backbone will connect offshore wind farms from Virginia to New Jersey as a “superhighway for clean energy,” collecting power from the wind farms and delivering the power via sub-sea cables to land-based transmission systems along the Eastern Seaboard.

Google’s investment may support Virginia’s push to become the center for offshore wind development, though offshore wind proponents have expressed mixed reactions to Google’s announcement.  While they welcome progress in the development of Virginia’s offshore wind resources, as well as the potential reduction of “bottle-necking” and energy loss that the AWC backbone could provide, there are some concerns.  For example, Virginia offshore wind proponents fear that Google’s timeline for the AWC backbone project is inconsistent with existing project goals.  That is, Google estimates that the AWC project may take up to 20 years to complete, while offshore wind proponents hope to see operational wind projects off the Virginia coast within 10 years. 

Another concern is that Google’s proposal will distract from the first phase of developing offshore wind resources in Virginia – fabrication and installation of the wind turbines – for which some significant hurdles remain.  To name two, the timeline for the installation permitting process is currently estimated at 8 to 10 years and the U.S. Department of Defense has rejected a number of offshore sites determined to be viable for wind energy generation.

Google views the creation of the AWC backbone as an essential step in improving the efficiency of offshore wind development and of bringing wind energy ashore.  Without the AWC backbone, each individual offshore wind farm would require individual radial transmission lines to introduce energy generated by the farms into the land-based transmission system.  Each of these transmission lines would, in turn, require individual permitting and environmental studies.  Further, the AWC backbone is intended to route the energy to the onshore facility with the most efficient capacity, thereby improving the efficiency of delivering that energy to consumers.

Driven by the fact that Virginia is the second largest importer of energy in the country, the Commonwealth is pushing for locally-created, clean and innovative energy sources.  Despite initial concerns arising from Google’s announcement, the investment is yet another sign that Virginia offshore wind continues to gain strength.


Jessica Link Martyn

Jason Barlow