A new transmission project—the Atlantic Wind Connection— 

has the potential to transform offshore wind power along the Mid-Atlantic States in the United States. Google and Good Energies, a New York financial and investment firm, have agreed to heavily invest in a $5 billion transmission backbone along the Atlantic seaboard.

Basically, the project involves building a 350-mile undersea water cable system that will carry electricity generated from offshore wind farms to shore. A slightly more technical examination reveals that underwater electricity transmission is different than onshore transmission, notably because it uses direct-current in place of alternating current (what we use when we plug our phone chargers into the wall). Alternating current doesn’t do well in long enclosed cables so the project necessarily has to use direct-current, which makes things slightly more difficult. Direct-current runs point-to-point—or one way only—meaning that the 350-mile cable system is really a series of links between substations build on platforms that sit in the ocean. These substations will need to be hurricane proof and will need to be large enough to moor a boat for technicians arriving to make repairs.

The project was proposed by Trans-Elect, a Maryland based transmission-line company. Currently, it is predicted that when the Atlantic Wind Connection project is complete, the cable will provide approximately 6,000 MW of wind capacity—enough to serve 1.9 million households. The project proposes four connection points to bring wind-generated electricity on shore: southern Virgina, Delaware, southern New Jersey, and northern New Jersey. By limiting the number of connection points, the project aims to streamline bringing energy onshore—fewer connection points mean fewer permitting issues. Onshore energy transmission involves getting permits from all property owners possibly effects; the Atlantic Wind Connection would only have to deal with four.

Google and Good Energies have agreed to invest 37.5% of the development costs, which comes to an estimated total of $200 million by each company. Marubeni Corporation, a Japanese trading company, has also agreed to invest significantly in the project—approximately 15% of the development costs. The company hopes to start construction by 2013, with the first phase—a 150-mile stretch of cable running from northern New Jersey to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware—in operation by 2016 and the rest of the project completed by 2021 at the earliest.

However, past offshore wind farms have not always been met enthusiastically by locals. Cape Wind, a proposed offshore wind farm off Cape Cod in Massachusetts, for example, received harsh criticism from locals who felt the turbines would ruin the view and hurt tourism revenues.  Though Trans-Elect claims that their project will have much less of a visual presence, I wonder how much will be visible from the shore. Will the towns on the shore that depend on tourism follow in the steps of Cape Code and complaint that the project will hurt their revenues? Or will the project really be visually low-impact—and not impact the ocean views so important to tourists?