WASHINGTON (AP) - A huge underwater power line to serve wind farms planned off the East Coast cleared a regulatory hurdle Monday, although construction is still years away.
The project, known as the Atlantic Wind Connection, would enable up to 7,000 megawatts of electricity to be produced at offshore wind farms from Virginia to New Jersey. Internet giant Google and other investors have pledged up to $5 billion for a network of transmission lines for offshore wind farms to be built over the next decade or more.
The Interior Department said Monday that no competitor had proposed a similar project, allowing Atlantic Wind Connection to move forward knowing it is likely to secure a federal right of way. Construction of the 380-mile line could begin as soon as 2014.
When completed, the Atlantic Wind project could eventually provide power to about 2 million homes, developers say.
Bob Mitchell, CEO of Atlantic Wind Connection, called the government's action Monday an important milestone for the project, which was proposed in late 2010 as a way to boost offshore wind power in the U.S. Without the ruling, the project would likely have gone to auction, costing Google and other investors at least a year, Mitchell said.
Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes called Atlantic Wind a first-of-its-kind project that shows significant industry interest in developing offshore wind power, which has languished despite efforts by the Obama administration to promote it.
No commercial wind power is produced offshore in the U.S., although the Cape Wind project in Massachusetts could begin producing electricity as soon as 2014.
"It's the type of project that will spur innovation that will help us stand up a clean-energy economy to power communities up and down the East Coast," Hayes said of Atlantic Wind. Besides Google, other companies involved in the project include the investment firm Good Energies, Japanese industrial conglomerate Marubeni and Maryland-based Trans-Elect Development Co.
Hayes and other officials have urged Congress to extend a production tax credit for wind energy that expires at the end of the year. Advocates say renewal of the tax credit could save thousands of jobs and bring financial certainty to the wind industry, which has been vulnerable to boom-and-bust cycles.
A study commissioned by the American Wind Energy Association, an industry group, said failure to extend the tax credit could mean the loss of as many as 37,000 U.S. jobs.