Some Cautionary Notes on Atlantic Wind Connection

The project and Google's involvement are exciting but that's not enough to make it a sure thing

2 min read
Some Cautionary Notes on Atlantic Wind Connection

It's a rare occasion when the New York Times leads its daily newspaper with a report on a proposed electric power project. But the Atlantic Wind Connection--a proposed offshore grid to link up offshore wind with onshore grids in Virginia, Delaware, and New Jersey--got that treatment this week. And my fellow Spectrum blogger Dave Levitan rightly picked up on the story immediately and reported it here.

Google is well known for its visionary long-term investment strategy and the dominant search company  has bet especially heavily on green technologies, as Spectrum's Sandra Upson reported several years ago--no doubt in part because of sensitivities arising from its power-hogging server farms. The large investment Google is prepared to make in the so-called Atlantic Wind Connection naturally gives the project a credibility it might otherwise lack.

Nevertheless, some sober-minded words of caution are in order:

--First, and most obviously, this is a long-term project; even if all goes as hoped, it will not begin to yield its full rewards for a decade

--Second, to move at all, it has to get through numerous regulatory hoops involving three states and at least several Federal agencies

--Third, politics will come into play too, of course. Already there's grumbling in Virginia that if the transmission backbone is used initially to transport  the state's relatively inexpensive electricity up to New Jersey, where it's more costly,  local rates will rise. (A similar concern on the part of people in Connecticut prevented the cross-sound cable to Long Island  from being used for years; it was finally activated during the great Northeast-Midwest blackout, when the Federal government invoked emergency powers.)

If this kind of argument about who's gaining and who's losing gets heated enough, skeptics may even start asking whether the right offshore wind resource is being exploited. According to a recent survey, Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey have a combined offshore potential of about 50 GW. But Michigan, to take just one of the Great Lakes states and provinces, has an offshore potential nearly double that.

This skeptic would be willing to bet that if offshore wind ever gets really really big in the United States, it may be in the old industrial heartland on the Great Lakes, not off the two ocean coasts.

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