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It's simple and does not require a search, says Google: renewable energy makes sense

By Rick Needham

People sometimes ask why an Internet company like Google has chosen to invest in the Atlantic Wind Connection—a multi-billion-dollar electric transmission "backbone" designed to carry power from offshore wind farms. The answer is simple: At Google, we believe investing in renewable energy makes business sense.

Energy is a critical driver of our business. We receive more than three billion search queries a day, show six billion hours of video on YouTube every month, and serve five million businesses with Google Apps—and all that takes energy. As a company, Google is committed to using that energy efficiently and sustainably. Our data centers use half the energy of typical data centers, we build our campuses to the most efficient design standards, and we've purchased more than 260 megawatts of wind power.

Beyond our own operations, we want to help the transition to that clean energy future in another way—by investing directly into projects. This allows us to diversify our capital while contributing to a clean energy future—for ourselves, for the local communities in which we operate, and for our users around the world.

Since 2010, Google has committed more than $1 billion to renewable energy projects, including some of the world's largest land-based wind farms, the largest solar power tower in the world, and both utility scale and residential scale solar photovoltaic systems.

When we looked at the Mid-Atlantic states, we considered what renewable resource could best scale to help those states meet their renewable energy goals— and concluded that it was offshore wind, which has the potential to power the entire East Coast of the United States. And the best way to achieve that scale is through the Atlantic Wind Connection.

The New Jersey segment of this offshore high-voltage DC backbone, known as the New Jersey Energy Link, could carry 3,000 megawatts of offshore wind power, allowing the industry to achieve economies of scale necessary for success and creating thousands of jobs for New Jersey workers.

The New Jersey Energy Link can drive down offshore wind costs in a number of ways. Without a backbone line, each wind farm would go through an expensive, complex permitting process to build its own separate radial transmission line to shore. The genius of the New Jersey Energy Link is that it takes care of the offshore transmission line permitting all at once, eliminates all these separate lines, and limits the landfalls to just a few well-chosen locations. And unlike radial lines, the offshore backbone can carry power when the wind isn't blowing, making it an integral component of the onshore transmission grid, increasing resiliency and reliability.

The backbone can also reduce grid congestion in the northern part of the state, which currently keeps power prices high. The New Jersey Energy Link will serve as a bypass around pockets of gridlock, delivering cheaper electricity from low-demand areas directly to high-demand areas, lowering energy prices overall.

By committing to support offshore wind, New Jersey will position itself to become a regional industry hub. Turbine manufacturers and supply chain businesses will locate where the projects are, rewarding the states that move first. This translates directly into job growth and business opportunities that would not exist if utilities simply imported new supplies of power from out of state. The state has also identified some 400 companies, made up of a skilled workforce well suited to the offshore wind industry, that could participate in the build-out.

Even those businesses not directly involved in these projects will see benefits from the increased economic activity.

It is important to be involved in a project that can seed a new, domestic clean energy industry. It's a smart investment, and it can lead to dramatically more renewable energy on the electric grid. New Jersey's commitment to offshore wind power sets it apart as a state determined to grow and innovate, and this makes it an exciting, and smart, place to do business.

Rick Needham is director of Energy & Sustainability at Google. This column was originally published in the Star-Ledger, New Jersey's largest newspaper, based in Newark (www.nj.com/starledger).

November/December 2013