Hoover Dam Builder Hired for Google’s Ocean Wind Power Line

Bechtel Group Inc., the U.S. contractor that built the Hoover Dam, has been hired for a Google Inc.-backed project to deliver offshore wind power to electricity users in New Jersey.

Bechtel will construct the first segment of the New Jersey Energy Link, a $1.8 billion system of undersea and onshore transmission cables as well as power converter “hubs,” project developer Atlantic Grid Development LLC said in a statement today. The link, which will span the state’s coastline when its three phases are completed, may carry as much as 3,000 megawatts of electricity.

There are no U.S. offshore wind farms operating or under construction, though companies have been planning to install turbines at sea for more than a decade. Installing the infrastructure needed to connect ocean-based turbines will remove one of the hurdles that have stymied developers, according to Rick Needham, Google’s director of energy and sustainability.

“This will jump start an industry that will provide 20,000 jobs in New Jersey and gigawatts of long term, clean energy,” Needham said today at a conference in Holmdel, New Jersey.

Google, based in Mountain View, California, has invested more than $1 billion in renewable-energy projects.

First Leases

“The transmission system in New Jersey could benefit greatly from this line,” Atlantic Grid Chief Executive Officer Robert Mitchell said by telephone. “It will be the most efficient way to deliver offshore wind to shore,” he said.

Atlantic Grid, based in Chevy Chase, Maryland, is focusing on New Jersey because of the state’s “strong bipartisan support for offshore wind,” Mitchell said. A 2010 law created an incentive program for as much as 1,100 megawatts of offshore wind generation. “New Jersey is further along than any of the other states,” he said.

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities may begin accepting applications from developers this summer, Bob Marshall, an assistant commissioner, said in an e-mail. The federal government may award offshore wind leases in the state by November 2014, he said.

The U.S. this year will hold the country’s first competitive lease auction for sites near Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Virginia, and is calling for projects totaling 10,000 megawatts of capacity to be installed nationwide by 2020. It awarded two leases, in Massachusetts in 2010 and in Delaware in October, through non-competitive offers each involving a single company.

Larger Project

Mitchell’s company in 2010 announced a larger project, the Atlantic Wind Connection, that would link wind farms off the coasts of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey. After initial planning “we have landed on New Jersey as being the prime opportunity to move forward,” Mitchell said. “If other states down the road decide they want to adopt the plan that we have announced, it will be their decision,” he said.

Bechtel is expected to begin construction in 2016, with the New Jersey Energy Link’s first segment possibly beginning operations in 2019, according to the statement. The company will install the project’s “backbone,” including high voltage direct-current cables that will carry the offshore wind energy to shore.

French power equipment maker Alstom SA will advise on connecting the systems to PJM Interconnection LLC’s grid. In addition to Google, the project’s other equity investors are Marubeni Corp., Bregal Energy Inc. and Elia System Operator SA.

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