Internet search engine giant Google is investing in a mammoth project to build an underwater "superhighway for clean energy" that would funnel power from offshore wind farms to 1.9 million homes without overtaxing the already congested mid-Atlantic power grid, the company said.
Google is partnering with Good Energies, an environmentally focused international investment company based in New York, London and Switzerland, and Tokyo-based Marubeni Corp. to finance the project, which the New York Times reported Tuesday could cost $5 billion.
The project, dubbed the Atlantic Wind Connection, is being led by Trans-Elect, an independent electric transmission company based in Chevy Chase.
Although the project is outside of Google's normal Internet focus, company officials said in their announcement: "We believe in investing in projects that make good business sense and further the development of renewable energy."
The company will provide 37.5 percent of the equity for the initial development stage of the project, in which officials hope to obtain the approvals that would be required to begin construction.
The New York Times reported that Trans-Elect hopes to begin construction in 2013.
The project is to be formally unveiled late Tuesday morning at the National Press Club.
The wind connection is what is known as a "backbone transmission project" - a 350-mile stretch of underwater cables that would transmit energy from offshore wind turbines.
If built, it would eliminate the need for offshore wind developers to construct individual radial transmission lines from their projects to the shore. The individual lines, Google said, require time-consuming additional permitting and environmental studies and can overburden the existing power grid.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called in a speech last week for the creation of a "transmission backbone" in the Atlantic Ocean, saying it would speed the efficiency of wind energy projects.
"Rather than develop transmission infrastructure plans on a piecemeal basis, we should -- in close coordination with the private sector, states, and tribes -- lay out a smart transmission system, up front," Salazar said.
Google touted its project as a way to speed the establishment of wind farms as sources of alternative energy. The federal government in April approved the first offshore wind farm in the United States, but individual projects have been slowed by the recession and political debate over how they would impact surrounding communities.
The mid-Atlantic region is ideally suited for offshore wind technology, Google said, because the water remains relatively shallow 10 to 15 miles offshore - far enough out so that the wind turbines would be barely visible from land.