Google Blows Away McDonnell’s Plans

The timing couldn’t be more revealing.

Just as Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, pushing his goal of making Virginia “the Energy Capital of the East Coast,” was set to open a hydrocarbon-heavy lineup at a two-day energy conference in Richmond, Google struck.

The Internet giant and Good Energies, a New York investment firm, announced a $5 billion project to build an underwater transmission backbone for a farm of wind turbines up to 20 miles off the East Coast from Virginia to New Jersey. The project would take a decade to complete and eventually generate up to 6,000 megawatts of electricity, or about as much as four large nuclear power stations. Analysts say Google needs great gobs of energy for its operations, which include a large server farm in Northern Virginia.

The news came just as McDonnell was to open the energy conference. He envisions wind and solar among his preferred mix, but his plan is heavily dependent on hydrocarbons such as coal and petroleum as well as nuclear.

Virginia has reserves of high-quality coal in its southwestern mountains, but the seams have been increasingly mined out, and large-scale production likely would involve mountaintop removal, a highly controversial practice that involves lopping off huge swaths of earth.

McDonnell has also pushed offshore oil drilling, but his plans hit a snag in April when BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, resulting in the largest environmental disaster in the nation’s history.

Undaunted, McDonnell is still pushing offshore drilling, and tonight’s keynote dinner speaker will be Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens, who likes what McDonnell is trying to do. But the Virginia Sierra Club trashed McDonnell’s plans, saying they rely too much on oil and coal, and pay only lip service to renewable energy sources like wind and that the states wastes too much energy as it is.

Therein lies the rub. Google, which will fund the huge offshore wind project, is a 21st century company. T. Boone Pickens seems an icon from another era, and so does McDonnell as a result of all this. A more modern governor might have had the Google announcement taking place at his conference. Instead, attendees will get the usual Texas oilmen.

To be sure, there may be some problems with a wind project of the size envisioned. The area is a busy fishing ground, and tall windmills might interfere with that. It is also a major maneuver area for the Air Force and Navy, which opposed McDonnell’s offshore oil plans because they could interfere with military exercises.

But at the end of the day, one simple fact keeps coming up: No one knows for sure if there are big oil deposits off the Virginia coast. There may be natural gas. But there’s no doubt how much wind is out there.

Peter Galuszka

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9 responses to “Google Blows Away McDonnell’s Plans”

  1. "Instead, attendees will get the usual Texas oilmen."


    The usual texas oilmen will be out of the offshore business. Only the largest companies will be able to pass the new requirements, and many of them are foreign.

  2. James A. Bacon Avatar
    James A. Bacon

    If Google is willing to put a big wad of its own money on the table to develop wind power, then I feel a lot more optimistic about the future of coastal wind power than I did before. That's the key… private sector money talks, bullshit walks.

  3. Groveton Avatar

    Offshore drilling is dumb, dumb, dumb. What kind of nutjob politician would ever allow offshore drilling?

    What? The Obama Administration just lifted the offshore drilling ban? It wasn't McDonnell? It was Obama?

    You guys and your anti-McDonnell rhetoric is funny. Are you equally angry with Obama for lifting the ban? Of course not. This has nothing to do with oil or the environment.

  4. so… every time you click on a GOGGLE AD – you're helping to fund this offshore wind grid?

    I'm a big GOGGLE supporter and a believer that eventually wind and solar and perhaps tides/ocean currents are going to be important parts of our (currently DUMB) grid.

    Our dumb grid is part of what is making wind/solar incompatible with our existing power sources because our coal and Nuke Plants cannot have their power increased or decreased in concept with other available (but transient) sources (like wind and solar).

    The fact that GOGGLE has decided to not take this part of the future on – is probably a bad sign – that it's going to be a tough nut to fix.

    If you think about it, let's say GOGGLE does a fabulous job on their offshore wind and they have a bunch of power to feed into the grid – but the grid can't handle it – because the base plants – coal and Nukes cannot be turned down quickly enough to let the wind take over some of the load – and because the wind and solar could go away in minutes – we could not afford to turn down the coal and nukes anyhow for fear of a brownout.

    what a mess.

    so even if we did have a smart grid that could dynamically balance the sources – the base load can't really vary anyhow.

    That's going to lead to a major conundrum with wind and solar.

    You're gonna have all these wind turbines turned off even when there is wind because the grid can't use their power and can't power-down coal/nuke to accept it.

    This problem is bigger than GOGGLE.

    I thought that Pickens was a natural gas guy.

    Natural Gas generators .. CAN be powered down and up quickly and would ideally complement wind and solar.

  5. Gooze Views Avatar
    Gooze Views

    Anytime you say "Web technology" and "free market" you get all mushy inside.
    Have you noticed?


  6. Anonymous Avatar

    This problem is bigger than GOGGLE.

    Absolutely. One of the problems is the duty of utilities to attempt to maximize the return to investors, within the scope of public utility law. Turning down a coal or gas or nuclear power plant because the wind is blowing in the sea might be harmful to the electric utility's shareowners.

    Now they could be compensated for this by charging higher rates to customers that produce earnings sufficient to cover the increased risk of forced plant shutdowns and interrupted revenue streams. But is that fair to utility customers? It strikes me as one more time our government takes a crap all over ordinary citizens who are just trying to live their lives in peace and prosperity.

    We need wind energy, but we need to figure out how it can work in the public interest too.


  7. Interesting that in the picture there appear to be three boats fishing near the base of thoe wind tubines.

    I'll bet thosse things will make great fish reefs.


    Google makes so much money they are at almost no risk: if they make money fine, if they don't its a write off. What they don't write off the government was going to get anyway.

  8. I always wondered why turbines could not be mounted on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge since you already have the "backbone" and direct tie into the grid.

    It would seem to be a win- win if a public-private venture could be created.

    That approach would also be a win-win for McDonnell.

    It would involve the state incentivizing wind power with real incentives and it may not cost that much and it would be a PR coup for McDonnell who would get instant street cred for govt efficiency, partnerships with private industry and clear support of green power.

    Sometimes I think the Republicans are so locked into their dogmatic philosophies that they go out of their way to avoid doing something that makes perfect sense – because they would then be accused of engaging in "big" govt.

  9. The turbines weigh tons. the bridge was not designed for eithher the vertical or the horizontal load.

    And just what we need is something else to distract the drivers.

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