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Google in major bid for Eastern US wind power

Investors led by technology giant Google on Tuesday announced a five billion-dollar project to power the US East Coast with wind from the Atlantic Ocean, in an ambitious bid to spur alternative energy.

The project would set up offshore wind turbines and a new transmission grid stretching 350 miles (565 kilometers) from New Jersey to Virginia, the most densely populated part of the United States which suffered blackouts in 2003.

Google, the Internet search giant whose interests now run the gamut from broadband to robotic cars, said it would provide 37.5 percent of the initial funding.

Rick Needham, director of green business operations and strategy at Google, described the project as a new "superhighway" for alternative energy, creating jobs and eventually providing enough power to serve 1.9 million households.

"We're willing to take calculated risks on large-scale projects that can move an industry. Indeed, that is what's made our company so successful to date," Needham told a news conference in Washington.

The companies said they hoped to begin work on the project, called the Atlantic Wind Connection, in early 2013 and complete it by 2020, subject to government approval. Needham said Google was open to further investment later.

Bob Mitchell, the chief executive of Trans-Elect, the private electric transmission company leading construction of the project, estimated total costs of five billion dollars.

Good Energies, a company which invests in green energy, is also investing 37.5 percent in the project, while Japanese trading house Marubeni has a 15 percent stake.

John Breckenridge, an executive at Good Energies, described the Atlantic Wind Connection as landmark in its ambition, hoping that it would succeed in "fixing a lot of what's been done wrong" in renewable energy.

"Renewables have been deployed in a very haphazard manner around the world, where you've installed solar farms, wind farms, without looking at the whole," Breckenridge told the news conference.

"This project enables us to do this in a planned way that will optimize this and really create the basis for the kind of energy infrastructure that we as a country and really as a world need to evolve to," he said.

Investors said they would not seek government funding. The US Congress has soured on efforts to battle climate change, with legislation to impose restrictions on carbon emissions all but dead in the Senate.

With elections approaching, President Barack Obama's administration on Tuesday ended a ban on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico which was imposed after the BP oil spill in April.

But the administration has also backed alternative energy. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar last week approved the first US offshore wind farm near Massachusetts and pledged to speed up approval for future projects.

The United States is already the world leader in wind energy in the raw amount of energy production, according to an industry study last year. But wind farms are concentrated in sparsely populated states in the Western plains.

Offshore projects have encountered opposition due to residents who find them an eyesore and environmentalists who fear they will harm animals, particularly migratory birds.

Mitchell voiced confidence that the Atlantic Wind Connection would not face significant opposition as the farms will be at least 10 miles (16 kilometers) from the coast, meaning they would be only partially visible on a clear day.

But Mitchell admitted that the grid may transport a "relatively small percentage" of energy from coal, which is loathed by environmentalists as one of the dirtiest forms of energy.

Despite rising US production, European nations lead the world in wind's share of total energy production, with Denmark topping the world at 20 percent.

With the right incentives, wind power could meet one-fifth of the entire world's electricity demand within 20 years, environmentalists Greenpeace and an industry group said in a report released Tuesday in China.