By Tom Doggett
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. offshore energy czar said Google Inc's surprising decision to get involved in wind energy is an exciting development in an area in which he hopes to speed up the government's approval process.
Michael Bromwich, who runs the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said he met this week with Google and its partners about their plan to build an offshore transmission line to move future wind-generated power to East Coast users.
"I think it's a very exciting development," Bromwich told the Reuters Global Climate and Alternative Energy Summit on Thursday. "We're interested in exploring this, but a lot of the details of their proposal I don't yet know."
Google is joining Japan's Marubeni Corp and New York investment firm Good Energies to build a 350-mile underwater cable project. With a price tag of $5 billion, it would be led by the transmission-line developer Trans-Elect
"They're clearly very interested in it, committed to it, they're willing to put a lot of money on the table with respect to it, and they clearly have pretty carefully thought out a way in which it could integrate with individual offshore wind projects," Bromwich said.
He plans to meet with Google and its partners again to learn more about the project, which BOEM would have to approve for it to be built.
Separately, Bromwich said he hopes to unveil guidelines by the end of the year to speed up approval of offshore wind energy projects.
"There has been a lot of sustained discussion recently about developing a coherent plan that would dramatically shorten the timeframes necessary to review proposed projects and approve proposed projects," he said.
Bromwich said he does not want to repeat the almost decade-long process it took for the government to approve the Cape Wind project off Massachusetts.
"Looking back, everybody acknowledges they don't want to go through that again," he said.
The Obama administration wants more wind projects and is pushing to double the amount of U.S. electricity generated by renewable energy sources, like solar and wind power.
BOEM has received interests from two companies, NRG Bluewater Wind and Occidental Development & Equities LLC, to lease offshore areas near the mouth of Delaware Bay for separate wind projects.
Bromwich said he plans to decide by the end of December which, if any, of the two companies would get access the federal offshore blocks to develop their wind farms.
He said that decision would be based in part on the economic viability of the project and financial strength of the company.
If one of the companies is chosen, the winning wind project would be far from getting final government approval as it would still have to go through a lengthy environmental review process, according to Bromwich.
(Reporting by Tom Doggett. Additional reporting by Emily Stephenson; Editing by Russell Blinch and Robert MacMillan)