ATLANTIC CITY — Not everyone is pleased with an ambitious plan to link offshore windmills between New Jersey and Virginia.

Four companies — including Internet giant Google — announced Tuesday they will build transmission lines connecting new offshore wind farms across the Mid-Atlantic.

Bob Mitchell, CEO of Trans-Elect, called the project a "new American super-grid" that holds the promise of new jobs and speedier development of the ocean wind industry.

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The line — called the Atlantic Wind Connection — would reduce the number of power lines needed to make landfall, make room for successive wind farms and greatly increase transmission capacity. The transmission line would accommodate 6,000 megawatts, the equivalent of being hooked up to about 2,500 spinning turbines.

The estimated cost: $5 billion or more.

Companies that are building wind farms off New Jersey already have their own individual plans for getting the electricity to shore. In a statement, PSEG Global President Scott Jennings said the proposal was a solution in search of a problem.

He does not see the benefit of connecting to — or paying for — a transmission system that stretches 350 miles to Virginia.

"With a project this costly, we must first ask, what problem is this project trying to solve?" he asked.

PSEG is one of the founding partners of Garden State Offshore Wind, which wants to build windmills between Atlantic City and Avalon.

"Who is going to pay for the $5 (billion) to $6 billion cost?" he said.

This is many times more than the estimated cost of all offshore wind farms connecting to the grid in New Jersey, Jennings said. The transmission spine could add layers of cost, time and complexity to a new industry that is trying to attract investors.

"If you believe, as we do, that we need to jumpstart the development of offshore wind, it would be better to focus our resources on actually building wind turbines ... than to build a superhighway that may carry more coal than wind," Jennings said.

He was referring to the possibility that improving transmission service would give out-of-state energy producers access to the lucrative New Jersey energy market.

Fishermen's Energy used an enormous barge this week to finish taking drilling samples off Tennessee Avenue in Atlantic City, where it intends to run a transmission cable to six turbines 2.8 miles off the coast.

This demonstration project will be a precursor to a much larger project 11 miles off the coast. The company has an agreement to hook up to the PJM Interconnect, the grid that provides energy to southern New Jersey.

"There are a lot of questions that need to be answered as we move forward," spokeswoman Rhonda Jackson said. "Our sole interest is to keep ratepayers' interest in mind and keep costs down and hopefully not pick up additional costs."

The agency that oversees most land leases for offshore wind farms, the U.S. Department of the Interior, endorsed the multi-state transmission line, especially because there are so few available corridors for land-based transmission lines on the East Coast.

"Rather than develop transmission projects piecemeal ... we should lay out a smart transmission system up front," Sec. of Interior Ken Salazar told wind-company executives in a speech last week at the Atlantic City Convention Center.


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