Encouraged by the extension of the production tax credit (PTC), Google will continue to work with utilities to procure wind energy to power the company's data centers.
Gary Demasi, Google's director of operations, energy and data center location strategy, says the company is actively looking at wind projects in the Midwest.
"We're continuing to look pretty intently," he tells NAW. "Now is an interesting window to look at new projects."
"Thanks to improved economics, the PTC is really helping a lot of these projects get built and is making them more attractive to Google from a cost perspective," Demasi adds. “And because energy is a large source of operating costs for the company, it’s beneficial to power them with low-cost wind power.”
Google is leading a growing number of industrial users that serve as wind power off-takers. According to the American Wind Energy Association, at least 18 companies purchased wind energy under long-term power purchase agreements (PPAs) or direct ownership from on-site generators. At least 11 schools and universities, as well as eight towns or cities, also joined the list of nontraditional power purchasers.
Google’s initial foray into wind energy procurement dates back to 2010, when the company worked directly with NextEra Energy Resources to purchase 114 MW of wind power from NextEra’s Story County II wind farm, located in Iowa. Two years later, Google signed another PPA with NextEra for 100.8 MW of wind energy generation from the company's Minco II wind farm, located in Oklahoma.
However, the company has since refined its approach to wind energy procurement.
"Since we're not really in the energy business, we would prefer to take delivery of green energy directly from our utility provider,” Demasi explains. “This is probably the area where Google prefers."
Last September, Google signed an agreement with the Grand River Dam Authority (GRDA) to supply Google’s Mayes County, Okla., data center with 48 MW of wind energy from the Canadian Hills Wind project, located in west central Oklahoma.
Demasi says this collaboration accentuates the strengths of both parties.
"GRDA has the ability to integrate renewable energy into their generation mix and to deliver power, while we're a growing company that seeks to use clean energy for our operations in a scalable way," he explains.
Google has also invested $1 billion in renewable energy projects, such as the 845 MW Shepherds Flat wind farm, located in Oregon; the massive Alta Wind Energy Center, located in Southern California; the Atlantic Wind Connection, a proposed transmission backbone for offshore wind projects; and four solar photovoltaic (PV) plants in Southern California.
Although Google has a 1.7 MW solar PV installation at its Mountain View, Calif.-based headquarters, the company is waiting until costs decrease before making more investments in solar. Nonetheless, "Solar is very interesting to us, Demasi says. “The resource is more closely correlated to [our] usage."
Google’s commitment to sustainable energy is part of the company's goal of becoming carbon neutral.
"We've tackled the problem since 2007," Demasi says. "Sustainability and renewable energy go all the way up to [Google co-founder] Larry Page and the C-level [executives] of the company."