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Google, Facebook Up the Renewable Energy Ante

Underscoring the affinity between technology operations and renewable energy, some of the world's biggest IT and service provider companies continue to line up to back more renewable energy investments.

Two years ago Google and global investment firm KKR plunked down $94 million for four Recurrent Energy solar farms in California totaling 88 MW. Now they're upping the ante, backing six more Recurrent-developed solar plants in in the U.S. Southwest with combined capacity of 106 MW, projected to come online as soon as January 2014, with long-term power purchase agreements (PPA) to three offtakers including Southern California Edison. (Five of the projects are in California and one is in Arizona, according to Recurrent; one of them is the 17.5-MWac/22 MWp Victor Phelan project in San Bernadino, California.) Google is paying $80 million for what is reportedly a 20 percent stake in a total $400 million investment between the two firms; Recurrent adds that there is also an unspecified debt financing component.

It's the latest renewable energy feather in Google's cap. Last year Google purchased over 727,000 MWh of renewable energy via long-term contracts, covering 22% of its total electricity consumption, and to date it's committed more than a billion dollars in 13 renewable energy projects totaling more than 2 GW of electricity, most recently a $103 million pledge to Silver Ridge Power's 265-MW (DC) Mount Signal Solar project, AKA Imperial Valley Solar 1, under construction in California expected to be online next year with a PPA to sell power to San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E).

Meanwhile, yesterday Facebook said its new data center in Altoona, Iowa, will be "more than" offset by a 138-MW wind farm in nearby Wellsburg, which is already under construction and projected to be online in 2014. Facebook transferred its rights to the project to MidAmerican Energy this spring -- right around the time that MidAmerican pledged nearly $2 billion in Iowa wind farms.

"When we settled on Altoona as the location for our fourth data center, one of the deciding factors was the opportunity to help develop a new wind project in the state," states Vincent Van Son, data center energy manager. "In effect it makes it possible, on an annualized basis, for 100% of our energy needs to be met entirely with one of Iowa’s most abundant renewable resources." He added that Facebook aims to achieve 25 percent clean and renewable energy for its global data centers by 2015.

These are also only the latest renewable energy push by a technology/services giant. Last week Microsoft announced its first long-term PPA, a 20-year contract with RES Americas' proposed 110-MW Keechi Wind project northwest of Fort Worth, Texas, which will send power to the grid and help power Microsoft's data center in nearby San Antonio. Apple, meanwhile, has reportedly ponied up more than $500 million for a new plant in Mesa, Arizona, for one of its key component suppliers, GT Advanced Technologies -- actually it's First Solar's former unused plant that the thin-film PV maker quietly sold off last month on the cheap. Reports indicate the plant will be entirely powered by renewable energy, through both solar and possibly geothermal, though none of the parties involved (Apple, GT, or utility Salt River Project) would specify what additional infrastructure build-out or agreements are involved.

Lead image: Green IT concept with server, via Shutterstock

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