Amazon Invests in Wind Energy for East Coast Data Center
Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

Amazon Invests in Wind Energy for East Coast Data Center

Says 208-MW North Carolina project is its biggest clean-energy investment to date

Amazon Web Services announced another investment in renewable-energy generation, reportedly its biggest one to date, but did not disclose the size of the investment. The future wind farm in North Carolina will pump clean energy into the local utility grid, the same grid that feeds the Amazon data centers in the state that support its cloud-services business.

It has become common-practice for operators of data centers at Amazon’s scale to invest in renewable energy projects on utility grids that supply their facilities. Since environmentalists started drawing public attention to the fact that the ubiquitous “cloud” is powered mostly by coal, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, and now also Amazon followed Google’s lead in making huge investments in clean-energy supply.

Most of these investments have been in the form of long-term power purchase agreements, or PPAs. A company commits to buying all energy the future project is expected to generate for 10 or more years, which provides funding for the development.

The wind or solar farms usually don’t feed the data centers directly. Instead, the company continues to buy power for the data center from the grid, but sells the renewable energy on the wholesale market while keeping the renewable energy credits and applying them to the power consumed by the data center.

It’s unclear whether Amazon is using this scheme for the most recent investment. A company spokesman did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

Greenpeace, which has been mounting pressure on the world’s biggest data center operators to push utilities to increase renewable-energy generation capacity in their mix, welcomed the announcement but said Amazon also has to become more transparent about the energy use of its data centers.

“Will the power from this North Carolina wind farm be delivered to the utilities that provide electricity to Amazon’s data centers in Virginia?” Greenpeace spokesman David Pomerantz asked in a statement. “Without an answer, AWS customers cannot be certain that the wind energy is displacing the gas, coal, and nuclear energy powering those data centers.

“More information is needed especially because Amazon’s main utility provider in Virginia, Dominion, is pursuing expansions of gas and nuclear power plants, justified by the growth of data centers like Amazon’s.”

The future 208-MW Amazon Wind Farm US East in North Carolina’s Perquimans and Pasquotank counties is expected to generate 670,000 MWh annually, once it comes online toward the end of next year.

The company has a goal of powering its operations with 100 percent renewable energy at some point. The company said it was at 25 percent in April and expected the North Carolina wind farm to bring it to 40 percent.

The project brings total renewable-energy generation capacity Amazon has invested in to 1.3 MWh per year in central and eastern US.

It announced a wind farm in Indiana in January and a solar farm in Virginia in June. In May, Amazon said it would use new Tesla batteries designed for critical infrastructure in a pilot project at a West Coast data center.

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