Last year, Google announced it was on track to reach 100 percent renewable energy for its global operations — all of its data centers and offices. Last week, the company confirmed it purchased enough renewable energy to match every kilowatt hour of electricity it consumed in 2017 for its still-mushrooming operations. All told, the company is buying about 3 gigawatts worth of clean power, or more than the output of five typical coal-fired plants.
One key element of last week's announcement is a deal with Georgia Power, approved last week by the state's Public Service Commission, for Google to procure nearly 80 megawatts of new solar to power its Douglas County data center, about 14 miles due west of Atlanta. Three other big companies, including Walmart, Target and Johnson & Johnson, were also part of the arrangement, which totaled 177 MW of solar.
The deal with Georgia Power, a unit of Southern Company, the third-largest investor-owned utility in the United States, is part of an emerging strategy for purchasing clean power in states less likely to have regulatory or legislative mandates, such as renewable portfolio strategies, to increase the deployment of renewable energy. That makes this deal even more notable and continues the acceleration of renewables in red-state markets that until recently hadn't been particularly friendly to renewables, but which have become of increased interest to companies seeking more affordable real estate and labor markets in the United States.
Last month, for example, Facebook announced a new data center, nearly a million square feet, in Newton County, Georgia, southeast of Atlanta, powered entirely by renewable energy. Google announced that it would break ground this month on a $600 million, data center in Bridgeport, Alabama, repurposing a decommissioned coal-fired power plant originally built in the 1950s and operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority; Google will work with TVA to purchase enough renewable energy to match its consumption. For the past few years, Google has worked with Duke Energy to produce a Green Source Rider to provide power to its data center in Lenoir, North Carolina. And in January, Walmart flipped the switch on a 72-MW solar farm in Lafayette, Alabama, to help the retailer meet its renewable energy goals. The facility is being built in partnership with Alabama Power, which, like Georgia Power, is a unit of Southern Company.
Some, but not all, of this progress is the result of relatively recent policy shifts in the southeast United States. "Leading states like North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia have enacted strong policies that foster and encourage renewable energy growth," according to a reportreleased in February by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
"On the other hand," noted the report, "utilities in other southeastern states — particularly Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi — continue to operate in a public policy vacuum. The slow pace of solar growth in these states, and the outdated thinking by utilities, leaves them with solar projections considerably below the regional average through 2021."
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