Microsoft Looks to Boost Eco Credentials with Wind-powered Data Center
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Microsoft is moving to close the gap with other tech giants by agreeing to buy up all of the electricity produced by a Texas wind project to power one of its data centres.
Company officials told the Guardian that Microsoft would make a formal announcement on Monday of its first direct purchase of renewable energy: a 20-year deal to purchase all of the power produced by a 110MW wind project, 70 miles north-west of Fort Worth, Texas. The Keechi project, by RES Americas, will begin construction early in 2014.
Rob Bernard, Microsoft's chief environmental strategist, said power generated by the farm's 55 turbines would feed into the same electrical grid that supplies the company's data centre in San Antonio.
The windfarm will not supply all of the data centre's power – and Microsoft in line with other companies would not comment on overall electricity use at the facility.
But the company and analysts said Microsoft's decision to use its corporate muscle to push more renewable energy onto the grid represented an important step forward. Data centres are a large and growing source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Unlike Microsoft's earlier investments in clean energy, which were through the purchase of renewable energy credits, the Keechi windfarm would bring additional wind capacity into the Texas electricity supply chain. That would displace coal and natural gas, and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
"We have been doing the renewable energy credits for a while," Bernard said. "But here we are catalysing a project from the ground up."
He added: "Without our capital we know this plant would not have been built."
The power deal helps close the gap between Microsoft and companies such as Google, which made earlier moves towards buying their electricity directly from windfarms, said Gary Cook, technology campaigner for Greenpeace.
"They haven't broken any new ground for the industry, but they have broken new ground for Microsoft," he said.
"If they are using the windfarm to increase the amount of renewable energy in the electricity supply chain that is a great investment and will continue to drive more renewable energy investment onto the grid if they continue down that path."
Six big internet companies – Apple, Facebook, Google, Rackspace, Salesforce and Box – have committed to 100% renewable power for their data centres. Microsoft, though not among them, committed last year to be "carbon neutral", imposing its own internal carbon marketplace.
The company said proceeds from that carbon fee had helped to fund its purchase agreement with the Keechi project.
It said those economics made the Keechi deal more attractive than going through the conventional route of buying renewable energy credits.
"It's hard to buy green power at an attractive rate. It is pretty easy to go to your utility and pay a lot of money to get a stamp of greenness on your electricity bill," said Brian Janous, Microsoft's director of energy strategy. "But when you are a very large consumer of energy you have the opportunity to sit face-to-face directly with the developer of a 110MW wind project."
The company also said it was preparing further announcements on its greening efforts in the weeks ahead.
"The Keechi wind project power purchase agreement may be one of our largest milestones since implementing our carbon fee, but it will certainly not be our last," Bernard said.