Microsoft embraces wind energy for San Antonio data center

The Guardian, LONDON

Wed, Nov 06, 2013 - Page 15

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 centers.

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, 113km northwest of Fort Worth, Texas.

The Keechi project, by RES Americas, will begin construction early next year.

Microsoft chief environmental strategist Rob Bernard said power generated by the farm’s 55 turbines would feed into the same electrical grid that supplies the company’s data center in San Antonio.

The windfarm will not supply all of the data center’s power — and Microsoft in line with other companies would not comment on overall electricity use at the facility.

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.”

The power deal helps close the gap between Microsoft and companies such as Google, which made earlier moves toward 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 percent renewable power for their data centers. 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,” Microsoft director of energy strategy Brian Janous said. “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.”