Microsoft eyes Texas wind power

Posted by Pete Danko, EarthTechling

How important can it be when giant companies that consume vast amounts of energy commit to buying renewables?

Well, the 110-megawatt Keechi wind power project in Texas, which Microsoft on Monday said it would get behind through a power purchase agreement, “would not have happened otherwise,” according to Susan Reilly, president and CEO of project developer RES Americas.

image from Microsoft infographic

image from Microsoft infographic

This is an interesting project for a variety of reasons. First, for the Microsofties it moves them beyond greening their energy profile through the purchase of renewable energy credits, according to company chief environmental strategist Rob Bernard, “to actually investing directly in green energy.”

(Directly investing? Hmm. OK, Reilly from RES Americas did say that by purchasing 100 percent of the wind power from Keechi Microsoft was essentially making the project happen. But it should be noted that when Google has “invested directly” in a project, it actually takes an equity stake.)

Microsoft is “funding” the purchase of the wind power – as it did the RECs – through a device it calls internal carbon fee. What this means is, when a division of the company generates carbon emissions, it’s charged an offset fee. With this device, Microsoft set a goal of being carbon neutral across its “direct operations” – data centers, software development labs, air travel, office buildings – by this past July.

So Microsoft’s data center in San Antonio could offset some of its carbon emissions to the extent its internal carbon fee is used to pay for Keechi’s GHG benefits.

(Of course the power isn’t being directly delivered to Microsoft; it goes on the grid, but in the process displaces other, less-clean sources.)

Another notable thing about this project is where exactly in Texas it will be built. Or, more to the point, where it won’t be built. Texas is the leader in wind power in the United States mostly by sourcing a vast, breezy resource out in the western part of the state. Big infrastructure investment is helping bring that power long distances to the cities. But an RES executive told the AP that with Keechi planned for just 70 miles northwest of Fort Worth, “it’s close to the lode of Dallas-Fort Worth and so the price is very attractive.”

Plant construction will get under way before the end of the year (thus qualifying for the production tax credit) and it’s expected to be fully operational by 2015.

* Pete Danko, EarthTechling