Amazon invests in 2 renewable energy projects

Source: By Avery Ellfeldt, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, August 8, 2019

Amazon.com Inc. is set to invest in two new renewable energy projects, but some environmentalists are concerned that the projects’ scope pales in comparison with the company’s growth.

The two projects, announced last week, are set for construction in 2020 and are slated to go up in Pittsylvania County, Va., and Cork, Ireland.

The two projects are expected to generate 168,000 megawatt-hours of energy each year. The Virginia project will be a solar farm, while the Ireland project is set to be a wind farm.

The tech giant boasts 64 existing renewables projects around the world, including 51 rooftop solar installations. And, according to Amazon, each of its existing and planned projects is helping the company inch its way toward its goal of powering 100% of its global operations with renewable energy.

But, even with added renewable capacity, Amazon’s power-hungry data centers keep the company a far cry from its renewable energy goals, said Gary Cook, a Greenpeace corporate campaigner who focuses on IT companies. And the company’s continued data center procurement will only exacerbate that reality, he added.

“It’s good they’re adding some renewables, but their growth is far outstripping their additional renewable electricity supply,” Cook said.

In Virginia alone — a region infamous for a dense population of data centers — Amazon Web Services demands 1,686 megawatts of power, up 626 MW since 2017, according to a Greenpeace report Cook co-authored. And as of January, renewable sources only fulfilled 12% of Amazon’s energy needs, the report says.

That number is significantly lower than other dominant tech companies like Microsoft and Facebook, which satisfy 34% and 37%, respectively, of their Virginia power demand with renewables. That said, Amazon’s demand in the region towers over that of all other companies; Microsoft has only 271 MW of demand in the state.

The new wind and solar farms will certainly contribute to Amazon’s goals, Cook said. But due to the size of the proposed projects, he added, they would likely each only power about one-third of a single data center.

This makes progress on Amazon’s 100% renewable energy goal look grim, especially considering that Amazon will likely continue investing in more of these centers in the months and years to come, he said. According to Cook, since the beginning of 2019, two permits were issued to Vadata, Amazon’s data center operating unit, for two new data centers each — totaling four new facilities.

“To make a difference in renewables, they have to grow at tremendous scale, and they’re not doing it,” Cook said. “Their growth otherwise is huge.”