HP to Power Texas Data Centers With Wind Energy

Source: By DIANE CARDWELL, New York Times • Posted: Wednesday, July 22, 2015

For years, clean energy developers could look to only a small handful of corporations as project partners or customers for their power. Mostly, there was Google, and a few other high-tech companies that worked directly with wind and solar developers to help green their energy use.

Now, that appears to be changing. On Tuesday, Hewlett-Packard announced a 12-year contract to buy 112 megawatts from a wind farm that SunEdison is expanding in Texas. That is enough, HP said, to operate its data centers there, the equivalent of powering 42,600 homes each year.

The deal follows a flurry of other recent agreements. In February, Kaiser Permanente announced a 20-year contract to buy 153 megawatts of wind and solar power from two California farms. A month later, Dow Chemical said that it would buy 200 megawatts of wind power in Texas.

And last week, Amazon Web Services said that it was contracting with Iberdrola Renewables to build and operate a 208-megawatt wind farm in North Carolina, the state’s first at utility scale.

HP’s agreement will allow it to reach its 2020 operational greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal of 20 percent from 2010 levels by the end of this year, but it was not easy to pull off, said Gabi Zedlmayer, chief progress officer of the company.

“Environmental considerations figure into all of our I.T. and real estate decisions that we’re making,” she said. “It’s still rather a complex process over all — you know, we can’t just go and purchase the energy that we want. To get to this type of an agreement, this has taken us the better part of a year.”

Driving the corporate push to purchase renewable energy, a good deal of it wind, is a combination of falling prices and greater pressure for companies to show action to fight climate change, as opposed to just setting targets. Nearly a quarter of the power purchase agreements for wind signed in 2014, according to the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group, were with nonutility customers.

Part of the incentive was a need to show shareholders and customers direct action on climate change goals, said Hervé Touati, a managing director at the Rocky Mountain Institute, where he focuses on the Business Renewables Center to help accelerate corporate renewable energy purchases.

“The pressure is mounting,” he said, and some measures — like energy efficiency — are not visible or fast enough to satisfy it. The ability to, say, mount solar panels on a roof, is limited, leaving large-scale clean energy purchases as an important option. But companies are just beginning to develop the expertise needed — often at the highest levels — to negotiate and approve contracts for electricity.

As a result, it is a trend that energy executives expect to grow. In addition to helping meet sustainability goals, the cost of delivering renewable power has fallen and, once a plant is up and running, it is not subject to the same price fluctuations as other sources like oil or gas, said Kurt Adams, SunEdison’s chief development officer.

“Being able to procure a long-term, stable-priced energy source, that’s just good business, and that’s what we see a lot of corporates focused on these days,” he said.

For SunEdison, which announced on Monday that it was acquiring Vivint Solar, part of an aggressive expansion the company has undertaken in recent months, the agreement allows it to begin construction on the South Plains II wind farm in Texas, which will be able to generate 300 megawatts of power when it is completed.