Amazon to power cloud with wind farm in Indiana

Following Amazon’s quiet commitment to use 100 percent clean energy for its AWS cloud, on Tuesday Amazon announced that it will support the construction and operation of a wind farm in Benton County, Indiana, which will provide power for its data centers. While Google, Facebook, and Apple have been investing in clean power for data centers for awhile, Amazon has moved more slowly and been more quiet when it comes to how it planned to incorporate clean power into its energy infrastructure mix.

These are the first actual energy infrastructure details I’ve heard so far. Amazon says Pattern Energy Group will develop a 150 MW wind farm, which will provide enough power for about 46,000 average American homes. The wind farm — dubbed the Amazon Web Services Wind Farm — will be operational as early as January 2016.

Wind turbines in Hawaii

Wind turbines in Hawaii

To put this in context, 150 MW is a small contribution to Amazon’s overall energy needs for its AWS cloud. But that amount of power could support a data center or two (or even three), depending on the size of the data centers. Apple’s 50 MW of onsite clean energy in North Carolina fully supports its large data center in the region.

Large wind turbine projects are one of the lowest cost sources of clean energy in the U.S., and can also be competitive with cheap fossil fuel plants, like new natural gas plants. The other increasingly common large scale clean power option is utility-scale solar panel farms.

Wind farms can cost as low 3 to 8 cents per kilowatt hour, in windy regions like the interior of the U.S., according to the American Wind Energy Association. Amazon didn’t disclose the financial details of its power agreement.

The Topaz solar farm.

The Topaz solar farm outside of San Luis Obispo, Calif.

Generally companies that want to buy large amounts of clean power from a new power plant, will make a “power purchase agreement” deal with the developer to buy the power from the project at a low cost over the course of 25 or so years. The developer can then use the contract with the power purchaser to get the project built.

Google has been announcing these types of clean power purchase agreement deals for years. Earlier this month Google announced that it was making a $76 million investment in a 300 MW wind project in Beaver County, Oklahoma, that is expected to be finished in late summer 2015. A week before that Google announced an $80 million investment in a solar project in Utah. Google has spent over a billion dollars on clean energy projects over the years.

This news from Amazon indicates that the cloud leader will indeed attempt to meet its commitment for 100 percent clean power for its cloud infrastructure. In recent years Greenpeace has targeted Amazon as being a slow mover when it comes to clean power for data centers.

Apple's solar farm next to its data center in Maiden, North Carolina, image courtesy of Katie Fehrenbacher Gigaom

Apple’s solar farm next to its data center in Maiden, North Carolina, image courtesy of Katie Fehrenbacher Gigaom

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