Search-engine giant Google Inc. has signed an agreement with the Grand River Dam Authority to buy electricity from a wind farm under construction in Canadian County.
Google will buy up to 48 megawatts of wind power from GRDA's interest in the Canadian Hills wind farm near El Reno. The 300-megawatt wind farm is expected to be complete by the end of the year and will be Oklahoma's largest wind farm with 135 turbines.
Google will use the electricity to operate its data center in Pryor in northeastern Oklahoma. The data center began operations in 2011.
“In conjunction with the electricity GRDA already supplies Google to operate its data center, Google will pay GRDA a premium to purchase renewable energy generated by Canadian Hills,” Gary Demasi, director of Google's global infrastructure team, said in a company blog post. “This brings the total amount of renewable energy for which Google has contracted to over 260 megawatts.”
Google last year signed a deal with NextEra Energy Resources to buy electricity directly from NextEra's Minco II Wind Energy Center in Grady and Caddo counties.
With the expansion of cloud computing, data centers have become large consumers of electricity. The Electric Power Research Institute estimates electricity use by data centers doubled from 2006 to 2011. Data centers now consume about 3 percent of the nation's electricity.
Google said it uses renewable energy for about 30 percent of its worldwide data center electricity. The company can't use renewable energy around the clock because data centers need to be operational 24 hours a day. GRDA approached Google in early 2012 about the possibility of adding wind power, officials said.
“Google's long and demonstrated commitment to renewable energy, combined with their significant and growing presence within our service area, has been an important factor in GRDA's pursuit of renewables, as exemplified by this agreement,” Dan Sullivan, CEO of GRDA, said in a statement. “In addition to increasing Google's access to renewable energy, we are also offsetting part of GRDA's wind acquisition cost through the premium Google has agreed to pay. We are pleased to pass the savings along to Oklahomans, and we're proud to pioneer this innovative structure with one of our largest customers.”
Environmental group Greenpeace praised Google's agreement with GRDA. The organization has criticized other technology companies such as Microsoft Corp. and Apple Inc. for not using more renewable power for their data centers.
“As Google powers more of its data center fleet with clean energy, it sends a signal to other IT companies and electric utilities around the world that renewable energy is not only possible, but is simply smart business in the 21st century economy,” said Gary Cook, Greenpeace International's senior information technology analyst.
The Canadian Hills wind farm is being developed by Apex Wind Energy Holdings LLC and Atlantic Power Corp. Aside from the GRDA, it will sell power to the Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority and Southwestern Electric Power Co., a Louisiana-based unit of American Electric Power.