Google Inc. is searching for power. Green power.
To help feed its growing, power-hungry operations in Oklahoma, the Internet search giant wants Tulsa-based utility Public Service Co. of Oklahoma to carve out a special customer class for large industrial and commercial consumers who want to use more renewable energy.
The effort is part of Google's 2007 goal to be a carbon-neutral company. It embarked on energy efficiency programs at its worldwide network of data centers, installed solar panels at its corporate headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., and entered into agreements to buy wind power from utilities in the United States.
Now, Google has weighed in on a PSO application with Oklahoma regulators to make changes to the utility's Green Energy Choice Tariff, which lets customers choose blocks of wind power for an additional charge on their bills. The utility wants to simplify the WindChoice program and do away with some of its administrative overhead in an effort to lower costs for customers.
Google isn't a PSO customer, but it bought a former Gatorade bottling plant across the street from its Pryor data center for $24.5 million in September. Google hasn't yet announced its plans for the 1.4 million-square-foot plant, which gets electricity from PSO.
“We own property that could potentially be served by PSO in the future, and so we have an interest in the process that PSO is going through right now in re-evaluating their Green Energy (Choice) Tariff,” said Gary Demasi, Google's director of global infrastructure. “It's certainly something that we would love to be able to use and something that would make sense for our business.”
Google's involvement in Oklahoma utility matters is not isolated. The company is working with another utility, Duke Energy, to come up with a renewable energy tariff for large industrial consumers in North Carolina. Google operates a data center in Lenoir, N.C. At least two other states, Virginia and Nevada, are working on similar renewable energy tariffs.
Demasi said Google has several strategies to integrate renewable power into its operations.
“We really feel strongly that there is a role there for the utility to play to provide large-scale renewable energy supply to something like a data center,” Demasi said. “We've looked for other ways to both reduce our carbon footprint as well as offset our carbon footprint.”
In testimony filed at the Corporation Commission, representatives of Google and PSO clashed on how much the technology company could share about its data center operations and power consumption needs. Google and other technology companies with large data centers typically don't talk publicly about their electricity consumption. Google didn't share that information with PSO, either.
“In my experience, this is the first time that an entity who is not a customer of the utility has requested that a new tariff be designed and implemented just in case they might become a customer,” said John Aaron, manager of regulatory pricing and analysis at an affiliate of American Electric Power Co. Inc., PSO's parent company.