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.
Renewable energy credits also complicate the situation. Because most utilities generate electricity from multiple sources and fuels, it's almost impossible to designate a particular generating source and fuel type for a single customer. Renewable energy credits, or RECs, are used to certify that renewable energy was generated by a utility or by a third-party under a power-purchase agreement. The credits have value and can be sold on secondary markets like other commodities.
Google wants PSO to transfer the credits to large customers, something the utility has resisted under the current WindChoice program and its proposed changes. Google wants the credits so it can retire them and make sure they're not double-counted.
“It's very important to us that we're able to track the creation of that REC and we're also able to track the retirement of that REC,” Demasi said.
PSO and Google last week asked an administrative law judge to split PSO's application at the Corporation Commission. That would allow the utility to make its changes to the residential WindChoice program while PSO works with Google on a new customer class for renewable energy.
“At this point, we don't have enough information or time to design an industrial option like Google is requesting in a way we're confident will protect our existing customers from subsidizing an option for Google,” PSO spokesman Stan Whiteford said in an email. “We look forward to understanding Google's needs better and working with them for a mutually agreeable solution.”
Google has been active in the region's renewable energy market. The company last year signed a deal with the Grand River Dam Authority to purchase 48 megawatts of wind power from the Canadian Hills project west of Oklahoma City. The authority supplies power to Google's data center, which has about 100 employees at Pryor's MidAmerica Industrial Park.
Google's affiliate, Google Energy LLC, also has a power purchase agreement with NextEra Energy Resource's Minco II wind farms in Grady and Caddo counties for about 100 megawatts of electricity. In September, Google signed a deal for 240 megawatts from the Happy Hereford wind farm outside of Amarillo, Texas, which was developed by Oklahoma's Chermac Energy.