This must be a final kick in the pants for the companies that supplied coal to the Widows Creek coal power plant in Jackson County in Alabama. First the coal-fired power plant was scheduled for a shutdown, now Google has announced it will be resurrected as a data center powered entirely powered by renewable energy.
Google explained that the location is ideal for its power needs. “Data centers need a lot of infrastructure to run 24/7, and there’s a lot of potential in redeveloping large industrial sites like former coal power plants,” Google’s Patrick Gammons, senior manager of Data Center Energy and Location Strategy wrote in a post on Google’s official blog. “At Widows Creek, we can use the plants’ many electric transmission lines to bring in lots of renewable energy to power our new data center.”
“Decades of investment shouldn’t go to waste just because a site has closed; we can repurpose existing electric and other infrastructure to make sure our data centers are reliably serving our users around the world,” Gammons said. The coal plant opened up in the 1960s and has generated power since then. Google will start radically revamping the site into the new data center in 2016.
It’s not the first time Google has taken a former site used for fossil fuels to convert it to a green facility. In 2013 it invested in SunEdison’s Regulus solar project, which is being built on a site that used to host 30 oil wells.
Google hasn’t announced where all of the power for the datacenter will come from. But Gammons said that it made an agreement with the local utility, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), “to scout new renewable energy projects and work with TVA to bring the power onto their electrical grid.”
In 2013 Google issued a white paper discussing a new way for large companies to purchase green energy via a tariff that it would pay. Whether or not it will procure power for the new facility using such a tariff was not explained.
Greenpeace praised the announcement. Datacenters are huge consumers of electricity and while Gammons said Google’s datacenters are now 3.5 times more efficient than they were just 5 years ago, they still need a lot of power and using green energy helps reduce not just their use of dirty energy but all their users’ use of it, too. In a region that’s still heavily powered by coal plants is also a bellwether for the region.
"Google’s data center in Alabama is a poignant symbol of how quickly our energy economy can change for the better, and shows that even in regions that are not yet maximizing their renewable energy potential like the Southeast, major internet companies want the ability to power their facilities with renewable energy,” said David Pomerantz, Greenpeace’s senior climate and energy campaigner. “Utilities, state legislators and regulators should take notice: the 21st century economy is demanding nothing short of 100 percent renewable energy.”Tweet