About the time Facebook powers up its new Altoona data center, the Des Moines metro area will get about 40 percent of its energy from wind.
Green energy was a big factor in attracting the company to Iowa, and will be key in snagging new tech investment, state and utility leaders say.
On May 8, MidAmerican Energy Co. announced it would invest $1.9 billion in developing more wind energy in the state, less than a month after Facebook said it would build the first of possibly three $300 million data centers.
Bill Fehrman, MidAmerican’s CEO, said the move to add 656 new wind turbines helps lower costs for all its 640,000 Iowa customers. But he acknowledged that it’s especially important to energy-hungry companies like Facebook.
“The fact that we’re able to do this at a large scale, and do this at a very competitive rate, gives them a competitive advantage,” Fehrman said at the news conference announcing the wind energy expansion.
MidAmerica’s move to expand its wind portfolio also may help the investor-owned utility head off Facebook, Google and other tech companies from investing in their own wind farms.
Last year, Google invested $75 million in a 50 megawatt wind farm in Rippey, a small town in Greene County. It’s part of the Internet giant’s $1 billion commitment to drive development of renewable energy.
The Mountain View, Calif., company expects the Iowa wind farm will create enough energy to power about 15,000 Iowa homes.
Debi Durham, the state’s economic development director, said Facebook considered investing in a “wind farm totally dedicated to them” before announcing its Altoona data center.
A state document indicates Facebook considered creating up to 150 megawatts of wind energy. Under pressure from Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, Facebook has pledged to get 25 percent of its energy from renewable resources by 2015.
In March, Facebook hired lobbyist Jim Carney to explore possible renewable energy options with state lawmakers.
“There were several different scenarios batted around,” including expanding state tax credits that are now offered to small and large wind producers. “The law currently does not allow us to do” all of the options considered, Durham said.
She urged the company to set the issue aside, given its complexity.
One potential opponent could have been MidAmerican, according to emails the Register obtained through open records laws.
The renewable energy proposals targeted to help Facebook could have competed with the regulated utility or could have added power to the grid that’s already being sourced from its coal power plants.
MidAmerican has already plowed more than $6 billion into wind energy since 2004, the company said earlier this month, and has the seventh-lowest power rates in the nation.
Durham expects more discussion around renewable energy for tech companies.
“All of these data centers are concerned about the amount of energy that they consume and do everything they can to leave a greener footprint,” she said.
Nebraska’s “woefully weak” presence in wind energy is one reason the state lost the Facebook project to its neighbor, said Sen. Galen Hadley, an independent who represents Kearney. The state is rushing wind tax credits through the Legislature.
“Facebook is a socially conscious company, and wind energy is important in that landscape,” he said.
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