What do you do when a major new customer arrives in town asking for renewable energy? You supply it. Facebook’s decision to locate a new data center in Iowa and supply that data center with 100% wind energy is a great example of a company using its clout for good. To show its seriousness of intent, Facebook simultaneously pursued development rights to two wind parcels, one in Iowa and Nebraska, alongside its traditional site evaluation for a new data center. Iowa won the new data center, in no small part due to its leadership in the wind sector.
According to Vincent Van Son, Facebook’s Data Center Energy Manager, “When we settled on Altoona as the location for our fourth data center, one of the deciding factors was the opportunity to help develop a new wind project in the state. The project brings additional investment and jobs to the region, and in effect it makes it possible, on an annualized basis, for 100% of our energy needs to be met entirely with one of Iowa’s most abundant renewable resources.” Facebook worked with a local developer, RPM Access, and then at a key point, transferred ownership to a major utility, Mid-American. This project enabled Facebook to announce last week that the new data center will be supplied by 100% renewable energy.
As we profiled last year with Collaborative Economics, Iowa views the wind sector as a powerful economic development driver. As a result, it has emerged as an epicenter of wind in all facets – installations, innovation and manufacturing strength. Iowa’s multi-pronged clean energy strategy continues to deliver economic wins in 2013.
For example, just this year, MidAmerican Energy announced that it will invest up to $1.9 billion to expand its wind generation fleet and add up to 1,050 megawatts of wind generation in Iowa by year-end 2015, including the Facebook-initiated wind project. The company projected that “the wind expansion will provide more than $3 million in landowner payments each year and more than $360 million in additional property tax revenues over the next 30 years. The expansion will be constructed at no net cost to the company’s customers and will help stabilize electric rates over the long term. Approximately 1,000 construction jobs will be added to Iowa’s economy during the two-year construction period, and approximately 40 new permanent jobs will be added when the expansion is complete.”
These new projects also create more customers for Siemens Energy, a midwest manufacturer. MidAmerican Energy also announced that Siemens Energy would be the turbine supplier for all project sites. All of the blades for the expansion will be manufactured at Siemens’ Fort Madison, Iowa facility and the nacelles will be manufactured at Siemens’ Hutchinson, Kansas facility.
Facebook should definitely be applauded for its commitment to renewable energy, though it is important to note that little of this would have been possible without Greenpeace’s April 2011 report How Dirty is your Data? and related campaign. Greenpeace increased awareness for everyone – inside and outside the industry – that data centers continue to be very energy intensive despite efficiency in design. According to Greenpeace, “Packed full of computer servers, these facilities consume huge amounts of electricity, amounting to an incredible 1.5 to 2 percent of global energy demand (3 percent in the U.S.) – and it's growing at a rate of 12 percent a year.”
It’s encouraging to see such quick changes in how Facebook operates its business and the positive ripple effects. A shining example of where clean energy and economic development go hand-in-hand.