Microsoft Banks On Wind to Power Chicago Data Center

Windy City, indeed. A new wind farm deal will provide "more than enough" clean, renewable energy to Microsoft's cloud data center in the region.

Microsoft green cloud data center

Microsoft is betting big on renewable energy. The company announced July 15 in a statement that it plans to "purchase 175 megawatts of wind energy from the Pilot Hill Wind Project in Illinois, about 60 miles south of Chicago, as part of a 20-year agreement."

Funding is provided by Microsoft's internal carbon fee, which tacks on a charge for carbon emissions produced by the company's business units. Last year, Rob Bernard, Microsoft's chief environmental strategist, said the company's effort to put a price on carbon dioxide pumped $4 million into carbon offset and renewable energy programs.

The move follows last year's commitment to purchase power from the Keechi Wind Farm Project in Texas. The wind farm, from energy developer RES Americas, is set to start producing 110 megawatts of electricity from 55 wind turbines. Unlike the Pilot Hill facility, the Keechi Wind Farm won't supply Microsoft's data center with electricity.

The new "wind farm is on the same electric grid that powers our data center in Chicago," stated Bernard in a blog post. "Because the Chicago data center draws power from the Illinois power grid, projects like Pilot Hill help provide a non-polluting source of energy that displaces greenhouse gas emissions from conventional power." Construction is already under way.

According to Microsoft, Pilot Hill is "one of the biggest corporate wind purchases from a single facility." When it comes to investments in renewable energy, as in other techy endeavors, Microsoft faces stiff competition from another IT giant.

Google announced in January that it had invested $75 million in a 182-megawatt wind farm called the Panhandle 2, located in Carson County, near Amarillo, Texas. The facility is set to start producing enough renewable energy to power 56,000 homes by the end of 2014. In early 2013, the search giant invested $200 million into the Spinning Spur Wind Project in Oldham County, Texas.

Microsoft's goal is to help lay the foundation for more environmentally-friendly cloud infrastructures.

The Pilot Hill Wind Project, from EDF Renewable Energy, will generate "more than enough energy to power Microsoft's Chicago data center," stated Microsoft. "The total output of the project is equivalent to the electricity consumption of 70,000 homes in Illinois."

Brian Janous, director of energy strategy for Microsoft, said in a separate blog post that the company "is focused on transforming the energy supply chain for cloud services from the power plant to the chip." Microsoft's backing of projects like Pilot Hill help "ensure a cleaner grid to supply energy to our data centers," he added.

Ryan Pfaff, executive vice president of development for EDF Renewable Energy, hinted that apart from the environmental benefits, clean energy can have a positive effect on the bottom line. "As the cost of renewable energy continues to decline, it is encouraging to see leading corporations investing in the sector based not only on their desire to positively impact the environment, but also because it simply makes good business sense," he stated.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...