Microsoft is using its considerable financial resources and influence to help popularize renewable energy in Virginia. The Redmond, Wash., tech titan has entered into a public-private partnership with energy producer Dominion Virginia Power and the state of Virginia to kick off a new 20-megawatt solar project, the company announced this week.
Situated next to Dominion’s Remington generating station on land the energy producer already owns, the solar farm will pump renewable energy, enough to power 5,000 homes, directly into Virginia’s power grid. The project, expected to be completed by 2017, helps Dominion inch closer to its goal of installing 400 megawatts of solar power in the state by 2020.
“This will help Microsoft maintain our ongoing commitment to carbon neutrality by bringing new renewable energy directly onto the grid,” said Rob Bernard, chief environmental strategist at Microsoft. “Our decision to purchase and retire the green attributes from this new solar project is consistent with how Microsoft approaches all our renewable energy purchases, and is a core aspect of our corporate commitment to environmental sustainability.”
The deal marks the first time Microsoft has partnered directly with one of its utilities on a renewable energy project. (The company operates massive Azure cloud data centers in Virginia.) Typically, the company supports renewable energy projects by entering into power purchase agreements, which guarantees that Microsoft will pay for the power produced by a renewable-energy plant for its data centers, helping them get off the ground.
Microsoft used power purchase agreements to for a 175-megawatt wind farm in Illinois, 60 miles south of Chicago. The Pilot Hill Wind Project, as the wind farm is called, is on the same grid that supplies the company’s Chicago data center.
In 2013, Microsoft inked a 20-year renewable energy purchasing agreement to help break ground on the Keechi Wind Farm Project in Texas. Located roughly 70 miles northwest of Fort Worth, the 110-megawatt site doesn’t feed power directly into the company’s data centers, however.
In terms of Microsoft’s own environmental efforts, the new solar facility is an added bonus. Bernard noted that his company’s global operations had already achieved carbon neutrality back in 2012. And that streak continues.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency presented Microsoft with a Climate Leadership Award for Organizational Leadership for its efforts to curb carbon emissions. Other tech industry winners included Cisco for Supply Chain Leadership and IBM for Excellence in Greenhouse Gas Management.
Microsoft’s emissions-lowering projects and internal carbon fee program (which Microsoft uses to hold its business units financially accountable for their environmental impact) has thus far reduced its carbon footprint by 7.5 million metric tons. The company’s purchases of clean power have totaled more than 10 billion kilowatt hours.
Playing to the company’s strengths, Microsoft has cut energy use at its 125-building campus in Redmond by $2 million per year through its software-enabled Energy-Smart Buildings initiative. New construction is designed to minimize construction waste, use 20 percent less energy than conventional buildings and consume less water.