Google Alta Wind Infusion Pushes Clean Energy Funding to $400M

Google put $55 million into the Alta Wind Energy Center (AWEC), which will be able to power 450,000 homes and boost California's wind power generation by 30 percent.

Google May 24 said it put $55 million into the Alta Wind Energy Center (AWEC), pushing the company's clean power cash infusions to $400 million.

Situated in southern California's wind-blown Mojave Desert, AWEC when complete will create 1,550 megawatts (MW) of energy, or enough to power 450,000 homes. AWEC should boost California's wind generation by 30 percent.

Google claims this makes AWEC one of the largest facilities for wind energy generation in the country. For perspective, the Shepherds Flat Wind Farm Google invested in is expected to produce 845 megawatts of electricity to fuel more than 235,000 homes.

Google's cash infusion will finance the 102 MW Alta IV project, one of several phases under which renewable energy developer Terra-Gen Power is building AWEC. Citibank, which has placed equity in the Alta Projects II-V, is also investing in this project.

Five Alta projects are already operational, delivering 720 MW of energy to Southern California Edison. This power company will receive all 1,550 MW when completed, under a purchase agreement inked with Terra-Gen.

The new Alta project possesses some creative funding, employing a leveraged lease which to date has been used in the solar industry.

Under this financial plan, Google and Citi are purchasing the Alta IV project and will lease it back to Terra-Gen, who will manage and operate the wind projects under long-term agreements.

Rick Needham, Google's director of Green Business Operations, said the parties hope this financial structure appeals to investors who might not typically consider wind projects.

Unlike some previous projects, Google will not be purchasing the electricity from this project. Google, which secured the right to buy and sell power from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last year, has been buying power to run several data centers.

Google one month ago bought 100.8 megawatts of wind energy to power its new data center in Oklahoma, and acquired 114MW of wind power from NextEra's Story II Wind Energy Center in Iowa last July.

The company's data centers include commodity servers that power the company's search engine and Web services. These applications consume massive amounts of power.

Keenly aware of this, Google has been working hard to reduce its carbon footprint, making its data centers as energy efficient as possible through water cooling and other techniques.

Google invested $100 million into the Shepherds Flat Wind Farm last month, just two weeks after pumping $168 million into a solar energy power plant BrightSource Energy in the Mojave Desert.

GigaOm has this complete list of Google's clean energy investments, which are either wind or solar-based, to date.