Google, Facebook and Microsoft Corp. – three of the world’s largest clean energy buying companies – are sounding the alarm that a nearly $4 billion renewable energy project, backed by Warren Buffett, proposed in Iowa n is not necessarily in the best interests of customers, including them.
If approved, it would be the largest wind farm complex in the entire country when commissioned by the end of 2024, generating enough electricity for more than 700,000 homes. MidAmerican Energy, a utility owned by conglomerate Buffett Berkshire Hathaway Inc., has asked state regulators to approve terms that include a guaranteed rate of return of 11.25% before starting construction on a project that, according to him, will help him in his efforts to reduce carbon emissions by 75% compared to 2005 levels.
But tech giants that operate data centers in the state warn that the project, dubbed Wind Prime, could drive up electricity costs. MidAmerican, they say, should consider alternatives. “We are concerned that the current Wind Prime proposal is not in the best interest of energy consumers,” Corina Standiford, Google spokeswoman of Alphabet Inc., said in an email.
The fight is important to watch as it demonstrates the growing influence of tech giants on the energy transition. Tech companies have pushed utilities in other parts of the United States to offer more clean energy options as they seek to clean up energy sources for their energy-intensive operations. And because they buy so much electricity, utilities often listen to them.
Tech companies fighting against or for green data centers?
“The scale at which these companies are buying green power is huge,” said BloombergNEF analyst Kyle Harrison. As tech companies have become increasingly consuming renewable energy, they have also become more sensitive to its cost, he said.
Additionally, companies pushing for grid decarbonization are looking to be more strategic about when, how, and where clean energy sources are deployed. Google and Microsoft have pledged to run their entire operations with carbon-free power all the time by 2030. Facebook says it purchases enough renewable energy to fully power its operations worldwide.
MidAmerican, based in Des Moines, Iowa, proposed the project in January, laying out a massive plan for about 2,000 megawatts of wind power and 50 megawatts of solar generation. The company – which gets about 58% of its power in Iowa from wind power and 42% from coal, nuclear and other sources – said Wind Prime is a key part of the company’s goal. to achieve net zero emissions.
MidAmerican has asked regulators to approve the project by the end of October so it can qualify for $1.8 billion in federal renewable energy credits.
Facebook, which also buys large amounts of power to run data centers in Iowa, called the proposed project in a joint regulatory filing with Google a “massive and extremely costly increase in production that MidAmerican hasn’t.” ‘has not been shown to be necessary’. Last month, Microsoft filed its own petition with the Iowa Utilities Board saying it planned to join the technology-customer coalition.
Facebook’s parent company, Meta Platforms Inc., and Microsoft declined to comment beyond their filings.
Of course, pushback from the tech giants doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t ultimately support it — or buy its power if it comes to fruition. Any multibillion-dollar power plant project is bound to trigger back-and-forth, even heated debate, between customers, environmental and consumer groups and others. Regulators could approve MidAmerican’s proposed terms for the project, call for changes, or reject them altogether.
Standiford, Google’s spokeswoman, said the company is committed to operating its Iowa data center — one of the company’s largest — with 100% carbon-free power and to taking load of “new profitable sources” of clean energy.
“We are actively working with regulators and MidAmerican to ensure the right investment for Iowa,” she said.