When Google announced plans to double its investment in its North Carolina data center to $1.2 billion last week, it also touted an innovative program with Duke Energy to expand renewable energy options in the state through a “Renewable Energy Tariff” that will allow the Internet giant to ensure more of the electricity powering the data center is green.
Google last week reaffirmed its continuing commitment to maximizing renewable power at its facilities in announcing its intention to participate in the Duke Energy program as part of the expansion of the Lenoir, NC, data center housing the computer systems supporting Google Search, Gmail, Google+ and YouTube.
Duke plans to ask the state’s utility commission to allow it offer a new class of service for large customers like Google that want to buy renewable energy, with only those customers paying the costs of procurement under the tariff. While Renewable Energy Tariffs programs are a step in the right direction toward a cleaner energy future, they need to be part of a set of policies that promote renewable energy and energy efficiency for all North Carolina residents, not just the largest electricity users.
North Carolina’s current clean energy policies like the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard passed in 2007 already have helped create the conditions to procure more sustainable power in the state by bringing in new suppliers and reducing costs. These policies also have attracted businesses like Google that want access to clean energy.
Unfortunately, some state lawmakers want to overturn the standard that requires investor-owned utilities to meet up to 12.5% of their energy needs through renewable energy resources or energy efficiency measures -- the cleanest, cheapest power resource available – by 2021. Rural electric cooperatives and municipal electric suppliers are subject to a 10% REPS requirement by 2018.
Meanwhile, Google has clearly stated that its philosophy is to ensure “additional” renewable power generation – not a reshuffling of current resources.
This means Duke Energy will need to find new sources of clean energy to meet its commitment to Google. That’s good news, but it is not a substitute for policies ensuring that all Duke’s customers benefit from less carbon-intensive power and system-wide investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy. Small business and residential customers want cleaner power and cleaner air, too.
It also will be important for Google and other large program customers to choose renewable energy from clean sources like wind and solar, not from dirty ones such as the burning of whole trees in coal power plants – which is as polluting and damaging for the environment as coal power generation.
Hopefully, the push from Google and other major companies for renewable power in places where it does business will lead to a new kind of “green revolution” that spreads across the country as more companies -- and all bill payers -- demand access to clean energy.