Microsoft signs big US wind PPA

Microsoft has inked its largest ever power-purchase agreement for renewable energy, committing to take the full output of the as-yet-unbuilt 175MW Pilot Hill wind farm in Illinois for 20 years.

At the same time, EDF Renewable Energy has acquired the Pilot Hill project from the developers Orion Energy and Vision Energy. EDF Renewable Energy will own and operate the project.

Pilot Hill, slated to enter construction shortly and be finished in early 2015, will consist of a combination of General Electric and Vestas turbines.

The PPA is Microsoft’s second such deal in the past two years, following last year’s transaction when it agreed to purchase the output from the 110MW Keechi wind farm in Texas from owner RES Americas.

The technology giant says its latest PPA is “indicative of [its] growing commitment to renewable energy and sustainability”.

Pilot Hill is set 95km southwest of Chicago, and will generate more electricity than Microsoft's Chicago data centre consumes.

“Microsoft is focused on transforming the energy supply chain for cloud services from the power plant to the chip,” says the company’s director of energy strategy, Brian Janous.

In procuring renewable electricity to power its energy-intensive operations, Microsoft is playing catch up to tech rival Google, which to date has signed five PPAs for wind power totaling 585MW of capacity.

However, over the past two years Google has begun to focus more heavily on convincing utilities to offer it green electricity, rather than signing PPAs of its own– a shift explained recently to Recharge by Neha Palmer, Google Infrastructure’s head of energy strategy and development, and a member of Recharge's 4040 initiative.

The PPA with Microsoft provided the long-term revenue certainty needed to get the project off the ground, claims EDF Renewable Energy’s executive vice president of development Ryan Pfaff.

Pilot Hill will qualify for the federal renewable electricity Production Tax Credit.

EDF Renewable Energy is one of the largest renewable energy developers in North America, with 5.7GW of capacity.

Microsoft will partly finance the PPA at Pilot Hill through its internal carbon fee, which it charges to its various business groups based on their energy consumption.