Google invests $39 million in wind farms in North Dakota

Google announced the funding, saying the two wind farms generate 169.5 megawatts of wind power, or enough to supply 55,000 homes. The wind farms, which were developed by NextEra Energy Resources, will reduce fossil fuel use in the region and make "good business sense," for Google, too, said Rick Needham, Google’s green business operations manager, on the company blog.

Google has invested millions of dollars in renewable-energy start-ups through its philanthropic arm, It also has PowerMeter, a Web-based home electricity monitor which it’s making available through utilities and monitoring-device makers.

Now Google is looking for more renewable energy projects, said Needham. "We look forward to finding more opportunities to invest in renewable-energy projects that use the latest technologies to push the envelope for delivering low-cost clean energy," he said.

Google’s investments to make its data centers run efficiently deliver a clear benefit in the form of lower costs. Its activities with PowerMeter, too, are arguably part of its mission to organize the world’s information. On a policy level, Google executives have been active in lobbying for investments in clean-energy technologies.

The investment marks a departure from Google’s initial approach to renewable energy, which focused on investing in early-stage renewable energy companies such as BrightSource Energy, eSolar and AltaRock, which are developing new solar energy, wind energy and geothermal power technologies.

Earlier this year, Google created a Google Energy subsidiary and received approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to provide power on the wholesale market. That was done to expand its options for purchasing renewable power to meet a corporate goal of being carbon neutral.

The investment in the North Dakota wind farms is not related to its Google Energy subsidiary, according to a company representative. But it should deliver a financial return, along with furthering Google’s desire to further clean-energy adoption, she added.

The location for the projected wind farms is one of the best regions of the U.S. for wind energy. The technology behind the planned is state of the art, too, said Needham.

NextEra said it sold approximately $190 million of Class B membership interests in the two wind farms, with Google’s stake represents about 20% of the Class B shares.

The 113 wind turbines are able to adjust the pitch to take advantage of wind direction and there is a computerized control system to optimize maintenance and performance.

In California, where Google is headquartered, utilities are required to use renewable sources for a fifth of the power they sell by the end of this year, with the mandate set to expand to one-third renewables by 2020 under pending regulations.

Thirty-one other states and Washington, D.C., have renewable power requirements or goals, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

NextEra Energy Resources has sold approximately $190 million of Class B membership interests in Peace Garden Wind consists of 169.5 megawatts of wind energy projects in North Dakota.

Not merely tilting at windmills — investing in them too

On Friday we made our first direct investment in a utility-scale renewable energy project — two wind farms that generate 169.5 megawatts of power, enough to power more than 55,000 homes. These wind farms, developed by NextEra Energy Resources, harness power from one of the world’s richest wind resources in the North Dakota plains and use existing transmission capacity to deliver clean energy to the region, reducing the use of fossil fuels. Through this $38.8 million investment, we’re aiming to accelerate the deployment of renewable energy — in a way that makes good business sense, too.

To reach a clean energy future, we need three things: effective policy, innovative technology and smart capital. Through our philanthropic arm, we’ve been pushing for energy policies that strengthen the innovation pipeline, and we’ve been dedicating resources to developing new technologies, including making investments in early-stage renewable energy companies such as eSolar and AltaRock. Smart capital includes not only these early-stage company investments, but also dedicated funding for utility-scale projects. To tackle this need, we’ve been looking at investments in renewable energy projects, like the one we just signed, that can accelerate the deployment of the latest clean energy technology while providing attractive returns to Google and more capital for developers to build additional projects.

We’re excited about this first project investment because it uses some of the latest wind turbine technology and control systems to provide one of the lowest-cost sources of renewable energy to the local grid. The turbines can continuously adjust the individual blade pitch angles to achieve optimal efficiency and use larger blades with 15 percent more swept area than earlier generations, allowing capture of even more wind energy for each turbine. The control systems for these wind farms are also advanced and dynamic, allowing for remote 24/7 monitoring and operation to ensure maximum turbine up-time and power production. A couple of us got a chance to climb 80 meters up one of the 113 wind turbines to see firsthand how the rotating blade motion goes through a gearbox to turn the generator that makes the electricity. The climb to the top also provided a great view of the entire wind farm (don’t worry — we all had harnesses and turned the turbine off!).

We look forward to finding more opportunities to invest in renewable energy projects that use the latest technologies to push the envelope for delivering low cost clean energy. We’ll let you know what we find.

By Rick Needham, Green Business Operations Manager