Google invests in more emissions-free wind power

Google Inc. is living up to its reputation as an environmentally-conscious company determined to take its part in a green energy revolution by providing €39 million to help finance a massive wind farm in southern California.

Rick Needham, Google’s Director of Green Business Operations, said this week that the search engine company has now invested more than €284 million in wind turbines, solar power and other renewables. He was speaking at the WINDPOWER 2011 Conference & Exhibition in California, organised by the American Wind Energy Association.

“We’re always looking for projects that are uniquely positioned to transform our energy sector,” Needham said.

Google decided in 2007 to voluntarily become carbon neutral by minimising its energy consumption, powering its facilities with renewable energy and buying carbon offsets for emissions it can’t directly eliminate.

Needham said Tuesday that the recent investment in the Alta Wind Energy Centre (AWEC) — which will generate 1,550 MW when construction is finished — should help California meet its Renewable Portfolio Standard of 33% clean power by 2020.

He said renewable energy developer Terra-Gen Power is building AWEC, which is located where the Mojave Desert meets the Tehachapi Mountains, in phases and upon completion should generate enough electricity to power 450,000 homes. “The whole site will boost California’s wind energy generation by 30%,” Needham added.

He said the first five Alta wind farm projects are already operational, delivering 720 MW of energy to Southern California Edison which signed a power purchase agreement signed with Terra-Gen in 2006.

Google’s €39 million will help finance the 102 MW Alta IV wind farm project, Needham said, adding Citibank, which has underwritten the equity for Alta Projects II-V, is also investing in this project.

The two companies are purchasing the Alta IV project under a leveraged lease arrangement and will lease it back to Terra-Gen, which will manage and operate the wind project under a long-term agreement.

“We hope this structure encourages more investment by enabling other types of investors who might not typically consider wind energy projects,” Needham said.

By Chris Rose,