Amazon Web Services to Draw Power from North Carolina Wind Farm

When the first commercial-scale wind farm in the southeastern United States comes online in North Carolina, it will help power the cloud offerings of Amazon Web Services (AWS).

AWS, the cloud services subsidiary of Seattle-based Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN), announced Monday that it has contracted with Iberdrola Renewables to construct and operate a 208-megawatt wind farm in northeastern North Carolina. A groundbreaking for the site Amazon calls “Amazon Wind Farm US East” is planned for today.

Iberdrola Renewables has been pursuing plans for a wind energy farm on the North Carolina coast for more than four years, according to filings with state utilities regulators. The company, a Portland, OR-based subsidiary of Spanish company Iberdrola (BME: IBE), told The Associated Press that it would spend $600 million to erect 102 wind turbines on coastal land near Elizabeth City, NC. The 22,000-acre swath of undeveloped farm and forest land is known locally as “the Desert.”

Iberdrola Renewables says it is the second largest wind energy facility operator in the United States, with wind farms in 17 states, including Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado, and Texas. The company expects the new North Carolina wind farm to open in late 2016, generating enough electricity to power about 60,000 homes. But AWS says that the energy from the wind farm will go to the electrical grid supplying “both current and future AWS Cloud data centers.” AWS has operated a data center in northern Virginia since 2006. Amazon’s planned wind farm sits in the service territory of Virginia-based Dominion Resources (NYSE: D).

The announcement of the new North Carolina wind farm follows Amazon’s claim late last year that it would power AWS entirely with renewable energy. AWS says its sites in Oregon, Germany, and its U.S. government cloud, are carbon neutral. But Greenpeace, among other environmental groups, has criticized Amazon for failing to be transparent about how much energy it uses and where that energy comes from.

“Without knowing the details of Amazon’s energy footprint, it’s difficult for customers to take its recent commitment to 100 percent renewable energy seriously,” Greenpeace said in report released earlier this year.

The North Carolina wind farm is Amazon’s fourth renewable energy announcement this year. In January, Amazon announced a wind project in Indiana expected to generate 500,000 megawatt-hours of wind power annually. In April, the company announced pilot testing of energy storage batteries developed by Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA). These batteries would help feed the constant energy demand of a data center when intermittent energy sources, like wind, can’t produce enough power.

Amazon is also making solar energy part of its renewables portfolio. Last month, the company announced plans for a Virginia solar farm. Together with the new North Carolina wind farm, Amazon says its East Coast renewable energy projects will produce more than 1.3 million megawatt-hours of electricity.

Frank Vinluan is editor of Xconomy Raleigh-Durham, based in Research Triangle Park. You can reach him at fvinluan [at] xconomy.com Follow @frankvinluan

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