Google might have its critics on the privacy and antitrust fronts, but it would be hard to fault the company when it comes to promoting a clean energy future. It’s now powered past the $1 billion investment mark, taking a $200 million equity stake in the 161-megawatt Spinning Spur wind power plant on the Texas Panhandle.
In November, Google announced a $75 million equity investment in an Iowa wind farm, a move that pushed its clean energy portfolio to around $990 million.
This wind love is partly about fulfilling a broad social mission – don’t be evil and all that – but Google said it also wants to inspire other corporations to consider ploughing money into the renewables sector. After all, Google said, it can be a very good investment.
“We look for projects like Spinning Spur because, in addition to creating more renewable energy and strengthening the local economy, they also make for smart investments: they offer attractive returns relative to the risks and allow us to invest in a broad range of assets,” Google posted on its blog.
One thing that makes wind a good investment is the support it gets from U.S. taxpayers through the production tax credit. Turbine owners get a federal tax credit of 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity produced. Spinning Spur, having gone online in December, would have been eligible no matter what, but the subsidy was extended (and in expanded form) for another year past its Dec. 31, 2012, expiration in the fiscal cliff deal.
Spinning Spur was developed by EDF Renewable Energy, which used to be called enXco. It consists of 70 2.3 MW Siemens turbines and has a 15-year power purchase agreement with Southwestern Public Service Company, a subsidiary of Xcel Energy.
In making the Spinning Spur announcement, Google cited progress with four other of 10 big projects it has invested in, noting that:
- the Atlantic Wind Connection recently received permission to begin permitting;
- the 845-MW Shepherds Flat wind farm in Oregon went into operation last October;
- the concentrating solar plant called Ivanpah installed its 100,000th heliostat, putting it past 75 percent completion;
- and, just this week, the fourth and final phase of Recurrent Energy’s 88 MW solar installation in Sacramento County, Calif., reached commercial operation.
In all, Google said, its investments in clean energy projects add up to about 2 gigawatts of generating capacity. As GigaOm smartly noted, that’s about equal to the generating capacity of Hoover Dam. (Interestingly enough, Hoover Dam operated at a capacity factor of around 23 percent from 1947 through 2008, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which is a little better than most solar power installations but falls short of the 30 percent or more capacity factors that today’s wind farms regularly muster.)