TVA announces solar farms to serve Google data sites
Two big new solar farms — one in Tennessee and one in Alabama — will provide carbon-free renewable power for tech giant Google’s data centers in those states, the company and the Tennessee Valley Authority announced.
NextEra Energy Resources, based in Florida, is building one solar farm in Hollywood, a town in the northeast corner of Alabama. NextEra will own and operate the completed facility through a subsidiary, company spokesperson Lisa Paul said.
The Hollywood solar farm will generate 150 megawatts and will begin commercial operation in late 2021, she said. It’s expected to create about 250 construction jobs but few long-term ones.
Nevertheless, the solar farm should be a significant economic boon to the region through related jobs and tax revenue, Paul said.
Chicago-based Invenergy is building the solar farm in Yum Yum, Tennessee, an unincorporated community in Fayette County, but the company is not currently releasing project details, said Mary Ryan, senior manager of communications for Invenergy.
The Yum Yum solar farm also is expected to produce about 150 megawatts. But the total output announced Wednesday is 413 megawatts from 1.6 million solar panels, suggesting several smaller solar installations may be included.
For comparison, each of the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant’s two units produces 1,150 megawatts. TVA’s Allen Fossil Plant near Memphis produces 741 total megawatts from its three units.
“This is fantastic news because this announcement demonstrates that the investments we’ve made to deliver cleaner, low-cost electricity directly support our record-setting economic development activities,” TVA spokesman Scott Fiedler said. “We know that companies like Google recognize the tremendous value of public power, and our renewable energy efforts ensures we can attract and retain top-tier companies to better the lives of our nearly 10 million residents.”
NextEra and Invenergy will build the solar farms, and TVA agrees to buy the power they produce, he said; in turn, Google will buy and use at least that much power for its data centers.
“Customers are not subsidizing any solar transactions for Google,” Fiedler said.
About 72 percent of the Alabama and Tennessee data centers’ power will be matched hourly with carbon- free generation, in contrast to a 48 percent carbon- free mix for TVA’s power grid in general, according to Google’s corporate blog.
“Google’s data centers are the engines of the internet, and we are committed to maintaining 100 percent renewable energy and achieving carbon-free energy around the clock for the operation of these facilities,” an unnamed Google spokesperson said in the announcement. “This milestone solar energy deal with TVA perfectly reflects this strategic commitment. These renewable energy projects represent good news for Google and for the Tennessee Valley region.”
The Hollywood solar farm site lies about 20 miles from the Google data center in Bridgeport, Alabama, which has been under construction since April.
Announced in 2015, the Bridgeport data center will occupy 360 acres of the 2,000-acre Widows Creek Fossil Plant. The former TVA coal-fired plant shut down in 2015 after 63 years. It employed more than 500; the Google data center is expected to employ 75 to 100.
TVA continues to clean up the Widows Creek site, and Google has an option to buy more of the land for future expansion.
Also in 2015, Google bought a Clarksville site after Hemlock Semiconductor’s abandonment of plans to build a factory there. Since February work has been underway on a $600 million data center there, expected to employ about 1,000 in construction and create 70 permanent jobs.
The Bridgeport and Clarksville projects are Google’s 14th and 15th data centers worldwide, part of a $2.5 billion build-up in five states.
Wednesday’s announcement comes less than three months after TVA announced other solar farms to serve Facebook’s $750 million data center planned for Huntsville, Alabama. The Facebook facility is expected to be operational in 2020.
To provide carbon-free power for the social media giant, TVA announced a deal with NextEra to build a 150-megawatt solar farm in Lincoln County, Tennessee, just west of Chattanooga, and with Arizona-based First Solar to build a 227-megawatt solar farm near Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
Overall, more than half of TVA’s energy production is carbon-free, according to Fiedler — though most of that isn’t renewable, since the agency’s three nuclear plants count as carbon-free generation.
TVA has 384 megawatts of solar power operating, and an additional 1,088 megawatts under contract, Fiedler said. A small amount of that may be lost in converting from DC to AC power.
The agreements with NextEra and Invenergy are part of TVA’s long-term search for more solar sources, launched in a 2017 request for proposals, he said.
Environmental groups have long criticized the agency for lagging on renewable power, accusing TVA of discouraging solar installation.
The 2017 RFP sought providers of 200 megawatts of solar generation, but the solar farms serving just Google and Facebook will add 600 megawatts, Fiedler said.
“Bottom line: Solar power has a bright future in the Valley,” Fiedler said. “Progressive partnerships like this align the core values of TVA and the public power model with a company’s desire for renewable energy.”
Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Jim Gaines
The East Tennessee Economic Development Agency markets and recruits business for the 15 counties in the greater Knoxville-Oak Ridge region of East Tennessee. Visit www.eteda.org
Published January 25, 2019