Google, a company whose core business is Internet search, has made its first investment in a renewable-energy project, putting up $38.8 million into two wind farms in North Dakota.
The company on Monday announced the funding, saying the two locations generate 169.5 megawatts of power, or enough to supply 55,000 homes. The 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, Google.org. It also has PowerMeter, a Web-based home electricity monitor which it's making available through utilities and monitoring-device makers.
Now the company 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.
In the past few months, though, it has stepped up its activities in clean energy, which the company says is consistent with its business objectives.
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.
"You can think of it as a way to diversify our cash holdings while investing in an area that we think is important to support. This investment will help further deployment of wind power, one of the lowest-cost sources of renewable energy," the representative said.
The location for the projected wind farms is one of the best regions of the U.S. for wind. The technology behind the planned is state of the art, too, said Needham.
The 113 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 choosing to invest in a wind project, Google is seeking to bolster a troubled part of the green-technology investment chain. With banks and project finance companies scaling back on loans, many renewable-energy projects which need tens of millions or hundreds of millions of dollars to launch have been stalled.
NextEra Energy Resources sold Google a 20 percent stake in the project to get access to capital for project development.