Answering a mystery that’s been brewing since last fall, Apple has revealed it’s the company behind two big renewable-energy projects in Oregon — and one of them is the consumer-tech giant’s largest ever.
In its new Environmental Responsibility Report, Apple said it had signed power purchase agreements with a wind power project that’s set to begin construction in Gilliam County in September, and with what will soon be Oregon’s largest solar power plant, in Crook County.
The deals come through an Oregon program called Direct Access, which is supposed to allow commercial customers to opt out of standard utility service and buy power from independent “electricity service suppliers,” but hasn’t always worked out that way, particularly in Pacific Power’s service area.
Now, Apple appears to have broken new ground in Direct Access in Pacific Power territory, in the process paving the way for a big swath of new renewable energy to come onto the grid in Oregon.
The Business Journal reported last November that Portland-based Avangrid Renewables, an energy service supplier, had struck a deal to sell power from the 56-megawatt Gala Solar power plant — now under construction in Prineville, where Apple has a data center — to an unnamed “Fortune 500 commercial and industrial” customer.
Then came word that Avangrid had found a buyer — again unnamed — for power from the first phase of the 400-plus-megawatt Montague Wind Power Project, allowing Avangrid to begin construction later this year.
An Avangrid Renewables spokesman said on Sunday he “still could not confirm the identify of the PPA offtaker on either project at this current time,” but Apple could, and did.
In its annual environmental progress report, released to coincide with Earth Day, Apple said, “To support our Prineville data center, we recently signed a 200-megawatt power purchase agreement for a new Oregon wind farm, the Montague Wind Power Project, set to come online by the end of 2018.”
Apple noted that this would be “our largest project to date, producing over 560 million kilowatt-hours of clean, renewable energy a year.”
The company also said it had “executed a power purchase agreement for the 56-megawatt Solar Star Oregon II PV array located just a few miles from our data center.”
Solar Star Oregon II LLC is a subsidiary of SunPower, which is building the Gala Solar project. Apple said it expected the plant to produce 140 million kilowatt-hours of renewable energy a year.
For perspective, the average Oregon residential customer uses around 10,800 kilowatt-hours of electricity a year. So the Apple projects together will produce enough energy to match the annual use of nearly 65,000 households.
“To strengthen the connection between Apple and these projects, we use Oregon’s Direct Access program to schedule the renewable energy from these projects directly to our data center,” Apple said.
The revelation that Apple is the buyer on these projects comes just days after an Oregon legislative committee tabled Senate Bill 979, which sought to help commercial customers more easily buy renewable power through the Direct Access program. Many companies are eager to do so, partly for social reasons, but also because renewables offer increasingly competitive, stable prices.
The American Wind Energy Association reported just last week that “a record 24 percent of installed wind capacity in 2016 was contracted under long-term PPAs with corporate and other non-utility customers, representing 1,953 megawatts of newly installed capacity.”
Walmart and Microsoft, along with the tech coalition Technet – which has Apple’s general counsel on its executive council – had testified in favor of the “renewable direct access” bill. Portland General Electric and PacifiCorp, the Berkshire Hathaway company that does business in Oregon as Pacific Power, opposed it.
As of mid-2016, 3.5 percent of Pacific Power’s commercial load was on the Direct Access program. For PGE, the figure was 15.7 percent.
The investor-owned utilities, who together provide about two-thirds of the electricity sold in Oregon, operate under different Direct Access rules set by the Public Utility Commission. Independent power producers looking to sell to corporations who want to green their energy profiles complain that excessive “transition charges,” especially with Pacific Power, have stood in the way.
These are charges imposed on companies that leave standard utility service and are intended to protect ratepayers from bearing the full, long-term cost of investments the utilities had made to meet demand.
In testimony in Salem earlier this month, Walmart’s point man on energy policy Chris Hendrix said the company wanted to buy renewables directly in Oregon.
However, “We haven’t been able to make Direct Access cost-effective in Oregon to do it,” Hendrix said. “We do it in all the other states where we have a choice, but in Oregon we haven’t been able to.”
Nike Inc. is among the Portland General Electric customers that have gone to Direct Access. This year, the company began buying renewable energy from existing Avangrid wind power plants in the Columbia River Gorge.
In its quest to power its facilities worldwide with 100 percent renewables, Apple aims to bring on new renewables, preferably with facilities it owns.
Where that’s not viable, the company says, it looks to do “long-term renewable energy purchase contracts, supporting new, local projects” – the case with the Montague and Gala projects.
When all else fails, the company says it is “willing to procure strong renewable energy credits (RECs) tied to recently constructed renewable energy projects.”
And there’s some of that in Oregon now, too, for Apple: In its report, the company noted it had “executed a long-term purchase agreement for all environmental attributes with Cypress Creek Renewables from a 50-megawatt portfolio of six solar arrays in Oregon.”