Tech renewables leader Facebook is moving rapidly toward its goal of 100% renewable energy by 2020. The remainder of the switch will be a major feat, since the company consumed over 3.4 gigawatts of energy last year, of which 75% was renewable, according to the company’s sustainability report.
“Facebook has contracted for over 3.5 gigawatts of renewable energy, making us the largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy in the world,” says the company’s website.
The company’s latest move was unusual, in that it involved direct investment in the 379 megawatt Prospero Solar project in Andrews County, Texas, worth $416 million. Facebook will be the sole tax equity investor for the project and this will be the company’s first direct investment in a renewable energy project. Facebook signed its first contract to buy renewable power in 2013.
“Facebook is excited to be one of the first companies to use a direct investment to meet our renewable energy goals,” said Peter Freed, Energy Strategy Manager at Facebook, in a statement. “We hope such investments can be a new avenue of meaningfully engaging with projects, which might be easier for some companies than a long-term power purchase agreement, thereby unlocking new options for more organizations to meet their goals and grow the market,” he said.
Longroad Energy, a US-based renewable energy developer, owner and operator, announced today the financial close and start of construction of the Prospero Solar project on May 30.
Shell Energy North America (SENA) signed a 12-year Power Purchase Agreement for the project’s power off-take, which is one of the first shorter-term off-take agreements of this type in the solar industry. Usually, PPAs are for 20 years, the expected lifetime of a solar plant. Both Facebook and Shell will share the renewable energy attributes generated by the project’s energy production.
“Facebook is proud to have helped finance a solar project under this innovative off-take arrangement,” said Freed. “We hope our participation will help validate the structure and bring many new solar projects to the grid,” he added.
The Prospero solar farm will cover approximately 4,600 acres in Andrews County, Texas. The project will deliver more than $21 million in property taxes, including more than $12 million to the Andrews ISD. The Project will also create several hundred construction jobs as well as jobs for the operating facility. All told, the Project expects to pay more than $23 million in wages over the project life.
The project will deploy First Solar panels, TMEIC inverters, and NEXTracker tracking systems. Swinerton Renewable Energy will be the EPC contractor for the project and the interconnection will be through Sharyland Utilities.
CIT Bank is the Coordinating Lead Arranger, Administrative Agent and Collateral Agent on the project’s construction and term financing. Silicon Valley Bank and Zion’s Bancorporation N.A. are Joint Lead Arrangers, while National Australia Bank Ltd., Landesbank Hessen-Thüringen Girozentrale (Helaba), Rabobank and Commerzbank are also participating banks in the deal.
At an earlier solar plant announcement, Bobby Hollis, Facebook’s head of global energy said, “There’s the expectation that we have as a company that we think this is good for communities and this is good for the world as a whole, but it’s also good business sense,” says. “We really integrate this into our entire business planning process to make sure that we go into places where renewables make sense.”
Facebook has a goal of reducing its greenhouse gas (GHG) contribution by 75% by 2020. In 2018, the company reduced its GHG emissions from a 604,000 ton total in 2017 to 339,000 tons, according to the latest sustainability report. The company’s data centers, which were supporting the data of more than 2 billion people a month, account for nearly two-thirds of that footprint. Other business activities, including construction and employee commutes and travel, account for 38%.
Another sustainability metric important to Facebook is water usage. Thus far, its data centers use 80% less than other typical centers, the website notes. “We’ve measured our water withdrawal for years but recently we’ve started tracking our consumption too. Water withdrawal as a metric tells us how much water we purchase for our operations, but a large amount of that water is returned to local wastewater treatment plants and can be used again further downstream. Water consumption tells us what we actually evaporate in our operations and gives us a better idea of our true impact,” the website notes.
On its Mission statement page, Facebook states, “We believe sustainability is about more than operating responsibly. It’s an opportunity to support the communities we’re a part of and make a bigger impact on the world.”
“That’s why we’re working to minimize the impact of our energy, emissions and water usage, protect workers and the environment in our supply chain, and partner with others to develop and share solutions for a more sustainable world,” the company says.