Regulators OK renewable energy agreements for Switch, Apple

John Locher / AP

In this Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015, photo, a car drives by a Switch data center in Las Vegas.

State regulators approved energy agreements today that help Apple and Las Vegas-based data company Switch operate their facilities in Nevada with renewable energy.

Under power purchase agreements approved by the Public Utilities Commission, the two technology companies will source some of their electricity from two new solar projects. The new plants will be constructed near existing facilities in Clark County.

Running 24/7, data centers are some of the largest consumers of electricity. Switch, which services a broad range of clients, including eBay and Google, pledged last year to power its data centers with 100 percent renewable energy. At the start of the year, Switch said it had met this goal by tapping into NV Energy's renewable portfolio during construction of the solar facilities that will eventually serve it.

Switch has a campus of data centers in Southern Nevada. It is building another campus in Northern Nevada that is expected to open later this year.

Apple, with data centers across the country, is working toward a similar goal of powering its facilities with 100 percent renewables. It operates a data center in Reno.

“Consumers are demanding renewable power, and world-class developers, along with NV Energy, have created a new model for such projects to come on line,” commission Chairman Paul Thomsen said in a statement today. “This innovative structure enables additional renewable development, reduces gas and coal purchases, and facilitates Clean Power Plan compliance, all at prices that do not negatively affect ratepayers.”

Companies like Switch and Apple will pay NV Energy a premium to purchase renewable energy from the solar projects, which will be connected to the utility.

Switch will purchase its renewable energy from Switch Station 1 and Switch Station 2, one of the new projects in the agreements approved today. The other new solar project, Boulder Solar II, will serve some of Apple’s renewable energy needs.

The projects in the power purchase agreements will add 129 megawatts of solar generation capacity to the state. The facilities are not owned by NV Energy, so ratepayers do not assume any risk for their construction and avoid some costs associated with investment in new utility infrastructure.

A statement from the commission said that large-scale projects it has approved in the past five months have added 329 megawatts of new solar generation. “These substantial commitments to solar energy will decrease the state’s reliance on fossil fuel generation in a cost-effective manner that benefits all ratepayers,” the statement said.