What Apple’s $848 Million Solar Energy Deal Really Means

No, its spaceship-like headquarters won’t be powered by carbon-free electricity, but the company is ramping up renewable energy for everyone else.

Apple’s future headquarters in Cupertino, California. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Feb 11, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Todd Woody is TakePart's editorial director, environment.

Apple is starting to out-Google Google when it comes to making splashy investments in renewable energy.

Take Tuesday’s announcement that the company would spend nearly a billion dollars to buy 130 megawatts of electricity generated by the California Flats Solar Project that's under construction in Monterey County. The power plant will generate a total of 280 megawatts—enough to power about 100,000 homes—by deploying solar panels over 2,900 acres of former farmland.

“We know at Apple that climate change is real,” Tim Cook said at a Goldman Sachs conference, according to The New York Times. “The time for talk is past. The time for action is now.”

Talk—or action—isn’t cheap.

Apple will spend $848 million over 25 years to purchase carbon-free electricity from developer First Solar in the largest commercial solar deal to date. It was widely reported that the energy would power the company’s California operations, including its new spaceship-like Silicon Valley headquarters.

Not quite.

The electricity generated by the project is the equivalent of the energy consumed by Apple’s operations. But that electricity will flow into the power grid and out to millions of Californians’ homes, not directly to the company’s offices, stores, and data centers.

But the solar electricity generated by the power plant will offset any fossil-fuel use by the company—and more important, Apple’s investment most likely guaranteed that the California Flats Solar Project is being built. Such deals by big, private companies have become crucial for the expansion of renewable energy to fight climate change at a time when utilities’ interest has lagged. Cheap natural gas has made solar and wind enegy less attractive to power providers in recent years.

Google, for instance, has poured more than $1.5 billion into solar and wind projects, sometimes inking power-purchase agreements, like Apple has, and sometimes buying a piece of a project as an investment.

Bottom line: That means more clean, green energy for everyone.