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Google tosses big bucks into wind

LIVERMORE, Calif. — Google has spent $1.5 billion around the world on clean energy projects cutting the pollution from millions of users clicking on search links, watching YouTube videos and sending emails, but now it’s found a powerful electricity source close to home.

The company announced Wednesday that it is buying power from the Altamont Pass, one of the nation’s oldest, largest and most iconic wind farms that is about to get a Google-funded makeover.

The tech giant has no plans to brand the blades with its multicolored logo, but its 20-year power purchase agreement with Florida-based NextEra Energy will dramatically transform the rolling, treeless landscape that connects the Bay Area with the Central Valley here. About 770 old turbines from the 1980s will be replaced this year by 48 new machines producing twice as much energy, enough to power Google’s corporate campus in Mountain View with 100 percent renewable power.

“It’ll be majestic,” said Sam Arons, an energy strategist at Google. “Today there are many small turbines of all different sizes, all different vintages. It’s kind of a hodgepodge out there. Once this project is done, you’ll see a lot of tall, sleek, majestic turbines that will really de-clutter the landscape.”

Google’s involvement is the latest green power play from a company that has spent a decade dropping money on wind, solar and geothermal projects from West Texas to South Africa and the Netherlands, and is an investor in Ivanpah, the huge solar thermal power plant built by BrightSource Energy in the Mojave Desert. Google says it operates with 35 percent renewable power worldwide.

Last year, it spent $3.2 billion to acquire Nest Labs, maker of the slick “learning thermostat.” It also quietly named John Woolard, the former CEO of Brightsource, as a vice president for energy. It has several previous deals with NextEra — for wind farms in Iowa, North Dakota and Oklahoma — and recently invested in Utah’s largest solar plant.

But unlike most of those projects, Google’s Altamont venture is more than a capital investment. Just 50 miles from Mountain View, it will do more to reduce the Googleplex’s carbon footprint than any of the quirky projects on the corporate campus, from the 1.9-megawatt solar array to the plant fueled by landfill gas.

Google is the second Silicon Valley tech giant this week to announce a major local green energy project. On Tuesday, Apple announced an $850 million agreement to buy power and help build a 280-megawatt solar farm in Monterey County.


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