Apple acquires hydroelectric project next to its Oregon data center

In an effort to manage its electricity usage, control costs and be more environmentally conscious, Apple has acquired a hydroelectric plant next to the data center it's building in Prineville, Oregon.
Written by Jason D. O'Grady, Contributor
Apple acquires hydroelectric project next to its Oregon data center - Jason O'Grady
(Photo: The Oregonian)

Apple is expanding its use of renewable energy sources to feed its data centers' voracious appetite for electricity. The Oregonian reports that Apple has acquired a small hydroelectric plant near the company’s new data center (above) in the city of Prineville in central Oregon. The photo above shows the first of two 338,000-square-foot data centers Apple is building in Prineville, Oregon while under construction last year. 

Image: GreenLearning.ca

Hydroelectric plants produce electricity through the use of the gravitational force of falling or flowing water and are the most widely used form of renewable energy, accounting for more than 16 percent of global electricity generation.

Apple's new data center in Prineville will be powered completely by renewable energy sources (like hydroelectricity) and the company currently buys "locally sourced renewable resources, including wind, hydroelectric, and solar" for the facility.

The 45-Mile Hydroelectric Project, as it's known, is located near Haystack Reservoir (about 20 miles northwest of Prineville in a Jefferson County irrigation canal) and is screened from fish runs. The Oregonian notes that proposals described the project as generating three to five megawatts, which is relatively small compared to big data centers, which can exceed 30 megawatts. Apple acquired the hydroelectric plant from EBD Hydro for an undisclosed sum:

The project’s previous owner, EBD Hydro, won $7 million in federal loan guarantees and a $1.5 million federal grant to help finance its construction. The company had planned to start work late in 2011; it’s not clear if the facility is operating yet -- Apple declined comment, and EBD did not immediately responded to inquiries on the deal.

According to a Notice of Transfer published by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on April 04, 2014 the project will be located at the concrete drop structure of the North Unit Irrigation District's main irrigation canal in Jefferson County, Oregon. The transfer of an exemption does not require Commission approval.

Apple has said little publicly about the status of its Oregon data center other than this blurb on the renewable energy section of the company's environmental microsite.

Our data center in Prineville, Oregon, is every bit as environmentally responsible as the one in Maiden, North Carolina. Oregon allows the direct wholesale purchase of renewable energy through Direct Access, and Apple is using this program to opt out of the default grid mix and directly access enough local renewable wind energy to power the entire facility. We’re also working with two utilities to purchase local renewable energy, and actively working on other renewable energy options.

Hydroelectricity would appear to only provide a small amount of the power required for Apple's Oregon data center. In addition to only providing 3-5 megawatts the 45-mile project will be taken offline when the irrigation canal is shut in the winter months according to the report. Apple is "actively working on other renewable energy options" (presumably solar arrays, fuel cells, and wind-power) and will continue to rely on locally sourced renewable resources to power its new Oregon facility until it can build its own renewable infrastructure.

Apple has not commented on when its Prineville, Oregon data center will go online or on what it will be used for, although it's likely to be used to support the company's iCloud products and its iTunes content ecosystem.

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