Solar panels at Apple's solar field

Solar panels at Apple’s solar field in Yerington on April 11, 2014.

David Calvert for WIRED

Apple and NV Energy are asking state energy regulators to approve a long-term agreement designed to help power the computer giant’s planned data center expansion in Northern Nevada.

In a filing with the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) dated Nov. 1, the utility requested approval of an agreement allowing Apple to use a new 50 megawatt solar power plant in Reno to meet Apple’s planned expansion in the Reno area. Apple — which holds ambitious corporate goals of 100 percent renewably-powered facilities, data centers and supply chains — expects that its Nevada-specific energy load in Nevada will grow approximately 120 percent between 2018 and 2020, with the load continuing to increase through 2025.

The solar plant — dubbed Turquoise Nevada — will be built in the Reno Technology Park as a venture between Estuary Capital Advisors and Sumitomo Corporation of the Americas. Estuary Capital Advisors is a Berkeley, CA based consulting firm founded by energy consultant Jill Daniel, and Sumitomo is the American affiliate of the Japanese business giant, with major investments in various infrastructure projects.

Neither NV Energy nor Apple will outright own the solar plant — rather, the utility proposes entering into a power purchase agreement with the plant and transferring all produced renewable energy credits to Apple over the lifetime of the deal.

The moves come amid caution from PUC commissioners, who have turned down other requests by the utility to expand its generating assets over concerns with the Energy Choice Initiative ballot measure — which promises to fundamentally restructure the state’s energy market and prevent NV Energy or any other business from continuing to operate as a vertically-integrated utility.

In February, the commission voted 2-1 to reject a request by the utility to purchase a 550-megawatt natural gas plant located in Arizona, citing ongoing uncertainty over the ballot question.

Mark Severts, a spokesman for the utility, said the proposed power purchase agreement was “significantly different” than purchasing an existing power plant. The utility told a committee studying the ballot question that it has more than $7 billion in existing power purchase contracts that it would need to unload if the ballot question passes, but said newer agreements would be easier to transfer or auction off due to the plummeting price of renewable energy generation.

The arrangement requires PUC approval as it’s part of the utility’s “NV GreenEnergy Rider” program, which allows customers to pay a slightly higher tariff to replace utility-generated power with independent, renewable energy sources.

The agreement won’t affect the utility’s compliance with the state-mandated Renewable Portfolio Standard, a baseline minimum for renewable energy generation.

In testimony submitted to the PUC, NV Energy analyst Marc Reyes called the arrangement a “classic ‘win-win’” for Apple, the utility itself and the state of Nevada, given the economic benefits associated with Apple building out data center operations while the computing giant is able to power its facilities with renewable energy.

Apple already has similar agreements in place for solar facilities at Fort Churchill Solar, Boulder Solar II and Techren 2. The utility and Apple announced in January a separate agreement to build 200 additional megawatts of solar energy, and the company also promised to invest an additional $1 billion in Northern Nevada data center operations at a May 2017 presentation to the Reno City Council.

In a letter from Apple executive Kristina Raspe dated Oct. 31, the computing giant noted that it strives to power all of its operations with 100 percent renewable energy, and that the proposed Turquoise Nevada solar facility would help “support our growing energy load in Nevada.” The plant is located adjacent to Apple’s Sparks data center, and connects to a substation developed in partnership with Apple.

“At Apple, we go beyond just purchasing clean energy from existing sources,” she wrote. “Whenever possible, we look for opportunities to create or facilitate the creation of innovative renewable energy resources in the communities where we operate.”

It’s one of three long-term power purchase agreements put forth by the utility earlier this week, including two separate 25-megawatt long-term power purchase agreements for solar facilities owned by Techren Solar, LLC. Both projects, if approved, would be located in Boulder City’s Eldorado Valley and would come online on or before September 2020.

The PUC scheduled a prehearing conference for the application for Dec. 18.

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