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    Google Has $1 Billion Riding on Clean Energy

    Written by

    Brian Merchant

    Senior Editor

    Told you this was going to be an epic year for wind power. Google just announced that it has sunk $200 million into a Texas wind farm, the 161 megawatt capacity Spinning Spur Wind Project. The clean energy generated by those Texan turbines will be enough to power 60,000 homes. It really should come as no surprise to Texans, however—the state is already fully one quarter wind-powered.

    And the move bumps Google’s green power investment portfolio past the $1 billion mark—the search giant has also dropped cash into SolarCity, to the tune of $280 million, and has invested in infrastructure necessary to link proposed offshore wind farms on the East Coast to the grid on land. All told, Google’s got 10 major clean energy investments on the books now; five for wind, five for solar.

    But it’s certainly not simply because Google’s intent on doing no fossil fueled evil—environmental groups like Greenpeace have chided the company for consuming so much dirty energy for its data servers, and Google responded in kind by promising to move towards 100% clean energy generation.

    No, this is a smart investment, enabled by the new-and-improved Wind Production Tax Credit (PTC) that was extended by Congress last year as part of the so-called fiscal cliff deal. That credit, as I’ve noted before, enables investors to reap a benefit for every kilowatt-hour of wind power produced, so as long as the project breaks ground this year. That $200 million, in other words, is a remarkably safe bet, and Google knows it.

    In a statement, Kojo Ako-Asare, Google’s senior manager of corporate finance explained thusly: “We look for projects like Spinning Spur because, in addition to creating more renewable energy and strengthening the local economy, they also make for smart investments: they offer attractive returns relative to the risks and allow us to invest in a broad range of assets."

    See, there’s a built-in guarantee that wind farms will be able to compete with conventional fossil fuel plants, even as the cost of natural gas continues to plummet. Without the PTC, fracked gas is likely to be seen as the only game in town for new energy investment—the stuff’s just so cheap, and folks are convinced it’s green, too. But it’s just kind of maybe a little cleaner than coal.

    No, wind is the real future of power generation. With just 70 big turbines, the Spinning Spur is providing power to some 200,000 people. No emissions, no contaminated water supplies, no pollution. Just rotating steel on a windy, mostly-deserted slice of the Texas panhandle, churning out clean power indefinitely.