Google is first customer of Duke green-energy program

Google will become the first customer of a Duke Energy program to bring renewable power to energy-hungry companies, the two said Tuesday.

Duke will buy energy from a 61-megawatt solar farm, the second-largest in the North Carolina, to be built in Rutherford County. Google will buy energy credits that represent the electricity generated for its Lenoir data center.

Google has collaborated with Duke to create the program, known as the Green Source Rider, since doubling its $600 million investment in its Lenoir facility in 2013.

The rider is intended to help customers that use a lot of power, like Google, meet corporate sustainability goals while encouraging development of green energy.

The two-year lapse since 2013 meant “the program was maybe a little more complicated than we first envisioned,” said Duke spokesman Randy Wheeless.

The energy sold is to come from new sources, either independent renewable-energy developers or projects Duke itself created. Customers also pay a premium for the green energy they buy so extra costs are not passed to other customers.

“Having Google as the first company to publicly announce its participation is extremely satisfying,” Rob Caldwell, Duke’s senior vice president for distributed energy, said in a statement. “We believe this will lead to similar announcements in the future.”

Google has committed to powering all of its operations with renewable energy. It’s now at 37 percent and says it is the world’s largest corporate purchaser of green energy.

"We’ve agreed to purchase 1.2 gigawatts of renewable power globally and we’re working to power 100 percent of our operations this way,” Gary Demasi, a Google official for data center energy, said in a statement. “As we pursue that goal, this is a really big moment for us and we’re thrilled to have created this program with Duke Energy. Not only does it enable us to purchase renewable energy for our North Carolina operations, it will empower others in the state to do the same."

At a White House event in July, Google pledged to triple its renewable energy purchases for its data centers by 2025. Duke’s was the first all-solar project Google has participated in.

The Rutherford County solar farm is being developed by Cypress Creek Renewables. It will be slightly smaller than the 65-megawatt Warsaw solar farm that Duke is building in Duplin County.

Duke is completing a $500 million solar expansion at four sites in North Carolina. Overall, the company owns 20 solar farms and buys power from 600 other facilities.

Greenpeace, a frequent critic of Duke, called the anouncement a “significant breakthrough” for companies in North Carolina that want to use renewable energy. Ten states now offer rate structures similar to the Green Source Rider, the environmental group said.

“Whether this first project under the Green Source Rider is an indication that Duke Energy is willing to become a reliable partner for companies who want to power their businesses with renewable energy remains unclear,” the group said in a statement.

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender