Alabama Coal Plant Will Be a 100% Renewable Google Data Center

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Supreme Court Decision Unlikely to Stall the Shift Away from Coal Plants

MIT Technology Review, June 29, 2015. Image credit: HebiPics

Federal regulation aside, the decline of coal-fired power is being driven by market forces: more than 90 percent of these plants are older than 20 years; many are much older. The shale gas revolution has made burning natural gas, which is a far cleaner source of heat for electricity than coal, at least as economical as coal in many cases. Even if the federal government doesn’t force utilities to move away from coal, the market, and public pressure from ratepayers, is driving them toward cleaner sources of energy.

That raises a perplexing question: what are we going to do with all those former coal plants?

Google-coal-data-center
This Alabama coal plant will soon be a Google data center.

All of those apply to Widows Creek, in northern Alabama, a coal plant owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority that was shut down as part of the TVA’s sweeping 2011 clean-air agreement with the EPA and environmental organizations. This week Google announced it will turn the former coal plant into a data center powered by 100 percent renewable energy. If all works out, this could turn into a rare unalloyed victory in the transition away from fossil fuels: Google gets a ready-zoned brownfield site with ample existing infrastructure; the surrounding communities get a new economic boost; the climate gets a reduction of millions of tons of greenhouse gases every year.

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