Meta Platforms, Inc., formerly Facebook, is turning to the sun to power its data centers in the South.
The Silicon Valley-based tech giant said Friday it will purchase 720 megawatts of solar-generated electricity from seven new solar farms being built in Georgia and Tennessee to power all of its operations in the region with renewable power.
Through the Green Invest program offered by the Tennessee Valley Authority and other purchase power agreements, Meta is contracting with the Nashville-based Silicon Ranch, one of the nation's largest independent power producers, to supply the solar power to serve Meta's data centers in the Southeast. As part of the agreements, Silicon Ranch will build, own and operate the solar facilities over the life of each of the projects.
"Meta's commitment to support their operations with 100% renewable energy is directly responsible for our own commitment to invest more than $2.3 billion across more than a dozen rural communities in Georgia, Tennessee, and Kentucky," Reagan Farr, president and CEO of Silicon Ranch, said in a statement Friday.
In Monroe, Georgia, east of Atlanta, Walton Electric Membership Cooperative has contracted with Silicon Ranch for three new solar facilities to be built within the next three years with a total generating capacity of 560 megawatts to supply Meta.
TVA recently signed agreements with Silicon Ranch on behalf of Meta for four new solar facilities in Tennessee totaling 160 megawatts under TVA's Green Invest program, which allows companies like Meta to pay for and receive only renewable power from their local power company. Farr said Silicon Ranch will partner with TVA and local power companies to deliver all four projects in 2024 to support Meta's operations in Tennessee and Alabama.
TVA already has more than 2,000 megawatts of solar generating capacity under contract through its Green Investment program with a total capital investment of about $3 billion, according to TVA spokesman Scott Fiedler. In an emailed statement Friday, Fiedler said operating and future solar projects under contract for TVA now total more than 2,800 megawatts.
Despite the growth in solar power, TVA is projected to lag behind most of the 13 major Southern utilities in its share of solar-generated power over the next decade. In a study earlier this year, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy labeled TVA a "SunBocker" and said TVA's current share of solar generating capacity at 121 watts per customer is only one-fourth as much as the regional average and only 8% as much as the regional leader, Duke Energy Progress in the Carolinas.
Earlier this year, TVA also issued one of the nation's largest requests for carbon-free energy, seeking proposals for up to 5,000 megawatts of carbon-free energy that must be operational before 2029. TVA President and CEO Jeff Lyash said at the time the purchase offer "is a clear signal to our industry, our partners and our nation that we need to move further and faster, together, to make a cleaner future a reality."
The agency's request for proposals is the largest this year for any utility and the biggest in TVA history, according to the agency. TVA will begin considering the proposals in 2023.
Farr said each of the solar facilities serving Meta will incorporate Silicon Ranch's Regenerative Energy model of land management, which he called a holistic approach that co-locates renewable energy production with regenerative agriculture practices.
"TVA is building the energy system of the future, and this public-private partnership with Meta and Silicon Ranch demonstrates the strength of TVA's public power model to attract capital investment and high-quality jobs into the communities we serve while helping businesses meet their sustainability goals," Doug Perry, senior vice president of commercial energy solutions for TVA, said in an announcement of the new agreement.
The Green Invest program allows customers to designate that they will get all of their power from renewable resources and not from the overall power portfolio that generates most of TVA's power. Although TVA generates less carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour of electricity than most U.S. utilities, TVA still derives nearly 40% of its electricity from the burning of natural gas and coal.
Within the past three years, TVA has also allowed local power companies like Chattanooga's EPB to generate up to 5% of their energy from sources other than TVA, including solar and wind. So far, about 20 of the 153 local power companies have used that flexibility to generate some of their own solar power, Fiedler said.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or 423-757-6340. Follow him on Twitter @DFlessner1.