Apple can start reaping the fruits of its $850 million Monterey County solar power investment. Federal energy regulators Thursday approved the firm’s application to start selling electricity at market rates.
Apple’s solar power investments can generate 20 megawatts of electricity in Nevada, 50 megawatts in Arizona and 130 megawatts in California. The latter output — enough to power tens of thousands of homes — will come from Apple’s $850 million partnership with sun-farm company First Solar, at the California Flats solar project in southeast Monterey County.
"It allows them to sell electricity into the wholesale markets and also use the wholesale markets as sort of a hedge," said GTM Research analyst Colin Smith. "If they’re buying power at 10 cents per kilowatt hour and wholesale power prices happen to move up to 15 cents, they can actually sell power directly and pocket the difference. This turns them much more into an independent power producer and really enables them to work the energy markets more freely."
Thursday’s ruling from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission goes into effect Saturday.
Apple’s 200 megawatts of generation capacity represents a "measurable fraction" of the more than 10,000 megawatts of solar-generated power that has come online in the U.S. this year, Smith said.
For Apple, investment in solar is also a step toward its goal of powering all its operations with clean energy.
"We know that climate change is real," Apple CEO Tim Cook told a conference last year when announcing the Monterey County investment. "Our view is that the time for talk has passed, and the time for action is now. We’ve shown that with what we’ve done."
In March, Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environment, policy, and social initiatives, said 93 percent of the company’s facilities around the world were running on renewable energy.
Costs of electricity generated from the sun and wind are "very competitive with wholesale market pricing" and other firms are likely to follow Apple’s lead and add their own generation capacity or at least move toward buying renewable-source energy, Smith said.
"We’re seeing a tremendous increase in the number of companies that are looking to procure renewables both for sustainability reasons, but really to drive down the costs of what they pay for power," Smith said. "There are just multiple benefits across the board. It’s a huge, big, broad-stroke way to really bring down your carbon footprint."
Apple has another application before energy-trade regulators, to sell excess electricity from 14 megawatts to be generated from solar panels, and 4 megawatts from fuel cells, at its under-construction "spaceship" campus in Cupertino. Regulators in 2010 gave Google approval to make similar sales.
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