Amazon Announces New Texas Wind Farm Project

October 25, 2016

Amazon recently announced the company’s largest renewable energy project to date, a new wind farm in Texas. The objectives are to realize Amazon’s goal and company-wide initiative of promoting long-term sustainability efforts across its corporation and to run 100% off of renewable energy.[1] Amazon plans to use its new wind farm to operate Amazon Web Services’ cloud data centers and other parts of Amazon’s business, as well as provide energy to homes.[2] While Amazon’s efforts to utilize renewable energy have been underway in recent years through Amazon’s various wind farm projects around the nation, issues with the implementation of the company’s North Carolina wind farm indicate that Amazon could possibly face similar legal roadblocks and litigation delays in Texas.

 

Amazon has attempted to make strides in its renewable energy initiatives after receiving failing grades on the “green internet” report in April of 2014.[3] As of 2014, only 15% of Amazon operated using renewable resources, and Amazon received an “F” rating on Energy Transparency, a “D” rating on Energy Efficiency and Mitigation, an “F” rating on Renewable Energy Commitment and Siting Policy, and an “F” rating on Renewable Energy Development and Advocacy.[4] These ratings are calculated based on the information companies provided on energy transparency, renewable energy commitments, and efforts to improve renewable-energy supply.[5] The “Energy Transparency” category is worth twenty-five points, and it focuses on what public information is available.[6] The “Renewable Energy Commitment” category is worth twenty-five points, and it focuses on the presence and strength of commitment to power digital operations with renewable energy.[7] The “Renewable Energy Championship” category is worth twenty points, and it evaluates companies on the steps taken to increase the supply of renewable energy powering their operations.[8] The “Clean Energy Mix” category is worth thirty points, and it focuses on the mix of energy sources powering companies’ digital operations.[9]

 

Because of dismal ratings, public sentiment, and recent trends towards using renewable energy, Amazon has responded with new initiatives to improve its environmental ratings. Amazon’s Texas wind farm will be built in Scurry County, which is located in the western part of Texas.[10] Amazon plans to build more than 100 turbines, and the wind farm is scheduled to start delivering energy to the grid by late 2017.[11] Not only will the wind farm generate 1,000,000 megawatt hours of wind energy annually, which is enough to power almost 90,000 American homes for a full year, but it will also bring jobs and economic growth to the region.[12]

 

Bill Lavers, executive director of the Development Corporation of Snyder, provided insight concerning the upcoming project, stating that the wind farm has been in the works for about two years.[13] “Whenever there’s a wind farm, somebody has to be the purchaser of the power and I guess we’ve never had one where one customer bought that much power and was that well-recognized,” Lavers said. “It’s a huge deal for our community with the downturn in oil. It’s a great shot in the arm to have this kind of activity and national exposure for things that aren’t always oil-field related.”[14] Since the downturn in oil, Texas cities that once had a booming economy from oil-related businesses are now struggling to stay afloat. One can drive through Lulling, once a city thriving from the oil boom, and see little, if any, activity. However, these western cities in Texas have an opportunity to come back to life with the ever-growing wind farm infrastructure.

 

While some individuals have realized the benefits of wind farms, such as economic growth and environmental benefits, one past wind farm project that Amazon built was under fire. Henry Campen, an attorney with Parker Poe in North Carolina, said that twenty lawyers from Parker Poe worked on the Amazon wind-farm initiative for six years in order to resolve the range of legal issues it presented. [15] Campen resolved issues such as receiving permits from the state’s Utilities Commission, obtaining zoning permits and economic incentive grants, addressing tax issues, and drafting contracts to lease the land.[16] However, despite the legal safeguards and positive implications of having the wind farm, not all North Carolina residents were supportive of Amazon’s initiatives. One couple challenged the wind farm project on the basis of the project not complying with 2013 regulatory standards, and the couple requested a regulatory review of the process.[17] A free-market advocacy group, Civitas Institute, also opposed the wind farm on the basis that the farm violated private property rights of residents who would be affected by the wind farm’s infrastructure.[18] Ultimately, the administrative law judge dismissed the legal challenge on the basis that, while the 2013 North Carolina Law imposed additional regulatory hurdles for new wind farms, the North Carolina wind farm was exempted from the enactment because the wind farm was under development before The Wind Act was enacted.[19]

 

It is doubtful that the legal battle in North Carolina will repeat itself in Texas. According to the State Energy Conservation Office, permits and archeology issues on private land are remarkably more lenient in Texas than in other states.[20] Additionally, because energy zones in Texas are concentrated in the panhandle and west Texas, which is where Amazon’s wind farm will be located, the wind farm will not be a novel idea in which residents are unfamiliar with procedures and regulations of wind farms. In fact, Scurry is in one of the six renewable-energy zones in Texas.[21] With the growing popularity of wind farms and established zones within the state, coupled with Texas’s lax regulations compared to other states, Amazon’s Texas wind farm should be a successful endeavor.

 

With Amazon’s move towards wind-powered facilities, Amazon is following other digital companies in the movement towards transitioning into renewable power across the United States. Amazon’s direct purchase of this wind power adds jobs, powers homes, promotes price stability, and provides long-term sustainability to Texas. Because of Texas’s recent history of transitioning to wind power, it is likely there will not be many barriers that Amazon will face in building the wind farm. It will be interesting to see how the ever-increasing wind energy initiatives in Texas will impact the historical footprint that the oil and gas industry has had.

 


 

[1] Kara Hurst, Our Largest Wind Farm Yet: Introducing Amazon Wind Farm Texas, Amazon (Sept. 15, 2016), https://www.amazon.com/p/feature/ps9c2vfu7fcm4t6.

[2] Monica Nickelsburg, Amazon is Building a Massive Wind Farm in Texas – Its Largest Yet, GeekWire (Sept. 15, 2016, 8:30 AM), http://www.geekwire.com/2016/amazon-building-massive-wind-farm-western-texas-largest-yet/.

[3] John Cook, A Dirty Cloud? Amazon and Twitter Receive Failing Grades in ‘Green Internet’ Report, GeekWire (Apr. 2, 2014, 8:07 AM), http://www.geekwire.com/2014/dirty-cloud-amazon-twitter-receive-failing-grades-green-internet-report/.

[4] Id.

[5] Gary Cook, David Pomerantz, and Kassie Rohrbach, Click Clean Scorecard: Key Findings & Scores Explained, Greenpeace, (June, 2015), http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/2015ClickCleanScorecardKeyFindings.pdf?f3025c.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Hurst, supra note 1.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Sarah Rafique, Amazon Wind Farm in the Works for West Texas, Amarillo Globe-News (Sept. 16, 2016, 10:14 AM), http://amarillo.com/news/latest-news/2016-09-16/amazon-wind-farm-works-west-texas.

[14] Id.

[15] David Donovan, Law Firm Helped Breathe Life into N.C.’s First Wind Farm, LexisAdvance (July 31, 2015), https://advance.lexis.com/document/?pdmfid=1000516&crid=7fbb5c3b-ffcf-4a13-8d2c-5641f7e61935&pddocfullpath=%2Fshared%2Fdocument%2Flegalnews%2Furn%3AcontentItem%3A5GM4-XJF1-F053-W4RD-00000-00&pddocid=urn%3AcontentItem%3A5GM4-XJF1-F053-W4RD-00000 00&pdcontentcomponentid=301490&pdteaserkey=sr1&ecomp=28mhk&earg=sr1&prid=21a9339d-73ea-448c-bcdf-34e34f5dcf89.

[16] Id.

[17] John Murawksi, Judge Clears Way for Amazon Wind Farm Along NC Coast, TheNews&Observer (June 15, 2016, 4:54 PM), http://www.newsobserver.com/news/business/article83987862.html.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Glenn Hegar, Wind Energy, State Energy Conservation Office, http://www.seco.cpa.state.tx.us/publications/renewenergy/windenergy.php.

[21] Id.

 

Lindsey Alhadef is a second year law student at The University of Texas School of Law. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from The University of Texas in 2014 with a B.A. in Government. She will be working at the Dallas office of Bracewell and the Houston office of Willkie Farr & Gallagher during the summer of 2017.