Microsoft partners with Commonwealth of Virginia, Dominion on 20 MW solar project

Microsoft today announced that it is partnering with Dominion Virginia Power and the Commonwealth of Virginia to build a 20 megawatts solar energy plant in Virginia.

Microsoft — like its competitors AWS, Google and others — has long been investing in renewable energy projects. Most of these investments focused on powering its data centers.

Microsoft’s new deal is different, however, and a first for the company. The idea here is to partner with the government of Virginia and Dominion to build this solar energy plant and then immediately retire “these green attributes to maximize the positive environmental impact overall.” By doing this, Microsoft gets to “claim the green attributes of a brand new solar project constructed by Dominion” and use the project to satisfy its own sustainability goals. The green attributes here include the renewable energy certificates generated by the project, for example.

The new 20 megawatts solar farm should generate enough energy to power about 5,000 homes. Virginia will purchase the energy from the project to serve its own state agencies.

“Through these kinds of partnerships with states and utilities, Microsoft can provide the long-term certainty needed to expand the amount of renewable energy available on the grid,” Microsoft’s chief environmental and cities strategist Rob Bernard writes today. “We are excited that through this project we have created a viable new public-private partnership model for the company and look forward to expanding on this new approach.”

It’s worth noting that Virginia previously rejected Dominion’s plans for building this solar farm last October because it hadn’t considered third-party market alternatives. This new project, too, still has to get regulatory approval.

The partners are not disclosing how much they are investing in this new venture. When Dominion first proposed this plant, though, the company estimated it would cost about $2,350 per kilowatt.

A Microsoft spokesperson, however, told me that “this project is part of Microsoft’s ongoing commitment to renewable energy and our carbon program which the company invests over $20 million/year on.”