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Microsoft to buy 315 MW from Va. solar project

Microsoft Corp. will obtain 315 MW from of a 500-MW solar power development in Virginia, claiming it as the single largest corporate purchase of solar energy in the U.S.

The tech giant made the deal with sPower, an independent power producer run by AES Corp. and Alberta Investment Management Co., for some of the output of the newly announced Pleinmont I and II solar projects, Microsoft announced March 21. The purchase means Microsoft has met its goal to power at least 50% of its data centers with clean energy by 2018.

SPower CEO Ryan Creamer said in a statement that Microsoft's early commitment ensures that the Pleinmont project moves forward despite regulatory uncertainty. In January, President Donald Trump approved tariffs of 30% on imported solar panel materials, creating tension within the domestic solar industry over whether the duties would undermine the entire sector.

Microsoft's commitment also helps other buyers who may want to make a deal on sPower's solar portfolio, Creamer added.

"Microsoft's large off-take also helped us offer very cost-competitive options for other buyers looking at our Virginia portfolios," he said. "This model broadens the ability for buyers of all sizes to participate in a large project like this, yet only take the megawatts they need for their business goals."

The full 500-MW project will be the largest solar project in Virginia and the fifth-largest in the entire country once it is completed, according to the announcement. The announcement received praise from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, as well as renewable energy organizations. Harrison Godfrey, executive director of the business group Virginia Advanced Energy Economy, said in a statement that the investment will nearly double the amount of installed solar capacity in the state.

The developer in late 2017 applied to the Virginia State Corporation Commission for a certificate of public convenience and necessity for the Pleinmont project, saying that, if approved the first phase, totaling 75 MW, would be in service by June 30, 2019, and six other phases of varying sizes would all be completed by the end of 2019. The solar project is to be located on roughly 6,000 acres in Spotsylvania County, Va. A public hearing on the application is scheduled for May 23. (Virginia SCC Docket No. PUR-2017-00162)

Corporate procurement of renewable energy has gained momentum across the U.S. as investors and consumers have pressed companies to be more conscious of their businesses' environmental impact and sustainability. Some 130 companies, including Bank of America Corp. and Facebook Inc., have signed the RE100 pledge to make their operations run on 100% renewable energy.

From 2012 through Dec. 4, 2017, companies had announced about 9,700 MW in renewable energy deals in the U.S. and Mexico. The biggest buyer has been Google Inc., which has procured more than 3,000 MW of renewable energy as of the end of 2017.