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Amazon backs $150 million solar project in Virginia

Amazon Web Service's deal comes about a week after it was disclosed that 19 of its cloud-computing customers called on the business to divulge its energy use.

Ben Fox Rubin Former senior reporter
Ben Fox Rubin was a senior reporter for CNET News in Manhattan, reporting on Amazon, e-commerce and mobile payments. He previously worked as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and got his start at newspapers in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Ben Fox Rubin
2 min read

Amazon's cloud-computing business has been clouded in criticism. John Macdougall/AFP/Getty Images

Amazon Web Services, the e-commerce giant's cloud-computing business, will support the building and operation of a roughly $150 million solar farm planned in Virginia, with the project being named Amazon Solar Farm US East.

An Amazon representative declined to specify Amazon's financial commitment to the project, saying the company wouldn't comment beyond a press release sent out Wednesday.

Amazon's announcement comes a week after Greenpeace disclosed a letter from 19 AWS customers -- including the Huffington Post, Upworthy and Tumblr -- calling on the business to publicize more information on what kind of energy sources are powering its cloud-computing data centers. Greenpeace, an environmental advocacy group, has previously gone after Amazon for its alleged lack of transparency in this area, claiming other cloud-infrastructure firms, such as Apple and IBM, have provided far more information on their energy use and goals.

Amazon responded to Greenpeace's claims a few days later in a blog post, saying its cloud-computing customers use fewer servers and less energy than when businesses run their own data centers. It also repeated AWS's goal of having 40 percent of its infrastructure powered by renewable energy sources by the end of 2016. As of April, the company said it had about 25 percent coming from renewable sources.

"We continue to make significant progress towards our long-term commitment to power the global AWS infrastructure with 100 percent renewable energy," Jerry Hunter, AWS vice president of infrastructure, said in a statement Wednesday.

Greenpeace said Wednesday's announcement was "encouraging" but added that Amazon still hasn't provided enough information on AWS's energy use.

"Amazon customers still need better transparency to properly assess the significance of this solar deal," Greenpeace said in a statement. "Amazon has not disclosed how much energy its data centers consume in Virginia or anywhere else."

Keeping businesses happy with AWS -- like with the new solar project -- is a critical goal for Amazon since AWS has become a major profit engine for the company. In April, Amazon disclosed financial details about the business for the first time, with CEO Jeff Bezos saying Amazon Web Services is a $5 billion business and "still growing fast."

The online retailer teamed up with Community Energy, which, according to the News Leader of Staunton, Va., has been working for about four years to obtain the needed approvals for the 1,000-acre, 80-megawatt Accomack County project -- expected to be the largest solar farm in Virginia. All the energy generated at the planned solar farm will help supply current and future AWS data centers in the areas.

Amazon tends to keep details about its businesses secret -- such as how many people have signed up for its Prime membership service -- and has avoided disclosing some details about AWS, the world's biggest cloud infrastructure service. It competes against Microsoft, Google and others in providing businesses with remote data-center space to store and retrieve their information.

Update, 9:24 a.m. PT: Adds Greenpeace's latest statement and more details.