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Developer of utility-scale solar projects announces major agreement with Meta: 'These projects for Meta put us on the map'

"It doesn't emit pollutants, doesn't emit smells, and makes very little noise."

"It doesn’t emit pollutants, doesn’t emit smells, and makes very little noise."

Photo Credit: Adapture Renewables

A California solar energy company is going through a Meta metamorphosis of sorts that will help energize our power- and data-hungry world. 

When Meta, the parent company of Facebook, inked a deal with Adapture Renewables to buy 330 megawatts of solar power from three utility-scale solar farms last year — two in Illinois and one in Arkansas — it jump-started a pivot for the company, founded in 2011.

"These projects for Meta put us on the map from a large utility perspective," Adapture Renewables senior development director Gabe Klooster said in an interview with The Cool Down. 

The news also highlights the vast amounts of energy required by data centers operated by Meta, Google, and others. They use about 2% of the country's electricity, consuming 10 to 50 times the power per floor space than average office buildings, per the U.S. Energy Department. 

The deal with Adapture Renewables is part of Meta's strategy to reach net-zero pollution across its "value chain," Jesse Tippett, vice president of origination for the solar company, said. 

There won't be a transmission cable from the Adapture Renewables' sites, scheduled to go online by 2026, to Meta's servers. But by supporting the solar farms on local grids, Meta is essentially offsetting power that may otherwise have come from a dirty fuel-burning source. For its part, Meta already claims to operate on 100% renewable energy. 

"Generated electricity goes into the grid from many different power plants," Tippett said. "Once each of these projects is operating, a little less generation will be needed from carbon-emitting sources in the region." 

U.S. electric production makes more than 30% of the country's energy-related air pollution, according to the Energy Information Administration. NASA links the planet-warming fumes to an increased risk of severe weather, jeopardizing a greater swath of communities. Solar is a clean, abundant, and — according to Tippett — cheaper source of power.

Adapture Renewables is working on projects across three-quarters of the country. Most new work orders are on 1,000 acres per 100-megawatt project. For reference, about 173 homes can be powered by a megawatt, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. 

The team identifies where on the grid they want to put a solar farm, then works to secure land rights through leasing or property purchases. The process is extensive, including environmental and engineering studies. 

The solar tech Adapture Renewables uses is expected to last around 35 or more years and can track the sun. That movement is often enough to shed snow. So, the experts said they are open to working in nearly every corner of the country. Sometimes, they face opposition from community members who live near a proposed site. They said they aren't deaf to their concerns. 

"Not everyone is going to be in favor of a given project," Klooster said. "We take community concerns really seriously. We want to be good neighbors for the next 40 years."

For the Meta projects, a crew of about 500 temporary workers are building the infrastructure. About five full-time jobs will be created to operate the facilities during the next 30-plus years. 

Decades from now, the lease will either be renewed or ended. In the latter case, the land is restored to its original use.

"Typically farm land," Klooster said. 

A bond, or some other type of security, is often required to ensure the site can be remediated in the future. If the panels need to be replaced or dismantled, various valuable metals, including silver, can be harvested. Some of those materials require invasive mining to gather, contributing to pollution concerns regarding panel manufacturing. But the Energy Information Administration cited a study showing that most panels outproduce the energy used to make them within one to four years, leaving decades of clean energy making. 

The benefits for communities can be great. Klooster noted that property taxes generated from a large farm can boost revenue for schools, fund road repairs, and even fire departments. The Meta projects are estimated to have an economic impact of greater than $400 million, per a press release. 

"It doesn't emit pollutants, doesn't emit smells, and makes very little noise," he said. 

The solar developer has about 80 projects in all stages of development. Tippett said he expects the sector to expand as battery tech improves. Power packs are needed to store the energy for use overnight. In 10 years, he said it's possible for 50% of the country's electricity to be generated by renewable power. It's at 20% now. 

Buy-in from big companies, especially ones that use a lot of electricity, is crucial. 

"These solar projects represent an important milestone in continuing our commitment to sustainable operations," Urvi Parekh, Meta's head of renewable energy, said in a press release. 

Klooster added that solar is an exciting industry with cutting-edge technology that can have a positive impact. It's part of the reason he works in the sector.

"Personally, for me — a concern for the world and the people who live in it," he said. 

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