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With Planned Solar Farm, Amazon Banks on Virginia Breeze

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Large online-based companies such as Amazon Web Services, Google and Facebook are pushing ahead to build renewable energy sources, even while traditional utilities such as Dominion Virginia Power are moving sluggishly toward them.

Amazon Web Services, which sells time on its cloud-computing network to other companies, said last week that it was joining a Spanish corporation to build a 208-megawatt wind farm on 22,000 acres near the Virginia border in northeastern North Carolina.

A month earlier, on June 18, Amazon announced plans to build a 170-megawatt solar farm in Accomack County on the Eastern Shore.

Electricity from both projects will be sold on regional power grids to businesses and utilities. Dominion could be an indirect buyer, but its director of customer relations, Phillip Sandino, says the company “has no role” in the deals with Amazon.

Renewable energy makes up about 3 percent of the 27,000 megawatts of electricity generation operated by Dominion Resources, the mother company of Dominion Virginia Power.

Although it has renewable projects in California, Utah and Indiana, Dominion has launched little in Virginia. It has plans for 20-megawatt solar farm near Remington in Fauquier County and a wind turbine farm in Tazewell County.

Balking at the cost, Dominion shelved a pilot offshore wind project near Virginia Beach that could generate 12 megawatts of power.

Amazon Web Services says its goal is to use renewable sources to power 100 percent of its large computer-farm complexes. Such farms are prevalent in Northern Virginia, which is the intersection of about 70 percent of online traffic.

It was pressured to do so by the environmental group Greenpeace. Last year, Greenpeace released a survey of big, high-tech firms painting Amazon as an infrastructure provider for much of the Internet while remaining “among the dirtiest and least transparent companies.”

But Greenpeace has changed its mind because of the projects in Virginia and North Carolina. “I would like to think we have pushed Amazon in the right direction,” says David Pomerantz, a Greenpeace spokesman and analyst.

He says Greenpeace rates Dominion “among the bottom” on renewables.

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