Oil & Gas News

Amazon Abandons Natural Gas for Data Center

Amazon, Data Center, Natural Gas

Amazon has decided not to utilize a controversial natural gas pipeline to power one of its upcoming data centers, according to company officials.

The original plan was for Amazon to connect its data centers under construction in Boardman, Oregon, to TC Energy’s Gas Transmission Northwest Xpress Project. This pipeline, which spans Canada, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon, would have provided enough natural gas to generate about 24 megawatts of electricity, sufficient to power over 19,000 homes on a temporary basis.

However, this plan conflicted with Amazon’s climate pledge to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2040 and operate solely on renewable energy by next year. Notably, Amazon’s emissions have increased since it made that commitment four years ago.

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The proposal to draw power from the natural gas line faced significant backlash from climate activists, who staged a protest this spring, blocking the entrances to Amazon’s Day 1 building in Seattle.

Natural gas is often promoted as a cleaner alternative in the transition to renewable energy, but research increasingly suggests it can be as damaging to the atmosphere as coal.

Following the downtown protest, Amazon withdrew its application to use the natural gas pipeline. A company spokesperson confirmed this decision but did not provide additional details about the data center’s size, scope, opening date, or alternative power sources.

Mineral Rights, Sell Mineral RightsIn an emailed statement, Amazon said, “We are engaging thoughtfully with Oregon policymakers, environmental advocates, and the energy sector to meet our shared goal of clean, carbon-free energy that can scale to meet the needs of families, businesses, and other constituents in Oregon.”

Amazon highlighted its efforts to enhance renewable energy in Oregon, including an investment announced earlier this year in the Leaning Juniper wind farm. This project, which has been operational since 2011, involves refurbishing 36 of the 43 turbines to extend the site’s life and increase its peak generation capacity by about 9%.

Amazon’s decision to forgo natural gas for its Oregon data center was seen as a victory by Emily Johnston, a core organizer with Troublemakers, the group behind the downtown protest. However, she urged Amazon to make a broader commitment to reducing its reliance on fossil fuels.

Johnston pointed out that the natural gas pipeline is still expanding its capacity, meaning other companies may continue to rely on this fuel. The pipeline, which received federal approval in October, is set to pump an additional 150 million cubic feet of natural gas daily. Representatives from TC Energy did not respond to requests for comment.

Joshua Basofin, clean energy program director for the nonprofit Climate Solutions, praised Amazon’s decision not to use natural gas, calling it a step in the right direction. Climate Solutions has previously listed Amazon’s now-closed philanthropic arm as one of its donors.

However, Basofin emphasized the difficulties in sourcing enough renewable energy to power these data centers, which store and process vast amounts of information for Amazon and other companies.

Lauren McCloy, policy director for the Northwest Energy Coalition, noted that the problem is partly due to the companies themselves. Amazon and others often propose data centers in rural communities that lack the resources to meet their substantial power demands.

“The region has limited generating capacity, and demand is increasing as we transition away from fossil fuels,” McCloy said. “Data centers add a ‘tidal wave’ of extra demand, which can drive up prices for other businesses and communities that will also need more electricity in the future.”

McCloy argued that while companies like Amazon might showcase their investments in projects that generate more electricity, that is only part of the solution. “For a company with an ‘insane amount of resources,’ Amazon must also work on new transmission projects, broader efficiency efforts, and demand management across the electrical grid,” she said.

“They’re happy to show a picture of a wind farm on their website and claim ‘We power our data centers on clean energy,'” McCloy continued. “But are they doing the work on the demand side?”

In conclusion, Amazon’s decision to withdraw from the natural gas pipeline project in Oregon aligns with its climate goals and addresses activist concerns, but it highlights the ongoing challenges in balancing renewable energy commitments with the growing demand for data center power. The company’s future efforts in energy efficiency, transmission projects, and demand management will be critical to its role in the clean energy transition.

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