Amazon Scraps Plan to Use Fuel Cells, Powered by Natural Gas, to Run Oregon Data Centers

By June 11, 2024 3   min read  (525 words)

June 11, 2024 |

2024 06 11 09 27 44 2

Amazon has quietly withdrawn its regulatory application to use natural-gas powered fuel cells to provide electricity for its data centers in eastern Oregon.

The Seattle-based company first proposed the Oregon fuel cells in 2022, hoping to overcome electrical transmission constraints at its data centers in Morrow County. Amazon proposed using fuel cells from a California company, Bloom Energy.

Climate watchdogs and environmental advocates raised the alarm, saying the fuel cells would contribute to climate change and make Amazon a major customer of the controversial Gas Transmission Northwest pipeline, which runs from British Columbia to California.

In a statement Monday, Amazon acknowledged it has changed plans but didn’t explain why.

“At this time, we are not continuing with fuel cell projects in our Oregon operations,” Amazon said.

The company did say it is working with Oregon policymakers, environmentalists and utilities “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.”

Data centers are rapidly becoming one of the world’s major electrical consumers, pressuring regional electrical grids and straining clean power goals in Oregon and elsewhere.

The rise of artificial intelligence is creating tremendous new demand for computing power. Northwest energy forecasters expect data centers’ demands on the regional electrical grid will more than double by the early 2040s.

Already, Amazon’s data centers in Morrow and Umatilla counties have triggered a huge rise in carbon emissions from the local public utility, the Umatilla Electric Cooperative. The small utility serves just 16,000 customers but it’s now the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases among Oregon utilities.

Amazon, like other major tech companies, accepts the scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels is causing a dangerous rise in global temperatures.

It announced in February that the company would start buying power from the Leaning Juniper wind farm in Gilliam County to help power its Oregon data centers. And Amazon said it is financing renewable energy projects elsewhere in the western U.S. to compensate for the fossil fuels burned to power its Oregon data centers.

“The withdrawal of Amazon’s fuel cell proposal shows we can pivot from fossil fuels to renewable power generation,” said Joshua Basofin, clean energy program director for the environmental nonprofit Climate Solutions.
“This development, combined with Amazon’s investment in the Leaning Juniper wind project, demonstrates progress toward powering data centers with clean energy,” Basofin said in a statement.

Amazon says that by next year it hopes to match all its global power use by enabling an equivalent amount of renewable electricity. And Amazon said it’s working to make its data centers more efficient, so they use less electricity overall.

“Amazon was an early pioneer in corporate purchasing of clean energy, and we have been the world’s largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy for four years in a row,” the company said in Monday’s statement. “We plan to continue innovating with partners to accelerate the world’s transition to carbon-free energy, and we’ll continue to invest in clean energy projects.”




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