A sneak peek at Apple’s Oregon data center (and solar power plant)

If Northwest media are correct, Apple is on its way to building the largest solar power plant in the state of Oregon.

More than a year ago, the Cupertinans began work on a data center in Prineville, 150 miles southeast of Portland on the dry, sunny side of the Cascade Mountains, home already to a Facebook data center. Now public broadcaster OPB, quoting Prineville’s mayor, says the town and Crook County have redone zoning agreements, making it possible for Apple to build a solar array on a big swath of land adjacent to the data center.

Apple’s lsolar array at its North Carolina data center. (image via Apple)

Apple completed a 20-megawatt solar installation for its Maiden, N.C., data center in 2012. According to Gigaom’s Katie Fehrenbacher, who visited the Carolina center, that array covers 100 acres with SunPower  panels with single-axis tracking, which should be a very efficient system.

The Oregonian newspaper reported that the solar-bound parcel in Prineville is 200 acres, which would seem to be sufficient space for a project as least as big as the one in North Carolina.

On its website, Apple says the Prineville data center “will be every bit as environmentally responsible as the one in Maiden.” The company further says that is “working with two local utilities as well as a number of local renewable energy generation providers both to create Apple-owned renewable energy sources and to invest in and purchase other local renewable energy.” The company has a stated goal of powering all of its facilities entirely from renewable energy.

Beyond the big hydropower stations on the Columbia River, Oregon’s renewable energy profile is dominated by wind power, with its 3,153 MW of installed capacity ranking it fifth in the nation as of September 2013. The largest solar power plant in the state is the 5.7-MW Outback Solar PV project in the southern central part of the state.  A spring 2013 fact sheet from the renewables-industry-backed group Renewable Northwest Project said the state had totaled installed solar capacity of 85 MW [PDF]. And the advocacy group Environment Oregon recently said Oregon ranked 13th in per capita solar “behind leading solar states such as Arizona and New Jersey that have more than 14 times as many solar installations per capita than Oregon.”

* Pete Danko, EarthTechling.com