Apple tills a solar farm to power its data center

The word on the street is that Apple is clearing land next to its new North Carolina data center to harvest solar power.

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Solar panels adorn a rooftop in North Carolina

Source: Ho New / Reuters

Several hours up the road from me, there’s a rumor that a solar farm is going to get built, and the word is that the solar farm will be used to power Apple’s data center in southern Catawba County, North Carolina.

According to this article in the Charlotte Observer, permits issued by Catawba County indicate Apple has been approved to reshape the slope of some of the 171 acres of vacant land it owns on Startown Road, opposite its newly opened data center, to prepare for building a solar farm.

Many a news outlets are reporting similar stories, but at this point, Apple’s apparently keeping mum.

Though Apple has not yet used solar energy, it does support sustainable energy efforts, and at its plants in Austin, Texas; Sacramento, Calif.; and Cork, Ireland, Apple relies on renewable energy sources. But Apple doesn’t necessarily get a gold (or should that be green?) star for its green efforts. According to this article on Wired.com, Apple has been criticized for its energy practices. In fact, Greenpeace singled out the new North Carolina data center, which was first announced in July 2009 and opened this spring, in its report “How Dirty Is Your Data?”. The $1 billion data center will support iTunes, MobileMe and Apple's new iCloud. Greenpeace’s report, released in April points out environmental damages that are caused by cloud computing.

By the way, the Wired.com article also notes that Apple and others are drawn to North Carolina “by the promise of cheap electricity;” electricity that is also dirty because it comes from coal. And yep, my home state has some of the dirtiest electricity in the country. Duke Energy, which supplies electricity to Apple in Catawba County, is predominantly powered by coal and nuclear plants.

Local Catawba County residents may not be too happy about Apple’s efforts either, according to the Charlotte Observer article. Apparently, they’ve complained about the smoke from the site that’s created as land is cleared.

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