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Will Microsoft Follow Apple and Google's Lead on Iowa Wind Energy?

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As the movement to power the Internet (and the rest of the world) with renewable energy grows, some technology companies are responding in big ways: Apple launched an Earth Day campaign yesterday highlighting how it is powering its data centers with 100-percent renewable energy.

Not to be outdone, Google announced today that it is partnering with its local utility in Iowa, Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy, to supply the internet giant with up to 407 MW of Iowa’s famous wind energy, providing its data center there with well over 100-percent renewable energy too.

Google has now contracted for over 1 gigawatt of renewable energy to power its data centers: a stunning number, enough to power over 800,000 US homes.

Facebook, which like Google and Apple has committed to a goal of powering its platform with 100 percent renewable energy, also made an agreement with MidAmerican to purchase wind energy from a new wind farm to power its Iowa data center with a renewable resource as well.

Microsoft also has Iowa data centers, and it’s also growing rapidly there and everywhere. The company announced on Friday that it is doubling its investment in Iowa, spending over $1 billion on a new facility near Des Moines to power its growing cloud computing operation. But unlike Apple, Facebook and Google, Microsoft has not committed to powering its corner of the internet with renewable energy, both in Iowa and more broadly.

Microsoft is doubling its investment in Iowa facilities, but why doesn't that include making use of the state's wind resources?
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

According to Clicking Clean, the report Greenpeace released earlier this month, Microsoft has thus far relied heavily on buying Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) and carbon offsets, creating the appearance on paper of being clean but not altering Microsoft’s status quo supply of dirty electricity.

Iowa provides a perfect data point: While wind energy is booming in the state, accounting for a nation-leading 25 percent of Iowa’s electricity in 2012, MidAmerican is still powering its grid with a mix of mostly dirty energy sources like coal and gas, so if Microsoft wants to use 100-percent wind energy to power its data centers there, it will have to get pro-active, as Facebook and Google have done.

Until Microsoft takes similar action, its new facility risks increasing the demand for coal and gas, despite the abundance of clean, cheap wind energy blowing around it every day. Microsoft knows how to buy wind energy; the company signed to sign a long-term purchase agreement for wind power near its Texas data center last year, providing a great roadmap that it could follow in Iowa.

Is Microsoft ready to join major clean energy players like Apple, Facebook and Google, and put its money where its mouth is when it comes to building a greener cloud and internet?

Or will it remain more talk than action? The answer may be blowing in Iowa’s wind.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.

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