Trump & Big Tech Clash Over Coal

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As data demand continues to grow for large tech-based companies, so too does the demand for cheap power. For instance, in the last two years alone, Etsy Inc. doubled its electricity use to keep up with its $2.8-billion-a-year’s worth of data, ultimately using enough to supply 1,000 homes just last year.

In fact, according to Berkeley National Laboratory, power used by U.S. data centers is estimated to increase 4% by 2020.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has been working to raise electricity prices in an effort to keep coal alive. Coal makes up roughly a third of the country’s electricity, but is being beat out by natural gas, wind, and solar energy — all of which are cheaper. In fact, building solar and wind farms costs less than running some coal generators, and solar power is close to becoming the cheapest source of electricity in the world. To begin to uphold his campaign promise, Trump has charged the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to develop a plan that would subsidize coal-fired power plants.

As a response, tech firms including Etsy, Google, and Amazon have all become increasingly vocal about the importance of clean energy and have also displaced more than 12 coal generators by contracting renewable energy. Some have even paid millions to break ties with various utilities in order to find their own supply.

Last year, Alphabet published a white paper describing how the types of energy the country invests in must evolve with the demands of modern life. Since then, they’ve charged utilities to innovate renewable energy programs and have put the papers in place to buy 2.6 gigawatts of renewable energy, leading hopefully to $3.5 billion in investments. More recently, Amazon, Microsoft, and others pointed out how Trump’s plan disregards the importance of renewable energy, grid technology, and energy storage, and claimed the plan would create “burdensome out-of-market costs on consumers.” Then last month, Etsy published a letter which asked regulators to reject Trump’s plan, calling it a detriment to “making creative entrepreneurship a path to economic security.”

According to a statement made by Lucas Beran, a senior research analyst on IHS Markit’s data center and cloud team, these companies are no longer afraid “to throw around their weight or their ability to influence — some might say bully — their local utility or local governments in what they want to get.”

But this isn’t the first time they’ve put their boxing gloves on. Earlier in the year, big tech vocally opposed Trump’s removal of the U.S. from the Paris climate accord by pledging to continue to fight against global warming.

Read the rest of this story, including the challenges big tech faces on their pledge to go green, over at Bloomberg.

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