Apple’s “100% Renewable Energy” Data Center Claim Disputed

Situation Illustrates that Sustainability Claims Aren’t Always What They Are Cracked Up to Be

Check the Fine Print, Think-Tank Says

Washington, D.C. – Experts with the National Center for Public Policy Research are questioning the validity of Apple’s recent announcement that its data centers will run on 100-percent renewable energy, and warning the public to “check the fine print.”

Apple recently claimed that it now only uses renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind and geothermal, to power its data centers. As an example, the multinational corporation is highlighting a100-acre solar farm located next to its largest data center in Maiden, North Carolina as the primary driver of these green efforts. However, when the sun doesn’t shine (and even sometimes when it does), it is reported that Apple will rely on less-green solutions, such as biogas, to keep its cloud services from dissipating.

“In resorting to biogas from landfills to boost its renewable-energy content, Apple is tacitly acknowledging that solar power can’t get the job done,” said National Center Senior Fellow Dr. Bonner Cohen. “Apple is spending a lot of money buying up land in North Carolina for a high-profile and costly facility that will produce zero electricity at night and will be an intermittent source of power at best during the day, depending on cloud cover.”

“Apple is congratulating itself for its commitment to renewable energy at its data center in North Carolina, but the process it is using to convert landfill gas into fuel is not as environmentally pure as some might think,” explains Dr. Cohen. “Biogas production entails the industrial process of cleaning and separating to raise the methane content and remove the sulfide, chlorine and sulfur. In a delicious irony, the methane will be transported via a natural gas pipeline. Thus, the whole scheme is dependent on the infrastructure of a fossil fuel. What’s more, Apple’s methane will be converted into electricity by fuel cells provided by Bloom Energy. Fuel cells, however, must be manufactured, a process that involves emissions. The entire process, touted by Apple as lowering greenhouse-gas and other emissions, is fraught with its own set of emissions.”

“This case with Apple highlights some of the issues consumers, shareholders and taxpayers need to be wary about when corporations and politicians make ‘sustainability’ claims,” said National Center Free Enterprise Project Director Justin Danhof, Esq. “Projects using solar, wind or energies labeled as ‘renewable’ aren’t necessarily as ‘green’ as a casual observer might think.”

“Furthermore,” added Danhof, “sometimes corporations undertake superficially ‘green’ initiatives for PR purposes or to obtain tax benefits — initiatives that don’t have a meaningful environmental impact, or may in some cases actually be bad for the environment, and may have extra costs that must be borne by taxpayers, consumers or shareholders.”

“Apple has for years been under intense pressure from Greenpeace for its use of electricity generated by coal, the burning of which creates CO2 emissions,” said Danhof. “The late Steve Jobs called Greenpeace’s criticism ‘painful,’ and said it motivated Apple to make changes. But in trying to placate Greenpeace, do you suppose Apple feels free to support expansion and use of the lowest-emission large-scale electricity source out there, which is nuclear power? Almost certainly not, because Apple has a conflict of interest. It wants Greenpeace off its back, and supporting nuclear power, whatever its benefits, won’t get that job done.”

“According to Bloomberg, Apple’s Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer ‘declined to disclose how much Apple spent on the equipment to generate its own power. He said Apple will keep investing in green technologies and isn’t focused on earning a financial return on the investments,'” added Danhof. “The words ‘isn’t focused on earning a financial return’ should interest shareholders as well as Apple customers who may pay more for products. Do they want Greenpeace essentially deciding how Apple spends money?”

“We’re not saying we oppose, in general, Apple’s or anybody else’s use of solar, wind or other renewable energies,” said Danhof, “especially if they aren’t using the public’s tax dollars to subsidize it. We’re just asking consumers, shareholders and politicians to look closely whenever they see claims like ‘sustainable’ or ‘renewable.’ We warn people: Don’t take labels at face value. Check the fine print.”

The National Center for Public Policy Research, founded in 1982, is a non-partisan, free-market, independent conservative think-tank. Ninety-four percent of its support comes from individuals, less than four percent from foundations, and less than two percent from corporations. It received no contributions from the fossil fuel industry, nuclear power industry or related foundations in 2012 or 2013. It receives over 350,000 individual contributions a year from over 96,000 active recent contributors.

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The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.