Big Tech must stop dangerous ‘100-percent renewable’ claims

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, left, accompanied by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey are sworn in Wednesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on “Foreign Influence Operations and Their Use of Social Media Platforms.”
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, left, accompanied by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey are sworn in Wednesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on “Foreign Influence Operations and Their Use of Social Media Platforms.” Associated Press

Facebook and Twitter testified before Congress Wednesday on issues of data, privacy and censorship. But there is another propaganda effort led by Big Tech that poses a threat to our nation.

Earlier this week, Facebook announced its global operations will be powered with “100 percent renewable energy by the end of 2020.” In April, Apple said that it already is “globally powered by 100 percent renewable energy.” Similar claims have been made by other tech leaders including Google, Intel, Microsoft, Cisco and scores of other companies outside of tech.

These claims aren’t true. Yet they are being used to further the narrative that we can ban fossil fuels, which supply 80 percent of the world’s energy, and replace them with wind and solar, which currently supply just 5 percent.

I find these claims troubling — not only because they are being used to kill the coal industry, but because the policies Big Tech and its supporters advocate could starve billions of energy.

When companies claim to be “100 percent renewable” they want us to think they’re getting 100 percent of their energy from solar and wind. But the truth is they are relying on local electricity grids, and no grid on Earth can work with anything close to 100 percent solar and wind.

Solar and wind are intermittent sources. Because the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine, they require backup from reliable energy sources like coal. That’s what overwhelmingly powers Big Tech.

Apple, for example, claims its data center in Maiden, N.C. is running predominantly on its own solar capacity and fuel cells. But analysts familiar with the situation have shown the solar panels and fuel cells actually supply power to the grid via the local utility.

It’s this grid that powers the data center using reliable energy, which according to Apple’s own data is over 50 percent nuclear power, 33 percent coal, and less than 1 percent renewable.

The other tech companies also depend on local electricity grids overwhelmingly powered by fossil fuels and nuclear. So how do they justify their “100-percent renewable” claims?

Take Google, which is the most forthcoming about the reality of its power use. The company admits on its website that it doesn’t really run on solar and wind. But it justifies its renewable claims by saying, in the words of Google’s Senior VP of Technical Infrastructure, Urs Hölzle, that for “every kilowatt-hour of electricity we consumed, we purchased a kilowatt-hour of renewable energy from a wind or solar farm.”

Google uses lots of fossil fuels and nuclear, but it offsets its use of reliable energy by dumping unreliable energy onto the grid to be used by all of the grid’s customers. Google isn’t using 100-percent renewables, which would leave it at the mercy of the wind and the sun, it’s paying for the privilege of taking credit for renewable energy used by others.

The real news is that solar and wind are so inferior that even some of the richest companies on Earth can’t power themselves through 100-percent renewable energy.

That should make us incredibly skeptical of policies that favor solar and wind and restrict affordable, reliable sources like coal. Instead, Big Tech is using the status it gains from being a “green” leader to actively push for anti-fossil fuel policies.

Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon came out in support of President Barack Obama’s anti-coal Clean Power Plan in 2016. And Intel has called for a carbon tax and an 85-percent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions. All of these policies would make energy more expensive for millions of Americans and billions around the world.

Silicon Valley’s millionaires and billionaires may be able to afford higher energy costs in order to appear green. But for poorer Kentuckians, who already spend upwards of 20 percent of their incomes on energy, increasing that burden means they have less to spend on everything else — food, clothing, housing and medicine.

As members of the coal industry we are proud of our contribution to the digital world and we deserve credit for helping power it. But the “100-percent renewable” claims not only deprive us of credit for our contribution they help persuade voters to support anti-fossil fuel policies that are driving us out of business.

That is bad for Kentucky and it’s bad for everyone. Americans and billions around the globe need affordable, reliable energy — including the energy produced by today’s modern clean-coal plants. If tech leaders truly want to empower the world, they should start by telling the truth about who powers their companies.

Reach Tyler White, president Kentucky Coal Association at twhite@kentuckycoal.com