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Wind farm meets server farm at latest Facebook data center

wellsburg
How Facebook expects the view in Wellsburg, Iowa, to look once the towers are up in 2014.

A new Facebook data center is under construction in Altoona, Iowa, and this huge, power-hungry building will be matched by an equally-huge wind farm that will generate more than enough electricity to run it.

After deciding to put the huge collection of servers in the Hawkeye State, Facebook asked a local utility to build and operate the 138-megawatt facility. In fact, the company wrote in a blog post, Altoona (just outside of Des Moines) was chosen because it offered a good opportunity for using renewable energy.

The data center itself won't actually be powered directly by the wind turbines; a large-scale facility like that needs something a little more reliable minute by minute, and the locations that are good for Internet connectivity aren't necessarily the best for putting acres of towers. The wind will actually be gathered near Wellsburg, about 100 miles up the highway from Altoona.

So the wind power gets shunted into the same grid the facility plugs into, offsetting the amount it draws off from other sources. The servers won't even use the whole 138 megawatts, so if the conditions are good the system as a whole will always be putting more energy in than it's taking out. It's all tracked by the power infrastructure, earning Facebook brownie points from the EPA. 

Facebook's aim is for 25 percent of its total energy consumption to be renewable. But it isn't the only one looking into green data centers. Google just put over $600 million into a wind-powered facility in Finland — and Microsoft is looking into power produced by microbes, of all things.

Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.