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Wednesday, May 23, 2012, 02:26 pm PT (05:26 pm ET)

Apple gets go-ahead to build North Carolina fuel cell installation

Following a relatively short approval period, the North Carolina Utilities Commision in Raleigh on Wednesday gave Apple the green light to move ahead with plans to build a 4.8-megawatt fuel cell installation at the company's Maiden data facility.

First filed for in late March, Apple's clean energy solution calls for 24 hydrogen-based "Energy Servers" from California company Bloom Energy in what will be the largest privately-owned fuel cell arrangement in the country.

The installation will join a 20-megawatt solar farm, also the largest of its kind in the nation, at Apple's Maiden, North Carolina data center which is home to iCloud and houses the brains of the iPhone 4S's Siri virtual assistant. In order to be considered a renewable energy source, Apple must offset the natural gas it plans to source from Piedmont Natural Gas by purchasing or producing the same amount of biogas from a local provider. The details of this arrangement have yet to be hammered out, though Wednesday's filing revealed that the company will be selling excess energy from the plant to Duke Energy Carolinas, LLC.



It was recently reported that Apple is working with a non-profit renewable energy organization created by the North Carolina Utilities Commission to augment the state's green energy supply. Although the huge $1 billion data center will boast massive solar and fuel cell farms, some 40 percent of the energy used will be procured from local renewable energy providers.

Apple's Maiden plant looks to be the first step in an overall rethinking of power usage as the company's Renewable Energy webpage notes a number of ongoing and future projects aimed at reducing the environmental impact of energy-hungry data centers. The iPad maker's Austin, Texas operations center, for example, has used green energy for nearly ten years while other facilities around the world are now powered by 100 percent renewable sources. Future projects include a data center in Prineville, Oregon that will rely on local wind, hydro and geothermal power sources.

Despite its efforts to go green, Apple has been singled out by activists from Greenpeace who claim the company's efforts are in need of reform.