Tech companies fight for clean energy in collision course with Trump

From Amazon to Etsy and Microsoft, tech companies are demanding cheaper and cleaner electricity as their data demands grow. That runs counter to Trump-administration plans to keep coal plants afloat.

Selling custom nose rings, crocheted bunnies and hand-carved Santas is energy-intensive stuff.

Just ask Etsy, the go-to marketplace for crafts that doubled its electricity use in two years to feed power-sucking data centers that keep the $2.8-billion-a-year business running. It’s one of the many technology giants including Amazon.com and Google demanding cheaper — and cleaner — electricity as their data needs grow.

This hunger for power has set Silicon Valley on a collision course with President Donald Trump’s administration, which is working up a plan to keep coal plants afloat by raising electricity prices.

As a rare source of growing demand, these tech firms have become formidable advocates for clean energy. They’ve contracted enough renewable energy to displace at least 12 coal generators, and some are paying millions to sever ties with utilities to find their own supply.

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Big Tech is 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,” said Lucas Beran, a senior research analyst on IHS Markit’s data center and cloud team.

It’s easy to see why the companies have become such advocates. Power used by all the nation’s data centers is set to climb 4 percent from 2014 to 2020, according to an Energy Department report.

Server farms now draw enough electricity to light up Las Vegas and the rest of Nevada, twice over. Etsy alone used 10,679 megawatt-hours last year — enough to supply 1,000 homes.

While coal still accounts for about a third of U.S. electricity, it’s losing ground to cheaper natural gas, wind and solar. Hundreds of mines have shut in recent years, and President Trump campaigned on a pledge to revive them. His administration is now calling on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to enact a plan that would subsidize coal-fired power plants.

In a letter last month, Etsy called on regulators to reject Trump’s plan, which it described as a barrier to “making creative entrepreneurship a path to economic security.” Separately, a group that includes Amazon and Microsoft said the administration is…

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