For a company named after one of nature's marvels, Amazon has a dismal track record in making environmentally conscious choices. But in the past year, the company has taken a few early steps in a greener direction. And now, Amazon Web Services has announced plans to build a massive solar farm that will provide power to the company's data centers.

Starting as early as October 2016, Amazon Web Services (AWS) plans to generate 170,000 megawatt hours of energy annually at the new solar farm in Virginia, according to a press release. That's enough energy to power 15,000 American households for a full year.

The announcement marks the latest action toward fulfilling the "long-term commitment to achieve 100 percent renewable energy usage for the global AWS infrastructure footprint" that the company put forth in November of 2014.

"We continue to make significant progress towards our long-term commitment to power the global AWS infrastructure with 100 percent renewable energy," said Jerry Hunter, vice president of infrastructure at Amazon Web Services in a press release

Amazon is the company you likely know and love for delivering 24-packs of toilet paper, new sneakers, cat toys and almost anything else you could ever imagine wanting or needing — right to your door. While the environmental implications of the company's shipping service are certainly questionable, this announcement applies specifically to Amazon Web Services, a cloud computing service.

Aimed at providing businesses with flexible IT resources at a low cost, cloud computing services such as Amazon's host servers, databases and other web-related resources spare clients the cost of purchasing and maintaining their own hardware.

The service is extremely costly in terms of energy usage, however. In a 2014 report by Greenpeace that graded top companies on how much they contribute to creating "the green internet," AWS received three Fs and a D. For comparison, Apple, Facebook and Google got all As and Bs.

In January of 2015, AWS announced plans for the 150-megawatt Amazon Wind Farm in Indiana, making this the company's second Power Purchase Agreement intended to cut down its carbon footprint. For this latest job, AWS is teaming up with Community Energy Solar, a renewable energy development company.

"We are pleased to work with Amazon Web Services to build the largest solar farm in Virginia and one of the largest east of the Mississippi," said Community Energy CEO Brent Alderfer in a press release. "This project, which wouldn't have been possible without AWS' leadership, helps accelerate the commercialization and deployment of solar photovoltaic (PV) technologies at scale in Virginia."

The renewable energy progress will certainly bring AWS further down the path to running solely on renewable energy — but how much of that path still lies ahead remains to be determined. With more than a million active users in nearly every country in the world, AWS surely has a long way to go before it becomes a star student of sustainability.

Photo: Lance Cheung | Flickr

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