• Microsoft signs biggest wind deal for 175-megawatt Pilot Hill
  • Investments in renewable energy must `make economic sense'

General Electric Co.’s energy financing unit and MetLife Inc. agreed to invest in an Illinois wind farm that will run Microsoft Corp.’s Chicago data center.

Microsoft agreed to buy the output from the 175-megawatt Pilot Hill project under a 20-year contract in its biggest wind deal to date, the companies said in a statement Tuesday. Terms weren’t disclosed.

The agreement comes as world leaders gather in Paris to negotiate a global agreement on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and shows that renewable energy is becoming cost-competitive with power produced by burning fossil fuels. For insurance companies like MetLife, investing in wind provides steady, long-term returns at a reasonable risk, said Stuart Ashton, director of the company’s lease and tax-equity investment group.

“The driving force for us is first and foremost that the transactions make economic sense,” Ashton said in a phone interview. “This is also a way for the firm to express its corporate responsibility. These are transactions that make a difference in the communities in which they’re built, they have meaningful contribution toward limiting carbon and greenhouse gases, so environmentally they are attractive and beneficial for the broader community.”

Insurance Companies

Electricite de France SA’s U.S. renewable energy unit built the wind farm about 60 miles (97 kilometers) southwest of Chicago.

The largest U.S. life insurer has invested $3.5 billion in renewable energy, including about 24 wind projects in its lease and tax-equity group. Other insurance companies including Germany’s Allianz SE and London-based Aviva Plc have been seeking to back renewable energy projects as they look for alternatives to bonds with yields near record lows. Allianz, which has invested about 2 billion euros ($2.1 billion) in wind power, said in November that it plans to double that in the coming years while it cuts back on holdings of coal-mining companies.

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