Tim Cook: Apple Pay Rollout Outperforming Expectations

On the day that Apple became the first U.S. company to end its business day with a market capitalization above $700 billion, CEO Tim Cook told an investment-conference audience that Apple Pay is rolling out “much faster” than he expected, and that in April, Apple will announce plans to distribute some of its $180 billion cash horde to shareholders.

And there’s one more thing: Apple has cut an $848 million deal to become the solar-energy industry’s largest commercial user.

The 25-year solar deal will come from First Solar’s California Flats Solar Project near Cholame, California, about 200 miles south of Silicon Valley, Cook announced at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference in San Francisco on Tuesday (Feb. 10). Apple will get about 130 megawatts of electricity from the project, which is expected to begin construction in mid-2015 and be completed by the end of 2016. The remaining 150 megawatts that the California Flats project generates will go to northern California utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) under a separate long-term agreement.

Electricity from the solar farm will be enough to power Apple’s Cupertino headquarters, its data center across San Francisco Bay in Newark, California, all Apple offices and 52 Apple stores in California, according to USA Today.

In practice, Apple will probably sell the electricity to PG&E and take the megawatts off Apple’s bill. But that will still bring the company significant energy cost savings, Cook said.

Cook also told the conference audience that during the April earnings call, Apple would announce plans to distribute some of the $180 billion it’s holding in cash and securities to shareholders. The company has been under pressure from Carl Icahn to return that money to investors, although the large bank balance hasn’t hurt Apple’s share price. Cook was actually onstage at the conference when Apple’s market cap closed above $700 billion.

And while Cook wouldn’t give details about exactly how many transactions Apple Pay was being used for, he did tell the crowd that the mobile payments system’s ramp-up is “going faster than I thought it would, much faster,” according to SeekingAlpha.