Neighbors to university datacenter — NIMBY!

Plans for a new datacenter facility at the University of Delaware face stiff grassroots opposition.

In a world where we see communities and entire states rushing to provide all sorts of incentives to get companies to build datacenters in their bailiwick, residents of Newark, Delaware have raised significant opposition to the University of Delaware and The Data Centers, LLC reclaiming 43 acres of urban industrial landscape to build a datacenter and power generation facility.


In a plan to spend over a billion dollars on the new facility on the school's Science Technology and Advanced Research campus, we are seeing the usual rhetoric about how many jobs the construction project will bring, along with the unquantifiable "attract additional businesses to the area" mantra that gets spread about whenever concessions are being made to datacenter providers.

But unlike opposition found to most datacenter projects, this time it's coming from the grassroots level and is against not the datacenter portion of the project but the plan to build a 279-megawatt, natural gas fired power plant adjacent to the datacenter. 

But local residents have got a serious case for “not in my backyard” feelings, as the power plant, with its 120-foot-tall cooling towers, will literally be in their back yards. Newark actually changed the zoning for the area back in January, with the codicil that the power plant would only be a secondary purpose for the site, but residents are pointing out that the plan to sell power back to the grid makes it a primary consideration.

But the local opponents of the facility, who agree that the issue is the power plant, not the datacenter, are being assaulted on all sides now.

Local businesses have bought into the potential increase in revenue from the project, out-of-state unions have been going door to door leaving information about the benefits of the project, and their presentation in the media, which often had a David versus Goliath tone, has moved more to Luddites opposing the advancement of technology.

Given that the site of the facility has, at one time, been the home to a Chrysler production line, the local concerns about potential pollution — air and noise — seems somewhat ironic. But the neighbors have been actively opposing the plan.

One commentator pointed out that an existing facility in the same area, Bloom Energy, produced widely touted, environmentally correct fuel cells for datacenter use and asked why this technology wasn’t the first choice for the datacenter opening on the same business campus. As yet, this question has gone unanswered.

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