Unwanted datacenter searches for a home

Building a data center can be difficult enough. Add a power plant to the mix and things can really get hard.
Written by David Chernicoff, Contributor

In these days of communities fighting to win contracts as the site for new major datacenters, offering up all sorts of short-term financial concessions in the hopes of long-term gains it sounds like a winning plan: Build a large data center with its own power generation facility, then bring the benefits of the data center and power facility employment and attraction to other businesses to an economically depressed area that had a large brownfield suitable for repurposing.

With that frame of reference, it was not surprising that the University of Delaware was a willing partner in The Data Centers, LLC (TDC) plans to do just that on their Newark, DE campus, signing a 75-year lease in 2012 to provide stability for the planned facility. What they didn’t expect was the huge community backlash, not over the data center plan so much as the large power generation facility that would accompany it.

After more than a year of protests led by local community groups, the University took advantage of the contract wording and cancelled the planned datacenter/power facility combo two months ago. This left TDC, based in West Chester, PA, a suburban community outside of Philadelphia, with plans for a 900,000-square-foot datacenter, a 279 MW powerplant, and no place to build it.

It now appears that TDC is actively seeking a new location, somewhere within their preferred area of the mid-Atlantic region, where they believe the population and business need for large-scale datacenters is still the most compelling. A story in the Baltimore Sun reports that TDC is looking at locations in six states, including Cecil County, MD, as potential locations for the now cancelled STAR Campus project.

TDC, which has yet to actually build a data center, believes that the combined data center/power generation facility, where the data center is powered completely by the locally generated LNG power and steam heat, is the wave of the future in power plant construction. But by building a power plant as well as a data center, they find themselves having to deal with two completely different sets of requirements; the issues of data center design and construction, as well as the permitting and licensing required for the building and operation of a power generation facility.

While data center operators have been able to address the common NIMBY concerns of local citizens by disguising their facilities or pointing out the lack of traffic and external activity once the facility is operational, TDC is going to continue to face the issue of people who don’t want to find themselves suddenly living in proximity to a power plant, with the environmental impact that entails.

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