Delaware whacks $1B data center/power supply project

Pollution, overall size and public backlash squash massive data center venture

aerials 2012 10 06 137 University of Delaware

The University of Delaware data center project

The University of Delaware this week killed off a plan to develop a 900,000 sq. ft. data center project that included a 279-megawatt cogeneration power plant.

 Citing the size of the project, the potential effects of subsequent greenhouse gases, public opposition and other issues the university pulled the plug on the $1 billion project that was being developed for its 272 acre Science, Technology & Advanced Research (STAR) Campus by The Data Centers, LLC (TDC).

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According to TDC the massive project was to feature a large on-site energy component and would draw no electricity from the grid but rather sell power back to the grid. “This means added redundancy will be built into the project. The plant consists of a proprietary configuration of natural gas turbines, steam turbines and gas engines, with two independent natural gas supply lines on site to provide the reliability to deliver uninterrupted, fault tolerant power to the data center,” according to the TDC website.

The University had signed a land-lease with TDC in 2012 to develop the data center. But, “during the spring and summer of 2013, information emanating from TDC suggested that their plans were evolving with greater emphasis being placed on power generation and selling excess energy to the grid, changes that on the surface might not align with the vision for the STAR Campus,” the university wrote in a report outlining its decision to cancel the lease.

“The University is committed to providing economic development opportunities for the region and state,” University of Delaware President Patrick Harker said in a statement. “Moreover, it is extremely important that development on the STAR Campus, which is held to the highest standards, is appropriate both for the short and the long term, and that future generations of students will have a top-quality education. We have carefully examined The Data Centers’ plans, and have determined that they are not a good fit for the STAR Campus.”

Among some of the reports key findings:

  • A data center would be advantageous to the STAR Campus, with the potential to provide research and internship opportunities, enhance the property infrastructure so as to attract other tenants; provide construction and permanent jobs and provide tax revenue for local schools and community.
  • Contemporary high quality data centers use the existing grid or deploy a combination of the existing grid and renewable energy generation to meet their power needs. This approach appears to be advantageous on many grounds: reliability, economic and environmental.
  • Relative to other fossil-fuel energy sources, the combined heat and power (CHP) facility TDC proposed is an efficient and viable transitional energy generation technology. However, its efficiency is predicated on being appropriately sized such that the recovered heat can be used or sold throughout the year as useful energy. Specifically with TDC’s plan, it was not clear that this would be the case, particularly in the non-summer months.
  • The 279-megawatt cogeneration facility that TDC proposed is significantly (at least two times) larger than any other on-site power generation facility known at data centers in the United States.
  • Significant generation of greenhouse gases with insufficient plans to capture and sequester carbon dioxide and the emission of other pollutants would have demonstrative and negative effects on UD’s commitments to sustainability and reducing its carbon footprint.
  • Given the University’s commitment to reduced carbon emissions, and its strong reputation in renewable and carbon-free energy research, the emplacement of a fossil-fuel based facility of this size does not appear consistent with UD’s vision of a first class science and technology campus.

While the project appears dead Gene Kern, president and CEO of West Chester, Pa.-based TDC, told delawareonline.com he disagrees with UD that the ground lease can be terminated for the reasons stated. "We are evaluating TDC's options. TDC remains committed to developing a first class data center within the state of Delaware."

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