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Missed Opportunity

BoondogglePart of the deal with Google to locate in Lenoir involved secret negotiations between Duke Power and Google for land controlled by Duke Power and electricity to be supplied by Duke Power.  These dealings were blessed with exemptions for sales tax on the purchase of that electricity.  One legacy of Lenoir's declining manufacturing activity is a robust electric distribution system yet, as Duke's applications for new generating capacity demonstrate, electricity supply is constrained.

Google has released very little information about plans for the new server farm but some assumptions can be made about electricity demands.  Server farms and data centers require substantially more power per square foot than a typical office building.  Other than normal electric loads like lighting, the demand for electricity in server farms comes from the servers themselves and the air conditioning required to deal with the heat generated.

Unlike office buildings, server farms must also operate 24 hours per days, year-round without interruption.  Based on the area of land and the size of investment being discussed it is conceivable that, at maximum build-out, the electric load generated by the Google server farm could reach an amount that could only be accomodated by a 90MW power plant or equivalent operating continuously.  While the load could be as low as a 25MW equivalent I estimate a capacity requirement of somewhere between 40MW to 80MW with a reasonable target capacity being 50MW, a small power plant operating continuously.  By comparison, the proposed, controversial, Woodfin diesel fueled 130MW peak plant will operate intermittently.

North Carolina missed a one-time opportunity to leverage this investment to require some if not all of this capacity as renewable energy.  If not supplied from the grid by Duke Power (and the new coal-fired plant) this electricity will likely be provided by dedicated natural gas generators.  Diesel fueled generators are less likely but may be required for back-up generating capacity.  In California the proliferation of data centers and server farms has led to the identification of diesel fueled back-up generators as a significant source of air pollution.  The Department of Commerce allowed Duke to do an end run around the Utilities Commission and North Carolina will pay with diminished air quality and higher utility rates to pay for capacity expansion.

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