Reps. Mulrooney and Osienski: Data Center Offers Opportunity

The following op-ed appeared in October 11 edition of The News Journal.

By Reps. Michael Mulrooney and Edward Osienski

It has been decades since Delaware has seen a major job-creating economic development project like the one The Data Centers proposes to build at the University of Delaware’s STAR campus. In fact, in Dela­ware’s histo­ry, there nev­er has been an effort in which a com­mercial entity proposed spending about $1 billion on cutting-edge “best available” technology to ensure the small­est possible environmental footprint. The Wolf Technology Center 1 project will house a large facility for the storage and management of data. The pro­ject will include an “energy hub” that will generate the power needed to guarantee 100 percent “uptime” to safeguard its customers’ data and not be vulnerable to the blackouts and brownouts that hit the electri­cal grid periodically.

So, what is a data center, and why is 100 percent up time needed?

A data center houses numer­ous computer servers contain­ing data from banks and other financial institutions, telecom­munications companies, retail­ers, insurance companies, research universities, govern­ment agencies – any entity that maintains large amounts of data. If power should fail at a data center, the equipment stops working. If the cooling system is interrupted, comput­ers and servers can overheat quickly, causing the loss of irreplaceable data.

 Conventional data centers are connected to the power grid and use backup systems that rely on dirty and ineffi­cient diesel generators or haz­ardous lead-acid batteries.

This project will be powered by a dedicated, efficient and environmentally sound com­bined heat and power facility using clean-burning natural gas. TDC’s energy hub is de­signed with extra generation capacity to ensure 100 percent uptime. Opponents of the project like to refer to it as a “power plant,” purposely evoking im­ages of contaminant-belching smokestacks. The architectur­al design of the proposed ener­gy hub will bear no resem­blance to a power plant. The turbines will be enclosed in acoustically shielded buildings to mitigate noise. Most of the steam it produces will be re­used to create cooling and electricity for the data center.

The combined heat and power concept is endorsed and en­couraged by the EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy and is supported nationally by environmental groups, in­cluding the Sierra Club and Greenpeace.

The Data Centers should be applauded for selecting the site of the former Newark Chrysler plant for its first project. Specifically, it will be located on the footprint of Chrysler’s paint shop, which emitted huge amounts of vola­tile organic compounds and other pollutants. The ground is heavily contaminated, making it unusable for residential or retail use. TDC made the envi­ronmentally responsible deci­sion to seek out such a “brown­field” site rather than building on virgin land.

During the 2 1⁄2-year con­struction phase of the project, 5,000 construction jobs will be created. TDC expects to hire 290 full-time employees at an average annual salary of $63,000 and about 50 part-time workers.TDC’s customer com­panies will need about 300 to 350 additional people for data management positions. The new facility and its employees mean local businesses and governments will benefit from increased spending and tax revenue.

The company has demon­strated its determination to be a good and responsible neigh­bor by responding to more than 270 questions from the Newark community regarding the project. Regrettably, some opponents are suggesting that the data center and its energy hub can be separated. If Wolf 1 is to be commercially success­ful,it must generate its own power. Without the energy hub, this project won’t happen and Delawareans will miss out on thousands of construction jobs and hundreds of permanent jobs. Without Wolf 1, The Data Centers and their customers go elsewhere. it’s simply illog­ical to say, “I support the data center, but not its energy hub.”

It’s time for Delaware to do something to re-establish its reputation as a state that wel­comes business. If this project is not allowed to proceed here, its owners will take it to a more forward-looking state that understands and encourages innovation and appreciates the social, environmental and eco­nomic benefits that come along with it – and that is a stigma wecannot afford.

State Representatives Gerald Brady, James “J.J.” Johnson, Helene Keeley and Dennis E. Williams also signed onto this Delaware Voice.