Earth Week panel shines light on contested power plant issues, encourages student rhetoric


TDC Panel
Sara Pfefer/THE REVIEW
Panelists representing both sides of the controversy answered questions on the proposed 279MW natural gas-fired power plant at a teach-in aimed to inform students on The Data Centers LLC $1.1 billion project.

As time ticks until final permit decisions are determined, questions and concerns surrounding the proposed 279MW natural gas-fired power plant continued to surface last night at a panel hosted by the university’s Sustainability Task Force, which is vying to enhance student engagement in a topic that has since last semester gripped the community.

A mixed group of students, faculty and residents filled the seats of the Amy E. Dupont atrium for the teach-in comprised of panelists either in support or opposed to The Data Centers LLC (TDC) $1.1 billion STAR Campus project. TDC officials, as well as environmental lobbyist Jim Black, Professor Willett Kempton and resident Steve Hegedus acted as panelists with moderation by Professor Thomas Powers, director of the Center for Science, Ethics and Public Policy.

Following the panel, it was revealed that a recommendation will be issued in the upcoming weeks by an administration-appointed working group set up to supervise the progression of the proposed project, according to Vice Provost of Research Charles Riordan, member of the working group.

Revealed plans of TDC ignited community rhetoric months ago, something noticed by Riordan, who said he recognizes the “evolving conversation” surrounding the company’s future in Newark.

“This project has become more power plant than data center,” Riordan said, addressing the residents concerns over the combined heat and power facility that will power the large-scale data center.

The conversation continued to evolve last night with the looming environmental, financial and health concerns at the forefront. Kempton said during the 75-year lease of the plant, there will be an estimated 150 premature deaths due to estimated emissions, according to his calculations.

The power plant is expected to release up to 2,000 tons of CO2 per day, along with 81.3 tons of volatile organic compounds a year, according to TDC officials. The emissions could potentially lead to heart and lung failure, Kempton said.

“There’s a real health cost here,” Kempton said. “Placing it in a populated area like New Castle County incurs additional mortality.”

After other panelists relayed environmental and health concerns, TDC’s Vice President of Business Development Brian Honish assured the audience that TDC would meet all federal, state and local laws through permits in order to recognize residents’ entitled environmental rights.

“We do not see any negative impacts [of TDC] at this time,” Honish said.

After commenting on low student attendance, Honish listed the advantages of TDC, including increased tax revenue and jobs. TDC officials estimates over 4000 construction and 300 full-time jobs will be generated––numbers Honish continues to stand by.

However, Hegedus disputed TDC’s job estimates, noting the disparity between past estimates given at different presentations, as well as pointing out how few jobs other data centers create.

Though TDC officials have put emphasis on the internship opportunities, Hegedus said it will not benefit students in computer science or engineering, but rather those in trade school.

The main facet of TDC’s model is its self-sufficient, self-generating model which will not draw power from the grid. Kempton and Hegedus challenged this model and said the local power grid is just as reliable and more fluid to adopt greener energies.

“If this is such a good idea, why aren’t Apple, Google and Microsoft doing it?” Hegedus said.

Also in support of TDC was environmental lobbyist Jim Black of Partnership for Sustainability in Delaware and Delaware Jobs Now, which lobbies in favor of TDC. Among the founding members of Delaware Jobs Now is Director of Real Estate Andy Lubin, who has had a heavy hand in the building blocks of STAR Campus.

TDC’s LEED-certified design, as well as its commitment to what he considers to be the most efficient, sustainable energy source shows the company’s commitment to green design, Black said. He said TDC has signed a letter of intent with an offshore wind farm to buy its carbon credits. Additionally, Black said TDC intends to install five acres of solar panels on site.

“It’s a drop in the pocket for their total energy needs, but it is a step forward in making the facility as green as possible,” Black said.

Because of it’s patent-pending status, the investors of TDC are not known to the public, though Richard Beringer, TDC engineer, said no natural gas companies are investing in TDC. Beringer declined to comment further on investments.

Another point of tension was the Climate Action Plan signed by President Patrick Harker in 2009. The plan, which pledges to cut emissions 20 percent by 2020, will not be met if the university accounts carbon emissions from TDC, and will also make the university the highest carbon-emitting university in the country.

The administration has recognized that it is responsible for emissions from TDC when considering its carbon footprint, Hegedus said, though Black said carbon emissions should be attributed to clients of TDC rather than to the university.

Riordan closed the teach-in by assuring a decision by the working group will be made within the next four to six weeks. Two consultant groups including Environ., a Princeton N.J.-based environmental consultant, are providing the group with information, Riordan said.

Though the group is working with non-public information, all nonconfidential information will be released when the official decision is issued. Mostly being discussed is the size of the power plant rather than a data center it will power, Riordan said.

“We are committed to a data center,” Riordan said.

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  • comment-avatar
    LR 5 years

    Questions I have: How about solar power or other renewable energy at the STAR campus? Can’t that be built in conjunction with a data center? (and why is it so important to have a data center on UD campus?) Why is it so important to have a data center there?

  • comment-avatar
    Glen Saunders 5 years

    I’m all for a datacenter. I’m against a powerplant that isn’t Nuclear or renewable (solar/hydro/geothermal/wind). Get your power from the grid and better the town by improving the existing infrastructure and its reliability or if that’s insufficient lobby for sustainable/safer alternatives to carbon burning fuel types. I’ll be contacting multiple University of Delaware groups to voice my strong opposition to the powerplant and recommend others do as well.

  • comment-avatar
    Jamie Magee 5 years

    Any solar would just be a token visual in the context of their claimed power needs. They are running 24/7. The amount of power TDC claims they will need is on the order of 100MW (plus another 100MW in reserve just in case they suddenly have a failure and need immediate switchover). 5 acres of solar creates about 1MW. Even if they covered the entire 43 acres with solar, they wouldn’t even create 10% of what they claim to need, not to mention night/cloudy conditions. Solar would be sufficient for most business buildings, but a data center actually does concentrate huge amounts of power consumption into a relatively small space. To put it in context, the entire City of Newark including UD uses 50MW of power.

    The obvious and cleaner solution would be to use the grid, since it emits less pollution than 100% NG. And the grid is constantly getting cleaner as renewables are mixed in and coal is phased out. Meanwhile, TDC will still be using 100% fossil fuels for decades.

    Many people think the reason they are specifying such high power needs and refuse to use the grid is that they are trying to make money selling power.

  • comment-avatar
    IThomas 5 years

    A solar site would provide a drop in the bucket of the power needs plus they only operate at peak production for about 8 hours a day. When your producing useful power you’re not storing it for later use. If this solar site was installed with the non optimal design care of the Field House array, it would be all but another silly expense of needed funds. The Field House was ballyhooed to be state of the art and capable of generating 1 megawatt of power but on it’s best day it produces 1/3rd of that. It was done as a PR stunt for the most part and not a serious engineering design.

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