Google to convert an Alabama coal-burning plant to a data center running on clean energy

This would be the tech giant’s seventh data center in the U.S.

June 26, 2015 |
Google to convert an Alabama coal-burning plant to a data center running on clean energy

This October, Tennessee Valley Authority will close its outdated Widows Creek coal plant in Stevenson, Ala., which had been providing energy to the region since the 1960s. Photo: TVA Web Team via Wikimedia Commons

The coal-producing industry has taken its lumps of late, a victim of natural gas fracking and restrictions on air pollution. This October, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) will finally close its outdated Widows Creek coal plant in Stevenson, Ala., which had been providing energy to the region since the 1960s, rather than knock heads with the EPA over tighter financial and environmental regulations.

That plant, located on 350 acres about 60 miles northeast of Huntsville, will be retrofitted into a data center that runs on renewable energy. Google has agreed to build this $600 million project, which would be its 14th data center globally, but the first it has committed to in eight years, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

Google’s data centers in Iowa and Oklahoma run on wind power, and the Alabama facility will operate solely on renewable energy, possibly a combination of wind and solar.

The company states on its website that it has recently expanded its data centers in the states of Georgia and Iowa, as well as in Singapore and Belgium. Construction on the Alabama plant is scheduled to begin early next year and to bring between 75 and 100 jobs to Jackson County.

Google’s data centers in Iowa and Oklahoma run on wind power, and the Alabama facility will operate solely on renewable energy, possibly a combination of wind and solar, the company states. The data center will be hooked up to TVA’s electrical transmission lines, and Google will work with the Authority to run renewable energy through the latter’s electrical grid.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley called this project “the start of a long-lasting, productive relationship with Google.” He credited the TVA’s chairman Joe Ritch for securing the project. Google will benefit from two state tax-abatement packages that stem from the passage, three years ago, of the Alabama Data Processing Center Incentive Enhancement Act, according to AL.com.

Gary Demasi, Google’s director of Global Infrastructure, said in a prepared statement that Google sees “a lot of potential in redeveloping large industrial sites like former coal plants, and we’re excited to bring a data center to Alabama.” Urs Hölzle, Google’s SVP for technical infrastructure, told the New York Times that the company would be evaluating “plausible projects” over the next 12 months.

The data center is expected to incorporate Google’s latest technology efficiencies, which allow it to get 3.5 times the computing power out of the same amount of energy, compared to five years ago.

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