As one of many who strive to be good stewards of Kent County and the region, I felt strongly compelled to issue my views regarding a recent Op-Ed submitted by Al Hammond regarding data centers, a subject that I have opined on recently and continue to work at as a design professional to fairly frame the discussion for our community. It is that important.
The cheerleading dense and factually thin Op-Ed was akin to sugar coating a very bad pill. I asked – is it naive optimism or an intentional glossing over to divert attention from the serious realities of large data centers and their potential detrimental impacts on Kent County?
The introduction of data centers into any community will have far reaching consequences. In bucolic and history-rich Kent County, the impacts are of paramount concern. Our unique community deserves thoughtful growth and requires specific and studied regulations for this ‘emerging’ industry because it is new and has already proved problematic.
The use of the clichés ‘data farm’ and ‘data farming’ is offensive and tantamount to desecrating a noble human endeavor, essential to the survival of humankind over millennium. Having been raised on a farm I worked the land and machinery in the hot sun, picking tons of produce and saw cash crops wrecked due to weather calamities. It is a difficult occupation with absolutely no relationship to a data center. We can’t eat or drink data and we won’t perish if our social media or Zoom platforms go down. I doubt that pride will ever stem from a multi-generation owner-operated data center.
I do not oppose data centers. I do oppose inviting data centers into our communities without first studying what that means, weighing the pros and cons, considering other creative possibilities, and putting measures in place to assure success of the County overall. Solely promoting economic benefits without considering the effects on community and environment is a failed model that has caused horrendous damage to communities and the planet – it is a paradigm whose time is waning and cannot be the foundation of a successful future.
I read nothing about finding balance between data centers, the populace and the environment. The intent of a Land Use Ordinance is to protect the welfare of the public and the environment, not the profits of corporations or the County coffers. These are laws created to advantage the community at large regardless of the views held by the County Commissioners and the Economic Development Office. The public should be involved in determining the fate of the County. The charrette process, which gives voice to the public, should be a mandated element of the approval process for a data center.
To educate and set the record straight, here are just a few overlooked facts and science to bring us back to reality.
- Data centers are the ‘cloud’, operating 24/7, year-round and up to 50 acres under roof
- Data storage industry is on par with the aviation industry pre-2020 in adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and will surge ahead due to the exploding market
- Data centers consume 2% of the world’s electric and will soar to 8% by 2030
- Data centers consume vast amounts of water to cool equipment – the U.S. Energy Department predicts usage at 174 billion gallons in 2020
- A South Carolina center uses 500,000 gallons per day from the ground and requested an increase to 1.5 million gallons – the average U.S. household uses 138 gallons per day
- Data centers range in size from Tier I to V – the higher tiers require more resources with increased potential detrimental impacts to the community
- A Tier IV center can require 26 to 34 Megawatts of power to operate – equal to powering 26,000 to 34,000 homes
- Offshore wind power is not failsafe – sea turbines are vulnerable to wave action and high winds and the production and installation of power cables is expensive and disruptive
- Data centers require emergency power systems to protect computing equipment when the primary power source goes down
- Emergency power is provided by up to 20 massive diesel generators, typically 15oo to 3ooo hp, which are run and tested weekly causing documented noise problems
- Stored diesel fuel for generators can exceed 100,000 gallons making leakage and contamination a legitimate concern
- Cooling towers and equipment to maintain interior temperatures create humming and rattling that has impacted communities in at least 7 states nationwide
- Scientists have determined that for people living near seven major airports, a 10-decibel increase in aircraft noise was associated with a 28 percent increase in anxiety medication use
- Another study found that people living in areas with high traffic noise were 25 percent more likely to have depression
- Noise is more than ‘annoying’ – it is a proven health risk and a detriment to resale
- Data centers are not pristine and visually appealing – the larger ones are Amazon-like bunkers, austere and impossible to blend into their surroundings
- Large centers require a secure perimeter with high fencing, a guard house, bright lighting and pole mounted cameras – in stark contrast to the farmlands where located
- Cooling equipment options are available to reduce water usage and noise but are typically rejected by budget driven developers due to increased cost
- Green and sustainable data centers are being built by big players like Facebook and green design can be required in a Land Use Ordinance
In summation, our community would be better served by presenting a factual portrayal of what it would mean to open our arms to data centers. If Joni Mitchell were inspired by Mr. Hammonds Op-Ed to rewrite her hit song Yellow Taxi, she might substitute ‘They raided paradise and put up a data center.’
Thomas Kocubinski is the principal architect at Kocubinski Architects.