Controversy arises over STAR campus data center, power plant
Published: Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 10, 2013 17:09
This is part one of a series looking into the development and future of STAR campus, the 272-acre site purchased by the University of Delaware in 2009 under President Patrick Harker.
As the university introduces plans to expand its STAR campus, local citizens are beginning to question the environmental impacts of the tentative, 248-megawatt natural gas power plant that will run a data center adjacent to the university’s new research-intensive hub.
Newark residents, politicians and environmentalists crowded the George Wilson Center Tuesday for an informational presentation regarding The Data Centers LLC, a company set to take up occupation in the northwest area of STAR campus. Though the furthest point of main campus, the data center complex will border residential neighborhoods and be within miles of local schools.
Representatives from TDC provided attendees with background information about the company and addressed concerns of citizens to “set the record straight” about the energy production that will tentatively take place at the site, Gene Kern, CEO of TDC, said.
“There have been a lot of facts put out there that are not accurate,” Kern said.
TDC, which is set to be up and running in three years, is a “specialized and tightly-controlled facility” that will be an “energy-efficient, highly secure, high-density data center,” according to Andrea Wolf, vice president of the company. She said the data center, with its patent-pending design, will cater to entities such as banks, social media websites, insurance companies and government agencies.
In a timeline presented during the meeting, Wolf said negotiations for TDC’s arrival to STAR campus began in January 2012 with the commitment to 1743 Holdings LLC, the wholly owned subsidiary of the university, being made on June 14.
Wolf said the wellbeing of local citizens will be considered during the development of TDC.
“It’s very important because it speaks to what goes on between us and you as the community, and how we intend to protect the environment,” Wolf said.
The data center will be part of the university’s new STAR campus, which aims to be a research center for security, health and energy corporate partners. Rather than being an extension to the undergraduate campus, the STAR campus will be a “community of active research and corporate businesses that will create economic growth,” Andy Lubin, director of real estate for the university, said. TDC is one of those corporate partners, Lubin said.
“[TDC] reached out to us because it’s near the university and because there is a huge amount of fiberoptic activity along the rail,” Lubin said. “It’s uniquely located between Washington, New York and Boston.”
Instead of relying on local power grids, Wolf said the data center will be “self sufficient” and powered by a natural gas power plant adjacent to the facility. Despite the facility potentially emitting up to 2,000 tons of carbon dioxide a day, Wolf said TDC will work to reduce its environmental footprint.
“It will be 100 percent electrically self-sufficient, powered by a dedicated, environmentally-efficient facility,” Wolf said.
Local Newark resident Amy Roe, conservation chair of the Delaware Sierra Club, said she lives one mile from the proposed facility. Along with her neighbors, Roe said she is concerned about having a natural gas power plant so close to a residential area. The proposed facility would be within a mile of her home and 3,000 feet from her father’s home, she said.
Roe said her concerns ranging from noise production to nitrous oxide emissions, and she also questions the effects the plant will have on local property values.
“Asthma rates in Delaware are high––14 percent,” Roe said. “The impact that this will have on asthma rates and air quality is a concern, and that concern was dismissed at the meeting.”
Cole Bauer, site engineer for TDC, said though the plant could potentially emit up to 2,000 tons of carbon dioxide a day, the carbon dioxide will be “recaptured,” and subsequently purified and liquified. Bauer said TDC would recapture at least 45 percent of the carbon dioxide, potentially recapturing 100 percent of emissions.
Junior Molly Gartland, a student representative for the Delaware Environmental Institute, said she doubts the companies abidance to energy sustainability after attending the meeting Tuesday. She said she noted several contradictions during the meeting.
“They were saying they weren’t going to be connected to the grid, but then saying that power lines would be running underground out from the facility and then above ground out of the range of the facility,” Gartland said.
Maps of the natural gas pipelines were not shown during the meeting, though it was announced 21 miles will run on “existing rights of way” from Hockessin, Del. and Parksburg, Pa.
“If you look at a map, both of those are North and West of Newark,” Roe said. “Both of those would have to pass White Clay Creek. How are they going to cross the river?”
Lubin said TDC is responsible for obtaining the necessary permits from DNREC, as well as having its building design approved by the state, with the university not having the responsibility of overseeing the center’s environmental impact.
“Data Centers LLC is responsible for addressing those concerns,” Lubin said. “I think they demonstrated on Tuesday and will continue to demonstrate that it’s, quite frankly, a minimal risk from an environmental point of view.”