Officials voice support for STAR Campus, professors and residents express concerns
Published: Monday, October 14, 2013
Updated: Monday, October 14, 2013 23:10
In the first open university-sponsored forum regarding The Data Centers LLC, Vice Provost of Research Charles Riordan assured university members last night there will be due diligence in evaluating TDC’s plans to construct a data center and conjoining 248-megawatt natural gas power plant on the university’s STAR campus.
“Part of that due diligence is going to be the site assessment, a comprehensive review of design and infrastructure planning,” Riordan said. “We are doing all of this in collaboration with consultants.”
Faculty Senate hosted the event in Mitchell Hall last night in hopes of informing students and faculty of the data center. Riordan is a member of the university’s internal working group, which was formed in September. Along with two environmental and energy consultants, the working committee is tasked with evaluating the data center’s implementation on the northwest area of STAR campus, Riordan said.
Gene Kern, CEO of TDC, outlined the $1.1 billion project, though he said he cannot accurately answer every single question because designs are not completed. The power plant, with its Combined Heat and Power technology, is expected to emit 2,000 tons of carbon dioxide a day, along with other emissions such as nitrous oxide.
Kern defended his plans to use a natural gas plant as opposed to adopting alternative fuels or buying power from the local power grid. TDC’s “efficient” and “capital-intensive” design, he said, signals a national push to big data as current data centers are smaller in storage and less efficient.
“Big data wraps around the idea of consolidation,” Kern said.
Kern said his approach differs from the current industry design approach as his model will provide uptime to customers, generate more revenue and have fewer distribution losses.
Kern also discussed the possibility of selling excess power to Delaware Municipal Electric Corporation Inc., which would in turn provide power to residents within city limits of Newark. He also listed partners, validation groups and engineering firms that will evaluate the financing and design of the project.
Econsult Solutions, an economic consultant group, is slated to release an economic impact report on TDC, Kern said. Econsult is led by David Crawford, a professor at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
TDC is expected to generate $4,400,000 in annual taxes, according to Econsult Solutions.
The company provided STAR’s steering committee––faculty tasked with deciding which organizations come to the campus––a “compelling argument” that the center will fit the “3+1 strategy,” Riordan said.
The “3+1 strategy” is centered around enabling infrastructure in the following fields––energy and environment, life and health sciences, as well as national security and defense, Riordan said.
“When you think of the role of higher education in the 21st century, we, as a major research university at the University of Delaware, have an important and collaborative role to play in advancing both job creation and economic development,” he said.
In October of last year, the steering committee had a lively debate about moving forward with the project, Riordan said. He said he thinks STAR will grow at an “appreciable rate” if STAR becomes home to the TDC.
Scott Douglass, vice president of the university, also voiced his support for TDC last night.
“We think this is a very positive project,” Douglass said. “We also recognize there are other folks that have issues and want to express that.”
Physics professor John Morgan, however, relayed his concerns, calling upon university engineers to answer community questions. The natural gas pipelines, which will run from Parksburg, Pa., and Hockessin, Del., raise “issues of safety,” he said.
Though TDC officials promise to recapture at least 45 percent of carbon dioxide, Morgan said the university will still significantly raise emissions by hosting the power plant.
“If 45 percent is captured, it will still increase emissions 12-fold,” Morgan said.
Kerns confirmed TDC is not required to disclose financial investments.
“[TDC] is a privately-held company and will not disclose finances,” Kern said. “It’s disclosure that harms business deals.”
Several professors and Newark residents shared concerns during an open discussion after the presentations. Geology professor Afton Clark-Sather said Kern’s refusal to disclose finances was unnecessary.
Clark-Sather raised questions regarding Gallo-Kern Enterprises Inc., a technology investment organization of which Kern is the president. The company was slated to host a similar data center at Rowan University in 2013, but the project fell through, Kern said.
Morgan said most of his concerns derive from the facility’s tentative use of 3 million gallons of water a day, which will in turn produce water vapor.
“Do we really want a cloud permanently hovering over our campus?” Morgan said. “What impression will this make?”