Hundreds hear about planned billion dollar data center in Newark

Leaders of The Data Centers made their case for a $1.1 billion project on the University of Delaware STAR campus to many skeptical audience members.

Eugene Kern, founder and CEO of the company, said he planned to “set the record straight” on the site that has generated controversy in recent weeks.  Three hundred people packed the George Wilson Community Center in Newark to hear the presentation and to pepper officials of the company with questions on the project.

Kern and other officials with the company said the plant will pay $10 million a year in taxes and generate upwards of 600 jobs at the data center and at client companies.

The Data Centers will not seek any government assistance other than a $7.5 million infrastructure grant from the state.

Strong opposition

Critics have claimed the City of Newark should have been more forthcoming on discussions with the company.  It was after those complaints that the city decided to hold the information session.

Objections have been raised about the environmental costs as well as “not in my backyard” concerns over why the West Chester company wanted to build the center on the University of Delaware’s STAR Campus, the former site of the Chrysler plant.

A couple of days before the meeting, a website in opposition to the plant operating under the title No Newark Power Plant  went online. Company officials took pains to say that the primary purpose of the site is data storage, with less than a third of the power sold on the open market or perhaps becoming part of an agreement with the Delaware Municipal Electric Corp. The City of Newark is a member and the largest customer of the power supplier 

Kern and other representatives of the company said they plan to build a secure home that would combine natural gas-fired powered generators with secure storage of data. The ability to generate its own power will create 100 percent reliability for the site, Kern and other company officials said.

The Newark plant was chosen because infrastructure is already in place from the Chrysler plant.

Power plant

Data centers now use back-up generators and batteries for emergency power and, according to Kern, are “energy hogs” that deal with a large amount of heat generated by banks of computer servers. The Data Center would work to use that heat and would even capture the carbon dioxide that is the main pollutant from the power generation process.

When it comes to noise, the plant would likely be quieter than the former occupant of the site, Chrysler, with noise not exceeding the decibel level of a conversation.

Kern says the three-year construction phase of the plant would employ 1,000 to 3,000 skilled union workers, an announcement that was applauded by many members of the audience. A Marine Corps, veteran, Kern added that the company will work hard to train and hire vets. Pay would run in the $60,000 range.

Questions and answers

Officials did not face direct questioning from the audience. Instead, State Rep. Paul Baumbach, D-Newark, moderated a session that featured answers to questions submitted by the audience. In posing the questions to company officials, he referred to residents “being able to sleep at night” over concerns ranging from stray voltage to possible derailments in the area. The nearest house is reportedly a half-mile from the site.

Baumbach worked to keep up with the flurry of written questions that ranged from light pollution caused by the center to technical questions on emissions, water and other matters. Company officials answered a question about the origin of the natural gas to be used at the site by saying the fuel would be bought on the open market.

The proposal is being closely watched by the Sierra Club and other groups, who believe the plant will use gas from Pennsylvania extracted from the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.”

If all goes according to plan, the site could be operating in 2015, officials with The Data Centers say. The company already has an agreement in place with an entity of the University of Delaware.

Newark City Manager Carol Houck said a second meeting will be held to deal with further details on the project.

Answers to questions arising from the Tuesday night session are expected to be posted on websites of The Data Centers and the City of Newark.

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