Newark Data Center report shows it to be “clean but not green”

 An artist's conception of The Data Centers project (photo courtesy TDC)

An artist's conception of The Data Centers project (photo courtesy TDC)

Nearly 200 people packed a Newark City Council meeting Monday night to hear if the proposed Newark Data Center is environmentally sound.


Council members heard the details of a third party report on the proposed Data Center. The Data Center (TDC) would be constructed on the University of Delaware’s Science Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) campus. The center would make its own power by constructing a 279-megawatt combined heat and power plant on site. Supporters of the plant tout the jobs it would create in Delaware.  The Data Center is also the home of Bloom Energy.  The Delaware Business Daily report that operation continues to expand.

The proposed power plant has raised concerns among Newark residents, who are worried about the environmental effects the plant could have on the community. Public meetings on the center draw crowds in the hundreds and Monday’s special city council session packed chambers in the city’s municipal building.

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Council voted to hire a third party consulting firm called Liberty Environmental in an effort to gather more information on what the power plant could mean for Newark and its residents.  

Gavin Biebuyck, an expert with Liberty Environmental called TDC’s proposal a “relatively clean plant” compared to other fossil fuel burning plants although he found several areas that could be improved upon.

Among his findings, Biebuyck said the plant’s estimate of the amount of ammonia and carbon dioxide it expects to release is too high and suggested the plant reevaluate those levels.

He also recommended that the plant provide further details on start-up and shutdown emissions.  He explained that some of the highest levels of emissions are released during those intervals.

“Increased emissions of VOC (volatile organic compound) and HAPs (hazardous air pollutants) like formaldehyde would also be expected during startups but have not been estimated by TDC for the combustion turbines,” Biebuyck outlined in the report.

Biebuyck also recommended that the plant conduct pre and post construction monitoring to better determine how the plant would interact with the other environmental factors in the surrounding area.  

Councilman Mark Morehead said the findings sounded “reasonable.”

“I think it’s very factual and I’m pleased very pleased with that,” Morehead said. “I think it sounds like TDC has some work to do as far as tying up some lose ends and I was glad to hear that the consultant thought it was clean for the most part. But he made it clear, clean but not green.”

Newark Mayor Polly Sierer said she’d like to see TDC take action on some of the recommendations.

“They don’t have a final air permit submitted so in fact if they don’t, then they can do some final modeling and do some permit application based on perhaps some of the recommendations from our consultant,” she said.  

Along with the Liberty Environmental study, UD is also awaiting reports from two consulting groups, according to Morehead.

He said one is an impact study and the other is looking into the appropriate size of the power plant.

“It’s hard to know what those will say,” Morehead said.

As the city and university await more information, state leaders worry stalled production of the project will scare away possible investors.

Last week, the Joint Finance Committee voted to move $3 million slated for the University of Delaware into the Controller General’s fund until they get answers on the data center.

“We want them to get off the dime and decide what they want to do,” said Sen. Harris McDowell, D-Wilmington North, following budget markups last week.  

Sierer said the funding issue is “between UD and the state.”  

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