Univ. of Delaware president defends decision to cancel data center plan

 Aerial view of the STAR Campus, October 2012. (photo courtesy of the University of Delaware)

Aerial view of the STAR Campus, October 2012. (photo courtesy of the University of Delaware)

University of Delaware President Patrick Harker provided more details into his decision to stop plans to construct a data center and power plant on the university’s STAR campus.

On Thursday morning, Harker sent a letter to The Data Centers, LLC indicating that the university is terminating the lease with the company, effective immediately. The decision comes after the university finished a nearly year-long study on the long-term impact the facility would have on both the campus and the community.

“This project, as stated in the report, while having a lot of benefits, using state-of-the-art-technology, etc., was not appropriate for our site,” Harker said.

According to the report, “information emanating from TDC suggested that their plans were evolving with greater emphasis being placed on power generation and selling excess energy to the grid.”

The power would have been generated by a 279-megawatt combined heat and power (CHP) facility that would fuel the center. The plant was at least two times larger that any other on-site power generation facilities located at data centers in the United States, according to the report.

“There continues to be enthusiasm for the potential of a data center on that site and the concern as articulated in the committee’s report is about the cogeneration facility, aka the power plant, both in terms of the size of the power plant TDC was proposing, and the environmental impact of a power plant of that size,” explained Charlie Riordan, head of the internal working group that conducted the study.

Residents who live near the campus, along with environmental groups, had opposed construction of a power plant.

While Harker doesn’t have specific plans on what they’ll do with the TDC space on campus, the university isn’t ruling out the possibility of another data center. Harker said UD has incurred “minimal cost” in the termination process, but declined to provide an exact figure.

Harker added that they’re still in the early stages of building the STAR (science, technology and advanced research) campus and he wants to ensure that each endeavor aligns with the goals of the university.

“We are in constant contact with organizations, both for profit and non-profit, to come onto the site and there’s a tremendous interest on the star campus,” Harker said. “So again, we have to recognize that developing 271 acres is a marathon, not a sprint, and we are in the process of taking calls from people interested, and also reaching out to people who are interested.”

Local and state officials expressed support for UD’s efforts to continue attracting innovative, job-creating companies.  

“Newark remains dedicated to creating and sustaining a multi-faceted economic base and, for that reason, we will continue to attract a diverse range of high-quality business and industrial firms,” Newark Mayor Polly Sierer said. “The STAR Campus will continue to be a high profile and attractive location that’s ready for development and well situated.”

Gov. Jack Markell’s office also issued a statement following the announcement.

“The Governor remains interested in working with UD to develop that site in a manner that will create jobs and strengthen Delaware’s network of science and technology businesses,” the statement said.


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