Should Power Usage Be A Secret?

Add Your Comments

The governor of Oklahoma, Brad Henry, has just signed a law allowing municipal power companies to not report power usage by their largest industrial customers. Lawmakers insisted this wasn’t a “Google bill,” despite the fact that Google just disclosed that it’s considering building a data center on 800 acres of land it has purchased in Pryor, Oklahoma. But a journalist involved in the discussion of the bill acknowledged that the measure is designed to benefit data center operators.

Mark Thomas, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Press Association, said he understands that companies with computer server farms don’t want their competitors to know their electrical use. “They consider it is a trade secret,” he said. Thomas worked with lawmakers to come up with an acceptable compromise bill that would modify the Open Records Act by allowing public bodies to keep secret the amount of electrical power sold to very large industrial customers.

Thomas told the Tulsa World that the press association found the law acceptable because of provisions that limited the exception to customers using more than 2.5 megawatts of power per month, and ensured that other key data – including the customer’s rate and whether it was current on its bill – would remain public. State press associations often challenge new laws that carve out exemptions to public open records laws.

Shane Woolbright, director of Municipal Electric Systems of Oklahoma Inc., said he sought the legislation “on behalf of large-volume electric users that might be considering a move to Oklahoma.” Woolbright said the bill will be helpful to Google, but was not aware of Google making any condition that the bill be signed into law.


Google pursues secrecy about many aspects of its data center operations, citing its infrastructure as a major competitive differentiator. “Our leadership in search and ads is a direct result of our relentless focus on building the most robust platforms for our users,” CFO George Reyes said last year, adding that Google’s spending on data centers was “really critical part of our competitive advantage and our infrastructure.”

Nicholas Carr noted a recent example of Google’s closed-mouth approach to its data centers, seen at a recent ceremony to announce its $600 million facility in Lenoir, North Carolina:

At a pork barbecue celebrating the announcement of the data center deal, Google held a question and answer session with local dignitaries, but it was characteristically closed-mouthed about the details of its operation. Asked how it uses water and electricity at its sites, Google executive Rhett Weiss said, “We’re in a highly competitive industry and, frankly, one or two little pieces of information like that in the hands of our competitors can do us considerable damage. So we can’t discuss it.”

So we can add public power usage data to the list of topics covered by the “Fight Club Rule” of data center secrecy.

About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor-in-chief of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.