Substation Unleashes More Power in Prineville

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The opening of a new electrical substation in Prineville, Oregon will add 350 megawatts of capacity to the local power grid, clearing the way for additional data center development. The small town of 10,000 in rural central Oregon has emerged as a major data center hub, and is home to major data center campuses for Facebook and Apple.

But all those servers absorbed much of the available power on the Prineville grid, prompting the acceleration of a planned Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) substation to expand the region’s capacity. On Friday local officials marked the completion of the Ponderosa substation, which will immediately boost the local grid’s capacity from 650 megwatts to 1,000 megawatts, according to The Bend Bulletin. Planned upgrades to transmission lines will eventually boost total capacity to 1,300 megawatts.

The additional capacity will allow officials in Prineville to make power available for future data center projects. Several large companies are reported to have scouted sites in Prineville, where the cool, dry climate allows data centers to take advantage of “free cooling,” the practice of using cool outside temperatures to support the cooling systems.

Facebook put Prineville on the data center map by choosing the small town as the site of an ultra-efficient data center. The company has spent more than $210 million on the Prineville facility. The Apple project, along with Facebook’s three data centers, means Prineville may soon be home to more than 1 million square feet of data center capacity – and almost certainly more servers than people – with tens of millions of status updates, music downloads and online videos flowing through the town’s data centers.

Last February Apple confirmed plans to build a data center across the street from the Facebook campus. The arrival of a second huge project sharpened the focus on the regional power capacity. Shortly after Apple’s arrival, the BPA and Pacific Power announced plans to accelerate the completion of the Ponderosa substation, which was originally scheduled for completion in June 2013.

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.

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