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University of Delaware Puts Nail in Coffin of Data Center and Power Plant Project
Rendering of the data center and power plant The Data Centers proposed to build on the University of Delaware’s STAR campus in Newark, Delaware. (Image: The Data Centers)

University of Delaware Puts Nail in Coffin of Data Center and Power Plant Project

Review group concludes massive power plant’s environmental impact and economic viability too vague

After more than a year of debate, the University of Delaware has killed a data center project proposed by a company called The Data Centers on one of its campuses.

The proposal included a 279 megawatt power plant at the project’s site, a plan that became contentious after a group of residents in Newark, Delaware, where the facility would be built, started protesting it out of concern about the project’s environmental impact. The company was planning to invest about $1 billion in the project, which would include up to 900,000 square feet of data center space.

This week the university terminated its lease agreement with the company, effectively putting a bullet in the project’s head, Delaware Online reported. The decision came after a group of faculty and administrators issued a report that concluded that the proposal was inconsistent with the institution’s plans for the property.

Plant too risky, impact unknown

One of the report’s key conclusions was that the massive Combined Heat and Power cogeneration plant’s potential environmental impact is unknown, since no such plant has ever been built in the country. “The proposed 279 MW cogeneration facility is significantly (by at least two times) larger than any other on-site power generation facility known to us at data centers in the United States,” the authors wrote.

The scale and “unorthodox” design of the plant make it hard to confirm the developer’s environmental and commercial goals. The reviewer group also added that TDC has not really submitted a detailed design, providing instead a conceptual description, which makes it difficult to evaluate for environmental impacts.

The unorthodox design they referred to was one that includes operation in the “island mode,” or unplugged from the electrical grid. “Switching between island mod and on-grid is non-trivial, and the necessary technologies to achieve this mode of operation should be demonstrated to ensure that TDC’s plans are viable,” the report read.

Innovation hub won’t have a power plant

The reason TDC submitted its proposal to the University of Delaware was because the institution was looking for sustainable infrastructure projects to build on its STAR campus. The plan is to build an innovation hub that combines facilities for research in energy and the environment, health and life sciences and defense and national security.

After TDC submitted, a university steering committee reviewed the proposal and signed a land lease with the company in 2012.

Last year however, some information TDC provided lead the university to believe the company had shifted focus to place greater emphasis on the power plant and selling excess energy to the grid, which did not seem to align with its plans for the campus. This is what led to creation of the review group whose recent report resulted in cancellation of the lease.

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