Amid Scrutiny, Cleaner Generators Arrive in Quincy

For its new data center in central Washington, Vantage Data Centers will install generators that emit far less pollution than previous units, meeting the EPA's most stringent standards for generator operation.

Rich Miller

October 1, 2012

3 Min Read
Amid Scrutiny, Cleaner Generators Arrive in Quincy
Several of the backup generators at one of the Texas data centers operated by CyrusOne. The company, a unit of Cincinnati Bell, plans a huge expansion in Phoenix. (Source: CyrusOne).

It's been barely a week since diesel generator emissions in Quincy, Wash. made the front page of the New York Times. That might not seem to be the best moment to announce that you're installing 17 of the largest diesel generator models at a new data center in Quincy.

But Vantage Data Centers and its vendor GenAcc believe they have a different story to tell. Vantage has opted to install generators that emit far less pollution than previous units, meeting the EPA's most stringent standards for generator operation.

GenAcc said this week that the Washington State Department of Ecology has certified its systems as "Best Available Control Technology" (BACT) for backup diesel generators in central Washington. The ecology department found that the diesel generator systems with GenAcc’s AirClarity 3000 “satisfied all requirements” and posed no significant health risk from diesel engine exhaust particulates (DEEP) to the Quincy area.

“Our systems are guaranteed to reduce emissions by as much as 95 percent,” said James Richmond, GenAcc's chief executive officer. "The Department of Ecology’s BACT certification of our technology is a confirmation of our systems’ ability to considerably reduce DEEP emissions and create a healthy environment.”

Data Center Cluster Draws Attention

That's become a hot topic in Quincy,  a town of 6,000 residents in central Washington state whose cheap power and cool climate has attracted major data centers for Microsoft, Yahoo, Dell, Intuit and Sabey. Each of the data centers in Quincy uses banks of generators to provide backup power in the event of a utility outage. Diesel engine exhaust is a regulated pollutant, and can be toxic in high concentrations, so state regulators routinely review permits for generators.

The growing number of diesel generators in Quincy generated debate in 2010 when Microsoft applied to add more generators for the second phase of its campus in Quincy. The state ecology department conducted an evaluation of the health risks from diesel engine exhaust particulates, and found that the Microsoft expansion was not likely to impact public health. The Pollution Control Hearings Board rebuffed a challenge from a group of citizens, including former Quincy mayor Patty Martin, who claimed that the state Department of Ecology had used faulty methodology in approving the generators.

Last week the New York Times focused on the generator issue in Quincy, and Microsoft's operations in 2010, when the company's generators operated for a combined total of 3,615 hours in Quincy. That was far more than a nearby Yahoo data center, which ran its generators for just 65 hours, but below the 4,256 hours allowed by the company’s permit from the state Department of Ecology.

Meeting a Higher Standard

Against that backdrop, when Vantage Data Centers announced its project last year, it unveiled plans to equip the new facility with generators meeting EPA guidelinesto reduce hazardous emissions from backup generators. Vantage bought 63 acres of land in Quincy and plans to build up to 470,000 square feet of data center space on the property. The first phase will be a 133,000 square foot data center on 25 acres of land that has been fully-leased to a “Fortune 50 leading manufacturing and technology company,” according to Vantage. The building will have 6 megawatts of critical power, expandable to 9 megawatts.

Vantage plans to install 17 diesel generators on its multi-building Quincy campus, each capable of providing up to 3 megawatts of emergency backup power to maintain power to servers in the event of a utility outage. Based on its analysis, “Ecology concludes that operation of the 17 generators will not have an adverse impact on local air quality,” the department’s report said.

Jim Trout, president and chief executive officer of Vantage Data Centers, said controlling emissions is a priority for the company.

“Quincy is rapidly becoming a key global hub for data centers and Vantage is happy to lead in the development in Quincy of some of the world’s most energy efficient, reliable and environmentally responsible data centers,” said Trout.

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