Iowa Boom: More Google Investment, New Mega-Project Looms

Iowa's data center boom is kicking into a higher gear. Google is investing in more wind power in Iowa, and also set to unveil additional investment at its data center in Council Bluffs. Meanwhile, officials in Altoona are seeking to land a $1.5 billion project from a mystery company.

Rich Miller

November 15, 2012

4 Min Read
Google data center in Council Bluffs, Iowa
An overhead view of the server infrastructure in Google’s data center in Council Bluffs, Iowa. (Photo: Connie Zhou for Google)Alphabet/Google


An overhead view of the server infrastructure at the Google data center in Council Bluffs, Iowa. (Photo: Connie Zhou for Google)

Iowa's data center boom is kicking into a higher gear. Google is investing in more wind power in Iowa, and also preparing to announce additional investment at its data center in Council Bluffs, while officials in Altoona are attempting to reel in an even bigger project that could give the state a trifecta of news featuring leading Internet companies.

  • Google announced an equity investment of $75 million in a 50MW wind farm in Rippey, a small town in Greene County, about an hour outside of Des Moines. The Rippey project, developed by RPM Access, will help Google offset the energy used by its data center campus in Council Bluffs.

  • Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad has scheduled a joint press conference with Google for Friday afternoon to announce the company's "continued investment in Iowa and its Council Bluffs data center.”

  • City officials in Altoona, Iowa say they are working on "fine details" to finalize a $1.5 billion data center deal, according to local media. The renewed chatter comes as officials in Iowa express growing confidence that the state will land the massive data center customer, which has also been reviewing sites in Nebraska.

The announcement of Google's Council Bluffs project in 2007 kicked off interest in the state as a destination for data center development. Microsoft then announced plans to build a data center in West Des Moines, which is now operational after a delay. This week there's hopeful signs on three fronts.

Google's Wind Deal

Google's latest investment in wind power in Rippey brings the company's total committed investment in the renewable energy sector to more than $990 million. Back in 2010, Google entered into a long-term contract to purchase wind energy from NextEra Energy Resources. This time, Google is investing directly in the RPM wind project, which has been contracted to sell all of the energy to the Central Iowa Power Cooperative, an Iowa-based utility that will deliver the energy to local consumers. "We’re happy to help make more renewable energy available to Iowans and to support the growing wind energy industry in the state," wrote Axel Martinez, Google's Assistant Treasurer, Head of Capital Markets in a blog post.

More Council Bluffs Expansion?

News of more pending investment in Council Bluffs builds upon an announcement in April, when Google said it will invest $300 million in expanding its data center operations, bringing its total investment in Council Bluffs to more than $900 million. The Des Moines Register reports that local officials haven't yet received any plans from Google for a third data center on the site.  The wild card: Google has applied for permission to build satellite antennas in the Council Bluffs area, but hasn't provided a sense of how those antennas might be used.

Major Project Eyes Altoona

The Register also reported that officials in Altoona met last week to finalize details for the $1.5 billion mystery data center project, such as infrastructure specifications, in development agreements and contracts with a yet-to-be-named company. “I think we’re very close to being completed with this thing,” Altoona City Administrator Jeff Mark told the City Council this week. “The conversation we had was really crossing some t’s and dotting some i’s.” The proposal involves a 200-acre plot of land owned by Hubbell Realty.

It’s the latest example of “code name” projects in which large companies seek to remain secret as they scout locations for data centers. The prospect is known as "Project Catapult" in Iowa and as "Project Edge" in Nebraska, where efforts to attract the mystery company has focused on land in Kearney, Neb. In March, local officials in Kearney were confident enough about their chances that the city council approved spending $1.7 million to acquire land for the project.

Nebraska and Iowa have been battling it our for major data center projects for years, with Nebraksa's most notable win being a Yahoo facility in La Vista. The state has identified numerous site with the power and fiber infrastructure to support a major data center.

So who is the mystery company? The field of prospects is narrowed by the scope of the project and the the fact that three of the huge companies best known for secretive site selections – Google, Microsoft and Yahoo – already operate major data centers in the region. Possible candidates include Apple or Facebook, neither of which has a major data center presence in the middle of the country.

Local chatter is said to focus on Facebook. The company behind Project Catapult has submitted site plans in Altoona showing phased construction of three data centers, each between 350,000 and 380,000 square feet in size. That is similar to the site plans for Facebook's project in Oregon and North Carolina, which include as many as three data centers. But a growing number of companies are now pursuing multi-facility campuses, and there's the possibility that the mystery company could be a large colocation provider or financial services company.

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