In light of the decision by Facebook to locate a data center in Los Lunas, Travis Fisher, an economist with the Institute for Energy Research submitted this letter to the editor to the Albuquerque Journal. It was not published, but we believe that the information contained within should be made public and are doing so here:
The September 2nd story titled “Facebook or no, some say alternative energy plan could benefit NM” bought into an enticing but completely wrong premise: that it’s possible to power a large data center with 100 percent renewable energy—from a solar facility in this case.
Skeptical readers need only ask what happens when the sun goes down to see that there’s something fishy about what Facebook is selling. In truth, data centers run on power from the grid, which is generated by a mix of sources: natural gas, coal, nuclear, hydro, wind, and solar.
The myth of the all-renewable data center is beginning to take root. We have seen similar arrangements not only from Facebook itself in other states, but also from Amazon, Apple, Google, and other tech companies that purchase renewable energy as part of a company-wide environmental agenda.
Why should we care?
Well, if the all-renewable myth were a harmless public relations stunt, I’d have little reason to speak out against it. However, these tech companies use their good standing and popularity to lobby for energy subsidies and mandates. They operate both individually and under trade associations like TechNet (“the voice of the innovation economy,” an organization that is shameless in demanding that states keep their outdated renewable energy mandates).
Companies like Facebook also misinform the public about the cost and reliability of renewable power. If wind and solar are actually as low-cost and high-value as conventional sources, why do these companies keep pushing for subsidies and mandates? The author quoted an environmentalist who said plainly that renewables “are less costly than coal and nuclear.” False—unless massive subsidies no longer count as costs.
With respect to reliability, the very notion of running a large facility on 100 percent renewable power gives people the impression that renewables are reliable, or that it’s feasible to run an entire power grid on 100 percent renewable energy (it’s not). Another environmentalist said companies could “have all their energy needs provided by renewables.” False—unless Facebook literally plugs its all-hours data center into a solar facility. Good luck with that.