Ron Wyden’s Oregon Updates the Business Plan: Sell Electricity to Data Centers

In case you were wondering what the deal is with Palo Alto High School alumnus and Oregon Senator Ron Wyden’s interest in Big Tech, maybe it’s this: Amazon, Rackspace, Facebook and of course Google, all have built massive data centers in Oregon that suck down Oregon’s hydroelectric power.

Yes, according to The Oregonian:

Data centers have become one of Oregon’s biggest industries, with Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon spending billions of dollars to buy and equip online storage facilities in rural parts of the state. They’re lured primarily by tax savings, which can shave tens of millions of dollars from a server farm’s annual operating cost.

Good thing these Gang of Four members are all supporting the local tax base.  Oopsie!  Wrong!

Earlier this week, The Dalles city council and Wasco County commissioners voted to approve a package of “enterprise zone” tax breaks that exempts Google’s buildings and computers from local property taxes. The pact could save Google tens of millions of dollars or more over the 15-year life of the deal.
In exchange, Google will make an up-front payment of $1.2 million to local governments and $800,000 annually after that.
So where does this hydroelectric power come from?
In The Dalles, Oregon–Senator Wyden’s state–Google uses renewable hydropower from The Dalles Dam to run its data center. That hydropower is also relatively cheap, giving the company an economic advantage.
Wait–The Dalles Dam?  Isn’t that paid for by the federal government a/k/a The Congress?  a/k/a the US taxpayer?

Bob Jenks, director of the Citizens’ Utility Board of Oregon, estimates that Google’s hydropower costs the company a little more than half what industrial customers of PacifiCorp and Portland General Electric pay.

Google didn’t break out its energy use in The Dalles, but power usage figures provided to The Oregonian by the Northern Wasco County Public Utility District give some indication of scale.

Five years ago, before Google opened its data center in The Dalles, the PUD provided 31 million kilowatt hours to primary service customers. Today, that number has increased tenfold and makes up nearly two-thirds of all the power the PUD provides.

Google provides computing services that benefit everyone, Jenks said, so it’s hard to evaluate whether its power use in The Dalles is optimal from an economic perceptive. But he said there’s only so much cheap hydropower to go around.

“If they’re taking up more hydro,” Jenks said, “there’s less hydro available for someone else.”

Not to worry, though, the Congress can take care of that little problem given that there are 31 dams on the Columbia River–including The Dalles Dam.  And given that Senator Wyden is the chair of the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee.

The Dalles Dam has an interesting history with Oregon’s local Confederated Warm Springs Tribes and the Yakama Indians, too.  Thanks to the ever efficient Army Corps of Engineers and a bunch of federal taxpayer money, the Dalles Dam hoodwinked the tribes into giving up sacred land:

The gates of The Dalles Dam closed in 1957 and the waters of the Columbia River began rising to flood traditional Indian fishing sites, sacred areas, burial sites, and homes. Many Indians stood on the shore openly weeping as the river stopped flowing and began to rise. Celilo Falls, an important resource and spiritual site, disappeared beneath the rising waters. For more than 10,000 years the people had fished in the area between Celilo Falls and Threemile Rapids. The rising waters of the Columbia displaced some of the oldest continuously inhabited village sites in North America. Archaeological sites which had never been studied were destroyed.

In 1958, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) declared that all of the permanent residents of old Celilo Village in Oregon had been provided with comfortable homes at various places up and down the river and elsewhere. However, under the BIA rules only a small portion of the Indians who considered Celilo Village to be their home actually qualified as “permanent” residents. Part of the old village was given by the BIA to the state of Oregon to be used as a public park. The BIA had no concern for the possible Indian use of this land.

Oh, well.  Just didn’t update the old business model, eh?

And you know what else?  Amazon, Rackspace, Facebook and of course Google are all members of the Internet Association, Big Tech’s premiere lobbying shop in Washington, DC.

Don’t break the Internet, dude.

One thought on “Ron Wyden’s Oregon Updates the Business Plan: Sell Electricity to Data Centers

  1. Jarod Lanier may have a point in one of his regrets: He had wished the internet never happened. It’s really not too late, even though many will say it is. Fry the damn thing. We will survive: and ESPECIALLY, so will the music, movies, books, stores, tourist industry, ..every form of art or business that is on the business will survive, except isp’s and big tech 😉


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