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The Mother’s Milk of Algorithms: Google Expands Its Data Center Lobbying Footprint in Minnesota–Home to Senator Amy Klobuchar

January 14, 2019 1 comment

Data profiling requires a lot of computing power.  Really a whole bunch.  When you’re talking that much electricity, you’re talking government.  When you’re talking government, you’re talking lobbying.

And in this case, looking at the political landscape from the data center point of view might explain a whole lot of oddball results.  Like why do Senators from Oregon and Nebraska seem ready to abandon their constituents in favor of a bunch of out-of-staters that don’t have another connection to their states?  And which moves are Google making now that might position them to be influential again in US presidential politics in 2020 and also be bad for the creative community?  Maybe having juice all comes down to having the juice.

When Google and Facebook are scraping all your personal information and hosting all that user-generated pirated content, they need to really work over their algorithms.  Bigly.  And crunching algorithms requires gigantic data centers and gigantic data centers don’t run on magic elves.

No, electricity is the mothers milk of algorithms and electricity doesn’t come from magic elves generating special energy on treadmills imported from the Undying Lands.

How much electricity does it take for Google to invade your privacy…sorry…be Google?  Google has not, to my knowledge, updated its voluntary 2011 disclosures on energy use. In 2011, Google’s continuous energy needs were roughly what it would take to power 200,000 homes in the U.S.–say Salt Lake City, Yonkers or Little Rock.  Approximately 80% of that electricity is Google’s data centers.  And that was eight years ago.  According to a 2016 feature in the Guardian, Google accounts for the lions share of approximately 2% of greenhouse gas emissions in the world that power data centers.  That’s right–the world.  So presumably the reason they haven’t updated those 2011 disclosures is because the Google climate news isn’t good.

Google would like you to believe that they offset their carbon footprint through investing in renewable energy, which they do to a degree.  But the people who really do the big investing in Google’s renewable energy needs are not just Google–they are that old standby, the old reliable for corporate welfare, the innovator of last resort.  That’s right.

You.

We’ll come back to how you do that in a minute, but rest assured.  You won’t be shocked, shocked.  And we’ll always have Paris.

Regardless of who’s building their infrastructure, Google’s energy drain would make Google a very big electricity customer–very big.  And then there’s Amazon and Facebook, too.  Internet Association types, you get the idea.  (Someone has to pay for Michael Beckerman’s $4,000 shoes.)

My bet is that the demand for electricity to run those algorithms needs to be spread out so hopefully nobody will notice the affect on the climate that the Silicon Valley party is having.  This is due to the massive draw down of electricity and the crowding out of local users in the lucky localities where the taxpayer pays Google to locate their data centers.  Where these data centers are located can create considerable political leverage for the already over-leveraged Google.

Let’s take a look at the most recent example, Google’s new data center in Minnesota, home to Senator Amy Klobuchar. (Senator Klobuchar was included in the recent list of potential 2020 Democratic Party presidential candidates in Politico.)  Senator Klobuchar is–or at least was–a long-time ally of artists in the U.S. Senate.

According to Minnesota Public Radio, the biggest utility in Minnesota is selling over 300 acres of land to Google to locate a new $600 million data center in the city of Becker, Minnesota not far from Minneapolis.  Fair market value, right?  Maybe not.

After the data center is built, Google will immediately become one of the utility’s five largest customers.  Although the utility “plans” to have “most” of Google’s data center needs met by renewable energy by 2050, it currently operates the largest coal-fired generator in Minnesota and is scheduled to replace that plant with a natural gas facility in the near future.

In order to get that natural gas plant paid for and opened, former Governor Mark Dayton side-stepped the customary process before the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.   How?  Google’s favorite method of avoiding local elected officials–lobbying the state legislature.

What a coincidence.

And why was that new plant so important?  According to local press, “[p]roponents say the legislation [authorizing the natural gas generator] is necessary to stabilize the Sherburne County economy, which will be hurt by the coal generators’ demise.”  Sounds important.  Sounds like back scratching–we can only get Google to move here if we get rid of coal, and we can’t get rid of coal without spending some more of the taxpayers’ money–not Google’s money, your money–on a new power plant.

How do you think the Mayor of Becker (population 4,568) feels about Google coming to her town?  Think she’ll get in the way after the Governor and the state legislature have already mandated what is to go down?  Because the county economy is dependent on the new power plant and the new power plant will in large part be dependent on Google.

Do data centers produce a huge number of jobs that might justify paying a company like Google to move to Becker, Minnesota?  Not once they’re built--“the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development said the…data center would involve 2,000 construction jobs and employ about 50 full-time workers.

That’s right–50 jobs.  So we build you a power plant and you give us…50 jobs.

This is about the same result as Senator Ron Wyden enjoyed from the data centers built in The Dalles along Oregon’s Columbia River watershed.  (That would be the same Ron Wyden who is the former chair of the United States Senate Finance Subcommittee on Energy, Natural Resources, and Infrastructure….  No connection, I’m sure.)

But it seems that a handful of jobs is worth poking his finger in the eyes of the Oregon music community in Portland and beyond by consistently opposing fair copyright reforms and protecting Google’s cherished Section 230 safe harbor–which he’s proud to tell you he wrote.  It’s also worth opposing the Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act and generally being as close to Google as one is to two.

You might also find that Nebraska’s wind farms explain Senator Ben Sasse’s sudden interest in screwing pre-72 artists in line with Google’s desire to block the CLASSICS Act, particularly when you find out that Nebraska is in an internecine struggle with neighbor Iowa to get another of Google’s data centers.

So the question is–now that Google is building a data center in Minnesota, will we discover that Senator Klobuchar and her colleague Tina Smith are suddenly finding that protecting Minnesota artists like Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis,  Sounds of Blackness, Prince and that Zimmerman kid from the ravages of multinational corporations is just not their thing after all?

 

 

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