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Power Authority awards hydropower to proposed data center in Somerset

The plan to create a massive data center at the site of a soon-to-be-closed coal-burning power plant near Lake Ontario received its first state incentive Tuesday.

The New York Power Authority's Board of Trustees voted to sell 10 megawatts of discount electricity to Somerset Operating Co., which operates a mostly dormant power plant on Lake Road in Somerset.

The hydroelectric power from the Niagara Power Project is the first step toward a larger state incentive package that is still being negotiated.

"It's a step in the right direction. We're not there yet," Somerset Supervisor Daniel M. Engert said Tuesday.

In return for the electricity, Somerset Operating committed to create at least 165 new full-time jobs at the data center and to invest at least $85 million of its own money toward the data center project, which also could include a solar power farm with a 70-megawatt capacity.

"The Empire State Data Hub project was designed to lead New York’s transition to a better energy future by leveraging the skilled, local workforce in Niagara County and valuable existing infrastructure at the site to enable a large, power-intensive data center with onsite solar," said Michael J. Enright, managing director of parent companies Beowulf Energy and Heorot Power Holdings.

"We believe NYPA’s 10-megawatt award of hydropower is a positive first step for the Data Hub project to become viable. We look forward to continuing to work with the Cuomo Administration and NYPA in the days ahead to procure additional energy to support the creation of new jobs and make the project a vital component of the state’s burgeoning green economy," Enright said.

About 60 workers are currently employed at the coal-burning plant, which is supposed to close by next year, according to a memorandum submitted to Power Authority trustees by authority President and CEO Gil C. Quiniones.

But not all of those 60 workers are guaranteed work at the data center. Enright said last month that some of the plant's current electrical jobs won't have a counterpart at the data center, and not all of the current workers will be needed to deactivate the power plant.

Their fate is on Engert's mind. He called on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to support the data center project and to fund a retraining program for the power plant workers, who are members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

"We can't have losers in our own backyard when we force these (coal-fired) plants out of business, so I think the onus is on the governor to have those employees trained," Engert said Tuesday. "When he announced, 'We're killing coal,' he meant two small communities in New York State."

Engert said he's holding another rally at the Babcock House near the plant at 2 p.m. Aug. 7 to show public support for the project and the job retraining programs. He invited local labor representatives, environmentalists and town residents.

Somerset Operating, a subsidiary of Beowulf Energy, owns 1,800 acres of land, mostly vacant, surrounding the power plant.

Some of that land would be used for three new server buildings, each measuring 760 feet long by 30 feet wide, for what Somerset Operating calls the Empire State Data Hub.

It would cost $35 million to erect the buildings and $50 million for the computing equipment, according to Quiniones' memo. The data center could begin operating next summer.

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