Facebook Power Needs Top Agenda


An electric utility spokesman has stressed “top to bottom awareness” of the importance of addressing Facebook’s potential increased power needs to cater to a projected phased expansion of its massive new facility in Prineville.

A Facebook page dedicated to the project recently revealed that the Palo Alto, Calif.-based social networking company planned to double the size of its first company-built data center, which is set for completion early next year at a price tag of some $180 million and currently employs between 150 and 200 construction workers.

Director of Site Operations Tom Furlong commented: “To meet the needs of our growing business, we decided to go ahead with the second phase of the project, which was an option we put in place when we broke ground earlier this year. The second phase should be finished by early 2012.”

The expansion would add another 160,000 square foot shell to the 147,000 square foot facility now being built, for a total of 307,000 square feet of space, primarily to allow the deployment of more Facebook-specific servers. A third phase is provisionally slated for 2013, if feasible.

Facebook’s decision to publicly commit to an expansion before it has even completed the first phase of the facility in Prineville reflects the accelerated pace of infrastructure growth for the social network, which recently reached 500 million active users.

But concerns were raised recently by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden over whether regional federal power broker Bonneville Power Administration and electric utility provider PacifiCorp could keep pace with the social media giant’s capacity needs if it went through with tripling its commitment to the region.

Each facility would require a dizzying 40 megawatts of electricity for a total of 120 megawatts, which is beyond the current capacity of the Ponderosa Substation south of Prineville, though BPA intends to implement upgrades to expand future power availability. Deployment of just the first phase of the project will see Facebook rapidly become one of Pacific Power’s single largest customers.

Calling Facebook’s location decision one of the few “bright spots” in a regional economy where unemployment rates have reached state-wide highs, Sen. Wyden urged power chiefs to prioritize infrastructure upgrades to keep pace with the fast-growing Facebook, or the region could “risk losing these high-paying, family wage jobs to other parts of the country”.

The issue has been brought into sharper focus with the announcement last week that Facebook is to construct its second wholly-owned facility in North Carolina, at a cost of some $450 million, as part of a strategic move away from the traditional mode of leasing properties.

PacifiCorp Vice President/Communication and Public Affairs Paul Vogel said: “The Senator is certainly reiterating a clear message as to how important this is to the local community.

“We have been working closely with the BPA and Facebook to address service and infrastructure issues, and it is true that the earnestness of the conversations has been affected by the significance of the matter. There is top to bottom awareness of the importance of this issue.

“Part of the discussion includes generation, and part transmission. We also have lead times for manufacture, planning, permitting and a host of other standards to observe as a regulated utility, so it is not just about the investment, though Facebook is certainly also paying their fair share.

“There is a fair degree of complexity with agreements we have in place with BPA as the federal power marketing agency, spanning county and state lines and involving hundreds of customers.

“Facebook is probably more used to the instantaneous environment, but we are all talking and making encouraging progress.

“One of the most important things right now is to keep our eye on the ball and to make sure we hit our marks this fall and winter for the first stages of the project. This will prove out the relationships, as nothing enhances credibility like accomplishment.

“This is something of a new paradigm and we are looking forward to tying everything together and excited for the future.”

The recent expansion news was warmly welcomed by the Prineville community, as it will extend construction activity at the Facebook site, which has employed up to 200 workers on site on a daily basis. The data center’s first phase will also create 35 permanent jobs.

Facebook says the Prineville data center will also be designed to a Gold-level standard under the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program, a voluntary rating system for energy efficient buildings overseen by the US Green Building Council.

Facebook’s announcement regarding the project came in January following a rigorous review process of sites across the West Coast, which concluded that Prineville offered the best package of resources – including a suitable climate for environmental cooling, renewable power resources, available land, talented regional workforce and supportive business.

The cool climate in Prineville will allow Facebook to operate without chillers, which are used to refrigerate water for data center cooling systems, but require a large amount of electricity to operate.
With the growing focus on power costs, many data centers are designing chiller-less data centers that use cool fresh air instead of air conditioning. On hot days, the Prineville data center will use evaporative cooling instead of a chiller system.

This process is highly energy efficient and minimizes water consumption by using outside air. Water conservation is also a growing focus for major data center projects, which in some cases can create capacity challenges for local water utilities.

The data center will be used to store and route information posted by Facebook users. As Facebook continues to grow, so does the need for additional space.

The Bonneville Power Administration is a federal agency based in the Pacific Northwest. Although BPA is part of the U.S. Department of Energy, it is self-funding and covers its costs by selling its products and services at cost.

BPA markets wholesale electrical power from 31 federal hydro projects in the Columbia River Basin, one non-federal nuclear plant and several other small non-federal power plants.

The dams are operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation. About one-third of the electric power used in the Northwest comes from BPA.

BPA also operates and maintains about three fourths of the high-voltage transmission in its service territory, which  includes Idaho, Oregon, Washington, western Montana and small parts of eastern Montana, California, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.


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