Coal plant fires, Google hires

Google is building a $600 million data center on the grounds of a soon-to-close coal plant in northeastern Alabama. The project may create an iconic image of the shifts in the economy.

Near the banks of the Tennessee River will be sprawling a data center facility on property adjacent to a backdrop of towering but dormant coal smokestacks. Google said it plans to run the data center on renewable energy sources.

Google picked this site, operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority, for its 14th global data center because it has what it needs: Ample power resources, including renewable energy, and plenty of water to help cool its systems.

The Widows Creek coal plant, named for a creek that runs through the property, was built in the early 1950s and at its peak employed about 400 people. Today it has about 90 workers, but is scheduled to close this fall.

The Google data center is expected to employ about 100, and there may be some efforts by Google to try to hire some of the workers, a TVA spokeswoman said. Google couldn't be reached for comment at deadline.

Patrick Gammons, a Google senior manager of data center energy and location strategy, said the company has been steadily improving the efficiency of data centers, using tools such as "advanced machine learning to squeeze more out of every watt of power we consume," he wrote in a blog post. "Compared to five years ago, we now get 3.5 times the computing power out of the same amount of energy."

The TVA is shifting away from coal. It supplies energy to about 9 million people in seven southeastern states.


Patrick Thibodeau

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