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Data Centers in Rural Washington State Gobble Power

Posted on September 24th, 2012 at 10:49 by John Sinteur in category: Microsoft -- Write a comment

[Quote]:

Then came a showdown late last year between the utility and Microsoft, whose hardball tactics shocked some local officials.

In an attempt to erase a $210,000 penalty the utility said the company owed for underestimating its power use, Microsoft proceeded to simply waste millions of watts of electricity, records show. Then it threatened to continue burning power in what it acknowledged was an “unnecessarily wasteful” way until the fine was substantially cut, according to documents obtained by The New York Times.

“For a company of that size and that nature, and with all the ‘green’ things they advertised to me, that was an insult,” said Randall Allred, a utility commissioner and local farmer.

A Microsoft spokeswoman said the episode was “a one-time event that was quickly resolved.”

  1. When the contract with the power utility penalizes you for using less power than you thought you might, something’s fundamentally messed up.

  2. Problem is with the energy grid. They plan X MegaWatts to be used up, and generate that much. If it is not used up, then they can’t simply store it.
    If they generate less that’s not good either. Electricity is not like boots – not sold today, will sell tomorrow.
    Also when they “overproduce” they have to stop the generator, and then restart later which costs a lot. Electricity grids have yearly production/consumption plans for this exact reason.

    At least, that’s what I remember from my studies. Not absolutely precise, but something like that :)

  3. Remember that this is hydro power; the whole point of the data center being where it is is to be next to the dam that generates the power. So they’re not starting up or spinning down some coal or gas powered plant. It’s easy to throttle a hydro plant: either let the turbine run disconnected from the generator.

    I do agree with your bigger point that demand planning is hard and the better the power companies do, then the less fuel is wasted. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that they set up perverted incentives where Microsoft would pay more if they saved power than if they used it. They decided to make that point and, hey, look, the incentives were changed.

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