Plan B for Somerset plant?

Somerset coal plant

A proposed data center in Somerset received its first bit of state support Tuesday, with the approval of a low-cost energy award from New York Power Authority. 

NYPA's Board of Trustees awarded a 10 megawatt hydropower allocation to Somerset Operating Company, LLC, a subsidiary of Heorot Power Holdings. 

"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," Michael Enright, the managing director of Heorot Power Holdings, said in a prepared statement. "We believe NYPA’s 10 MW 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.”

Beowulf Energy is seeking to begin construction this year on the Empire State Data Hub, a proposal to repurpose the sites of its soon-to-be-shuttered coal-fired power plants in Somerset and Cayuga.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation recently finalized carbon dioxide emissions regulations that would make the plants' continued operation impossible. 

In response, Beowulf Energy prepared a plan to close the plants ahead of schedule and repurpose the sites into two data centers, including a 500 MW center in Somerset and a 100 MW center in Cayuga. 

A memorandum submitted by Gil C. Quiniones, NYPA president and CEO, further outlines details of the proposed project. 

Beowulf Energy is planning to invest $85 million in the project, which would create at least 165 permanent full-time jobs, according to the memorandum.

The data center would be focused on artificial intelligence, machine learning and other computationally intensive processes to serve companies in the information and technology sectors. The company would construct a 70-megawatt solar farm on the site and possibly other renewable energy-related infrastructure. 

Somerset Town Supervisor Daniel Engert said the development is "a step in the right direction."  

Engert said not all of the current 60 employees of Somerset Operating Company will be able to work at the data center, so he would like for the state to care about SOC's employees. He blasted Governor Andrew M. Cuomo's policy to end coal-fired electric generation in the sate. 

"It's not typical for the state for no reason other than for a policy agenda to write a business out of existence," he said, adding that the state ought to provide shuttered plants' employees with retraining opportunities.

Engert currently is organizing a 2 p.m. Aug. 7 rally at Babcock House in Somerset.

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