The $80 million data farm planned for the grounds of the Greenidge power plant in Torrey is being revamped due to noise ordinances. Representatives from Greenidge Generation attended the September meetings of the Torrey Planning Board and the Finger Lakes Economic Development Center (FLEDC, Yates County’s sole industrial /economic development agency) to explain changes to the plan to develop a data center to utilize some of the power the plant’s capacity.  

With natural gas prices relatively high and electric prices comparatively low, Greenidge has not been generating electricity for public consumption. Parent company, Atlas Holdings, is looking for a way to get a return on the$25 million investment to convert the former coal plant to natural gas and build a spur pipeline to supply it. A change in New York State’s energy market laws now allows companies to use electricity they generate before it enters the grid market. That and the availability of dark fiber data transmission lines in Dresden makes the idea of an energy-thirsty enterprise like a data farm ideal for the Greenidge site, they say. The new venture would create 10 new permanent jobs: a manager at $100,000 per year, and nine workers at $60,000 to $80,000 per year.

The project was to be a terraced hillside on the heavy industry site, with 30 units of 9 x 40 foot data server containers, each equipped with self-contained cooling fans. While those units could comply with the 72 decibel daytime noise limit, project engineers doubted that it could meet the 50 db nighttime limit at the border of the property. According to Torrey Code Enforcement Officer Dwight James, the town’s code imposes the same noise limits on heavy industry zones as in residential zones. 

At the abnormally well-attended planning board meeting, Greenidge’s attorney Kevin McAuliffe explained that the company has altered the plan to address the noise concerns. They are changing manufacturers, reducing the number of units from 30 to 16, and locating them on already developed flat land close to the plant previously occupied by transformers. Solid vinyl fencing will be installed around the units to aid in noise reduction. Site preparation costs will be reduced since fire access and stormwater handling are already established. The energy used will drop from 65 megawatts of the plant’s 106 MW capacity down to just 32 MW.

After hearing of the sound study conducted for Greenidge by Aurora Accoustics that led to the changed plan, some residents of Perry Point, south of the Greenidge plant, as well as some residents of Arrowhead Beach to the north on the other side of the Village of Dresden from the plant, disputed the results and questioned the placement of the sound sensors in the study. Of the five-member planning board, two members  are residents of Perry Point and one is a resident of Arrowhead Beach. After requesting further study and information on the question of sound, the board voted four to one to table the site plan approval Greenidge requested. A special planning board meeting has been scheduled for Oct. 14 to hear information prior to approval.

At the FLEDC meeting, McAuliffe said the sales tax exemption Greenidge was approved for, totalling just over $6 million on the $80 million dollar project, may not change much as project costs will only be reduced by a few million. The vast majority of the investment is for the purchase of the data units, which would not occur in Yates County, and thus would have no direct sales tax benefit here. While the number of the outside data units is cut almost in half, Greenidge is exploring the possibility of creating space within the plant for more data units by removing the massive and now irrelevant coal handling machinery. By renting space to third party data unit tenants, Greenidge would be required to pay sales tax on the natural gas used to supply the power for those units, which could result it $750,000 to $1 million in total sales taxes, said McAuliffe.