The revamped plan for a data farm at the Greenidge power plant in Torrey was approved by the Town of Torrey Planning Board and the Finger Lakes Economic Development Center (FLEDC, Yates County’s sole industrial /economic development agency), after changes required to meet noise ordinances. 

Greenidge’s attorney, Kevin McAuliffe, and Dale Irwin, president of Greenidge Generation, attended the the September and October meetings of the Torrey Planning Board and FLEDC to explain changes to the plan to develop a data center to use some of the power of the plant’s capacity.

With natural gas prices relatively high and electric prices comparatively low, Greenidge has not been generating electricity for public consumption. Establishing a data hub with high capacity computer servers is 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. 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. 

McAuliffe explained that the company has altered the plan to address the noise concerns of the town. The original project for 30 units of 9 x 40 foot data server containers, each equipped with self-contained cooling fans, has been reduced to just four units, and placed much closer to the existing plant on already developed flat land close to the plant. The site was previously occupied by transformers. Solid vinyl fencing will be also installed around the units to aid in noise reduction.

They have also changed manufacturers for those units, which are now being built in Buffalo and are expected to be in place and working by the end of 2019. The energy used by those units will be approximately 8 megawatts. Greenidge is creating space within the plant for more data units. Those servers will raise consumption for the data farm to 30 megawatts.

In a second phase, Irwin says Greenidge is exploring alternative technology for further use of the plant space, raising the megawatts used to 80 of the plant’s over 100 MW capacity, reserving about 20 MW for NYSEG in periods of high demand. Those plans are being finalized in coming weeks, and should be underway in 2020.

At the FLEDC meetings, McAuliffe said the sales tax exemption Greenidge was approved for, totaling 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, but will be done in two stages. 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. 

By renting space to third party data unit tenants, Greenidge would be required to pay sales tax on the leases and on the natural gas used to supply the power for those units, which is now estimated to generate $1.5 million to $1.6 million in total sales taxes, said McAuliffe.

At the October meeting last week, FLEDC approved both the amended State Environmental Quality Review SEQR and the PILOT agreement. The new venture will also create 10 new permanent jobs: a manager at $100,000 per year, and nine workers at $60,000 to $80,000 per year.