Sleepless in Seattle

Published December 1, 2000

They’re sleepless in Seattle these days . . . and I’m not talking about the movie.

I’m describing nights experienced by “telecom hotel” developers. They want to install in the Puget Sound region huge data centers that house computer equipment serving the Internet . . . but they can’t. They’re encountering resistance from the no-growth faction in the Pacific Northwest.

The September 25th edition of Public Power Weekly, published by the American Public Power Association, carried a story detailing the increased demand the Internet is making on electricity supply in Seattle. Municipally owned Seattle City Light is one of the finest and most venerable electric utilities in the country. It has had low rates for decades because of its top-flight management, and because of its access to low-cost hydroelectric energy generated by dams in the Pacific Northwest.

Seattle is a place people want to live. It’s an important Pacific port; it has abundant natural beauty, great weather (at least on a seasonal basis), and rich history. It is the headquarters for such important tech companies as Microsoft and The area has flourished for years as these and other companies have grown. The technology revolution they’ve triggered is sweeping the globe.

Now the Pacific Northwest is running out of electricity.

Last summer, aluminum plants had to shut down during the power supply crises in California. This does not bode well for the region’s high-tech industry.

The data centers proposed by the telecom hotel developers require large amounts of electricity. Computers that run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, must be air conditioned.

According to Bob Royer, director of communications and public affairs for Seattle City Light, a handful of technology companies are looking for average loads of 250 to 500 megawatts in the next few years. That’s about a third of Seattle’s current daily operating load. One project already in the works, says Royer, will have a 105 MW load. That’s enough electricity to energize 85,000 homes or a dozen 60-story office towers.

These kinds of news stories are popping up not only here in the United States, but in the United Kingdom, too. I recently read that 10 to 15 telecom hotels are on the drawing boards for downtown London. They will increase London’s electricity demand by some 20 percent.

While the market ratchets up its demand for electricity, the governments of the world are moving toward rationing it. Rationing is necessary, they claim, to address climate change; rationing is pretty much required under the Framework Convention on Climate Change (Rio Treaty) and the Kyoto Protocol that would amend it.

Federal bureaucrats, self-styled energy efficiency experts, and the like continue to deny that the Internet is going to increase electricity demand by an order of magnitude. Their disingenuous chant is swept aside by the reality of what is actually going on in the world.

While ignoring the reality of energy and economic apocalypse, they continue to warn of an imaginary climate change apocalypse. “Catastrophic global warming is upon us!” the environmentalists have been clamoring for the last 20 years. Yet it clearly is not.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are not going up as much as once feared. Atmospheric CO2 concentrations are not increasing at the rate once predicted. Weather balloons and satellites tell us there’s no warming in the troposphere, a precondition of global warming apocalypse. Plants, agriculture, and forests are all doing much better because of more CO2 in the air—CO2 is, after all, foodstuff for the biosphere.

Our world’s huge and increasing need for electricity and the vision of catastrophic climate change are in direct conflict. Somebody needs to stand up and say “enough already!” concerning predictions of global warming apocalypse.

We cannot and should not live our lives based on this kind of speculation. And we surely cannot deny to the people of the globe the spectacular promise of the new, wired world.

Fredrick D. Palmer is president of the Greening Earth Society.