A coalition of teachers, elected officials, environmental activists and residents continued their push for a data center in Somerset at a rally on Wednesday.
In Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's 2016 State of the State address, he made a pledge to make New York state a coal free state by 2020. The Department of Environmental Conservation has made regulations to make that a reality. The only two coal plants still operating in New York are in Somerset and Cayuga.
Heorot Power Management LLC is proposing to turn the plants into data centers with a 500 Megawatt center in Somerset and a 100 MW center in Cayuga under an initiative called the Empire State Data Center Hub. The company is planning to invest $85 million in the project and create 165 permanent full-time jobs, according to a memorandum from the New York Power Authority.
The company submitted an application to the power authority and Empire State Development Corp., seeking a 125 MW allocation of low-cost power and $65 million in economic assistance, respectively. Recently, the power authority awarded 10 MW of low-cost electricity to the company.
Somerset Town Supervisor Daniel Engert said Cuomo's coal-free pledge really impacts only two communities - Somerset and Cayuga. In the heyday of the Somerset power plant, it employed more than 200 employees. The site currently employs roughly 60 employs, Engert noted.
Engert criticized state officials for only focusing on shutting the plant down and not providing an alternative for impacted employees.
"Governor Cuomo owes this community," Engert said. "I don't want it to be forgotten that there is 60 employees, many of which still live in this town, that we can't forget about."
State Assemblyman Mike Norris, R-Lockport, described the Empire State Data Center Hub project as "crucial to the Town of Somerset, to Niagara County, and upstate New York."
"This is a win-win for everybody," Norris said. "Governor please do you part."
Niagara County Legislator John Syracuse, R-Newfane, said the community is pleading with the governor to help with the needed support for the project while thanking the company for choosing Niagara County.
Michael Enright, the managing director of Heorot, said the two main characteristics that made Somerset an attractive choice was the skilled workforce and the infrastructure present. He added that it is "incredibly helpful" to have such a diverse coalition organized around the project when his company talks with state officials.
Jim Shultz, who has a past as an environmental activist, described Barker and Somerset as "the jewels of Western New York." He said the data center proposal should be an example for environmentalists across the country.
"Climate change is something that we need to take seriously, but we need to do it in a way that is smart. And what you are doing here in Somerset is not only a way that is smart for Somerset, I believe you are offering the state of New York and the country an example," Shultz said. "This is the green new deal. You are building a real one, not a rhetorical one."
Dave Carson, a Barker teacher, said the teacher's union supports the project and that the coal plant provided necessary money for the education of Barker's youth.
"We are pulling out of our reserves just to maintain what we once had," he said.
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 wants to construct a 70-megawatt solar farm on the site and possibly other renewable energy-related infrastructure.