- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 21, 2010

GRANTS PASS, Ore. | After an emotional breakup with the timber industry, Prineville, Ore., was thrilled to get friended by Facebook.

The social networking site chose the high-desert timber town of 10,000 to take advantage of its cool nights and dry air in hopes of making its first data center an energy-efficiency landmark.

But the concept failed to impress Greenpeace.

In a report posted on the Internet last month, the environmental group praised Google and Yahoo for tapping hydro power but challenged Facebook for building in coal country.

The feud shows how hard it can be for the computing industry to meaningfully reduce its environmental footprint. It can add to its green glow through energy efficiency, but Greenpeace argues that information technology companies should care more about the source of their power.

As the nation works to green up the grid in an effort to combat climate change, data centers are demanding more energy than ever. A 2007 Environmental Protection Agency report estimated that data centers doubled their consumption from 2000 to 2006 to 61 billion kilowatt hours. That’s 1.5 percent of the grid and enough for 5.8 million households.

“If you want to really be responsible for your carbon footprint, you should be trying to provision your electricity supply with renewable energy as much as possible,” said Greenpeace climate policy analyst Gary Cook.

In what might be considered adding insult to injury, Greenpeace even created a special Facebook page with a smokestack logo to say the data center would be a greenhouse-gas hog.

But the complex equation that goes into how much something costs still counts, said Ken Patchett, who was hired away from Google to run Facebook’s data center in Prineville.

“At the end of the day, Facebook is like any other major competitive business,” he said. “We do have to manage to our bottom line.”

Facebook, Yahoo, Google and others have become fans of the Northwest as they build more warehouses filled with computers to store data.

Facebook said the energy-saving features allowed by the Prineville climate outweighed the source of the electricity, and that the utility PacifiCorp is greening up its power sources, expanding wind power to 2,000 megawatts by 2013. It currently gets 58 percent of its power from coal and 21 percent from renewables.