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Facebook vs. Greenpeace
The environmental organization wants Facebook to kick coal
February 26, 2010
Greenpeace International, the group most known for its environmental activism and anti-whaling efforts, is now taking aim at the largest social networking site in the world.
The non-governmental organization launched an awareness campaign last week lambasting Facebook for using coal power to run its brand-new data center being built in Prineville. The movement ironically has its own Facebook group with more than 13,000 members.
"Companies that run their data center on power from burning coal are supporting the biggest source of man-made CO2 emissions in the world," Greenpeace argued in a media release last Friday.
The organization criticized Facebook's decision to contract with PacifiCorp, a power company that gets "the majority of its power from coal-fired power stations," the release stated. Greenpeace pointed out that a Yahoo data center in Buffalo, NY is powered by hydroelectric power.
"The last thing we need for them (Facebook) to be doing is building (data centers) where they are increasing demand for dirty, coal-fired power," said Casey Harrell, Greenpeace International Cool IT campaign coordinator. "If your Facebook page is being powered by coal, then it's contributing to climate change."
In a response released on Monday, Facebook said claims by Greenpeace that it chose coal as a source of power are "simply untrue."
"The suggestion of `choosing coal' ignores the fact that there is no such thing as a coal-powered data center," Facebook's response said. "Similarly, there is no such thing as a hydroelectric-powered data center."
Every data center plugs into the grid offered by their power provider, the Facebook release said, and the electrons powering the data center are produced by various sources (hydroelectric, nuclear, coal, geothermal, etc.) the provider uses in different proportions.
"If 25 percent of a provider's energy comes from natural gas, then it's a good guess that 25 percent of the electrons powering the facility come from that source," the release stated.
Pacific Power uses a variety of power sources, but is most heavily weighted toward coal, which makes up approximately 58 percent of all power produced by the utility. Natural gas makes up around 17.4 percent of the company's power portfolio, while hydroelectric makes up around 8.9 percent and renewable resources (wind, biomass and geothermal) make up around 4.5 percent.
According to Pacific Power spokesman Tom Gauntt, more and more renewable energy will be in the mix over the next few decades due to Oregon's Renewable Portfolio Standard, which will require large utilities to obtain 25 percent of their energy from renewable resources by 2025.
"Over the past three years, we have invested $2 billion in wind facilities and the size of our wind portfolio has grown by more than 2,500 percent (1,400 megawatts) since then," Gauntt said. "We are the second-largest wind power-owning utility in the nation right now."
The amount of power used by the data center depends upon the amount of servers installed, and Facebook officials have been tight-lipped on the facility's design and power usage for proprietary reasons.
Facebook says it chose the Central Oregon region because of its uniquely dry and temperate climate, which enables the company to design "one of the most energy-efficient data centers in the world." Most data centers use energy-hogging mechanical chillers or large air conditioners to cool the computers within the facility, but Facebook will not use a single one. Instead, it will employ a state-of-the-art evaporative cooling system.
While Facebook admits that Pacific Power is weighted more toward coal than the national average, the company says the efficiency of this cooling system will actually minimize the data center's overall carbon footprint.
"If we located the data center most other places, then we would need mechanical chillers, use more energy and be responsible for more overall carbon in the air - even if that location was fueled by more renewable energy," Facebook stated.