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Industry News

Internet Blamed for Power Crunch

LCG, Oct. 24, 2000--A report in the Ziff Davis on-line Interactive Week trade publication for Internet businesses has laid the blame for power shortages across the U.S. and in Europe on the Internet itself.

The report did not say how many megawatt-hours of electricity were required to publish Interactive Week.

According to the report, some of the huge server hubs that collect data and send them on over the Internet represent a load of about 35 megawatts. There are a lot of them and more are being added every day.

Operators of the server hubs are now being told that they will have to wait 18 months or more for power, news that is met with disbelief in an industry where yesterday is ancient history. Some utilities are telling the dot-coms that power simply won't be available in the foreseeable future while others are scrambling to purchase firm power for resale to the Internet companies.

The report said the crunch is most acute in New Economy centers, such as the San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle, but is being felt in other parts of the U.S. and in Europe, where electric power is in even shorter supply.

On October 9, the Seattle City Council enacted a law authorizing the city's municipal utility, Seattle City Light, to charge a higher rate to new industrial customers seeking large quantities of power. The newrate level hasn't yet been established, but utility spokesman Dan Williams said the premium priceSeattle City Light would have to pay for the extra power would be passed on to the new customers.

Seattle City Light expects a few new data centers to increase its native load by 250 megawatts over the next two years. The utility will also put into effect connection charges that will enable it to recover on the spot any investments in facilities needed to serve new customers, up to a new substation or transmission or distribution lines.

Puget Sound Energy Corp., the investor-owned utility that serves much of western Washington, said that since January Internet companies have asked for 700 megawatts of power. Steve Secrist, a spokesman for the company, said Puget power wants to charge those companies up front for any infrastructure investment they require, just like Seattle City Light, "to make sure these new customers are not putting a strain on (our) other customers."

In Silicon Valley, at the south end of San Francisco Bay, a June power outage affecting almost 100,000 Pacific Gas & Electric Co. customers, pointed up the fragility of the electric market and got the attention of the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group, a trade association for about 175 high-tech companies such as Intel, Cisco Systems, 3Com, Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems, Oracle and others which have become household names in the Internet boom.

The trade group said at the time that its members had "no confidence that the power we need is going to be there." In an odd analogy, PG&E spokesman Scott Blakey said "The economic boom has raised all the boats out here, and they all want to plug in."

Odder than that, though is the behavior of some high-tech companies. Cisco Systems is developing a new facility on the south side of San Jose. It will provide space for 20,000 employees at first and will likely grow. The new "campus," as tech firms like to call their factories, could represent a load of 10 megawatts.

Cisco Systems is opposing, on aesthetic grounds, development nearby of Calpine Corp.'s 600 megawatt Metcalf Energy Center.

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