CARS HOMES JOBS

Tech campus gobbles up the kilowatts

Saturday, October 20, 2012
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Back when the idea of a silicon Luther Forest was about as green as a scrub pine, National Grid kicked in $250,000 to help with startup costs.

How charitable of them, I thought, kicking into the pot of Joe Bruno-controlled state money.

But now that we’re a decade down the road and getting a better idea of how much juice high-tech companies like GlobalFoundries need, it’s making business sense. Perhaps my first assumption was wrong.

The towering power lines running into the Luther Forest Technology Campus from two different utility companies can bring 400 megawatts to the 1,414-acre campus — enough power to supply 400,000 homes. That’s a city of a million people, let’s say.

It’s enough that new transmission lines are being built throughout Saratoga County, and it’s mostly because of Luther Forest.

But that’s how much electricity it takes to make computer chips. GlobalFoundries says it will need all of that if it goes through with the long-range plans for three computer chip plants at its Fab 8 site.

That’s great for them and utility shareholders, but it creates a problem for the rest of the campus, if anyone ever wants to build more shiny new buildings for high-technology support companies, research and development or even office use.

Meanwhile, the technology campus’s nonprofit ownership corporation is going broke, the state’s attitude toward helping it having shifted from the Pataki-Bruno years. Back then, there was millions in financial backing; now, it’s moral support, at best.

But Michael Relyea, president of the campus corporation, said he nevertheless needs to find money to increase the campus’s electric capacity to 700 megawatts — another 300,000 homes’ worth — if he’s going to get anyone into the rest of the campus. Not today, and not next month, but by a decade from now, for sure.

“I was laughed at four years ago because I oversized the park [utilities],” Relyea said the other day. “We just had a conversation that we are undersized.”

Luther Forest is served by National Grid from the west and New York State Electric and Gas from the east, and both utilities are aware that their customer wants more of the zippy stuff produced by dams, gas-fired power plants and even wind turbines.

“It’s something we’re working with Mike Relyea and his team on,” said Patrick Stella, a spokesman for National Grid.

“It is a tremendous amount of power,” said NYSEG spokesman Jim Salmon, who said additional electrical infrastructure would need to be built in and around the park.

There’s another significant utility issue at Luther Forest, too. A GlobalFoundries official reiterated this week that the company wants a second water source to guarantee that the chip plant’s manufacturing process never has to shut down if the county water line fails. It’s just that no one has figured out how to do it yet, and it’s been a couple of years.

The Saratoga County Water Authority’s line from Moreau is the primary source, and Empire State Development has hired engineers looking for the second source.

Even though the campus hasn’t attracted any new tenants since GlobalFoundries, Relyea said it could — if the utility issues can be worked out. That, and better financial incentive packages need to be available, at least the way the local economic development gurus see it.

“We do get pinged regularly by developers with projects, small projects and big, significant projects,” Relyea told the county Industrial Development Agency on Thursday. “But nothing has materialized yet.”

 
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