Data centers: Don’t turn your back on wisdom

By Stephen Knight

Having had the opportunity to view most of the Town Council meeting concerned with the host agreement with Gotspace LLC, I came away with the impression that there will be a move to kill the data center project in its crib. The discussion seemed to center around the opportunity to vote down the power agreement regardless of the merits in order to scuttle the entire venture. The four who voted against the host agreement last June appear to be maneuvering to find another means to derail the project and undo over two years of work on something that would be of immense benefit to the entire Wallingford community.

Wallingford has spent these two years negotiating with Gotspace, and hammered out an agreement that goes into an incredible number of very detailed requirements requested by the town and agreed to by Gotspace LLC, including building height, sound mitigation, building setbacks and traffic patterns. The Law Department has drawn up an incredibly favorable agreement, and now certain members of the Town Council will be using any means necessary to get their way.

I would ask these town councilors to please keep in mind these two points:

Gotspace LLC is not building data centers: Apparently Gotspace LLC has some internal issues. But, as was stated in the meeting, the Town of Wallingford has a very tightly worded, well-written legal contract that protects our interests. If this venture doesn’t move forward, we are still in the market for other firms that will see the advantages of Wallingford. If we have the courage to see this thing through, other such companies will pick up where Gotspace LLC left off. They aren’t building these data centers anyway. They are doing the legwork that developers do, so that those firms that will actually build and operate these centers have a ready-made site and agreements in place that will save them years of time.

Reputation for being a business-welcoming community: It has taken years to get this far, and, at the last minute, possibly only weeks before the Planning & Zoning Commission is to deliberate over necessary zoning regulation changes, the Wallingford Town Council wants to pull the rug away after countless hours of effort and negotiation and reject the power supply agreement passed by the PUC. If that were to happen, every company that ever considers locating in Wallingford will have legitimate second thoughts as to the sincerity of Wallingford’s economic development efforts. They would certainly be within their rights to suspect that the Wallingford Town Council cannot be trusted; that they will hide under their proverbial desks at the first possible complication that might arise — even after signing off on an agreement that holds the possibility of millions of dollars of additional revenue to the Town.

Let me conclude with this very valid comparison: The Wallingford Electric Division was founded in 1899, only seventeen years after Edison opened the first electric power generating station in the United States. In other words, Wallingford, Connecticut’s municipal leaders were pioneers. They saw the enormous benefit that having municipal electric generation would be. There is no doubt whatsoever that they encountered plenty of resistance and skepticism, most especially from those whose fortunes were tied to gas lighting. But they had the courage to forge ahead, and every person who has ever lived or worked at a business in Wallingford (and Northford) since then has benefited.

Fast forward one hundred and twenty-two years. There is a new utility that could be compared to electric power in its impact, and that utility is electronic data generation and distribution. The power plants of this new utility are data centers — the cloud. Data centers are at the core of everything we do electronically, and their importance will only grow as we add more and more data-driven applications such as autonomous vehicles to the load they must carry.

Wallingford can be an important part of that. We can be part of the future that is hurtling toward us. We are within weeks of possibly preparing our town to host these incredibly important installations. But we have got to have the vision and the courage to meet the future. And we need to be ready now. These centers will be built. They have to be built, and the companies that operate them do not have time to be jerked around by equivocating, let’s-move-slowly, hand-wringing public officials.

The ultimate irony is that Wallingford, Connecticut, is a good fit for data centers precisely because of the wise and courageous decision to establish the Wallingford Electric Division lo these many years ago. We have an extraordinary opportunity to capitalize on the foresight our predecessors had over a century ago. I cannot believe we are about to turn our back on that wisdom.

Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford town councilor.

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