June 16, 2014
When last we visited the good people of Newark, Delaware (“Not in My Neighborhood”), they were involved in an imbroglio over the University of Delaware’s plan to plop a data center and 279-megawatt power plant into their midst. As you may recall, a few of the locals were more than a little concerned about the quality of life issues that might be associated with the project despite the fact that the site was formerly occupied by a Chrysler assembly plant. Having forgotten about this issue for almost a year, you can imagine my amusement when I found out that the battle was still on-going. Since city officials had approved the project, I mistakenly thought that this was a done deal, but the anti-data center folks, refusing to take “yes” for an answer, decided to adopt the anti-development strategy de jour and played the “Green Card”.
For those of you who have been living under a rock, the “Green Card” is used to halt any economic activity judged to be unacceptable to the environmentally conscious (although usually just a pet concern and not a holistic concern) via the tacit implication that its adverse effects will be only slightly less devastating than placing a lead smelter in the middle of a grade school playground. Since nothing causes a politician to lose all tethering to common sense faster than a television camera in the face of a mother erroneously asserting that the completion of the project in question will cause their progeny to engage in cyber bullying, develop a gluten allergy or worse, the city fathers immediately did what came naturally and hired an environmental consulting firm to access the situation. Oddly enough, the distraught parent probably grew up inhaling whatever the Chrysler plant spewed into the air and grew up just fine, but that’s irony for you.
Since environmental consultants hired to produce high profile studies know which side their bread is buttered on, they concluded that the proposed project is “relatively clean, but its use of combustion engines and non-renewable fossil fuels in a 279 megawatt, gas turbine power plant does not make it green”. While this assessment provides a new definition of line straddling, it provides something for everyone to glom onto. Project advocates can rightly point to the report’s lack of a definitive green standard, while the lack of “green certification” enables its foes to continue to portray it as the equivalent of placing a maximum -security prison next to the local soccer fields. Naturally, everyone involved is getting a little nervous, and the fur is beginning to fly. The University is conducting their own environmental survey, the actual developer says they were never invited to participate in the consultant study in the first place, and the consultants, in a true “let’s split the baby in half” moment, have included the recommendation that another year long study be conducted to get a more accurate assessment of potential emission contaminant levels before starting construction—so there’s that.
Of course what is being overlooked in this whole process is that the combined data center/power plant project is projected to generate 290 full time and 5,000 construction jobs. I have to wonder how mythical standards have come to supplant economic opportunity for this country’s citizenry. In our quest to protect ourselves from, well, everything, we enable the myopically ideological, in this case a collection of groups that view just about everything after the 18th century to be an abomination against the planet, to inflict real damage to people in the name of “good intentions”. (A Quick Aside on my Frustration: For example, one of the biggest advocates for the use of “clean” natural gas is the Sierra Club. That is, until it become non-PC to support natural gas. As a result, a non-profit cannot bite the hands that feed them, so they have now changed their stance to oppose natural gas). For those of you who wonder why it’s easier to start a business in Rwanda or erect a building in Iraq, look no farther than the train wreck in Newark for your answer.