Winning in the data center land rush requires flexibility and commitment

Data center flexibility: This image depicts Earth with a graphical overlay of blue, glowing communication or data lines and symbols, suggesting global connectivity or a digital network.

Once upon a time, data centers were easier to build. They weren’t the hundred-acre, consumes-as-much-power-as-a-small-city, hyperscale productions they often are today.

In earlier iterations, data centers had a compact footprint, created some local jobs, and generated city tax revenue. This was enough to satisfy the few stakeholders and decision makers in the permitting process. Despite even more jobs and tax revenue, a much larger footprint creates a much more complex site selection and permitting process.

Today, there are federal, state and, especially stringent, local/county-level requirements and regulations. Site selection and land use have taken on a life and function of their own. Done right, it can set your company apart and get a project off to a smooth, swift start. Without experience navigating the layers of regulation and a willingness to go the extra mile for the environment, permitting and approvals could mean a long, drawn out, and ultimately unsuccessful site bid.

At the start of site identification, there are the obvious qualifying questions.  From the broad – is the site zoned for industrial use? Is there ample and accessible electric supply? Is the site at risk of flooding? To the more recent, harder to define and nuanced concerns – will the location meet the customers latency requirements? How close is it to potentially hazardous industrial sites? Once those boxes are checked, the big decisions and hurdles to jump come into play.

Be ready to recycle, reuse and create a better environment

While greenfield sites are easy to work with, they’re becoming fewer and further between. Compass Data Center will and has invested in reclaiming brownfield sites and abandoned buildings.

Compass Data Center recently acquired a long-abandoned a partially cleaned oil spill site. With significant investment in remediation, the site received the EPA’s ‘No Further Action’ certification and Compass Data Center was able to put previously unusable – and potentially hazardous to water supplies and human health – land to use.     

The data center industry has been a huge asset to cities in terms of making use of otherwise-unusable, expansive, abandoned land and structures like malls, prisons, and power plants. Compass Data Center has built data center nodes where abandoned, urban buildings once stood.

Data centers are also a boon to renewable energy development. Investors and developers of renewable energy want to know that there will be buyers for the power generated from wind, solar and hydro sources since storage for renewable power is lagging. Most data centers rely exclusively on renewable power. That creates sizable demand needed to expand green energy capacity which can be attractive to local utilities and city decision makers.

Some developers build in areas where sun and wind are bountiful in order to have on-site, dedicated, clean energy. But, where there is bountiful sun, there is not usually bountiful rain and water for cooling the data center. Compass Data Center has always relied on airside, waterless cooling and expects that more data centers will move in that direction to protect natural resources and remove the water hurdle in site selection.  

Create benefits at every turn

Beyond protecting the existing resources, Compass Data Center works to enhance the area, creating easy wins for the local community, beyond jobs and filling the city coffers. The addition of a data center creates opportunity to enhance the local fiber optic network. And, as the data hall footprint has morphed from a center to a campus, we’re increasingly doing things like building hike and bike trails, planting pollinator plants to support growing bee populations, and improving water treatment and storm water drainage to fortify cities against extreme weather.

Data center builders and operators need a clear environmental position with a predetermined threshold for how far they want to go to make concessions and accommodations for a site. A complete environmental impact study is a must, as is a willingness to walk away if potentially adverse impacts are found. Finally, with a commitment to improve the community for new neighbors, you have a strong foundation from which to build in an increasingly tight real estate market.