Tech firm wants to use bay water to cool its data center; environmental groups wary

ALAMEDA, Calif. (KGO) -- A local tech firm wants to make an investment in the old Alameda Naval Air Station and use bay water to cool a massive new data center. So why isn't everybody happy about it? It's the old story of progress versus protecting the bay.

There's a pack of harbor seals who live happy and serene on a dock a few dozen yards off the Alameda jetty. They have no idea that they are at the center of another philosophical battle.

A Pleasanton-based data storage company wants to convert an old missile manufacturing building on the old naval base into a massive data center -- filled with servers that generate a lot of heat.

Nautilus Data Technology's CEO Jim Connaughton says they want to dump this old paradigm:

"Today's data centers use air conditioning, which consumes massive amounts of energy, consumes massive amounts of public drinking water, generates waste water and produces a whole lot of greenhouse gas chemicals," he said.

Connaughton talked to ABC7 News by FaceTime just after stepping off a flight home from Ireland. He says the company wants to instead use a nearby asset -- San Francisco Bay.
"We take naturally cold water and we simply borrow it," he said.

The company wants to install pipes to siphon the chilly bay waters into the server farm, use circulation to cool the servers and then discharge the water back into the bay.

Connaughton says that would result in "80 percent more energy efficiency and we don't consume and water, we don't use any chemicals and we don't produce any waste water."

Nautilus has petitioned the city of Alameda for a lease for project, and four out of the five city council members approve. The lone hold-out is council member Jim Oddie. He says the pipe would run right under the dock the seals use for a home.

"The Sierra Club wrote a letter to us talking about the possibility of toxic algae accumulating over where the water discharge would be."

Oddie says that's because the water put back into the bay would be four degrees warmer than when it was taken out. Connaughton says that's not so.

'When it actually goes into the water, it will be less than a tenth of a degree Fahrenheit and when it blends with the bay it will be measurable," he said.

Oddie is skeptical. "It's kind of like trust us and if you don't trust us, trust the state regulators."

State regulators have given preliminary approval to the project and have signed off on a similar project already being built in Stockton.
Copyright © 2019 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.