Google is looking at building a giant Minnesota data center in Becker that would cost at least $600 million and be powered by two dedicated wind farms.
The data center, essentially a big building full of servers, was disclosed Thursday in a regulatory filing by Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy, which would play a big role in the project. The Google server farm would create about 50 full-time tech jobs and about 2,000 construction jobs over 18 to 24 months.
The Google facility would be one of the largest private construction projects in recent state history.
It would be located on roughly 300 acres owned by Xcel near two of the company’s coal generators that are expected to close in the mid-2020s.
Data centers consume a lot of electricity, and Google would become one of Xcel’s five largest electricity customers in Minnesota if the project goes through, said Aakash Chandarana, Xcel’s regional vice president for rates and regulatory affairs, in an interview.
“The computing horsepower for supporting all of [Google’s] products and services are housed in buildings like the one they are contemplating for Minnesota,” he said.
California-based Google could not be reached for comment. But Shane Delaney, spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, said the company has settled on the Becker site. The 50 permanent jobs would provide “an aggregate salary … of $4 million a year,” he said.
Minnesota’s reputation in the data industry would get a boost, too, Delaney said.
“Minnesota is already the home to a number of data centers, so this project will really reinforce Minnesota as a hub for that growing talent in data infrastructure,” he said.
Since 2006, Google has completed six giant data centers and is building three more, each costing more than $1 billion. The centers are vast, usually several hundred thousand square feet, but need only a few dozen people to operate.
Within the data centers, Google runs thousands of server computers that store and index websites, photos and other content, run applications such as e-mail and allow the company to provide other services to individuals and businesses.
The data centers require enormous amounts of power to run the computers and keep them cool. Google has committed to using renewable energy sources for its operations globally, including its data centers. Xcel said a key part of the deal with Google is the utility’s ability to deliver 100 percent renewable energy for the data center.
In addition to the sale of land, the agreement with Xcel includes three separately negotiated deals for electricity service, sourcing for renewable energy and connection to transmission voltage. Several power contracts must be approved by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.
The company began talking with Xcel about buying the land near the utility’s Sherco plant in Becker after Xcel announced in late 2015 that it would retire two coal generators there in 2023 and 2026, respectively. Sherco is Sherburne County’s largest taxpayer.
“This is really part of our commitment to our host communities as we make a transition away from coal,” said Christopher Clark, Xcel’s president for Minnesota and the Dakotas.
With the coal plant shutdowns, about 300 permanent jobs will be lost. Xcel plans to build a large gas-fired power plant in Becker to partly replace the coal-fired power; it would employ about 150 people.
Xcel owns thousands of acres near Sherco, including two large tracts that serve as a buffer zone between the plant and farm and commercial land. In 2017, Xcel agreed to give Google an exclusive option to buy one of the tracts, with 315 acres, for a potential data center.
“It’s wonderful to be considered as a host spot for something like that,” said Becker Mayor Tracy Bertram.
About 300 megawatts of new wind power would be dedicated to the Google center, which would also draw electricity from conventional sources when the wind isn’t blowing. A megawatt is 1 million watts and 300 megawatts is the equivalent of two new wind farms.
Those two wind projects would be in addition to eight other wind farms that Xcel plans to bring online in the Upper Midwest by 2022. Xcel is the nation’s largest wind energy utility, and Minnesota ranks in the top 10 states for wind power.
In recent years, the state’s biggest construction projects have largely involved government money. The largest is the ongoing $1.7 billion, multiyear renovation of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, followed by U.S. Bank Stadium, which cost $1.1 billion and was finished in 2016.
Enbridge’s proposed new oil pipeline across northern Minnesota, which does not involve government money, is expected to cost $2.6 billion.
Google in 2008 spent $2.5 billion on a data center near Council Bluffs, Iowa, just east of Omaha. Since then, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple have built large data centers in Iowa.