Quiet opponent of Oregon data center clean-energy bill? Amazon

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Amid heated debate over Oregon legislation that would require data centers to use clean energy, data center operators have been conspicuously quiet.

Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google all operate large data centers in central and eastern Oregon. But they’ve said nothing in public about whether they support or oppose House Bill 2816, which would require data centers and crypto miners to use clean energy in big, new facilities.

Privately, though, one company is working hard to fight the legislation.

“There is no question that Amazon was lobbying against this bill from the very first moment,” said Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, one of the bill’s sponsors. She said Amazon’s representatives have been very active in Salem this winter, campaigning hard against the bill in lawmakers’ offices.

Neither Amazon nor its Oregon lobbyists, Oxley & Associates, returned messages seeking comment on HB 2816.

Publicly, the Seattle company says it’s committed to green energy. It has pledged to reach zero carbon emissions by 2040.

In Oregon, though, there’s no evidence of that. Unlike Apple and Facebook, which have built renewable energy projects to help power their Oregon data centers, Amazon’s data centers in Morrow and Umatilla counties appear to be relying primarily on carbon-burning fuel sources for most of their electricity.

The Oregonian/OregonLive reported last summer that carbon emissions from the utility serving Amazon are soaring — with emissions per megawatt hour up 543% since 2010. Amazon plans to shift some of its Oregon data centers to fuel cells powered by natural gas. Regulators say the fuel cells emit just as much carbon as conventional gas-fired electricity plants.

That, and the “vehemence” of Amazon’s lobbying, has Marsh doubting whether Amazon has “any intention of actually seeking renewable energy goals.” She chairs the climate and energy committee considering HB 2816. Marsh said she’s not aware of lobbying by any of the other data-center companies.

Data centers are enormous electricity consumers, using as much power as small cities to run thousands of high-end computers and to cool the hardworking machines. In dollar terms, server farms are now among Oregon’s largest industries — growth fueled by more than $180 million annually in local property tax breaks.

While data centers aren’t major employers, they have had a profound effect on the handful of small Oregon communities where they operate, including Prineville, The Dalles and the regions around Boardman and Hermiston.

Data centers provide hundreds of local jobs and millions in tax revenues, though their exemptions save them more than they actually pay. Rep. Bobby Levy, a Republican representing large parts of eastern Oregon, says HB 2816 would stifle that growth and exacerbate the state’s geographic divide.

“Amazon, as you can imagine, is very concerned when we start targeting end users of electricity,” Levy wrote in an email.

HB 2816 would compel large data centers and crypto miners to move to clean energy over the next 17 years. It wouldn’t apply to other industries or residential power.

While data-center operators are silent on the bill, the Technology Association of Oregon is a vocal opponent. The organization says HB 2816 “targets data centers in eastern Oregon,” putting them in a tough opposition because they have no say over how the utilities that supply their electricity obtain it.

HB 2816 is due for a committee vote Monday. Marsh said she might pull the bill if it doesn’t have enough support to pass, but that if the bill dies, she intends to revive the issue at next year’s session.

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