Former Google Exec. Pitches Data Center For Vermont Yankee Property

Dec 15, 2016

Vernon officials Wednesday night heard a pitch from former Google executive Matt Dunne, who said the Vermont Yankee property could be the perfect fit for a data center.

Ever since Entergy announced that it  would be closing Vermont Yankee, the Vernon Planning Commission has been trying to come up with an economic development plan for the 125-acre site.

They've looked at a natural gas plant, a solar farm, a micro-grid or some kind of industrial development.

But they hadn't really considered a data center with thousands of computer servers.

"There are very similar assets associated with the site that would make it attractive to people who are looking to build a data center facility," Dunne said.

Dunne is a former state senator and he was a candidate in this year's Democratic gubernatorial primary.

When he worked for Google, he collaborated with communities that were preparing to build data centers.

Dunne said the Vernon site is near a railroad corridor, which would provide access to a right-of-way for fiber optic lines, a river for cooling the computers and, most importantly, a massive electrical system to run the power hungry data servers.

The Google data centers need a minimum of 300 acres, and the largest ones take up about 800 acres, which is much more than what's available in Vernon, but Dunne said a smaller company could see the New England property as a very good option.

"I think the attractiveness is the proximity to the major metro areas," he said. "It's difficult to find land and the kind of infrastructure that you happen to have here. It's a unique site."

Matt Dunne, second from right, talks to the Vernon Planning Commission Wednesday night.
Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR

Dunne said Google has built data centers all over the world on the sites of closed down industrial facilities, and there was a palpable excitement at the meeting over the prospect of bringing in the well paid, high-tech jobs to the area.

But planning commissioner Martin Langeveld reminded the room that there would be challenges.

"The problem here is that there's a nuclear plant sitting over there," he said.

Entergy announced last month that it wanted to sell the Vernon nuclear reactor to the demolition company, NorthStar.

NorthStar says it can decommission the plant and restore the site before 2030, which is 45 years sooner  than Entergy said it would clean up the property.

However, the deal still needs to get state and federal approval.

Dunne said any server company will want tax breaks from the state, and a special deal from Green Mountain Power for all of the electricity it needs.

Vernon planning commissioner Patty O'Donnell said she was ready to get the ball rolling.

"This to me is the most exciting thing for Vernon right now out of everything we've discussed," O'Donnell said.

Dunne said the server that would fit on the Vernon site would probably bring in about 50 or 60 high tech jobs, plus security positions.

He said the Vernon officials should get ready to talk with the new Commerce secretary, once governor-elect Phil Scott names one, and reach out to GMP and legislators. If North Star gets regulatory approval to purchase Vermont Yankee, Dunne says a data server could be built in as little as six months on the land that doesn't require radiological cleanup

Updated, Dec. 15, 4:46 p.m. The story was updated to note that the server could be built on Yankee property that is not contaminated by the nuclear plant.

Updated, Dec. 15, 10:21 p.m. The story was updated to clarify the size of the Google data centers.