Facebook has added insult to injury in an ongoing controversy over its soon-to-be primarily coal-powered data center, currently under construction in Prineville, Oregon. The company announced Friday that it will more than double the size of its data storage facility, as the latest evidence of what is an accelerating industry-wide trend toward the need for ever bigger facilities that use even more electricity to serve the rapidly growing data needs of cloud-based computing.
Greenpeace and over half a million Facebook users continue to challenge the company to use renewable energy to power its data centers and to phase out coal entirely, featured on Fox National News just this past week.
But in light of plans to double the size of its coal-reliant data center in Prineville without any announcement of new investments in clean sources of electricity, it seems Facebook still hasn’t gotten the message. We also have to assume that the new Facebook environmental / energy policy reportedly adopted in response to the criticism they received for choosing coal for Prineville Phase 1 must still be waiting for Mark Zuckerberg’s signature, or perhaps it was so toothless you could run a coal train through it.
Facebook’s failure to change course is not only environmentally irresponsible, but poses a significant risk for the company. Google, which entered into a long-term agreement with a large wind power producer earlier this month, has demonstrated that it is both possible to prioritize the purchase of clean energy, and, as Katie Fehrenbacher at Earth2Tech pointed out in a recent blog post, prudent. Clean energy is likely to get much cheaper over time, while the cost of carbon-intensive energy sources increases.
In May, Mike Manos of Nokia urged fellow tech leaders to preempt the risk of carbon legislation that will inevitably penalize dirty power users, such as coal-run data centers. He cautioned data center operators to choose the location for their facilities wisely and proactively seek renewable energy sources, or have to deal with the financial consequences later. Facebook has clearly failed to heed his call.
Both Facebook and its 500 million users would be better served by a company that takes its decisions over electricity supply seriously and doesn’t risk our future or its own by taking the cheap and easy route that increases demand for coal.
The following is a statement issued by Greenpeace in response to Facebook's news:
August 4, 2010
"With Facebook's announcement, it has irresponsibly chosen to double-down its bet on dirty energy while other IT companies such as Google are buying renewable energy because it is sound, long-term business investment. (1)
"Facebook’s announcement earlier this year to power its Prineville data center with coal was met quickly with a call from nearly half a million of its users (2) who told the company to dump dirty fossil fuels and instead choose clean sources of energy for its electricity needs. While it's rumored that Facebook has adopted a new energy policy in response to this pressure, today’s announcement shows that this policy does not have any teeth.
"IT industry leaders have detailed the significant financial and reputation risk companies face from building its network on coal-fired electricity, the country’s biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions (3).
"Given that Facebook, along with cloud-based computing as a whole, is projected to quadruple in size over the next ten years (4), it's critical, both for the environment and the financial viability of the industry, that Facebook and other major cloud based companies such as Google and Microsoft build a green cloud, not a brown one that increases demand for coal.(5)"
For media inquiries, please contact: Daniel Kessler, Greenpeace International, +1 510 501 1779;
Join us in telling Facebook to use renewable energy... Where else, but on Facebook? http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/group.php?gid=311700724500&ref=ts