“The NSA Data Center here was welcomed by the State of Utah with the promise that their activities would remain within Constitutional bounds and conducted within Constitutional law. I think we all know and are aware that that has been violated and that there are serious questions regarding privacy and the Fourth Amendment. But, now that it is here, what can we do about it, if anything?” Roberts asked the Public Utilities and Technology Interim Committee.
Roberts pointed to the fact that the state has now conducted research regarding what has been provided for in subsidies to the NSA. In particular, Roberts focused his attention on utilities and how the NSA might be benefiting from reduced or even free rates.
[pullquote]This data center is a stain not only upon the tech industry of Utah, but upon Utah itself – Pete Ashdown – Owner, X-Mission[/pullquote]The issue of subsidies was a contentious one during the 2014 session. At issue at the time was that no solid evidence existed to prove then-Governor Jon Huntsman had agreed to exempt the NSA from tax subsidies related to utility usage. However, supporters of the NSA data center, along with the federal government, all agreed that those subsidies needed to be in place in order to build the facility. Senator Jerry Stevenson (Republican – Layton), who sponsored the exemption legislation, SB 45, acknowledged that “[t]here is a great amount of institutional memory that puts this agreement in place,” but noted that there was no physical document confirming the agreement existed.
Targeting utilities has been a common argument for NSA opponents. According to Roberts, the Utah Data Center has a maximum of 1.7 million gallons of water usage per day. The City of Bluffdale has a $30 base monthly fee for businesses and offers a market price of $1.96 cents for 1,000 gallons of water used. If accurate, this equates to a water bill of over $99 million a month or $1.193 billion a year. This same amount of water usage is equivalent to over 20,000 residential homes.
[pullquote]This is not a bill just about a data center, this is a bill about civil rights… [how the NSA operates] is a problem, we need a solution and this is a step in the right direction. Joe Levi, Vice Chair – Davis County Republican Party[/pullquote]Roberts noted that there have been water shortages in Lehi and Saratoga Springs this past summer and wondered if the NSA would receive priority in the event of a drought.
Co-chair of the committee, Representative Roger Barrus (Republican – Centerville), emphasised that he too was interested in ensuring that citizens don’t carry the brunt of the data center’s energy usage as demands for power rise in the future. Barrus added that one of the reasons Utah was chosen for the center was because of its traditionally low energy costs – energy costs that depend on Utah’s coal fired power plants. As the overall federal government pushes away from carbon based energy, it is foreseeable that energy prices could rise in Utah, resulting in greater cost to Utah taxpayers as the NSA takes a larger and larger subsidy.
The real issue, however, is the overall opposition to the NSA Data Center in general. “This is not a bill just about a data center,” Joe Levi, Vice Chair of the Davis County Republican Party noted during public comment, “this is a bill about civil rights… [how the NSA operates] is a problem, we need a solution and this is a step in the right direction.”
X-Mission founder Pete Ashdown, who owns a data center as part of his business, informed the committee that water is generally lost via evaporation, with only a portion of the water actually being returned to the system. His testimony however focused on the failings of the federal government to take action and that no convictions have taken place through information gathered at the data center. He urged the committee to consider the cost/benefit analysis along with the fact that, according to him, he was told that the location was chosen because the citizens were patriotic. “I read that as code word for ‘the people won’t question what’s going on here’,” Ashdown added.
“This data center is a stain not only upon the tech industry of Utah, but upon Utah itself,” Ashdown passionately added.
Roberts admitted that the draft legislation he presented was far from completion, however he felt he was ready to begin presenting the idea to the general public for discussion. As such, the committee took no formal action at this time.