Growing up in the northern Canadian company town of Kitimat, we got to see propaganda movies presented by Alcan, especially the one where the company boasted that it cost $500 million dollars to build the dam reversing the Nechako River, the hydro electric facility in the mountain at Kemano, transmission towers, the world's second-largest aluminum smelter, and the town site of Kitimat.
$0.5B just doesn't go as far as it did in the early 1950s
Last week, Microsoft announced it would spend that much on just one datacenter outside of Chicago. (A datacenter is simply a building with lots and lots of stacked computers that store and distribute data for the Internet. Oh, and lots of air conditioning.) Datacenters use huge amounts of electricity, just like the smelting process of converting powdery alumina into aluminum metal.
And not just one datacenter:
The new facility in Northlake, Ill. may cost more than $500 million and is expected to span 440,000 square feet. Microsoft opened a 470,000 square foot data center in Quincy, Washington earlier this year, and is building a similar facility in San Antonio. Microsoft has also submitted plans for a $500 million data center campus in Dublin, Ireland.
And not just Microsoft. Google and several other companies also build these centers, many of them in Washington and Oregon for the same reason Alcan built its smelter at Kitimat: abundant hydro-electric power.
And similar levels of employment. Whereas the smelter in Kitimat now hires about 1,500 people: "The Quincy [Washington] data center has created employment for 1,200 persons."
On a Web site commenting on this new datacenter, someone wrote: "Microsoft could be competing with the aluminum smelters as our largest consumer of electricity."
My dad notes that this could be another reason for Alcan to shut down the smelter in Kitimat: the (very cheap) electricity that it produces with nearly zero employees (the town of Kemano no longer exists) would be more profitably sold to the electrical grid, than for making aluminum -- at the cost of killing off my home town of Kitimat.