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Google to build a big data center at an old coal plant in Alabama

Google's data center in Oklahoma.Google's data center in Oklahoma.
Google's data center in Oklahoma.Courtesy of Google

Google plans to build its first new U.S. data center in eight years at an aging coal plant in rural Alabama, the search engine giant announced Wednesday at a press conference outside of the new site. The data center in Jackson County will cost $600 million to build and will create 100 jobs for the region.

The soon-to-be-retired coal plant, the Widows Creek Power Plant, is operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority and was first built in the 1950s. At one point it was a major power producer and employed hundreds of workers.

But the TVA has been shutting down many of its aging coal plants to meet new environmental standards and fulfill a settlement with the Environmental Protections Agency. The plant suffered a waste spill in 2009.

The 350-acre plant will be retired in July, a symbol of the industry’s sharp decline in the U.S. However, coal plants continue to be added in other countries like China, where the pollution they create is a major problem.

Although data centers are often huge, they typically don’t create many full-time jobs. Companies usually ends up recruiting outside the area for the highly specialized positions.

Despite the legacy of fossil fuels at the site, Google (GOOG) said the data center would be powered by 100% clean energy. Google didn’t give details about where the clean energy could come from. But it said it would work with TVA to develop the power for TVA’s electricity grid. Google has spent close to $2 billion on solar and wind farms over the years.

Alabama has been trying to attract data centers to the state for years. The state passed incentives for data center operators in 2012 followed by another incentive package earlier this year.

The Alabama data center will be Google’s fourteenth data center globally. Google says it will also use the company’s state of the art energy efficiency technology for the data centers, which require huge amounts of electricity to keep the servers inside running and cool.