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Draft climate law threatens fines for datacenters that don't cut their carbon count

Legislation also puts cryptocurrency farms in the crosshairs

A law bill introduced in the Oregon state assembly has carbon dioxide emissions from crypto farming operations and datacenters in its sights.

House Bill 2816 [PDF] would require any person who owns or operates a datacenter or cryptocurrency mining operation to cut greenhouse gas emissions from electricity use by 60 percent below baseline levels by 2027 and curb all emissions by 2040. Presumably that applies to those who fall under the US state's jurisdiction.

Lawmakers would like to impose civil penalties of $12,000 per megawatt-hour per day on those that fail to comply with the rules, with additional daily penalties for companies flouting the rules.

If you're wondering what those baseline emissions are, the bill specifies 0.428 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents per megawatt-hour of electricity consumed. According to the EPA this is roughly equivalent to the average volume of carbon dioxide emissions for every megawatt consumed in 2019.

The bill does provide carve outs for smaller operators whose facilities or campuses use less than ten megawatts-hours. While the Oregon State Assembly has yet to vote on the bill, there's reason to believe it will be successful. In 2021, former Oregon governor Kate Brown signed into law a similar bill designed to phase out fossil-fuel power plants over the next two decades.

One of the many things datacenter operators look for when selecting a site for a new campus is ready access to cheap power. This, along with hefty tax breaks for which Oregon is famous, has made the state a popular destination for datacenter expansions.

The state is home to datacenters run by Facebook, Google Cloud Platform, Digital Reality, Apple and AWS – to name a handful. But, because cloud providers and hyperscalers rarely disclose their power consumption, it's difficult to tell which bit barns would be subject to emissions cuts.

Omdia analyst Alan Howard estimates an Amazon campus with five buildings would require roughly 50 to 60MW of capacity to feed its IT and cooling load.

The proposed bill could prove troublesome for AWS, which operates four datacenters along the Columbia River roughly 150 miles east of Portland, and reportedly plans to double that investment over the next four years.

The project, revealed in documents filed with the Morrow County Board last May, detailed a multiphase project that would see the construction of five datacenter facilities expected to cost approximately $2.37 billion each, or about $11.8 billion when all said and done. At the time, AWS claimed the build out would add about 600 high-tech jobs – about 120 per datacenter – each with an average salary of $75,000.

Amazon declined to comment on the proposed legislation or any potential impact on its plans for Morrow County. A spokesperson did, however, reiterate the cloud giant's commitment to procuring 100 percent renewable energy to power its operations by 2025. Amazon also claims that its datacenters are "88 percent less carbon intensive" compared to a typical on-premise US enterprise datacenter.

The Register asked whether Amazon's plans would make use of renewable energy credits or similar measures – like green bonds – to achieve these goals on that timescale. We suspect they would, but we'll let you know if we hear anything back. ®

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