Upper Columbia River Group

Explore, enjoy, and protect the planet.

Website Contents

  1. -Documents

  2. -News

  3. -Tour of Server “Farms”


- Sabey

- Microsoft

- Dell

- Yahoo

  1. -Intuit

  2. -Dept. of Ecology, Washington

  3. -PCHB

Microsoft Corp. data center - 12 diesel stacks
Sabey Corp. data center.
A community:  Quincy.
School just 1-2 blocks from Microsoft and Dell data center.

Dell Corp. data center under construction.

There are so many engines being located in such a small area that the data centers must coordinate monthly testing of the engines.  This testing requires an hour per month per engine and with the soon to be permitted 165 (only the last 24 will have controls) it will require that 6 engines are run for an hour each day every day of the year just to satisfy this requirement.


Microsoft runs each engine an average of 5 hours per month, although last year the 22 engines they have ran for 3615.9 total hours. 


Depending on the data center the engines are run for electrical bypass (during times the data units are being serviced), storm avoidance (1/2 before, during and 1/2 hour after an electrical storm) and for maintenance.


Issue Overview: 

Quincy, Washington Data Centers

Microsoft, Yahoo!, Dell, Intuit, Sabey locate Data “Farms” in Quincy, Washington -- Diesel Generators risk Public Health.

Exploitation -- then the belated effort to restore and protect is a recurring theme in the Columbia River region.   When natural resources have currency, communities and the environment are vulnerable.  Some bad outcomes include:

•W.R. Grace and the community of Libby, Montana, where the death toll from asbestosis continues to rise.

•Gulf Resources and communities in the Silver Valley – particularly Kellogg – where continued operation of the lead smelter (after fire dismantled pollution abatement) caused the leading of the community and some of the highest blood lead levels ever recorded in children.

Now come knocking some of the largest corporations in the world looking for cheap hydropower from the dam-damaged Columbia River:  Microsoft, Dell, Yahoo!, Intuit, and others.   The Washington State Legislature reversed a 2008 ruling that data centers were no longer covered by a sales-tax break for manufacturers. 

These corporations are locating their data centers (or “server farms”) not far from the Gorge Amphitheater in the small farming town of Quincy – a place where many people are Hispanic.   Most of the construction jobs are from out-of-area contracting firms, and long-term jobs will be few.  The Columbia River hydropower used by these corporations would be enough to supply hundreds of thousands of homes.

Quincy has already been at the epicenter of one battle over public health:  concerns about contaminating the nation’s food supply by mixing industrial wastes into fertilizer applied to farm fields.  As summarized by Seattle Times writer Duff Wilson in his book, Fateful Harvest (2001),

Quincy, Washington, had been a sleepy northwestern farming town until its rest is disturbed by a shocking secret beneath its once-fertile fields: chemical manufacturers are disposing of leftover toxic waste by selling it to unsuspecting farmers as fertilizers.  The tainted fertilizer – containing arsenic and cadmium, lead and dioxins – is believed to be destroying crops, sickening animals, and endangering the nation’s food supply.  And owing to a gaping regulatory loophole, it is completely legal.

On October 26, 2010, the Washington State Department of Ecology (“Ecology”) permitted the expansion of Microsoft’s data center.  Other corporations also are coming to Quincy:  including Dell, Yahoo!, Intuit, Sabey,

If you visit Quincy’s server farms, you’ll see massive buildings and smoke stacks.  Without local help, you will not be able to figure out which corporation owns what buildings:  corporate logos and names are totally absent. 

The Microsoft server farm is on the edge of Quincy, actually near the Quincy Cemetery.  Microsoft’s main building stretches for two-tenths of a mile, wired to the West Quincy Substation.  The diesel generator buildings have 12 smoke stacks – for 37 diesel generators that supply back-up power.   Homes and an elementary school are located just a few blocks away.

Across the street from Microsoft, Dell is building another massive server farm.  Down the road:  Yahoo!, Sabey, and others.   One wonders about the toxic soils -- some of the server farms have soil piled around the buildings in large burms.  Others, not. 

Diesel generators are a major local concern.  Here is the diesel generator count so far:

•Microsoft - 37

•Yahoo! – 23

•Intuit – 9

•Dell – 28

•Sabey – 44

•Riker – 24

This works out to about one locomotive-sized diesel engine for every 40 people in Quincy. 

The health risks associated with the server farms come from diesel particulates, and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).  According to the Washington Department of Ecology:

Diesel exhaust particles may affect the health of all who breathe them.  However, they are especially problematic for people with heart or circulatory problems and people with lung disease.  Exposure to diesel exhaust can result in both immediate and long-term health effects.  These effects range from cardiopulmonary, immune, endocrine, and developmental and reproductive impairments to lung and certain types of cancer.  [Diverse Health Effects of Diesel Engine Emissions, publication No. 08-02-032, December 3, 2008]

Despite the risks, the Department of Ecology issued a pollution permit to Microsoft without requiring pollution abatement devices to protect public health.

To protect the Quincy community, local citizens are appealing decisions by the Washington State Department of Ecology to issue pollution permits to these corporations.   They’ve created a group, Microsoft – Yes, Toxic Air Pollution – No (“MYTAPN”) and along with individuals are facing off against Microsoft corporate attorneys in the state’s administrative law court (the Pollution Control Hearings Board, or “PCHB”).   Watching these local activists virtually going it alone in standing up to immense corporate power and wealth in defense of their community gives you pause.

Local citizens have also sent a personal plea to Bill Gates asking for his help to protect their community. 

The citizens’ challenge to Microsoft is currently scheduled before the PCHB on the afternoon of October 12 in Ellensburg, and then in Olympia on October 13 and 14.   Please attend these hearings in support of local citizens defending their community.

Vulnerable rural communities, large corporations. Community activist, Patty Martin, on right.


October 3.  MYTAPN files motion for Reconsideration.

Newly discovered information obtained under public disclosure prompts local citizens to seek PCB to reverse ruling favorable to Microsoft.   More.

September 30.  Microsoft asks for continuance. Microsoft asked the state’s environmental court - the PCHB - to delay proceedings after the company completed emission tests on one of its massive diesel generators.  Microsoft had planned to submit those results as evidence in court proceedings.

September 29. Dell and Sabey permits appealed. A local citizen group appealed air quality permits issued by the State of Washington Dept of Ecology to Dell Marketing LP and Sabey Intergate-Quincy LLC.  Citizen action is prompted by continuing public health concerns that the State is allowing nearly 150 locomotive-size diesel generators as part of unprecedented influx of data centers.  These appeals follow earlier appeals protesting the State’s pollution permits given to Microsoft and Yahoo!  more.