Amazon AWS: Amazon's data center emissions rise with Oregon expansion

Oct 14, 2022 | Posted by MadalineDunn

According to a report by The Oregonian, Amazon’s data center expansion in Eastern Oregon has caused carbon emissions to soar in recent years. Oregon’s Morrow and Umatilla counties are the locations targeted by Amazon, in part due to local tax breaks, which have seen Amazon rake up tax breaks worth more than $160 million for its data centers. Currently, the giant has four data centers in Morrow County, with more planned ahead, having recently filed a Long-Term Rural Enterprise Zone (LTREZ) abatement for two planned new campuses within the Greater Hermiston Enterprise Zone (GHEZ).

Oregon has been dubbed a US climate leader, and has set some ambitious climate targets following the passing of the House Bill 2021, which committed the State to source 100% of its electricity from clean—or zero-emission—sources by 2040. However, Amazon’s data center expansion, while not the sole culprit for rising emissions in the State, is playing a significant role in the State’s smaller towns, with industrial power usage quadrupling. 

Moreover, the extreme power usage demands of the likes of Amazon mean that, while the electrical utility serving Morrow County, had some of the cleanest power in Oregon, now its power mix is much less clean. Umatilla Electric, which received 1.6% of the energy output generated by Columbia River dams, as per the Bonneville Power Administration’s allocation, has been forced to buy non-renewable energy to meet demand, including natural gas. Unsurprisingly, carbon emissions per megawatt hour are now up 543% since 2010, which the report highlights was just before the arrival of Amazon. It has also been noted that Amazon’s additional power use matches the annual household power consumption of a staggering 200,000 homes, and that Umatilla Electric’s industrial power sales grew from 1.1 billion kilowatt hours in 2016 to 4.1 billion in 2021, in line with the giant’s expansion. 

Despite Amazon’s undeniable contribution to carbon emissions increase within the County, it is still receiving millions in local tax breaks, something which local political leaders wish to review. There are also calls for policymakers to ensure that data centers utilize cleaner energy, so that big tech companies don’t continue to pollute local communities while receiving huge tax breaks, especially taking into account the considerable resources available to giants like Amazon. 

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