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    Sunday, April 14, 2024

    OPINION: Legislators: Please pump the brakes on data centers

    Some of the most disingenuous lobbying on behalf of the developers hawking a data center at the Millstone Power Station in Waterford, to suck down boatloads of Connecticut’s clean nuclear energy, comes from Tony Sheridan, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut.

    “The (data center) as proposed, enjoys the near unanimous support of this region,” Sheridan asserted ― quite erroneously ― in written testimony to the legislature, as it considers a bill that would put the brakes on data centers like the one proposed for Waterford, until their effects on the power grid and electric rates can be properly studied.

    Shame on the chamber president who, with his testimony, insults the many dozens of citizens who are working with a new group, Concerned Citizens of Waterford and East Lyme, raising objections to the environmental pollution that might come with a Millstone data center.

    More than 1,500 people have signed a petition, Protect Waterford from Data Center Noise Pollution, on change.org.

    Indeed, Sheridan’s written testimony in opposition to the bill stands out among the many other public hearing submissions ―not quite, but at least approaching the neighborhood of unanimous ― in support of the data center study legislation co-sponsored by Aundré Bumgardner, Democrat of Groton.

    One powerful argument in favor of a study came in testimony from Katie Dykes, commissioner of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, who told lawmakers they need to order a study to be sure data centers don’t push electric costs to other ratepayers and that the electric grid remains reliable.

    You can’t get much more reasonable thinking than that.

    Dykes’ testimony was in sharp contrast to opposition to the study proposal from Daniel O’Keefe, Gov. Ned Lamont’s commissioner designate of the Department of Economic and Community Development, who told legislators that it should be full speed ahead for data centers, lest Connecticut be left behind.

    O’Keefe is Lamont’s newest investment banker turned public official and in his data center enthusiasm follows in a path blazed by former Lamont DECD Commissioner David Lehman, a former managing director of Goldman Sachs, who played a starring role in the toxic mortgage meltdown and national economic collapse in 2007 and 2008.

    Lehman squired through the legislature emergency legislation, without normal committee review or public hearings, making data centers exempt from sales and property tax, provided they make a deal for payments in lieu of taxes with host towns.

    Lehman and now O’Keefe, the money guys, argue Connecticut will be left behind other states if they don’t fast track data centers.

    It strikes me as similar to arguing that Connecticut shouldn’t be left behind as the country figures out where to bury nuclear waste.

    I’d say that’s a race, like developing low-employing, energy-thirsty, tax-exempt data centers, that Connecticut should be happy to lose.

    Waterford First Selectman Rob Brule, apparently dizzy with the intoxicating notion of all the fees the data center developer has promised the town ― considerably less than what property taxes would be ― is an important proponent of the rushed plan.

    I am surprised that Brule and the Board of Selectmen signed on so quickly for a deal with the data center developers who were soundly rejected in other Connecticut towns.

    Just two towns away in Groton, concerned citizens unearthed all kinds of warning signs, from tens of millions of dollars in bad debts and bankruptcies that have followed some of the Connecticut-proposing developers and their associates.

    The widow of the deceased partner of the developer of the proposed Waterford data center showed up at one of the Groton hearings dressed in black and screaming across the room, calling Thomas Quinn of development company NE Edge a “crook.”

    Groton wisely said no thanks to the proposal from the developer casting out for his first data center approval score, having never developed one before.

    And now state lawmakers have a chance to bring some facts to the discussion and make sure the data centers don’t lap up too much of the state’s clean energy, as much as one of the offshore wind farms state citizens have paid so much to subsidize.

    Slow it down. Get the facts.

    Tell the governor he ought to get his energy commissioner and his proposed DECD commissioner on the same page. Why on earth is his administration preaching opposite sermons to lawmakers on the same topic?

    And don’t listen to chamber of commerce executives who assert the region almost unanimously supports it.

    This is the opinion of David Collins.

    d.collins@theday,com

    Editor’s note: This version corrects the sentence about the widow of the deceased partner of the developer of the proposed Waterford data center.

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