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Microsoft

Microsoft Pollutes To Avoid Fines 295

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the kafka-runs-the-power-company dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Microsoft's Quincy data center, physical home of Bing and Hotmail, was fined $210,000 last year because the data center used too little electricity. To avoid similar penalties for 'underconsumption of electricity' this year, the data center burned through $70,000 worth of electricity in three days."
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Microsoft Pollutes To Avoid Fines

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  • Wait, what? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @06:25PM (#41456779)

    You get fined for saving electricity now?
    Where is this world going...

    • PPA's (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ArhcAngel (247594) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @07:07PM (#41457361)
      Basically large companies need to know what their costs are going to be long term. They enter in to Power Purchasing Agreements [wikipedia.org] with electricity generators much like leasing a building. Based on these agreements the electricity generator knows what is expected of it's power plants and maintains them to meet these requirements. If demand is lower than expected they may have to shut down a plant or two since there isn't an economical way to store electricity on such a large scale. It costs a lot of money to shut down one of these facilities and even more to ramp back up. Rather than eat these costs many PPA's include penalties that will cover these contingencies. Since I'm tl;dr the article I don't know if that's what happened here but it makes sense that if Microsoft overestimated it's power needs on its PPA then these fines would have been to cover the plants down time. Since another comment mentioned hydro generation I'm guessing Microsoft running inefficient on purpose to avoid the fines didn't hurt the environment too much.
      • Re:PPA's (Score:5, Informative)

        by ewanm89 (1052822) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @07:51PM (#41457839) Homepage

        There is a an economical way to store large amounts of electricity though, it's called pumped storage plant, basically it's a hydroelectric plant where the generators and turbines can be used in reverse to pump water back up to the top reservoir, then when needed it's released again to get electricity again. Turning a mountain into a very big gravity powered rechargeable battery.

        • by Taco Cowboy (5327) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @08:35PM (#41458249) Journal

          Pumped storage plant has been used since the 1960's, but it does require a dam.

          On places where there is no dam, this method can not be deployed.

          However, technological advancement has enabled us another way - by using ultra-capacitors.

          http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/piprod/documents/Session_D_Miller_rev.pdf [energy.gov]

          Advancement on capacitor technology resulted in capacitors that can store HUGE amount of electricity for a LONG time, with miniscule loss.

          And many are being deployed in power grids - not only as a power storage but also acting as a power stabilizer - the ultra-capacitor can "soak up" power spikes and release power during "brown outs".

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Benaiah (851593)

            I don't think that there are many ultra capacitors adding storage capacity to grids. Its definitely on the table for the future however at the moment the capacitor banks that you see at your transmission yards are actually for power factor correction not power storage.

            • by Taco Cowboy (5327) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @10:58PM (#41459523) Journal

              There are not more than 8 factories that I know of, that are producing industrial-grade ultra-capacitors, that are to be deployed for the purpose of power-storage / power-stabilizing, near power generating plants and also in the power grid.

              And all the factories are churning out ultra-capacitors as fast as they can.

              But it is not enough.

              That is why it will take some time for more ultra-capacitors to show up in places that need them.

              The bottle-neck is with the manufacturers.

              The main patent for the ultra-capacitors is owned by Sanyo, of Japan.

              They were actually trying to find ways to develop an ultra-capacity rechargeable battery. They came up with the idea of using nano-scale materials (that was back in the late 1990's or so) and successfully produced a re-chargeable NiMH battery that can keep the charge for as long as 36 months, and at 97% capacity.

              That patent was subsequently licensed to other re-chargeable battery manufacturers - including GP and Energizer.

              And later, someone found that the same technique can be also used in enhancing ultra-capacitors, so they licensed it to capacitor manufacturers.

              However, the industrial grade capacitor manufacturers in this planet that we live in happen to behave much like OPEC.

              There are only few manufacturers and they control the market, and they restrict the manufacturing to only a handful factories - so that they can charge an arm and a leg for their products.

              • by MattskEE (925706)

                What is the $/kWh of industrial supercaps right now? The article you linked above had some projected numbers from startup companies, one of which seems to have gone under and the other of which is still in startup mode. I just helped put together an experimental off-grid PV system with 3kWh lead acid capacity at somewhere from $200-$250/kWh storage cost.

                Is there anywhere a hobbyist or researcher could buy a few kWh of indsutrial supercaps?

          • by GrpA (691294) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @10:51PM (#41459461)

            I take it then you've never heard of compressed-air power storage?

            Same principle as with dams, except very large air tanks are used. Scroll compressors and turbines make it possible the most efficient way of storing excess power as well, and the system is near-zero maintenance, unlike batteries. Demand response is also good and the most useful thing about this system is that it scales down to tiny installations - to the point that it could be used to save power from solar during the day for overnight use.

            GrpA

          • by ArhcAngel (247594)
            Ultra-capacitors are indeed being deployed to the grid to great success. But the cost estimate of $0.05 kWh/cycle is in addition to the cost of generation. Currently the average cost of generation is $0.05 kWh so any electricity you generate and store now costs you $0.1 kWh. You just DOUBLED the cost of your electricity! It's still the best cost/benefit option for grid storage just not as appealing as having a PPA with a built in cushion. I suspect more widespread adoption will require regulation.
      • Re:PPA's (Score:5, Informative)

        by Darinbob (1142669) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @08:40PM (#41458299)

        Utilities make money by selling electricity, it's typically in their best interest to encourage more energy use. California and some other states have "decoupled" the revenue to try and fix this. Utilities are given fixed pricing; if the customers use less electricity then the utilities pocket the difference, if the customers use more electricity the utility loses money. Now it's an economic incentive to encourage customers to conserve, get rid of inefficient power generators, improve the distribution and transmission infrastructure, etc.

      • Re:PPA's (Score:5, Insightful)

        by hairyfeet (841228) <{bassbeast1968} {at} {gmail.com}> on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @10:07PM (#41459113) Journal

        Well then nobody should bitch when ANY company, be it MSFT or fricking Toys R' Us, blows through power just to keep from getting fined. If the cost of blowing through the power is less than the fine, which thanks to the agreement it most certainly is? Then they would be dumb NOT to blow through the power, and would get called to the carpet for blowing shareholder's money by taking fines over meeting their end of the agreement.

        But I'm sure just as the article's flamebait headline suggests its just another excuse for clickbait. if people have a problem with this? then they should outlaw those agreements.

        • Re:PPA's (Score:4, Insightful)

          by D'Sphitz (699604) on Wednesday September 26, 2012 @12:00AM (#41459923) Journal
          Correct, from TFA:

          Microsoft could incur approximately $70,000 in power costs to avoid the $210,000 penalty, resulting in real savings of $140,000.

          "Flamebait headline" is also correct.

          • Re:PPA's (Score:4, Insightful)

            by hairyfeet (841228) <{bassbeast1968} {at} {gmail.com}> on Wednesday September 26, 2012 @03:39AM (#41460985) Journal

            Thank you. If someone told you to flush this hundred dollar bill or get a $2000 fine, who wouldn't flush the money? they signed the agreement, for whatever reason they didn't need the power, and now the time is due they either have to make it the usage to fall into the agreement or pay a hell of a fine for failing to live up to their part of the bargain.

            The sad part is if this would have been say Dillard's, or The Men's Warehouse? Nobody would have gave a rat's ass, but because its MSFT the writers can use it for clickbait because they know the zealots that foam when they see the name Microsoft can use it for their two minutes of hate.

            Frankly I don't give a shit about any corp either way, if their tools do the job fine, if not I go somewhere else. but to get your panties in a wad because gasp! shock! a company had to fulfill an agreement? There is hatred and there is batshit zealoty and I'd say the clickbait falls into the latter.

      • Re:PPA's (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Immerman (2627577) on Wednesday September 26, 2012 @12:07AM (#41459977)

        Since folks seem to be listing their favorite emerging high-capacity energy storage technologies here I'll add my own - liquid metal batteries. Batteries the size of shipping containers containing the three layers of molten materials: a metal base, a lighter electrolyte, and an even lighter metal "cap". Since the electrodes are liquid they don't suffer from the degradation that eventually renders normal batteries ineffective. And as long as they're seeing heavy enough usage the internal resistance provides enough heat to keep everything molten, and the potential charging/dischargeing current is pretty phenomenal since you don't have to worry about destroying your electrodes in the process..

    • NOT A FINE (Score:4, Informative)

      by mschaffer (97223) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @09:38PM (#41458863)

      This is a penalty due to a contractual obligation. It's not a fine.
      It's still wasteful, though.

    • by El Puerco Loco (31491) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @11:43PM (#41459829)

      Yeah, what kind of sneaky company would ever write it's contracts in such a way that you have to pay for their product whether you use it or not?

      • The problem is they want MORE for not using it. Doesn't sound like MS had any problem with paying the $70k. They agreed to buy power at a bulk rate and that rate stands, use it or not. The problem they had is the utility company wanted to charge them more for not using power than for using it. The opted to simply use it.

        Think of it like this: Suppose I make a deal with you where you get two tanks of gas per month, for a year, at a fixed price. You do it to get a better price, I do it to get a revenue stream

        • by cdrguru (88047)

          What you are missing is that you cannot generate electricity and not have it used. It doesn't bleed off into space. You have to shut generating plants down if the electricity being generated is not being used. Today it is quite well known when electricity is needed and when it is not - except for commercial customers.

          What Microsoft did was contract for X amount of electricity and then didn't use it. The generating company had to rearrange a lot of stuff and shut down generators and start them back up ag

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @06:26PM (#41456807)

    It was a perfectly sane response to the situation, and btw the generation is from hydro so really what added pollution was there?
     

    • by icebike (68054) * on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @06:33PM (#41456905)

      Title there is ONLY because it was Microsoft.
      Any other company, and it would go unnoticed.

      Why wasn't the Washington state utility board dragged thru the mud on this one instead of a company acting responsibly to reduce energy consumption?

    • by rgbrenner (317308) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @06:56PM (#41457249)

      Microsoft signed an agreement to use X amount of electricity, almost certainly to get a lower price per kwh. They then used/purchased less electricity than they agreed to, and no longer qualified for the discount (hence the 210k "fine").

      What's the problem here?

      Can I get the same agreement for my home? I "promise" I'll use 1 billion kwh/month. Same pricing if I don't though.. right?

      • by Your.Master (1088569) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @07:03PM (#41457333)

        The problem is that there isn't a rational basis for not just allowing Microsoft to pay for $70k in power and not use it -- donate it for free back to the energy company, if you will. They have to actually waste the electricity to get lower prices. This situation isn't good for anybody.

        - The environment loses because, although this utility is a hydro source, energy is fungible and it's likely that a fossil plant had to make up the difference somewhere in the grid. I could be wrong, it's possible it would just have been dissipated (or just not extracted from the plant in the first place).
        - The utility loses out on $140k.
        - Microsoft has to burn a bunch of energy to no end.

        In this round, Microsoft got off easiest. Last round, the utility got off easiest. But there's no effective difference between this and Microsoft paying $70k and *not* consuming that power, except that the utility potentially can sell $70k of power elsewhere, which is actually good for them, or at worst, non-bad. Why is that not happening?

        • by Your.Master (1088569) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @07:08PM (#41457377)

          And actually, according to this article: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/24/technology/data-centers-in-rural-washington-state-gobble-power.html?pagewanted=all&_moc.semityn.www [nytimes.com]

          That's the same argument Microsoft made. The utility company tried to call their bluff, Microsoft wasn't bluffing so they started their heaters, and the utility company folded.

        • by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater&gmail,com> on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @08:04PM (#41457947) Homepage

          This is hydro power - not a stack of coal or a pipe full of natural gas behind a valve, and this complicates things. Those fuels sit still until you need them, but water keeps coming regardless.

          If Microsoft didn't use all the power, then the company didn't use all the water - which can mean they have too *much* water behind the dams when the spring run off starts next year... and they can't simply dump it because that has consequences downstream. (It's the same as if a customer ordered enough widgets from you to fill half your loading dock, and then not only refused to pay them - they refuse to pick them up either.) Most folks don't realize that hydro utilities must budget their water flow - some for irrigation, some for power generation, some for the fish ladder, some for downstream flow... it's a complicated business.

          • by Darinbob (1142669) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @08:42PM (#41458315)

            You can let water through the dam without generating electricity.

          • by black3d (1648913)
            Why is this modded insightful when it's completely incorrect? Dams *DO* perform runoffs (dumping it downstream) all the time, whenever their usage doesn't happen to mesh with the amount of actual rainfall, for example. If there's too much rain and they need to relieve some pressure, they do exactly that. If they want to run it through the turbines, they can do that without generating electricity from it if they really want to.

            Remember, the dam you're referring to has budgeted they *will* use that amount
    • by OzPeter (195038) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @06:57PM (#41457259)

      so really what added pollution was there?

      Heat pollution from running all those electrical devices.

    • Except that the hydro-generated electricity produced in Washington does get sold to other States. The use of that electricity by Microsoft meant that some other State probably had to generate electricity by some other means, creating pollution. My guess is that this fee has something to do with the lost revenue since they could have sold that electricity to another State at a higher price if they had enough advanced notice that Microsoft wasn't going to use it. I also suspect that there are incentives for t

  • by Jailbrekr (73837) <jailbrekr@digitaladdiction.net> on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @06:26PM (#41456811) Homepage

    This is an issue with a utility company. The fact that it was Microsoft is a red herring. If anything, utilities should have a pricing structure that punishes overconsumption and rewards under-consumption. In this instance the utility is ass backwards and they should be the ones who are shamed.

    • by queazocotal (915608) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @06:31PM (#41456879)

      Infrastructure costs money to put in.
      If you need signisicant extra infrastructure put in for your use, the normal pricing structure is likely to assume that you will use it, not simply (as a data centre might) leave it idle unless other power fails.

      The real fail is that Microsoft failed to negotiate a proper contract to avoid the needless waste of resource.

      • Infrastructure costs money to put in. So getting charged 100% of the cost of the electricity makes sense. Charging 300% makes no sense since presumably the usage cost would include the cost of extra infrastructure. "We had to increase our capacity to meet your demand." is a fair argument but unless the utility was selling the power to Microsoft at 33% of the actual cost then it makes no sense.

        • Charging 300% makes no sense

          i don't think that they were fined 300%, but that the reduce the excess by the time Mixrosoft gad used $70k's worth if power. From the article:

          The utility board capitulated and reduced the amend to $60k

          If nothing else, using that much electricity in one burst is a negotiating tactic as it puts a lot more pressure on the infrastructure than if it had been part of an increase over the entire year. They may have even needed to buy in power from other, perhaps more dirty sources to cope with the peak demand.

      • by Mashiki (184564) <mashiki@gmail . c om> on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @06:39PM (#41457015) Homepage

        There's an easy answer. They could simply build some wind mills or slap in some solar panels and then have the utility pay them at 30-80c/Kwh via a FiT(feed in tariff) like we do [nationalpost.com] here in Ontario for green energy. [financialpost.com] I'm sure that it would all balance out in time.

      • by icebike (68054) *

        They didn't build this dam for microsoft.
        It was build a long time ago and built at public expense.

      • by shentino (1139071)

        Just put a floor under their electric bill.

        X fee to connect, Y per kwh with a minimum of Z

        Bracketing them into a higher rate for using less power creates a sawtooth in the pricing graph.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @06:33PM (#41456909)

      The utility companies have no incentive at all to punish overconsumption. They make more money that way.

      They have very good reasons to punish underconsumption....if you don't buy enough from them they have trouble covering their costs.

      That is why electricity costs always go *up* during economic recessions....people scale back their use and so the companies have to charge more to maintain the same levels of profitability.

      And the utilities can get away with this because they are natural monopolies.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Grishnakh (216268)

        Wrong, the utilities get away with it because the government, which is supposed to regulate them, is corrupt.

      • And the utilities can get away with this because they are natural monopolies.

        Why are the utilities natural monopolies, other than because of city governments' failure to efficiently estimate the cost of tearing up a road to install conduit [mises.org]?

      • by Sta7ic (819090)

        Except in Texas. ERCOT can set some pretty funky rules by not having to worry about interstate commerce.

      • They do if they are competently run and member owned. In such a case, the utility doesn't make money. The purpose of the utility is thus getting the best cost-benefit results. This is possibly most prevalent with water utilities, who often can't feasibly increase their capacity beyond a certain point without enormous costs.
      • by JBMcB (73720)

        Not exactly. Power companies have an incentive to maximize the use of their existing power generation capability and infrastructure to within a certain threshold. As long as they are running at near-capacity, they are making the most profit possible (usually.)

        If they run maxed-out, though, then they have to start paying for infrastructure upgrades and maintenance, which cuts into the profit margin.

        This is why the electric utilities in New York City are giving away internet-programmable thermostats, so they

    • by timeOday (582209)
      How many businesses do you know of that encourage customers purchase less of their product? Energy producers won't encourage conservation unless their incentives are altered to make that rewarding. This is not so easy; if done naively you wind up with paradoxes like the most profitable power company being a shell company that exists only on paper and produces no power. (Don't believe it? Look at farm subsidies).
      • How many businesses do you know of that encourage customers purchase less of their product?

        During the launch of a new highly anticipated gadget, such as a game console or a tablet computer, the manufacturer may place limits on the number of units that each customer can buy so as to discourage scalpers.

    • by pla (258480)
      If anything, utilities should have a pricing structure that punishes overconsumption and rewards under-consumption. In this instance the utility is ass backwards and they should be the ones who are shamed.

      The utility company deals in huge aggregates of power, offering a relatively stable pricing structure by virtue of hedging against their know demand curve.

      In the case of overwhelmingly large consumers like a datacenter, utilities offer them reduced rates in exchange for locking in to a given use over
      • by icebike (68054) *

        Company on the hook?
        Pay real money that day?

        You do realize we are talking about a Hydro plant [wikipedia.org] built in 1959 right? Paid for at public expense decades ago?
        There is nothing PAID that DAY.

        There is always a market for hydro power because its so cheap in the Pacific Nortwest that you can
        wheel it all the way to LA at a moment's notice to handle the cooling load of their summer heat waves
        on the spot market.

    • I work in the power industry, so I can tell you that this is not necessarily the utility's fault. It is often the case that it costs utilities EXTRA when large industrial/commercial (ie non residential) consumers UNDER-consume. For example, if you tell the utility you want X megawatts of power the next day, they will bring on extra coal generation to meet that load, which is considered base load, while using cheap wind to fill in the peaking load. However, if you suddenly decide you only need half of that p
      • by jmv (93421)

        You can justify fines for under-consuming. However, there's no way you can justify the fines being higher than the cost of the electricity that was not consumed, as seems to be the case here. This is silly.

  • by timeOday (582209) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @06:28PM (#41456833)
    I can see why Microsoft has to plan ahead with the utility to produce the right amount of electricity, and agree to some penalty for a bad estimate, since the extra production and distribution capacity obviously are not free. But what's odd is that the fine for under-usage would be more expensive than the cost of full usage. You'd think the power company could at least reduce production somewhat and so give Microsoft partial credit for what they don't use.
    • Agreed. And I would go on to say that this is potentially *less* pollution. If Microsoft took the $140k they saved and put it into carbon offsets they would most likely come out with a negative emission balance by burning through the extra power.

      Microsoft already committed to going carbon neutral for their data center so I would imagine they probably did the cost analysis as: "We could burn $70k worth of power and spend $35k in carbon offsets and still come out neutral while saving $100k".

    • As someone else said, the power generation is hydro, so no pollution. They promised the power company a minimum usage level (most likely to get the power company to invest in infrastructure to support the data center well), they might as well keep up the promise.

      • Electricity is somewhat fungible, within transmission limits. There likely was some power draw from non-hydro sources.

        But anyway, it's difficult to understand how actually using energy is better for anybody than paying as if you used that energy (and not a cent more) while not actually using it. The only thing I can imagine is if there's some stress on the energy company to dissipate the excess power. I doubt very much that comes close to $140k to dissipate $70k worth of power, though.

        • But anyway, it's difficult to understand how actually using energy is better for anybody than paying as if you used that energy (and not a cent more) while not actually using it. The only thing I can imagine is if there's some stress on the energy company to dissipate the excess power. I doubt very much that comes close to $140k to dissipate $70k worth of power, though.

          It helps recoup some of the investment the power company made specifically for this data center (I dont see why Microsoft would have agreed to a minimum usage level if they did not want something back from the power company).

    • by icebike (68054) *

      Its Hydro power.

      Its essentially free once you hit the tax payers for the initial construction costs of the dam and generation facilities.

      There are always other customers.
      You flip a switch, close a penstock or two and spool down a couple generators, or you flip another switch and sell your excess over the national grid. You do this without even getting up out of your chair.

      • by countach (534280)

        Yeah, but probably someone had to burn coal to make up for that lost hydro power. Especially since hydro tends to be valuable base load electricity.

        • by icebike (68054) *

          If so, it wasn't THIS State Power Utility that burned coal.

          This data center is powered by the Wanapum Dam, on the Columbia. They have a reliable watershed, and year around production, and no shortage of customers over the national grid.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wanapum_Dam [wikipedia.org]

  • How? (Score:5, Funny)

    by MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @06:30PM (#41456867)

    To avoid similar penalties for 'underconsumption of electricity' this year, the data center burned through $70,000 worth of electricity in three days.

    What'd they do, shift all the load to AMD servers?

    • What'd they do, shift all the load to AMD servers?

      Nah, just cranked the AC on high and left all the lights on and spare servers powered up running Prime.

    • What'd they do, shift all the load to AMD servers?

      Don't be silly. Every one of the towers come with a huge button named in bright letters TURBO. They pushed that button in every machine.

    • What'd they do, shift all the load to AMD servers?

      Nah, they found an old Pentium 4 desktop, switched that on, and ran Crysis on it.
      But they had to lower the gfx settings because all the lights started to dim.

  • Think of all the bitcoins that could have being generated... RIP

    • At current exchange rates, the maximum you can earn from bitcoin "mining" (securing the transaction history) is $86400 per day. The current network hash rate is 270 petaflops. So how much they could have earned depends on how many Pflops they could throw at the problem.

  • From the article, it sounds like Microsoft had an agreement with the local utility to use X amount of power.
    Now, first question, why would an agreement like that be in place?
    1 of 2 reasons comes to mind;

    1. Massive tax breaks to house the data-center there, provided they use a certain amount of power which can be taxed and recouped back to the state.
    2. Utility built out the infrastructure just for Microsoft, and since MS is not using their expected power load, they want to bill them the difference.

    Regardless

    • by icebike (68054) *

      #2 is totally wrong. The Hydro plant was built before Bill Gates was out of diapers. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wanapum_Dam [wikipedia.org]

      Microsoft moved there because Grant County PUD was having problems selling all their power, and it was dirt cheap to build there.

      Since then, power demand has gone up, and GCPud has a multitude of customers, anywhere on the national grid.

  • by Sta7ic (819090) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @06:49PM (#41457147)

    The fact that it's M$, as mentioned above, is a fluke. Large power consumers will enter into contracts that say 'we will use Xm to XM power annually with S loadshape, will not consume more than L peak power at once, and will throttle our power use up or down if asked to N times a year fo D days.'

    Deals like this help optimize generation and keeps the grid balanced. Unlike in SimCity, you can't just plop down a stack of generators and wait for load to catch up with it, the generators have to output at a fixed 50/60hz (+/- a little). Like a truck engine, the fuel required to keep a particular speed is dependent on the load at any one time. Forecasting this load then becomes an issue that a *lot* of utilities put time, money, and effort into, so that they can ramp up or down as needed, keep to their own contracts of power quality and quantity, and efficiently use the generators they have. It's not like they're happy about selling less power when the loan payments on the multimillion US$ generator comes up each month.

    The power customer with simply taking the more contractually prudent course of action ~ spending $70k, rather than spending $210k. The fine is as much to cover the fuel burned on generators that were left spinning for the customer as to thwack them upside the head about contracts.

    (disclaimer, I write software for the energy industry)

  • by Picardo85 (1408929) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @06:50PM (#41457167)
    Pollutes? Well that's a really extrem term. The used up energy to no end. But that's not directly pollution. With headlines like this it feels like slashdot is becoming a tabloid.

    Most of us here at slashdot know that energy is produced anyway and we are fairly unable to store it. If anything we're unable to store it in any efficient way. If it is like the first post here says too, that it was produced with hydro-power, then where's the problem?
  • by goffster (1104287) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @06:51PM (#41457177)

    Simply stating "Your minimum electric bill shall be x" would have made everyone happy.

  • Here in Australia we're regularly reminder to be 'water wise' because we live in such an arid country. (I'm not arguing this point.)
    Earlier this year we were whacked with higher water rates (Sydney) explicitly because the water board's revenue fell because general water conservation proceeded too well.

    And get this: a desalination plant was recently constructed in Sydney which the government is contractually obliged to run for x hours per year. Because of that, they redirect fresh water from dams (which are

  • One Newer MS datacenter has it's own substation on site and substations are not cheap to build so that cab be why part of the deal was that we where to use X power or pay a fine.

  • by PopeRatzo (965947) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @07:08PM (#41457383) Homepage Journal

    Look a little closer...

    Microsoft, when it was looking for a place to locate, chose this rural Washington town because the town offered them electricity at about 1/3 the regular going rate, as long as they purchased a certain amount of electricity from this municipal utility.

    It was a contract, one of those things that both sides are supposed to honor.

    Microsoft didn't have to "wastefully burn" the additional energy, but they were contractually obligated to meet the conditions of the contract: cheap electricity if bought in bulk.

    Microsoft could have just met the contractual obligation by paying what it had promised to pay.

    The entire "wastefully burning" energy was done by Microsoft to try to shame the municipality into giving them an even sweeter sweetheart deal, something that mega-corporations are doing in all 50 states. Create enough negative publicity ("Government forces Microsoft to waste electricity!!!") and the municipality would say, "Sure, fine, don't pay us what you promised to pay us when we gave you the land, built the infrastructure that your datacenter required and gave you enormous tax dodges on top of that. Just stop saying we forced you to waste energy!".

    This is why you have to look a layer or two deeper than the headline or summary when you see a story that seems a little too neatly designed to create outrage.

    • by guidryp (702488)

      Look a little closer...

      Microsoft, when it was looking for a place to locate, chose this rural Washington town because the town offered them electricity at about 1/3 the regular going rate, as long as they purchased a certain amount of electricity from this municipal utility.

      Yes, Microsoft should have just paid the fine.

      With the stunt they pulled the municipality should declare the cheap energy contract void and charge them full price for power from now on.

      Load forecasting is a huge deal. In my province we can end up having to Pay other jurisdictions millions of dollars to take away our excess power when the forecast is off.

      Microsoft screwed the municipality twice, first by significantly missing their estimates, creating a low load situation, then again with the heater stunt,

    • by Kalriath (849904)

      I'm pretty sure Microsoft would have been quite happy to pay what they promised to pay - instead the municipality is trying to charge them three times the estimate (seriously - the consequence for overestimating power usage by $70,000 was $210,000. That is unjustifiable).

      But hey, don't let facts get in the way of your anti-Microsoft hate spewing.

  • Then they should have sounded the horn in their advertising saying they actually pay fines for not using enough power, and link to proof.

    See how long the power company keeps fining them, I don't care if they did sign a contract. A monthly minimum amount with the ability to buy more, like mobile phone minutes would have been the better option than a yearly amount with options to fine.

  • I'd be curious if they converted that $70,000 of power into $70,000 worth of bitcoin during that 3 days. Seems like it would be a good way to offset the costs.
  • by bi$hop (878253) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @08:22PM (#41458145)
    I have a love/hate relationship with Slashdot. One thing is for sure: I'm tired of all the *nix fan boys who find every possible way to smear Microsoft. Here are a few alternative titles, just to irk the haters:

    "Microsoft wisely saves $140,000 by simply using electricity."

    "Microsoft deliberately uses electricity to avoid ridiculous fine."

    "Microsoft forces utility board to reduce ludicrous fine by $10,000."

    "Microsoft exposes power company's pollution-inducing practices."

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