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Microsoft Pollutes To Avoid Fines 295

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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  • by Jailbrekr ( 73837 ) <> 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 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.
  • 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.

  • 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.

  • by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @06:44PM (#41457073)

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

  • 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.

  • 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 DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <> 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.

  • Re:PPA's (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <bassbeast1968 AT gmail DOT 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.

  • 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.


  • 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 DOT 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.

Solutions are obvious if one only has the optical power to observe them over the horizon. -- K.A. Arsdall