Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Microsoft Pollutes To Avoid Fines

Unknown Lamer posted about 2 years ago | from the kafka-runs-the-power-company dept.

Microsoft 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."

cancel ×

295 comments

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Wait, what? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41456779)

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

PPA's (5, Interesting)

ArhcAngel (247594) | about 2 years ago | (#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:Wait, what? (1)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | about 2 years ago | (#41457585)

I toured Quincy.

What a hole.

Re:Wait, what? (0, Troll)

Locutus (9039) | about 2 years ago | (#41457729)

they probably over stated how many people would be using their services( servers ) so they got tax breaks etc for putting the data center there with the understanding of how much they'd spend on things like energy. These "expenses" were calculated for how much revenue was put back into the community/State/etc.

So nobody is using BING and hotmail usage is going down so they are not using enough energy and get fined for not meeting their obligations. Make sense now?

LoB

stupid inaccurate title as usual (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41456807)

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

Re:stupid inaccurate title as usual (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41456873)

Mod Up!

Re:stupid inaccurate title as usual (5, Interesting)

icebike (68054) | about 2 years ago | (#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?

Re:stupid inaccurate title as usual (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41457187)

Would've gotten the same hate if it'd have been Apple too.

Re:stupid inaccurate title as usual (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41457203)

Any other company, and it would go unnoticed.

Perhaps you've heard of this company called Apple?
I think they make computers, or something.

Re:stupid inaccurate title as usual (2)

robthebloke (1308483) | about 2 years ago | (#41457261)

I'd heard it was a landscape gardening company with a penchant for dry stone walling?

Re:stupid inaccurate title as usual (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41457359)

fyi the hydro power in WA state is controlled by the feds since federal funding built the damns

Re:stupid inaccurate title as usual (3, Informative)

icebike (68054) | about 2 years ago | (#41457423)

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

Check your facts.

Re:stupid inaccurate title as usual (1)

OhSoLaMeow (2536022) | about 2 years ago | (#41457717)

Wanapum Dam is not the only supplier of power to Washington State:
Bonneville Dam [nawindpower.com] provides a significant amount of power to the Pacific Northwest and they are a federal agency.

Re:stupid inaccurate title as usual (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41457115)

I agree! Upvote!

Re:stupid inaccurate title as usual (5, Informative)

rgbrenner (317308) | about 2 years ago | (#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?

Re:stupid inaccurate title as usual (5, Insightful)

Your.Master (1088569) | about 2 years ago | (#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?

Re:stupid inaccurate title as usual (5, Informative)

Your.Master (1088569) | about 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:stupid inaccurate title as usual (3, Insightful)

OzPeter (195038) | about 2 years ago | (#41457259)

so really what added pollution was there?

Heat pollution from running all those electrical devices.

Re:stupid inaccurate title as usual (2)

AmonRa1979 (797618) | about 2 years ago | (#41457285)

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 the companies generating electricity to offer it first to Washington State businesses... there are probably laws regulating that too since the rivers in Washington State are a resource of the people of Washington.

Re:stupid inaccurate title as usual (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41457373)

If that was the case it would have been cheaper for Microsoft to pay the fine.
So the penalty made is cheaper to waste the electricity.

Re:stupid inaccurate title as usual (1)

AmonRa1979 (797618) | about 2 years ago | (#41457487)

I'm not sure what you mean. Microsoft had a choice to burn through $70,000 of electricity (priced lower because the people of Washington are allowing their resource to be used by this electrical company) or pay a fine 3 times higher. The fine is there because the regulation doesn't artificially lower the price for interstate sales. The company could have sold it else where for a higher price, but due to regulation I suspect they are required to sell to Washington State businesses first at a regulated rate. Also, it's not like you can stock up an infinite amount of water behind a dam, so the electrical company needs to know in advance when its electricity is being used. I'm sure they have to plan months in advance for estimated water coming into the dam... contracts must be issued in advance to sell it outside of the State. Coming from Washington, I know that there are regulations like the one I stated above. However, I don't know the extent or limitations put on electrical companies for selling it out of State. So, that's why I used the word "guess" in there.

Re:stupid inaccurate title as usual (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41457501)

Thats not how hydro power works, Hydro is a great base power, its always running, but its quite difficult to change the load, especially to raise it up to power microsoft needed those 3 days. I can guarantee you the plant had to use an old coal-fire generator, or a natural gas burner to be able to handle the increased load

Bad policy + microsoft = Slashdot story (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41456809)

The story here is the idiots in state & local government that put in place stupid policies. Microsoft is doing what any rational person would. Burn through the equivalent of 1/3 of (last year's) fine to avoid paying triple that amount?

What would you do?

Unknown Lamer really lived up to his name with this one.

Re:Bad policy + microsoft = Slashdot story (2, Interesting)

mspohr (589790) | about 2 years ago | (#41457743)

Microsoft had a contract to buy a certain amount of power and get a good discount. They didn't buy enough power so had to pay a higher price.
I don't think this has anything to do with "idiots in state and local government".
It's a contract matter between the power producer and a corporation.

If Microsoft had been able to convince more people to use Bing and Hotmail they wouldn't be in this position.
(Cue the Bing and Hotmail jokes.)

This is not a Microsoft issue (4, Insightful)

Jailbrekr (73837) | about 2 years ago | (#41456811)

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.

Re:This is not a Microsoft issue (4, Insightful)

queazocotal (915608) | about 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:This is not a Microsoft issue (2)

im_thatoneguy (819432) | about 2 years ago | (#41456977)

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.

Re:This is not a Microsoft issue (1)

Gadget_Guy (627405) | about 2 years ago | (#41457489)

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.

Re:This is not a Microsoft issue (4, Interesting)

Mashiki (184564) | about 2 years ago | (#41457015)

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.

Re:This is not a Microsoft issue (2)

icebike (68054) | about 2 years ago | (#41457037)

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

Re:This is not a Microsoft issue (1)

AK Marc (707885) | about 2 years ago | (#41457609)

So why did the public pay to build a dam to be run by people so incompetent they are paying users to waste electricity?

Re:This is not a Microsoft issue (-1, Flamebait)

icebike (68054) | about 2 years ago | (#41457755)

Its Washington State.

Run by democrats. It isn't Alaska. Stuff doesn't have to make sense there.

Re:This is not a Microsoft issue (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41457039)

Bull. Shit.

That isn't a fail. That's decade or hundred year planning.

It isn't my fault you assholes want me to lay copper or pipe a dozen times and shut everything down for your idiots to put in new copper five years from now.

If I have you put in infrastructure for the future, that's usually called /investing/. And only a psychotic anti ms shill would blame microsoft for needless waste for planning toward future capacity.

Re:This is not a Microsoft issue - fine not needed (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41457125)

Simply: No Fine needed. If they underutilize, just charge them the full amount of what they contracted for.

Being that this is a public utility company they should be set up to provide the best benefit for the public(Everyone in the state/world) as possible. So it costs money to install infrastructure. Fine. Set their bill up so their regular rate covers the infrastructure their usage demands. If they use less than expected. Meh. Still charge them the full amount. No need for a underutilization fine. If they use over charge them the overage rate for the amount over they use.

Re:This is not a Microsoft issue (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41457207)

Infrastructure costs money to put in.

True, but that should be dealt with by having a higher base cost. For example, in my previous apartment, I was paying about twice as much per month as a base cost to have a natural gas hookup than I was paying in natural gas consumption charges. (e.g. it cost about $20/month even if I didn't use a single therm of natural gas, and my natural gas bill typically was $30/month total. Note that it was a heat-included apartment where the only thing I used natural gas for was the stove, and the gas stove was existing before I moved in, and the landlord wasn't inclined to change the setup.)

Even with base costs, bulk discounts (or over-consumption penalties), consumption should always be monotonically increasing. There should never be a point at where it's cheaper to consume X+Y units of energy than it is to consume only X units of energy. (Same price, maybe, but cheaper? Never.)

And that stupidity is squarely on the shoulders of the utility company. Microsoft was probably trying to get the best deal it could, and a plan that does $0.05/kWhr but with a penalty for going under 10 GWhr makes much more sense than a no-limit $0.07/kWhr plan, even if you only expect to use 8 GWhr of electricity and have to dump the remaining 2 GWhr into lava lamps. If those were the two choices (they weren't - the numbers were made up), I don't fault Microsoft for taking the plan with the fine. I fault the utility company for making those the two choices.

I think you missed his point. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41457427)

His point was: they shouldn't have to.

Re:This is not a Microsoft issue (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#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:This is not a Microsoft issue (1, Insightful)

Grishnakh (216268) | about 2 years ago | (#41457073)

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

Why are the utilities natural monopolies? (2)

tepples (727027) | about 2 years ago | (#41457087)

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] ?

Re:Why are the utilities natural monopolies? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41457669)

Because I don't want a different utility company digging up the road in front of my house every other month.
It's bad enough with one company doing this.
The water company seems to love digging up the road, especially a couple of weeks after it's been freshly asphalted.

You're seeing that very inefficiency (1)

tepples (727027) | about 2 years ago | (#41457765)

Because I don't want a different utility company digging up the road in front of my house every other month.

An efficient price for utility construction permits would take into account this inconvenience. But because the city owns all the roads, there's no way to find the most efficient price.

Re:This is not a Microsoft issue (1)

Sta7ic (819090) | about 2 years ago | (#41457183)

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

Re:This is not a Microsoft issue (1)

king neckbeard (1801738) | about 2 years ago | (#41457273)

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.

Re:This is not a Microsoft issue (1)

JBMcB (73720) | about 2 years ago | (#41457367)

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 can turn up the thermostat during peak electricity consumption in the summer so the grids don't get overloaded.

Re:This is not a Microsoft issue (1)

timeOday (582209) | about 2 years ago | (#41456925)

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).

Scalpers (1)

tepples (727027) | about 2 years ago | (#41457171)

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.

Re:Scalpers (1)

causality (777677) | about 2 years ago | (#41457509)

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.

Just curious: if I am a company, why would I care about scalpers?

The only thing I can think of would be items like a game console, where the console itself is not very profitable and may even be a loss-leader. In that case, you want as many different customers to own one as possible so you can make the money on games, streaming media and other services. But then, scalpers want to make money too, so pricing themselves above what the market will bear isn't in their interests either.

So other than a "maybe", I can't think of a good reason why companies care about scalpers. Could you explain?

Re:This is not a Microsoft issue (2)

pla (258480) | about 2 years ago | (#41457201)

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 a given period of time. When Microsoft says they want a contract for 200GWH over the next year, their supplier has a legal (as well as fiscal) obligation to make sure they actually cover their side of the deal. They pay real money, that day, to "cover the bet", so to speak. Then when Microsoft comes up $210k short of honoring their side of the bargain, the utility ends up on the hook for the remainder. As a result, the utility phrases their contracts to basically force delivery whether they want it or not.

So really, this boils down to a simple contractual issue. Microsoft used less than they agreed to, the contract specified damages for that, end of story. If you really want to spin this as an environmental atrocity issue, look at it like this - Microsoft agreed to buy X from their CEP. The CEP agreed to sell that power, and then in turn agreed to buy X from someone who actually makes electricity, on the open market. Someone bought that option and then bought real, actual fuel to produce the power it represents.

So somewhere, Microsoft has effectively wasted $210k worth of fuel. Yes, we should certainly applaud them for using less energy - But they need to reflect that in their supply contracts.

It sounds great to say that I used less water this year, until you realize that I have an open pipe gushing from my front lawn and "used less" just means I let more of it water the lawn.

Re:This is not a Microsoft issue (2)

icebike (68054) | about 2 years ago | (#41457301)

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.

Re:This is not a Microsoft issue (1)

AmonRa1979 (797618) | about 2 years ago | (#41457737)

Keep in mind that the water is a resource of Washington State (and Oregon, if you want to consider those downstream on the Columbia). So, the electrical company is most likely required by law to offer the electricity to Washington State people and businesses first, at a regulated rate. Had they known that Microsoft wasn't going to use that electricity, they would have sold it to another State at a higher price (I doubt Washington would regulate the price for interstate sales). Also keep in mind that with a dam, you can't just change electrical generation on a whim. You have to plan well in advance on how much electricity is being consumed and compare that to the estimated amount of water that might flow down the river in to your reservoir. If you are going to sell electricity to another utility company, you need to set up a contract well in advance. You also need to know that you can deliver the energy they purchased. The electricity isn't just sent across country on a whim, it's usually done with very strict contracts made well in advance.

Re:This is not a Microsoft issue (2)

theEnguneer (2676207) | about 2 years ago | (#41457443)

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 power, the utility can not switch off that extra coal generation, because coal plants have long ramp up and ramp down times. So since the utility can't turn off the coal, it has to turn off the wind. However, due to other contracts, the utility often still has to pay the wind generators the same amount, as if they were still buying electricity from them. So now suddenly the utility is stuck with extra costs of having to burn extra coal, while at the same time wasting the cheap wind power. This is the reason for the fines for underconsumption. This is also the reason why sometimes, on a windy day, you see wind turbines not moving--it is not the utility being stupid. The real culprits here are the people at Microsoft responsible for estimating how much power their servers will require, so that they can draft contract that better matches their actual electricity needs.

wait what? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41456821)

Why would an "fine" for under-consumption (that's a "term in a contract", luv) be greater than the cost of the amount of product not consumed? A first year law student would have identified a clause like that as stupid.

Re:wait what? (1)

icebike (68054) | about 2 years ago | (#41456945)

Why would there be a fine for underutilization of a scarce resource serving a wide swath of the public power needs in the first place?

The Dam was built and operated with public funds!!

Re:wait what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41457675)

Because of load balancing issues. The contract may state that MS had to use certain power at certain times, and not doing so would through off the demand balance of the utility, potentially causing voltage rises/dips to other customers. Having a large consumer start using/not using power at times can be a bad thing as well. Electricity can't usually be stored, and so its a careful balance between demand and production. Production can only be ramped up over the course of a half hour or so, and only from certain sources.

So if MS started using power outside of the hours the utility expected, it could lead to problems for the grid as a whole. Too much consumption leads to dips, too little leads to spikes.

In britain, the national powergrid has to spin up production just as a popular show ends, since 1.5 million people then get up to make a pot of tea.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WCAzalhldg8

what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41456827)

but..i don't even...

Strange fee structure (3, Insightful)

timeOday (582209) | about 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Strange fee structure (1)

im_thatoneguy (819432) | about 2 years ago | (#41456937)

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".

Re:Strange fee structure (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41457753)

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.

Sorry if this is a newb question. What actually happens when you buy carbon offsets? Where does that money go and how is it used? What kind of companies sell offsets? How do they perform the offset?

Re:Strange fee structure (1)

ThatsMyNick (2004126) | about 2 years ago | (#41456947)

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.

Re:Strange fee structure (1)

Your.Master (1088569) | about 2 years ago | (#41457199)

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.

Re:Strange fee structure (1)

ThatsMyNick (2004126) | about 2 years ago | (#41457305)

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).

Re:Strange fee structure (1)

icebike (68054) | about 2 years ago | (#41457011)

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.

Re:Strange fee structure (1)

countach (534280) | about 2 years ago | (#41457089)

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.

Re:Strange fee structure (1)

icebike (68054) | about 2 years ago | (#41457197)

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]

Re:Strange fee structure (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41457313)

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.

No, it's not "essentially free".

You even said it yourself: the power could have been sold off to another utility and replaced power generated by a polluting source.

Re:Strange fee structure (1)

icebike (68054) | about 2 years ago | (#41457409)

That it could be sold does not make it less free to run your turbines than to shut them down. (Neglecting wear and tear, which is pretty minimal on hydro plants).

How? (5, Funny)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | about 2 years ago | (#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?

Re:How? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41456949)

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

Probably put cooling systems to maximum.

Re:How? (1)

Jeremy Erwin (2054) | about 2 years ago | (#41457505)

Some sort of heater.

That is when Microsoft threatened to waste tremendous amounts of power by simply running giant heaters for no purpose, according to utility officials who said they were briefed on the matter by Microsoft, unless the penalty was largely forgiven. The idea was to burn the power fast enough to move closer to the forecast before year’s end.

Documents related to the case and interviews with utility officials show that Microsoft started burning roughly an additional five million to seven million watts — well over half of the consumption of the entire town of Quincy — in mid-December.

Quincy, Washington has a population of 6750 [wikipedia.org] in case you're wondering.

Re:How? (1)

girlintraining (1395911) | about 2 years ago | (#41456965)

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.

I hope they used it for Seti (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41456887)

But the probably used it to solve something special like optimizing an idle loop.

When you have free CPU and need to ramp it up and require more power (which in itself is probably only a 20-30% increase in wattage for full load), I would expect that it's done for something useful.

Re:I hope they used it for Seti (2)

king neckbeard (1801738) | about 2 years ago | (#41457103)

At the very least, they could have mined themselves some bitcoins.

Re:I hope they used it for Seti (2)

dohzer (867770) | about 2 years ago | (#41457309)

I asked a friend who works there.
They used it for Folding@Home.
Such a waste. :(

I'm sorry but... (0)

SomePgmr (2021234) | about 2 years ago | (#41456913)

...to avoid a quarter million dollars in fees, I'd light a valley of old tires on fire, put it out with old refrigerant, and back fill old faithful with the remnants.

Ok, not really... but what the hell? That just a really, really bad consumption-based contract with the utility?

Bitcoins... (1)

spaceplanesfan (2120596) | about 2 years ago | (#41456919)

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

Re:Bitcoins... (1)

DanielRavenNest (107550) | about 2 years ago | (#41457095)

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.

Journalists. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41456939)

"Microsoft's desire to avoid a fine combined with a power company's strict electricity usage rules resulted in the software giant deliberately wasting millions of watts of power, according to the New York Times."

Re:Journalists. (1)

SigNuZX728 (635311) | about 2 years ago | (#41457007)

That was my reaction too when the Verge posted this a couple days ago. The guy is supposed to be a technology journalist, and he talks about them using "millions of watts" of electricity.

Re:Journalists. (2)

Jeremy Erwin (2054) | about 2 years ago | (#41457643)

There are 24 hours in a day. If you consume a million watts continuously for nonproductive purposes you can waste 24,000 kWH of electricity. If each kWH costs you 3.5 cents, you can waste 840 dollars per day of electricity. If your contract requires you to use $70,000 dollars worth of electricity by the end of the year,or face a more expensive penalty, you can save money by running those heaters continuously for 83 straight days. But the deadline is in only 14 days! What to do? Easy. Just increase the wastage to 6 million watts.

The logistics of this little operation sound impressive.

 

LOL (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41456999)

Meanwhile the EU is banning incandescent light bulbs because of inefficiencies. When society no longer provides a benefit for its members: Society is screwed.

We can solve this with even MORE gov't rules! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41457027)

By God, what we need here are even MORE government rules!

That will solve this.

Look at this for what it is..... (1)

Kr1ll1n (579971) | about 2 years ago | (#41457035)

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, sounds to me like Microsoft is actually paying for what they use, and are now being fined because somebody expected them to use more.

Asinine, is what it is.

Re:Look at this for what it is..... (1)

icebike (68054) | about 2 years ago | (#41457365)

#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.

Lobbying (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41457067)

Why wouldn't MS send its army of lobbyists to war against this problem? It would serve the greater good.

Also, a company sitting on a pile of cash should just pay the fine rather than doing the expedient thing which is totally backwards.

Re:Lobbying (1)

nedlohs (1335013) | about 2 years ago | (#41457363)

Why bother. What they did seems to have worked fine.

Last cycle the utility decided to enforce the penalty for not using thhe contracted amount of electricity which was more than just charging MS for the additional amount and pretending they used it (which I would assume it what MS hoped they'd do). So this time MS concentrated all the additional usage they needed to use up into as small a time frame as they could manage - in order to make it as painful as possible for the utility to deal with.

And they got their agreement this time without bothering with lobbyists.

Re: (1)

andrew2325 (2647845) | about 2 years ago | (#41457105)

This is madness to me. It makes me laugh like a maniac walking through walmart.

Load contracts (2)

Sta7ic (819090) | about 2 years ago | (#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)

Re:Load contracts (0)

Kagato (116051) | about 2 years ago | (#41457655)

Mod parent up.

Slashdot becoming a tabloid page? (2)

Picardo85 (1408929) | about 2 years ago | (#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?

this was, of course, a stupid clause (2)

goffster (1104287) | about 2 years ago | (#41457177)

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

Parallel: Punished for Conserving Water (1)

skegg (666571) | about 2 years ago | (#41457297)

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 now, thankfully, relatively full) into the ocean because otherwise they wouldn't need to run the desal machinery.

Now, I can see how each of these individual decisions was arrived at. But I can't help but wonder if some future, more enlightened society will look back and shake their heads at how small we were.

One Newer MS datacenter has it's own substation (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 2 years ago | (#41457307)

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.

This reminds me of California's water problem (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41457323)

It hasn't happened to us AFAIK, and even if it did the owner pays water, but...

I heard in the East Bay some residents were paying higher rates because they failed to reduce their water consumption during a dry spell.

The problem? They were already consuming less water before the drought, and had no room to reduce. That's right. The utility was basing rates on the percentage of reduction during times of tight supply, instead of absolute usage.

Result? I find myself thinking, "better let the faucet run long when there's not a drought, so that when there is a drought I can conserve and the landlord won't call me up and tell me the rent is increasing because utilities cost too much".

Really, any sane policy is going to be based on how many rooms you have in your house. The asessors know this, and it's public knowledge so the utility could pull it. Legal occupancy is based on rooms in the house, so as a pleasant side effect people that are jamming too many occupants into a house would pay higher water bills too.

devil in the details again (2, Interesting)

PopeRatzo (965947) | about 2 years ago | (#41457383)

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.

Re:devil in the details again (2)

guidryp (702488) | about 2 years ago | (#41457579)

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 creating a high load situation.

This should be a lesson for the next jurisdiction looking to sign one of these generous deals to lure a company that will stab them in the back at the first sign things aren't going their way.

They should have paid the fine, (1)

pecosdave (536896) | about 2 years ago | (#41457399)

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.

"commercially unproductive manner?" (1)

hawks5999 (588198) | about 2 years ago | (#41457465)

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.

All Hell To Follow (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41457559)

A penalty for failure to use power signals the beginning of a coming economic horror story. As homes and businesses start to provide their own energy it means that any given square in a power grid will pay less and less to the power companies. That means that at first only small numbers of people go off the grid and there is a small increase in unit cost to cover the loss of sales. Then we get to the point at which half of all homes and businesses no longer purchase power and the cost to those still on the grid more than doubles. Tiny businesses and poor families will be the first to fail. By the time two thirds of homes and businesses are off the grid the cost of power to a home or small business will be crushing. It is rather like trying to provide high speed cable in remote areas. When homes are twenty miles a part there are lots of problems supplying cable or even phone service. Now the perverted notion that those that supply their own power must suddenly be taxed to support those too poor to get their own off the grid abilities is as backwards as an idea can get.

BING! BING! BINGO! (1)

Kagato (116051) | about 2 years ago | (#41457677)

I think the real issue is why didn't the datacenter come up to capacity. To me the answer is BING. That is to say the reports indicate the primary function of the data center was to service the Bing service. Me thinks Microsoft's expectations were a bit high when they signed the contract in the first place.

Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>