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Doug Krizner: The state of Washington is the nation’s top apple producer. Now, its got a new cash crop: computer servers. Server farms are sprouting up in rural communities along the Columbia River because of the region’s inexpensive electricity. Jason Paur reports.
Jason Paur: After driving past acres and acres of apple orchards, I’m standing in a non-descript office building about two hours east of Seattle. It’s a quiet place, until Kevin Timmons opens a door on the top floor.
Kevin Timmons: I’m about to take you into where the actual Internet lives, here in central Washington.
Timmons is the vice president of operations for Yahoo. And those are computers you hear. There are thousands of square feet filled with nothing but servers stacked from floor to ceiling that store much of the content Yahoo provides.
Simmons says Yahoo was drawn to the region by the cheap electricity to not only power the computers, but also to cool them.
Timmons: Electricity is one of our largest single line items as far as our expenses for one of these centers. So that’s certainly a key consideration to locate a center.
Cheap electricity is just one issue. Simply having enough is another. Even a small server farm can use as much electricity as several thousand homes.
In many urban areas, these facilities would be too much of a drain on the local power grid. But here along the Columbia River, where numerous hydroelectric dams produce the abundant cheap power, local communities are happy to have the extra business.
Pat Connely is a port commissioner in Quincy, a town about 45 minutes down the river.
Pat Connely: This does bring a lot of revenue into the area. We just view it as a good thing, it diversifies our economy a whole bunch so we’re not dependent solely on agriculture.
Microsoft, Intuit and Yahoo are all opening server facilities in Quincy in the coming months. And when many of the surrounding fields are covered in snow, these new farms will continue to produce a bounty crop of data 24 hours a day.
I’m Jason Paur for Marketplace.
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