The Port of Grays Harbor and the Grays Harbor PUD have joined forces to study building a coastal “landing station” for transoceanic fiber optic cable and are working together on a plan to expand power capacity at the Satsop Business Park.
The landing station would be a 10,000 square foot facility to serve as a hub for fiber optic cable providing high speed data delivery. The cable would be laid along the ocean bottom in a connection between Asia and North America. From the station on the coast, lines could be expanded throughout the county, potentially attracting large-scale data-related businesses to the region.
“I think it’s a good example of how the county, Port and PUD are working together to try to create an economic development opportunity,” said PUD General Manager Dave Ward. “It could be a good opportunity to develop a technology sector.”
Fiber optic cable would leave the coastal cable landing and be routed to the Satsop Business Park. This would increase its data transfer abilities; that, coupled with the large amount of available space, could prove attractive to potential investors looking at creating large-scale data centers there. The cable would then be routed to the I-5 corridor to provide connectivity to the Seattle and Portland areas.
The PUD and the Port secured an $80,000 economic development grant from the county to fund the feasibility study in its entirety.
“The feasibility study looks at what would be a good site, what would be a good route to the Satsop Business Park, how it could tie in with the I-5 corridor,” said Ward.
There will be a special joint meeting of the PUD and Port commissioners Tuesday, Dec. 18, at 3:30 p.m. in the Port of Grays Harbor commission meeting chambers to reveal the results of the study and discuss expanding the power capacity at the business park. The feasibility report will be summarized and representatives from the consulting firm that authored the study, Sound & Sea Technologies, will be on hand to explain the results.
It’s not the construction or staffing of the landing station but the expansion of high speed cable from it that could trigger economic growth in the region, said Alissa Shay, Satsop Business Park Manager of Business Development.
“If the cable ran through the Satsop Business Park the benefit would be it would make it more likely that something like a data center would come here, but it’s not a given,” she said. She added that the business park currently has multiple fiber routes from both the east and west; Shay said in general terms the current fiber capacity could support a data center, but the customer would have to work with the various owners and providers of the fiber infrastructure to make it workable.
”However, we do not have the power capacity to handle a large scale data center at this time,” said Shay. “Regardless of whether it’s a data center or a large manufacturer we are going to need more power capacity.”
That explains the Port’s desire to increase the power capacity at the Satsop Business Park.
“What we would do is work with the Bonneville Power Administration to make sure we have enough capacity to keep up with the expansion we’re hoping and planning for,” said PUD spokesman Ian Cope.
Cope said the PUD and the Port are “in a position to do a pretty simple thing, technically speaking.” That would be connecting a PUD substation to one of the Bonneville system’s, which would “take care of immediate power needs and provide capacity for significant expansion in the future,” said Cope. More details of the project will be revealed at the meeting Tuesday.
According to a 2017 report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a “typical data center” can create 1,688 local jobs during an 18-24-month construction phase, and 157 local jobs when annual operations begin, generating millions in state and local taxes.
The numbers bear scrutiny, however. Hillsboro, Ore., in part because of tax breaks, has become a huge draw for data hosting companies, the like of which the Grays Harbor project seeks to attract. A May 30 story by Mike Rogoway in The Oregonian reported that six Hillsboro data centers employed a total of just 71 people in 2017.
As for potential jobs created here, the PUD and Port grant application lists them as “to be determined.”
According to the feasibility study grant application prepared jointly by the PUD and Port, the estimated cost of the construction of the landing station building would be $5 million to $7 million; the application states the total direct investment would be more than $20 million.
Some questions remain unanswered ahead of the unveiling of the feasibility report, including a specific location for the cable landing station itself. Cope said he believes the study looked at a number of potential locations, but “No final decision has been disclosed at this time.”
As for who would fund the project, Ward said at this stage of the effort, “It’s hard to say. We’ll see what (the State Department of) Commerce can do and what the private sector is looking for.” He said the feasibility study would be used by the county or state “as a marketing tool,” if it shows the plan to be feasible.
The grant application states that “a specific opportunity with at least one high tech company interested in financing and developing the submarine cable project has been developed.” A non-disclosure agreement prevents release of the name of the company.
Reporter Dan Hammock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.