GROTON — Despite numerous questions about his previous business dealings, a developer is asking Town Council members to approve an agreement for a large data center — two days before a scheduled public information session about the project.
Thomas Quinn, the developer, urged the Town Council at its Feb. 8 meeting to approve a Host Municipality Fee Agreement to allow his company to build two 55-foot tall, 250,000-square-foot data centers on several contiguous wooded parcels south of I-95 and west of Flanders road.
Quinn formed NE Edge LLC just weeks ago, Dec. 14, 2021.
Quinn was previously the CEO of GotSpace, a company that has announced eight data center projects in Connecticut, including two in Groton, one in Norwich, two in Griswold, one in Bozrah, and two in Wallingford. None of the projects has been built yet according to reporting by datacenterdynamics.com.
A few of the proposals have faced setbacks in host towns. Bozrah voted to reject the proposal, according to the New London Day. Wallingford has voted to rescind parts of its agreement with GotSpace, according to the Record Journal.
Quinn earlier led Verde Group LLC as president and CEO, a company that was named in a $33.8 million judgment by the Hartford Superior Court on Dec. 21, 2021, according to the Record Journal. The judgment against four defendants, including Verde Group, concerned a failed plan to build data centers in Montville in 2019.
At the Feb. 8 Committee of the Whole meeting, Quinn told the Town Council that he was no longer associated with GotSpace.
According to Quinn, GotSpace took on an investment partner last January who later defaulted on a promise of funding.
“When we called the default, he attempted a hostile takeover,” Quinn explained.
Quinn told Town Council members he is no longer the subject of any of the legal actions related to GotSpace.
“We’re not part of any legal action from that entity. And we’re ready completely to move forward now,” he said.
Quinn told council members he was instrumental to the legislature’s passage of public act 21-1 last year, which offered incentives for data centers, including 20 to 30 years of sales tax, use and property tax exemptions with an investment of $200 to $400 million.
Quinn said his group was working with a joint venture partner at the “hyperscale level,” and has already created CAD plans for the site in Groton. Quinn said the partnership would potentially move forward if the host fee agreement is signed by the town.
According to Quinn, the data center campus would require 115 acres and his group had proposed a land swap for a town-owned 17-acre parcel in exchange for part of a 56-acre parcel. Quinn said his group did not own the land, but had it under contract for a period of nine months with extensions for an appeal period if needed.
“We can do it without this swap but we’d like to have it and we think it works better for everybody once we look at the package,” he said.
Quinn said the company can build a larger rectangular building with better access if the land swap goes through, as well as avoid a vernal pool on the property.
“Otherwise we have to change the footprint of the building … and we’d have to split the building into two so it can be far enough from any possible water source,” he said.
Councilor Aundré Bumgardner questioned whether the project required the land swap to have access to the Groton Utility Company. But Quinn said his group had spoken with the utility about several options available including underground service and overland connections.
According to Quinn, the building would be constructed to tier 4 standards, the highest level of redundancies to ensure reliability.
Bumgardner asked for a more detailed explanation of the possible environmental impacts and what assurances the company would offer.
Quinn described the renewable programs — some carbon negative, some carbon neutral — of the companies building the data centers as “pretty aggressive.”
According to Quinn, the clear-cutting would be minimal, but parking would be needed for about 100 cars over three shifts, for an average of 30 cars per shift. The buildings will hook into town water and sewer.
“We do not intend to clearcut for solar. Data centers draw too much power and solar isn’t going to be much help. Some data centers put in solar as window dressing — we’re not going to do that, we’re going to leave it to the electrical company,” he said.
Councilor Portia Bordelon said that while she supported data centers, and the location seemed perfect for the developer, she was not convinced it was perfect for the town.
“Looking through the investor’s eyes, it’s perfect for you. But my goal here is to make sure it’s perfect for Groton, perfect for the town of Groton, perfect for the constituents and the community that I love, perfect for the future generations and my water supply that I drink every day,” she said.
Bordelon said she had not seen Quinn complete a project anywhere, which raised questions about moving forward.
“It’s strictly process, transparency, liability and the financial cost that it can create for the town,” she said. “I have been looking at the track record in front of me and it has not been to the level of rigor that I initially anticipated.”
Bordelon said she wanted to see one of Quinn’s projects developed and then see the impacts of the project before he proceeded with building in Groton.
“I don’t think Groton should be the forerunners on that and take the liability and the risk,” she said.
“I don’t see any of the cloud computing companies setting up business in Connecticut. You won’t see an Amazon, Dell or IBM here. We don’t have the parameters to make it worthwhile,” Larry Dunn, told the Economic Development Commission on Feb. 3.
Dunn said his nearly-50-year career has been in information technology, building and operating data centers.
“Given my background, I’m not against data centers,” he said.
Despite claims to the contrary, Dunn said the proposed location halfway between Boston and New York offers no technological advantage, because companies need to be within 10 to 12 kilometers of their data centers.
“Data backups to Boston and NY just ain’t gonna happen – physics say that it’s impossible to do, at least with technology as we know it today,” he said.
Plus, the cost of utilities — power and water particularly — are big concerns for data centers, said Dunn.
“You want to have low cost power and Connecticut is not a low cost power state,” he said.
Dunn, who is chair of the town’s Conservation Commission, said the environmental tradeoffs were a concern.
“You don’t want to take water out of the aquifer that we want to drink, process it and put it back in the aquifer,” he said.
Furthermore, weather events in the northeast are not conducive to data center operations, said Dunn.
“Temperature and humidity variances wreak havoc on environmental systems and forecasting. Earthquakes, hurricanes, blizzard, floods and tornadoes are unpredictable and can shut down a facility indefinitely,” he said.
In December, GotSpace announced the hire of Mike Grella, former Amazon director of economic development, as its chief operating officer. Grella will guide the company in its “master redevelopment of a new digital infrastructure corridor between New York and Boston.”
Gotspace also claimed to have secured approximately 1,500 acres of land in Groton, Griswold, Bozrah and Wallingford for data hubs.
Quinn told the Town Council that he’d been asked many times why a data center should be located in Groton.
“If you take your protractor like the ones they gave us in third grade, and you swing it from Groton within 200 miles, you hit 1/10 of the United States population,” he said. “We have no connectivity in the northeast and we believe that with connectivity at this site this is going to make a big difference.”
The Groton Town Council Committee of the Whole will meet tonight at 6:30 p.m. The meeting will be broadcasted on GMTV and YouTube.
The Groton Conservation Commission and the Groton Economic Development Commission will host a presentation by Tom Quinn from NE Edge on the proposal on Thursday, February 24 at 5:30 p.m. at Thrive 55+ (Senior Center) at 102 Newtown Road.