Google confirms Lincoln’s $600M data center, touts this year’s $1.2B spend on NE infrastructure

By: - August 22, 2023 2:30 pm

Leirion Gaylor Baird, Lincoln mayor, at a Google media event Tuesday (Courtesy of Google)

PAPILLION — For years in Nebraska’s capital city, it was known by code name Agate.

On Tuesday, the gem officially was out of the bag — as Google officials confirmed publicly that it is behind the $600 million Lincoln data center poised to rise on roughly 580 acres near Interstate 80 and North 56th Street.

Google
Bling provided during a 2022 announcement by Google (Cindy Gonzalez/Nebraska Examiner)

The project continues Google’s sprawl in Nebraska, adding to the tech giant’s other data campuses in Papillion and Omaha.

2023 building investment

This year alone, Google officials announced, the company is investing $1.2 billion in Nebraska infrastructure, including at existing sites. That builds on $2.2 billion that has been invested to date.

“We’re here. We’re here to stay, and we’re here to expand,” Allie Hopkins, Google’s head of data centers in Nebraska and Iowa, said during a media event at the company’s growing Papillion site.

While some of the Lincoln center’s cost is within that 2023 total, Hopkins said that further investment in the multi-phased project will spill into future years.

Construction work has already started, with ground preparation.

When complete, Google representatives said, the Lincoln center should create at least 30 full-time jobs.

“That’s all to support these digital services that everyone is so used to using every day,” Hopkins said, citing Google Cloud, Gmail, Docs, Search, Maps and more.

“But it’s also to increase advancement of AI (artificial intelligence) — that’s really, really important, not just for the state of Nebraska, but across the world we have people and businesses that rely on these services,” she said.

No longer ‘behind the curtain’

Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird, who spoke along with members of Nebraska’s congressional delegation, joked about how her team can now dispense with the winks, codes and what-rhymes-with-Google games. 

“For the past four years, since I walked into the doors of city hall as mayor, we’ve been having to call this project Agate, like a polished rock,” said Gaylor Baird. She said it seemed an underwhelming identifier compared to the investment. “It’s behind the curtain no longer.”

She said the selection of Lincoln as the state’s third major Google data center site reinforces the area’s brand as “a hub on the Silicon Prairie.”

Google officials declined to reveal more than basic details of a project.

Public planning records offer more about the Lincoln center, including that it is to cover as much as 2 million square feet of floor area. The site is bounded by North 40th Street, Highway 77, I-80 and Bluff Road.

The project, under applicant names other than Google, already has gone through city zoning and other approval processes.

Developers also have applied for state tax incentives related to the Lincoln project.

Power demand

Data centers come with an immense need for power.

Eric Williams, board chair of the Omaha Public Power District, was at the Tuesday event in Papillion, and noted in an interview that growth in the region’s industrial and data center business is among factors leading to record demand for power from the public utility. 

“We’re seeing unprecedented growth in demand for energy,” he said.

Much comes from Sarpy County’s Highway 50 corridor, the home of several data centers including Google’s Papillion site and a campus of tech titan Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

Last week, the OPPD Board approved a plan to add more electrical generation to meet surging demand. That means an estimated capital investment of $2 billion to $2.2 billion by 2030, nearly doubling the district’s capacity, OPPD officials said.

Customer rates could increase an estimated 2.5% to 3% per year from 2027 to 2030 to pay for the projects and rising electricity demand, the utility said.

Construction ongoing since 2019

U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., another speaker, thanked Google and said she was glad to see the recognition of Nebraska’s workforce and a university system that prepares graduates with forward-thinking skills.

“A lot of people think it’s the middle of the country. Some think it’s the middle of nowhere,” she said of Nebraska, adding that she prefers to call it the center of the Cosmos. 

Allie Hopkins speaks at a Google announcement Tuesday. (Courtesy of Google)

“We have the resources, the land, the water resources that are needed to support these data centers and I think it’s essential we continue to use these resources in a responsible way.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Flood, R-Neb., said he sees the local data centers generating jobs that “connect Nebraskans to the rest of the world.”

“This investment underscores how our central location, competitive electric rates and tax climate have attracted significant investments in a growing hub of data centers,” said Flood.

Papillion Mayor David Black said he welcomed Google around 2019, when it broke ground on the Papillion center, and created onsite jobs such as computer technicians, engineers, food service, maintenance and security roles.

Since then, the company has expanded in Papillion and grew to about 120 jobs. It added the soon-to-be-operational data center in northwest Omaha, near State Street and Blair High Road.

Google recently announced a $350 million investment in its existing Council Bluffs data center campus.

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Cindy Gonzalez
Cindy Gonzalez

Senior Reporter Cindy Gonzalez, an Omaha native, has more than 35 years of experience, largely at the Omaha World-Herald. Her coverage areas have included business and real estate development; regional reporting; immigration, demographics and diverse communities; and City Hall and local politics.

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