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Powering up at Luther Forest

Fast development, changing processes increase energy demand at tech park

— Luther Forest, the Malta technology park that is home to GlobalFoundries, is growing by leaps and bounds, so much so that officials say the power capacity there will need to be doubled.

The power substation built in 2010 will not be able to handle future demands. The problem, according to Dennis Brobston of Saratoga Economic Development Corporation (SEDC), will be finding a way to overcome the hurdles to bring new power where it’s needed. But that is well outweighed by the benefits of the economic boon GlobalFoundries and other companies will bring to the area.

“There is no industry more heavily invested than semiconductors,” said Brobston. “Billions of dollars have already been invested in Luther Forest. Our strategic plan is for these industries because manufacturing gives you a better return on your investment in terms of higher paying jobs and a larger investment into the facilities themselves.”

Brobston said GlobalFoundries bought land in Luther Forest with the understanding that they can put up to three manufacturing buildings on the property, and the company has committed to an investment of $7 billion. In comparison, Brobston said that leading up to the Global Foundries deal, a total of $1.8 billion has been invested by companies in this area.

Brobston said that companies like Global Foundries use a tremendous amount of electricity to manufacture their products, in this case computer chips. When Luther Forest was designed back in the early 2000s, it was expected that a fabrication plant could use anywhere between 40-60 megawatts per plant. One megawatt equals the amount of electricity used by about 1,000 homes. That has changed, though.

“What’s happened, as the industry has progressed, they now use more electricity than they did before,” said Brobston. “One of the big reasons is they’ve grown the size of the wafers used to produce the computer chips. As they continue to get bigger, more power will be needed, because electricity is used as a conductor in the manufacturing process. Now we’re finding that these plants can use at a minimum 120 megawatts per plant, where we thought that would be the high end for all three.”

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