By Bill Hudson

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A powerful internet giant needs to expand its data centers, and the city of Becker says it’s just the place.

Google is a step closer after the Public Utilities Commission signed off a long-term power agreement with Xcel Energy. The city of Becker hopes to convince Google to build a $600 million facility on 300 acres of Xcel Energy land near its Sherco Generating station.

There’s no way to over emphasize the importance of the Sherco Generating plant to the city of Becker. So when it phases out in the coming years, the city needs something to replace the lost jobs and tax base.

They’re called the “engines of the internet.” Massive, power hungry data centers to process and store the endless stream of web traffic. Google has 13 worldwide, and needs to build more.

“It’s definitely one of the largest construction projects that could be built here in Minnesota,” Becker Mayor Tracy Bertram said.

Bertram is keenly aware of the city’s challenge. Xcel is in the process of phasing out the coal plant, in favor of renewable sources. Losing the plant means lost jobs and tax revenue.

“It’s 75 percent of our tax base currently,” Bertram said, “so when they announced they are de-comissioning units 1 and 2, it was a detriment to our planning. What are we going to do?”

What they’re doing is convincing Google to build the data center. Google wants only renewable energy for its huge power needs. On Tuesday, the Public Utilities Commission approved a 10-year deal. Xcel will supply Google’s proposed data center with all wind energy.

Finally, it is hoped that the state legislature approves $20 million in financial help to pay for infrastructure improvements, to transform farm fields to high tech.

Bill Hudson