No matter the size or industry, U.S. companies are increasingly defining and exemplifying sustainability – not just for themselves, but also the customers and communities they serve.
In the tech sector, Las Vegas-based technology infrastructure corporation Switch is a tour de force. With more than 400 issued and pending patent claims for data center efficiency and a commitment to design, build and power its facilities using 100-percent renewable energy, Switch is redefining its role as a technology sustainability company.
In September 2015, a delegation led by Switch CEO and Founder Rob Roy sought to locate a new $5 billion data center somewhere in the U.S. Just months later, the data center’s 220,000-square-foot first phase began operating from the iconic former Steelcase Pyramid facility near Grand Rapids, Mich.—now called the Switch PYRAMID—powered by 100-percent renewable energy.
As Michigan’s largest energy provider, Consumers Energy delivered on Switch’s 100-percent renewable commitment. Working as a team with state and local agencies, Consumers Energy put Switch and its customers first by saying ‘yes’ to every energy opportunity.
Energy led the way
During its visit to Grand Rapids, Mich. to see the former Steelcase headquarters in nearby Gaines Township, Switch leaders attended ArtPrize, a 19-day international art competition.
“We fell in love with the facility and the Grand Rapids community instantly,” said Adam Kramer, executive vice president of strategy, Switch. “We met immediately with (local economic development agency) The Right Place, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce and Consumers Energy and asked, ‘Can you power the Pyramid with 100-percent renewable energy?’ The team answered with a ‘let’s get to yes’ attitude and committed to deliver solutions.”
Among exhaustive siting criteria punctuated by speed to build, Switch required Consumers Energy to bring new resources online to support its renewable energy goals. The energy used at Switch’s Pyramid Campus is matched entirely with energy produced by Cross Winds® Energy Park II, which went into operation this year in Tuscola County, in Michigan’s Thumb.
Consumers Energy leaders and engineers joined Switch’s experts to assess the Pyramid facility’s energy footprint and develop a site plan containing renewable infrastructure to support it. From built-in power redundancy to new substation power lines encased in concrete to help advance Switch’s desire for 100-percent uptime, the team worked around the clock to surpass expectations.
Jeff Mayes, Consumers Energy’s director of economic development, says the experience presented learning opportunities for both companies.
“The Switch team’s depth of renewable energy knowledge proved invaluable as we worked shoulder-to-shoulder to support Switch’s energy needs,” said Mayes. “Because we committed to saying ‘yes’ as a team, the experience was among the most challenging and rewarding we’ve had as an energy provider to date.”
Taking the long view
Along the way, Switch, Consumers Energy and state leaders saw an opportunity to enhance Michigan’s attractiveness to data center companies over the long haul.
Tax policy changes passed by Michigan lawmakers in late 2015 now exempt data center companies and their clients from paying sales or use taxes on computers, servers and other equipment for 20 years.
In 2017, working with the Michigan Public Service Commission, Consumers Energy launched a large customer renewable program. Switch and other participating businesses help defray costs for new renewable energy sources.
“Technology and the policies supporting it are constantly evolving,” said Kramer. “Switch helped develop modernized policies and programs supporting data centers in other communities we’re part of, and we were glad to help cultivate a win-win for data centers and the state of Michigan.”
With focus on consistently aggressive growth at The Pyramid Campus, Switch needed an energy provider that could keep up. Kramer says Consumers Energy has proved up to the task, and that the tone starts at the top.
“We needed a power company that would be with us—not just in the first days, weeks and months, but for the next 20-40 years—and we found it in Consumers Energy,” said Kramer. “From the beginning, Consumers Energy’s president and CEO, Patti Poppe, and her leadership team were engaged at every step. The team’s ‘let’s get to yes’ attitude starts at the top and affirmed we made the right choice of Michigan and Grand Rapids, powered by Consumers Energy.”
Continuing to serve
Since the opening of the first phase of the Switch PYRAMID in 2016, Consumers Energy and Switch have continued to emphasize a team approach to solutions and satisfaction. Kramer says Consumers Energy has continued to grow with Switch in many ways.
“Like energy providers, Switch operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said Kramer. “Because we live by our 100-percent uptime guarantee, our equipment can detect as little as a millisecond of voltage sag. We’re encouraged to freely engage with Consumers Energy leaders and operations teams in true peer-to-peer conversations about energy and energy issues.”
In March, Switch joined General Motors to formally announce their position as the first participants in Consumers Energy’s large customer renewable program. Energy used by the Switch PYRAMID and General Motors’ Flint Metal Center and Flint Engine Operations is now fully matched by renewable energy from the Cross Winds® II Energy Park.
Kramer says Consumers Energy’s “from-all-angles” approach to serving Switch’s energy needs all but ensures a bright future for the company and its customers.
“With Consumers Energy at our side, we’re tremendously confident and extremely excited about our future at the Switch PYRAMID,” said Kramer.
Jackson, Mich.-based Consumers Energy is Michigan’s largest utility and the nation’s fourth largest combination utility. Consumers Energy provides electricity and/or natural gas to 6.7 million of Michigan’s 10 million residents in all 68 Lower Peninsula counties.
For more about Consumers Energy’s economic development services, contact Jeff Mayes, Director of Economic Development, at 989-667-5284, or visit ConsumersEnergy.com/econdev.