a friendly request for northern economic development

Those pesky Swedes have outsmarted us. Again. First, they made billions of dollars making stylish furniture out of the same spindly northern trees that our forestry industry loses money making into two-by-fours and toilet paper.

Those pesky Swedes have outsmarted us. Again.

First, they made billions of dollars making stylish furniture out of the same spindly northern trees that our forestry industry loses money making into two-by-fours and toilet paper.

Then they got into renewable energy early, doing stuff like heating their buildings and running their vehicles with landfill gas while we pay big bucks to Big Oil.

And now they’ve used their cold climate to lure Facebook to open a server farm in Sweden. The massive rows of servers that support the internet generate a lot of waste heat, and the Swedes have convinced the California-based internet titan that it can save a lot of money on air conditioning by putting a server farm North of 60.

And this isn’t in Stockholm, but in Lulea. That’s even farther north than Dawson City.

Don’t think that a Facebook server farm is just a few computers in a basement. According to The Local, an English language news outlet in Sweden, the data centre will have three buildings with about 900,000 square feet in total space. These servers are power hogs and will need about 120 megawatts of power, roughly the Yukon’s entire capacity.

Three hundred jobs will come to Lulea in the first phase. There is also the possibility that some of the surplus server heat will be used to warm nearby Swedish homes and buildings.

How did the Swedes do all this? Cleverly, they pulled together three things.

The first was abundant, cheap and climate-friendly hydropower. Server farms use a truly prodigious amount of electricity and northern Sweden has lots of hydropower.

Secondly, Sweden has invested heavily in internet infrastructure. Unlike Whitehorse, which is at the end of a long and vulnerable strand of fibre (much to the apparent delight of backhoe operators in Fort Nelson), Lulea has multiple fibre-optic connections. Friends of the Lulea Data Centre – it has a Facebook page of course – point out that the Lulea University of Technology is right across the street. Not bad for a town only about twice as big as Whitehorse.

The third thing is Sweden’s economic development agency. Invest Sweden has been working on the Arctic server farm concept with the Lulea Business Agency for several years, touring American internet companies like Google, Amazon, Ebay and Apple to pitch the concept.

The Swedish success underlines the potential for the Yukon. We have some advantages over Sweden, namely colder temperatures and lower taxes. We also speak English, the international language of business. Judging from how the Swedish exchange student in my English 12 class at FH Collins got higher marks than most Yukoners in the class, however, this may not be as big an advantage as we think.

We even have the Yukon Department of Economic Development and Cannor, the newly established federal agency for economic development in the North.

However, we lack two fundamental assets the Swedes have been making long-term investments in: power and internet backbone.

Yukon Energy has been telling Yukoners that our surplus of cheap hydropower is shrinking away since their 20-Year Resource Plan was published in 2006. While Mayo B and some other smaller projects have been completed, we essentially do not have a set of electricity projects coming on line over the next few years to meet our longer-term needs.

Yukon Energy’s handy energy consumption website shows that we needed to burn diesel in each of the last 12 months, including the summer. We don’t have the spare capacity to support a data centre, even one a tenth the size of Facebook’s.

And although it has been talked about, to my knowledge neither our phone company nor our government have announced a plan to build a second fibre-optic connection to the Outside. Without at least two routes, no serious web company would put operations here.

Data centres are just one idea. But plentiful, cheap power and fast, reliable internet connectivity are attractive assets for many businesses. Our economic development efforts will face some tough sledding in many industries until we get with the Swedish program and start making some long-term investments in power and the internet.

In the meantime, you can be reassured that every time you click on Facebook, you are helping create jobs and heat houses in Lulea.

Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A Copper Ridge resident clears their driveway after a massive over night snowfall in Whitehorse on Nov. 2, 2020. Environment Canada has issued a winter storm warning for the Whitehorse and Haines Junction areas for Jan. 18. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Winter storm warning for Haines Junction and Whitehorse

Environment Canada says the storm will develop Monday and last until Tuesday

Maria Metzen off the start line of the Yukon Dog Mushers Association’s sled dog race on Jan. 9. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Mushers race in preparation for FirstMate Babe Southwick

The annual race is set for Feb. 12 and 13.

The Yukon government is making changes to the medical travel system, including doubling the per diem and making destinations for medical services more flexible. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Subsidy for medical travel doubled with more supports coming

The change was recommended in the Putting People First report endorsed by the government

Chloe Sergerie, who was fined $500 under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> on Jan. 12, says she made the safest choice available to her when she entered the territory. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Woman fined $500 under CEMA says she made ‘safest decision’ available

Filling out a declaration at the airport was contrary to self-isolation, says accused

Yukon University has added seven members to its board of governors in recent months. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New members named to Yukon U’s board of governors

Required number of board members now up to 17

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your Northern regulatory adventure awaits!

“Your Northern adventure awaits!” blared the headline on a recent YESAB assessment… Continue reading

Yukoner Shirley Chua-Tan is taking on the role of vice-chair of the social inclusion working group with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ oversight panel and working groups for the autism assessment. (Submitted)
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences names Yukoner to panel

Shirley Chua-Tan is well-known for a number of roles she plays in… Continue reading

The Fish Lake area viewed from the top of Haeckel Hill on Sept. 11, 2018. The Yukon government and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced they are in the beginning stages of a local area planning process for the area. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Local area planning for Fish Lake announced

The Government of Yukon and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced in… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Fire damage, photographed on Jan. 11, to a downtown apartment building which occurred late in the evening on Jan. 8. Zander Firth, 20, from Inuvik, was charged with the arson and is facing several other charges following his Jan. 12 court appearance. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
More charges for arson suspect

The Inuvik man charged in relation to the fire at Ryder Apartments… Continue reading

The grace period for the new Yukon lobbyist registry has come to an end and those who seek to influence politicians will now need to report their efforts to a public database. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Grace period for new lobbyist registry ends

So far nine lobbyists have registered their activities with politicians in the territory

Most Read