Yukon considers courting data centres

The Yukon's cold climate could attract big tech companies to set up data centres here if significant infrastructure gaps are solved, according to a report commissioned by the Yukon government.

The Yukon’s cold climate could attract big tech companies to set up data centres here if significant infrastructure gaps are solved, according to a report commissioned by the Yukon government.

The report cost $20,000 and was prepared by WCM Consulting Inc. for the Department of Economic Development.

“This is the first time I’ve ever heard of Yukon’s cold climate and cold water and climatic conditions being an advantage, but for once that seems to be the case,” said Currie Dixon, minister for Economic Development, in an interview yesterday.

Data centres are used by tech companies that need to handle and store enormous amounts of digital information.

They are essentially giant computer warehouses.

One of the big costs of keeping all those computers whirring is air conditioning, so the whole system doesn’t overheat and break down.

That makes a cold climate an ideal location for one, since cooling costs are much less.

Heat from a data centre could even, hypothetically, be siphoned off to warm nearby buildings or homes.

“We’ve seen in northern jurisdictions, like northern Scandinavia for instance, where both Google and Facebook have massive data centres,” said Dixon.

But Yukon still has a ways to go.

Besides power and cooling, the thing a data centre needs most is a secure, fast and reliable Internet connection.

Yukon’s connection is still at the mercy of a single fibre line in some spots, one that tends to periodically get severed by construction equipment in northern B.C.

The Yukon government has commissioned a $250,000 feasibility study into a electricity and telecommunications link to Juneau, Alaska, through Skagway.

That redundant fibre connection would make it feasible for a data centre to be located here.

The government will have to wait to see the report’s findings before it can determine how to proceed, said Dixon.

Data centres also gobble up an enormous amount of power, of which Yukon does not have an excess at the moment.

The Yukon government is in the early stages of planning a new large hydro facility, but that is still many years away.

The report notes that some planned and existing data centres use liquefied natural gas for power.

A data centre in the Yukon would drive economic development by attracting an information technology industry to the territory, said Dixon.

“The actual job numbers associated with the data centre itself are relatively small.”

But the centre would attract companies that need use of a data centre to locate offices close to it, he said.

The next step, according to the report, would be for the government to form or hire a small working group to study the issue further.

“Once we address the infrastructure challenges that they’re talking about in this report, we could begin to court that sort of investment and interest in the Yukon,” said Dixon.

Jurisdictions around the world offer tax breaks and other incentives to attract tech companies to establish data centres, according to the report.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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