Dorchester County sued over its Google data center secrecy | Business

The city also agreed to pay $53,000 to cover the legal costs for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a nonprofit advocacy group that represented the newspaper.

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South Carolina law allows industries to shield trade secrets from public view but only if the information includes “commercially valuable plans, appliances, formulas or processes which are used for the making, preparing, compounding, treating or processing of articles or materials which are trade commodities.”

Google’s water consumption data “does not fall within the definition of trade secrets” allowed by state law, according to Heindel’s lawsuit.

Jay Bender, a lawyer and expert in South Carolina’s Freedom of Information Act, said as much earlier this year.

“Google isn’t using the water … to make, prepare, compound, treat or process articles or materials,” Bender told The Post and Courier. “Clearly, Google is not producing trade commodities, so its information does not come within the definition of a trade secret in the FOIA.”

Google publishes water usage for data centers that are already in operation in annual environmental reports that state the actual amount used but not the maximum that’s allowed for each location.

The company’s existing data center near Moncks Corner, for example, consumed 662.1 million gallons in 2022. It’s not clear how close that amount comes to the maximum allowed under an agreement with Berkeley County because that figure is still considered a secret.

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Google, a subsidiary of technology conglomerate Alphabet Inc., said in a December blog post that it is “committed to finding sustainable ways” to cool its data centers amidst unprecedented demand for cloud computing, artificial intelligence and other web-based services.

Google headquarters

Internet giant Google, headquartered in Mountain View, Calif., is at the center of a lawsuit accusing Dorchester County of violating S.C. law for failing to disclose water usage at one of the company’s proposed data centers.

“When we build a data center, we consider a variety of factors, including proximity to customers or users, the presence of a community that’s excited to work with us, and the availability of natural resources that align with our sustainability and climate goals,” the company stated. “Water cooling is generally more energy-efficient than air cooling, but with every campus, we ask an important question: Is it environmentally responsible to use water to cool our data center?”