Apple to build $2B solar-powered “command center” data center at Arizona factory site

The question of what Apple plans to do with its factory in Mesa, Arizona, which it was going to lease to now-bankrupt former partner and sapphire glass maker GT Advanced Technologies, is now answered. On Monday Apple and the Governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, announced that the iPhone giant plans to spend $2 billion building out a huge data center facility that will act as “a┬ácommand center” for its global data center network.

The project is one of the largest investments that Apple has ever made and when completed it will add over 600 engineering and construction jobs. Apple plans to start building the facility as soon as it has control of it from GT Advanced Technologies, and it said that while the project has a 30-year timeline, it will ramp up quickly.

The 1.3 million-square-foot manufacturing facility was previously owned by solar panel maker First Solar, which never used the site after it scaled back its manufacturing in 2012. When Apple announced it planned to buy the site in late 2013 to lease to GT, there was much rejoicing in Arizona, as the sapphire glass factory was going to lead to 1,400 construction and the cachet of having Apple in town. Apple reportedly wanted to use the ultra strong sapphire glass for unbreakable touch screens.

Apple's solar farm next to its data center in Maiden, North Carolina, image courtesy of Katie Fehrenbacher Gigaom

Apple’s solar farm next to its data center in Maiden, North Carolina, image courtesy of Katie Fehrenbacher Gigaom

But about a year after the deal between Apple and GT was announced, GT filed for bankruptcy, siting oppressive and burdensome terms and obligations around its deal with Apple. GT said it was shutting down the factory, winding down operations and letting go many employees. Apple said in a release today that it has worked with its local partners to help about half of the employees that were let go because of the bankruptcy to find new employment.

Apple says the data center facility in Arizona will be powered completely by clean energy, including new solar plants developed with local utility Salt River Project. The solar plants will provide 70 MW of solar power for Apple, which is enough solar energy for 14,500 Arizonan homes. Apple also has clean energy powered data centers in North Carolina and Nevada.

Greenpeace applauded Apple’s 100 percent clean energy-powered facility on Monday. Apple execs said that 70 MW worth of new solar farms could also help spur Arizona’s solar market.

Read more about Apple’s ground-breaking bet on its clean energy infrastructure in this post from last year.