An Arizona plant once intended to produce sapphire glass for Apple products will instead get a $2 billion makeover to become a global data center. Announced on Monday, Apple's plan represents one of its largest investments ever.
The Apple-owned building in Mesa was set to become a factory where GT Advanced Technologies could manufacture scratch-resistant sapphire glass for Apple devices. However, those plans fell through last year after GT, which owed Apple some $439 million, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
The tech giant will now convert the facility to a 100-percent solar-powered central command center to monitor Apple’s other global data centers, according to Arizona Governor Doug Ducey's office. The project calls for Apple to build and finance solar projects that will take advantage of Arizona's solar resources. The projects will produce 70 megawatts of clean energy, enough to power more than 14,500 Arizona homes. A spokesman for the governor's office declined to provide any further details on the project, directing all questions to Apple.
'Huge Win for Arizona'
An Apple spokesperson told us the company was not providing any further details on the size and scope of the new data center development. However, she noted, "Like all Apple data centers, it will be powered by 100 percent renewable energy, much of which will come from a new, local solar farm." The 70 megawatts of solar power being developed will be enough to cover the facility's expected load, the spokesperson added.
Once completed, the facility is expected to be staffed by around 150 full-time Apple employees. The project is also expected to generate several hundred construction, engineering and trade jobs during the building phase. The governor said that officials had "moved rapidly to make this happen and take advantage of Apple's interest in our state." He called Apple's plan a huge win for Arizona.
Former Solar Panel Plant
Apple and GT ended up in court following GT's bankruptcy filing last year, with Apple seeking to keep documents from its former supplier under seal and away from public view. The two companies eventually announced in October that they had achieved an amicable split.
In addition to the Arizona plant that Apple had planned for GT, it had also financed GT's purchase of more than 2,000 furnaces intended for production of sapphire glass. The supplier has said it will try to sell those furnaces to help cover some of its massive debt to Apple.
The Mesa facility, which is nearly 1.4 million square feet, had been owned by the solar photovoltaic manufacturer First Solar, although the company never used it as a factory. In 2012, before the building was finished, First Solar cut its workforce and shelve plans for the Mesa plant because of a dramatic price drop in solar panels. Apple announced plans to develop the facility for GT in late 2013.