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Data Center Reform Coalition aims to educate Virginia about threat to clean energy

Crystal Graham
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Nonprofit organizations, homeowners’ groups, and residents from all over Virginia have joined forces to form a coalition that is calling for industry-wide data center reform.

On Monday, Dec. 1, this Virginia Data Center Reform Coalition is hosting a news conference to demand accountability from this industry and to speak about the data center impacts faced by their communities.

The coalition is made up of more than 20 environmental, conservation, historic preservation and climate advocacy groups, as well as representatives of communities and neighborhoods across the state.

Together, they are urging the state to study the cumulative effects of data center development on the state’s electrical grid, water resources, air quality and land conservation efforts and to institute several common-sense regulatory and rate-making reforms for this industry.

The conference will highlight several ways the data center industry in Virginia has failed to prioritize community concerns.

Community concerns

  • proposing mega-campuses in inappropriate locations, such as near historic battlefields and cultural resources, schools and residential communities
  • consuming excessive amounts of water with little oversight
  • installing thousands of large diesel generators that threaten local and regional air quality
  • compelling massive energy infrastructure upgrades paid for by ratepayers.

“In the face of climate change and expanding our urban/suburban centers, we should be doing everything we can to protect our drinking water sources,” said Ashley Studholme, executive director at Prince William Conservation Alliance. “Converting forested and rural lands for data centers means more pollution entering our waterways, and here in Prince William County, it goes against our commitment to protect the Occoquan Reservoir, a critical water source that provides drinking water to 800,000 residents in Northern Virginia.”

In addition, speakers will discuss the significant threats data centers are allegedly posing to Virginia’s clean energy progress.

As massive transmission line plans are released, water withdrawal permits filed and numerous air permits for the operation of large diesel generators pile up all over the state, the volume of concerned organizations and communities continues to grow.

More and more, land use decisions around data centers are occuring behind a veil of secrecy forged by nondisclosure agreements and VFOIA violations, according to The Piedmont Environmental Council.

“Virginia has the largest data center market in the world, yet our regulatory oversight is behind other large markets in Europe and Asia that have also experienced data center demand exceeding available resources,” said Julie Bolthouse, director of land use of The Piedmont Environmental Council. “The cumulative impacts of energy consumption, water usage and thousands of backup diesel generators are not well understood, but already ratepayers are being asked to pay billions to expand electric infrastructure to generate and deliver massive amounts of power to the large hub in Loudoun.”

The Virginia Data Center Reform Coalition is asking Virginia’s state government to step in to require more transparency around land use decisions affecting the lives of Virginians and around energy and water usage that carries significant implications for both local communities and the rest of the Commonwealth.

The coalition is asking the state to require that data center developers mitigate the negative environmental impacts of this industry and to shift the cost of new transmission lines and power generation onto the industry players rather than on the backs of Virginia’s ratepayers.

The news conference will be held at the Clearbrook Center for the Arts located at 2230 Tacketts Mill Dr B, in Lake Ridge.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.