Power Lines for Data Centers Continue Causing Rifts in N. Virginia

Loudoun County passes new rules, making it more difficult for data center projects to get approved in one area.

Yevgeniy Sverdlik

September 23, 2016

3 Min Read
Power Lines for Data Centers Continue Causing Rifts in N. Virginia
DuPont Fabros Technology’s ACC2 data center in Ashburn, Virginia (Photo: DuPont Fabros)

Data center construction projects along a stretch of highway in Loudoun County in Virginia will now face additional public hearings before they can be approved.

Loudoun is located in Northern Virginia, one of the biggest data center markets in the US, and there are more data centers in the county than anywhere else in the region. As more construction takes place in Northern Virginia to support today’s unprecedented growth in demand for data center capacity, there have been more and more clashes between residents and data center builders.

The new requirements for more public scrutiny of data center projects along Route 50, approved by the county Board of Supervisors last week, is the culmination of one such clash that took place recently, when some residents were opposed to new power lines the utility that serves the area would have to build to serve a future large data center campus near the Washington Dulles International Airport.

The residents who were opposed to construction of the power lines complained that they would be unsightly. The usual skepticism around economic-development value of data center projects – i.e., they create relatively few jobs – also came up.

In response, the utility, Dominion Virginia Power, proposed several alternative routes for the power lines. Finally, one of the alternative routes, called Alternative 6, got the green light.

The Virginia State Corporation Commission (which regulates utilities among other industries in the state) approved it in August, saying the new power line would promote economic development “by serving an area that is rapidly growing, including the additional load requirements associated with the new data centers being developed.”

The spat with residents over power lines is a familiar one to Dominion and Amazon. They face similar controversy in Prince Williams County, where Vadata, Amazon’s data center building subsidiary, wants to build a 500,000-square foot data center, which requires construction of a new transmission line by Dominion.

It’s unclear who will be using the future data center campus near the airport and who will be building it. The name of the developer is omitted from public records filed around Dominion’s application for construction of the new electrical infrastructure.

Multiple companies recently announced land acquisitions for future data center construction and actual data center construction projects in Northern Virginia, including CyrusOne, DBT-DATA, Digital Realty, Equinix, and CoreSite, among others. Much of the demand for data center capacity in the region comes from tech giants like Microsoft, Apple, Oracle, Uber, Google, and Amazon.

Read more: How Long Will the Cloud Data Center Land Grab Last?

The new process for data center projects along Route 50 will include public hearings before the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors, giving local officials more control over land use there. Data center projects in the area did not have to face such hearings before because of a zoning by-right.

Supervisor Matt Letourneau told Loudoun Times that the area used to be zoned for commercial and light industrial (CLI) development, but over time officials rezoned many of the parcels as residential, resulting in a patchwork that mixes residential and CLI.

From Loudoun Times:

“What has happened over time is boards have rezoned [commercial and light industrial] property into residential property, including South Riding and Stone Ridge,” Letourneau said. “There are some orphan parcels in between that are CLI parcels. So you have residential, then you have CLI, then you have residential … which has not only created land use issues, but also necessitated the need for giant power lines, which the county just spent the better half of the last couple years fighting.”

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