Northern Virginia: Concerns over Northern Virginia diesel generators leads to DEQ revising its relaxation of generator restrictions

Mar 22, 2023 | Posted by MadalineDunn

Residents in North Virginia had recently raised their concerns about the decision made by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to permit diesel generators to power data centers in the region. The DEQ announced that it would be looking into the permittance to preserve data center reliability. This was due to local counties facing transmission problems and being that Northern Virginia is home to around 300 data center, which are responsible for processing approximately 70% of the world’s internet traffic. The DEQ outlined that it was “concerned” about the potential of insufficient electricity for data centers due to “severe, localized constraints in electricity transmission.” The Data Center Coalition was in support of the variance. 

However, locals in the area pushed back, arguing that allowing data center diesel generators poses an adverse impact on both the environment and air quality. Opponents highlighted research that showed how harmful diesel can be to health, with exposure leading to serious health conditions, including asthma and respiratory illnesses. It can also exacerbate existing health conditions. Others dubbed it an environmental injustice and highlighted the hypocrisy of the County Board, which claimed that protecting the environment was a priority, but instead appeared to be at the behest of big tech behemoths. With such widespread opposition, regulators announced that they would scale back the proposal, with DEQ Director Michael Rolband stating the DEQ takes the public participation process “very seriously” and was subsequently making “appropriate revisions” to the proposal based on that input.

The revised notice reportedly restricts its application to emergency generators located at data centers in Loudoun County; Prince William and Fairfax Counties have been removed. Further, data center companies would be required to notify the DEQ about operating diesel generators, and calculate the pollution emitted by each generator during those times. The DEQ estimates 4,151 data center diesel generators in the region will be included in the order.

Another public hearing will be held in early April, while the comment period on the variance has been extended through April 21 2023.