Northern Virginia: Data center impact study legislation defeated in Virginia

Feb 20, 2023 | Posted by MadalineDunn

A piece of legislation that would have compelled the Virginia Department of Energy to study the impacts of data center development on the state’s environment, economy, energy resources and carbon-reduction goals has been defeated. 

A number of bills have been proposed by Del. Danica Roem, D-Prince William County, and Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax County, to regulate the county’s burgeoning data center industry. Three of the bills proposed to specifically block the controversial PW Digital Gateway, including the HB 1986, which would have required more stringent regulation around stormwater management techniques. HJ 522, on the other hand, would have required impact studies to be carried out by the DoE. Roem described the bill’s requirements “in its most simple form” as asking the relevant bodies to “look at what we’re doing before we do it.” 

One by one each of the five bills was defeated in their respective chambers, and Senate Joint Resolution 240, was the last to be killed. Introduced by Petersen, it was identical to Roem’s, and both were defeated by the same subcommittee. In his address to the committee, Petersen said that data centers have an enormous impact on the energy grid, and even if the county were to “freeze” where it is today, the impact would still be huge: “We’d already have a huge impact but we’re growing almost exponentially with data centers.” Petersen explained that he was aware there were people “working behind the scenes to defeat this bill” but said he wouldn’t be deterred. 

Roem echoed similar sentiments with regard to their bill: “Northern Virginia is already the data center capital of the world, and we need to know what we’re getting ourselves into with an expansion of an already booming industry that consumes a massive amount of water and energy.”