Northern Virginia: Fairfax County to look at new rules for data centers

May 12, 2023 | Posted by MadalineDunn

According to a report by FFXNow, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is set to look into the environmental impact of data centers in the midst of its ongoing data center boom. This week, following a unanimously approved motion introduced by Board Chairman Jeff McKay, county staff were instructed to investigate and also develop guidelines regarding site locations and approval processes.

Northern Virginia is home to the highest concentration of data centers in the world, with Loudoun County dubbed Data Center Alley, due to it receiving 70% of all internet traffic. Fairfax, specifically, currently has 11 data centers, but more are on the way, with five more "in the pipeline."

While many welcome the boom, citing tax revenue, there are other well-documented impacts, and environmental concerns are a point of contention and concern. This has informed a greater push for emissions transparency and renewable energy usage by the Environmental Quality Advisory Council (EQAC). EQAC has also drawn attention to data centers' impact on air and water quality, and is advocating for greater intervention around this.

In a recent memo, EQAC Chair Larry Zaragoza said that actions to mitigate threats to community health and minimize the need for future cleanup of water by County wastewater treatment facilities and Fairfax Water "should be undertaken." Zaragoza emphasized that these steps are "important" to provide the data centers with clear expectations to reduce environmental impacts."