Virginia: The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality's (DEQ) decision on data center backup generators

Feb 09, 2023 | Posted by MadalineDunn

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has announced that it is considering giving data centers more leeway with regard to using backup energy. This, it said, will reportedly preserve data center reliability and is a precautionary measure to protect the region's power grid. It is proposing an issuance of a variance that would provide data centers located in Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William Counties "a measure of relief" from existing regulations and permits limiting use of Tier II and Tier IV emergency generators only during periods of a PJM-declared emergency.

Although Virginia currently regulates the hours that data centers can run diesel generators, with exemptions for grid emergencies, this proposal waives those restrictions. However, as carbon emitters, it will require companies to track and report runtime and emissions of their backup generators. 

In a statement, the department said: "DEQ is concerned that the Counties of Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William is an area in which there may not be a sufficient amount of electricity for data centers due to severe, localized constraints in electricity transmission. A transmission constraint issue exists in the area which may affect the ability to provide enough electricity to data centers through 2025. In particular, the period between March and July 2023 has been identified as a time of potentially acute stress on the transmission capacity of the grid."

DEQ director Mike Rolband, commented: "We are proposing this temporary and redundant variance out of an abundance of caution to maintain the reliability of the internet and the electric grid while enabling data centers to continue serving their customers. We will closely follow this developing situation and will use our robust compliance and permitting programs to ensure our environment remains protected."

The variance will reportedly come into effect following a 45-day comment period and will expire on July 31, 2023.

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