The explosive growth of the data center industry represents a major challenge to achieving a clean energy future in Virginia. Data center development in Northern Virginia has been accelerating for years, with a higher concentration in Loudoun County than anywhere else in the world. As of late 2022, data centers accounted for 21% of Dominion Energy’s electricity sales [pg 26] in Virginia. In fact, data centers represent the only growing sector [pg 5] of electricity demand in Virginia, and that demand growth is projected to more than double peak load by 2040 [pg 28].
Disturbingly, Dominion’s Integrated Resource Plan filed in 2023 points to higher-than-anticipated load growth from data centers as the rationale for leaving in place existing fossil-fuel generation and pursuing an “all of the above” energy strategy moving forward.
Virginia’s current approach is unsustainable.
The sheer number and scale of Virginia data center proposals and the accumulation of so many data centers in such a relatively small area has led to a severely constrained electric grid and increased reliance on polluting backup diesel generators. As new data centers go in and Dominion Energy builds out the grid to accommodate the likes of Amazon Web Services and others in the industry, local residents and communities are left wondering: who is going to foot the bill and what are the implications for our air quality, climate goals, water resources, health and the environment?
While many data centers make clean energy and sustainability commitments, there is no way to clearly evaluate these claims due to non-disclosure agreements and general secrecy around the industry. What we do know is this: increasingly, the public is being asked to subsidize new transmission infrastructure and compromise on Virginia’s clean energy and conservation goals in order to meet the massive electricity demand caused by one private industry.