Quick Update: Things to Know in Culpeper

The following text was sent out via email on Dec. 12, 2023. Sign up for PEC email alerts →

I hope you’re enjoying the holiday season so far. Before we get to the end of the year, I want to give you a quick update on some issues we’ve been following in Culpeper.

1) Help Culpeper Plan for Future Transportation

Main St. in Culpeper. Credit Hugh Kenny/PEC

Do you regularly walk, bike, or drive in the Town of Culpeper?

If the answer is “yes,” you should take this brief, anonymous survey to help the Town develop a comprehensive safety action plan. The goal of this plan is to guide future transportation planning efforts that prioritize safety, equity, and the preservation of community and place. 

The survey is part of the Town’s participation in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Safe Streets 4 All (SS4A) grant program, which provides funding to regional, local and tribal communities for planning and demonstration projects to improve safety on the nation’s roadways. 

VDOT study corridor along James Madison Highway (orange).

Another opportunity to provide input on transportation planning in the Town is an ongoing study by VDOT for the corridor between James Madison Highway and N Main Street and Inlet Road/Normans Lane. Please share your thoughts on improving safety, pedestrian access, and intersection design.

2) Another Hyper-scale Data Center is Approved

Conceptual renderings of the three data centers from the Cielo Digital Infrastructure, Inc. application.

On Tuesday, Dec. 5, the Culpeper Board of Supervisors approved the rezoning application for Cielo Digital Infrastructure Inc., a 2.4 million-square-foot data center campus on Nalles Mill Road. With the approval of Cielo, Culpeper Town and County have green-lit the development of 6.7 million square feet of data centers with a combined energy load of 1,500 megawatts, in just 12 months! That’s more than six times Culpeper’s current energy footprint of 240 megawatts. For added context, the North Anna nuclear power facility, which powers 450,000 homes, has a rated capacity of 1,800 megawatts. 

PEC opposed this project for multiple reasons, including its impact on the already strained electrical grid. We anticipate this grid will need significant upgrades to meet the demand of this rapidly expanding industry – including new substations, expanded transmission corridors, and power generation facilities. The cost of these upgrades will be shouldered by all ratepayers. Dominion Energy has assessed the cost of their “Alternative Plan B” option for serving the exploding energy load demand from data centers and placed notice in local newspapers like the Fauquier Times the week of October 23. The notice stated that the monthly bill of an average residential household (1,000-kWh/month) will nearly double by 2035.

You can read Dominion Energy’s full notice published in the Fauquier Times on page 19 of this PDF from the SCC’s website.

One concession of the Cielo data center approval is that the proffers included a one-time payment to the local Future Farmers of America and 4H chapters for $25,000 and a one-time payment of $100,000 to the newly formed Culpeper County Conservation Easement Program, to be paid when the facilities are complete. The consumption of land for transmission lines and possibly power generation threatens the future of local agriculture. Although this mitigation by no means adequately offsets the impacts of this project, it is a tacit recognition of the threat data center expansion poses to Culpeper’s agricultural industry.

3) Size of Technology Tax-Incentive Zones Reduced

On Nov. 8, the Board of Supervisors voted to reduce the size of the areas covered by the Technology Zone Ordinance, a non-regulatory tax incentive for industrial development in Culpeper. The original intent of this incentive was to attract a diverse suite of industries to Culpeper, but in recent years, it has only attracted one industry: data centers. You may recall that at the beginning of 2023, the Board voted to remove the Brandy Station Technology Zone, which incentivized data centers in a historic farm community without any infrastructure to support such an industrial activity. We view this further reduction in the size of the Technology Zones as another step in the right direction and a sign that Culpeper wants to limit future data center sprawl into its rural lands, which are the backbone of our agricultural economy. Currently, most of the land within the now-reduced Technology Zone has already been zoned for data center development.

This update also removes several parcels adjacent to Mountain Brook Estates, which already stands to be significantly impacted by the Copper Ridge Data Center Campus. Even though this update will not undo the approval of that facility, it does discourage additional data center development adjacent to this community.

4) Recap Of Our Solar On The Farm Event

Senior Energy and Climate Policy Analyst Ashish Kapoor presents at the Nov. 14 workshop.

On Nov. 14, PEC hosted Solar On The Farm: Improving Your Ag Operation With On-Site Energy at Kildee Farms in Culpeper. Over 70 people attended the information session, which focused on the benefits of distributed solar energy for working ag lands.

The workshop focused on three substantial incentives: USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) for improving energy efficiency and/or installing renewable energy (up to 50% of the project cost), the federal investment tax credit (an additional 30%), and monetizing solar systems with solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs). We also had a deep dive into the development cycle of an on-site system and presentations from two local working ag businesses that have successfully made the switch to solar energy. Many attendees took advantage of the opportunity to sign up for quotes from SunDay Solar, Tiger Solar and Virtue Solar.

If you would like to find a list of the presenters, their contact information, links to the presentations, and other helpful information about these three incentives, check out the resource page we posted to our website.

That’s all for now. Next year, we can expect the Town to begin work on a new Comprehensive Plan and citizen input will be an important part of the drafting process. Stay tuned!

Thank you for your continued support,

Sarah Parmelee
Culpeper County Field Representative
(540) 347-2334 x7045