Virginia goes all in on data centers: At what cost?

The following text was sent out via email on Feburary 2, 2023. Sign up for PEC email alerts →

A data center in Loudoun County. Photo by Hugh Kenny/PEC

Dear Supporter,

I’d like to draw your attention to an issue that has been flying under the radar, but has enormous implications for local communities and Virginia taxpayers and ratepayers as a whole: the rapid expansion of Virginia’s data center industry.

I hope you’ll take a moment to read my op-ed published in the Virginia Mercury today, Are Virginia ratepayers and residents subsidizing the data center industry?

In it, I highlight Governor Youngkin’s recent announcement that Amazon Web Services plans to spend $35 billion on data center expansion in Virginia. I also emphasize the impact such an expansion would have on our electric grid and Virginia’s energy system due to the data center industry’s enormous appetite for power. 

Data centers already account for roughly 20% of Dominion’s total electric sales in Virginia. And the Virginia Department of Energy projects that data centers will be the driver of nearly all future electricity load growth through 2045, while combined electricity demands from every other sector (residential, industrial and non-data center commercial) will stay level or decline.

Baseline (first graph) and high demand (second graph) scenarios from the 2021 Modeling Decarbonization: Report Summary and Policy Brief. Green = data center (DC); dark blue = electric vehicle (EV); light blue is baseline consumption.

Act Now: Protect Virginia Residents and Ratepayers

Given the enormous implications to Virginia residents and ratepayers, PEC and a number of partner organizations are calling for the General Assembly to support a true assessment of the impacts to Virginia’s ratepayers, environment, economy, energy resources and ability to meet carbon-reduction goals, as proposed in Senator Petersen’s SB 1078 and Senate Joint Resolution 240. We are also urging legislators to give greater scrutiny to data center subsidies like those put forward in HB 2479 and SB 1522.

If you have a moment, I hope you’ll send a letter in support SB 1078 and Senate Joint Resolution 240, which are expected to come up in Senate Rules tomorrow (Friday, Feb. 3). Ask your elected officials to take seriously the potential impacts of such a rapid expansion of data centers in Virginia on residents and ratepayers.

Finally, I’d like to draw your attention to an article published earlier this week, titled “Va. regulators propose easing emission limits for data centers over power transmission concerns,” about emergency actions stemming from the roughly 150 data centers already in operation in Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties.

As the article outlines, the rapid expansion of Virginia’s data center industry over the last few years has left Dominion scrambling to meet data centers’ energy demands. The Department of Environmental Quality is proposing to ease air emissions rules so data centers can get extra power from generators. In other words, Virginians are being asked to live with dirtier air while the industry causing it gets a free pass for violating air quality rules that others have to follow. That is not acceptable.

It’s time for our elected officials to start asking serious questions, like “who is benefiting, and at what cost to Virginia taxpayers and ratepayers?” while there is still an opportunity to change course.


Christopher G. Miller
540-347-2334 ext. 7100