A Moment of Opportunity – Letter from PEC’s President

Dear Friends,

As the General Assembly 2023 session winds down, Virginia enters a critical period when all 100 seats in the House of Delegates and all 40 seats in the Senate will be up for election. Much of the session seemed to be influenced by that impending moment; debates and votes on land conservation, community land use planning and housing, water quality, transportation, and energy all seemed in large part designed to position members for the elections. Even bills to study the impacts of the unprecedented increase in data centers and the energy they consume were voted down under enormous pressure from Amazon and the data center industry, which are, along with Dominion Energy, the largest contributors to political candidates. Budget negotiations over spending plans that were approved last year stalemated over election year issues, despite an unprecedented surplus of revenue. On this front, the one piece of good news is that higher levels of conservation funding remain in place.

PEC staff joined a coalition of organizations in Richmond to demonstrate support for data center reform. Photo by Hugh Kenny/PEC.

Now, more than ever before, it is critical to be bold in our vision for the future and vote for the policy priorities that move us forward. PEC’s role has long been to articulate the public benefits of improved local and regional planning, including around energy and transportation infrastructure, and investments in conservation and restoration. We urge you, in conversations with family, friends, neighbors and colleagues, to advocate on behalf of the Piedmont’s lands and waters and for stronger, more sustainable communities.

In late December 2022, the PEC Board of Directors approved a new strategic plan, which we’ll be rolling out over the coming months, that is aligned with this moment of opportunity. Building on the foundation of 50 years of community based planning and conservation, we can continue to improve our cities, towns, villages and growth areas in ways that are inclusive, sustainable, and resilient, while also accelerating conservation of rural areas and restoring the health of soils, waters and forests. The combination of federal and state funding opportunities has never been more supportive for projects and programs that will help us achieve these goals.

But huge challenges are already before us. Among them is the explosive growth of data centers and Amazon’s announcement of a $35 billion investment in more, which together bring increased pressure for land and for energy infrastructure expansion. Not only are we facing the siting of tens of millions of square feet of data centers, but peak electricity demands are forecasted to double or triple in the next 15 years. No matter the source of electricity, there will be dramatic expansion in transmission and distribution power lines. All of us need to work together to push for a cleaner, well planned, and carefully sited renewable energy system, one that seizes the opportunity for rooftop residential solar, small-scale solar generation to support farms, and the reuse of parking lots, large commercial rooftops, brownfields and other impaired sites as a bigger part of the solution.

In all of our work, PEC will continue to collaborate with other conservation and environmental partners and highlight the needs and opportunities within our increasingly diverse communities. I look forward to discussing our strategic plan in detail with you in the coming months.


Chris Miller, President

Chris Miller, PEC President, headshot

This letter appeared in 2023 spring edition of The Piedmont Environmental Council’s member newsletter, The Piedmont View. If you’d like to become a PEC member or renew your membership, please visit pecva.org/join.