President’s Letter: The Fight is Worth It

Dear Friends,

The focus of PEC’s Annual Meeting was the connection between community-based conservation and broader land conservation goals, especially the need for connected landscapes to support biodiversity and the migration of wildlife.

With the PEC Conservation Award, we recognized Land Trust Alliance President Andrew Bowman for his leadership of the land trust community over the past eight years. In his remarks, Andrew recognized the role of PEC as a model for the land trust and conservation movement, engaging communities in conservation and restoration while embracing the complexity of the world and addressing climate change, equitable access to nature, and the need to protect biodiversity.

The keynote address by Dr. Travis Belote was amazing in its breadth to the continental scale and depth of analysis. Highlighting the Blue Ridge and Appalachian corridor as one of the most important ecosystems in the United States, he recognized our work in the Piedmont as nationally and globally significant in terms of conserving and restoring the most important lands for biodiversity. We are proud to be part of an effort to conserve and connect more than 5,000 acres or working forestland near the Shenandoah National Park.

man presents in front of a auditorium
Dr. Travis Belote presents at PEC’s Annual Meeting in June.

But that narrative of success is threatened.

The challenge presented by the explosive growth of artificial intelligence, data centers and the energy infrastructure they require continues to grow. PEC and our partners at the Virginia Data Center Reform Coalition are also responding to the accelerated push for new transmission lines across the Piedmont and the Mid-Atlantic region. We are preparing to challenge proposals locally in Albemarle, Culpeper, Orange, Fauquier, and Loudoun counties, and we are gearing up to raise concerns with the State Corporation Commission, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Department of Energy, and ultimately, with the General Assembly and Congress. As the enormous amount of additional energy required by data centers dominates headlines, the potential impacts of the new and expanded energy infrastructure on our landscapes are becoming more apparent.

Why does this matter to PEC?  

…Because the 200 million square feet of data center construction and the energy infrastructure to support the insatiable demand for electrical power is increasingly being proposed for critical conservation lands, adjacent to national parks, state parks, and community trails, and on  fertile farmland and intact forests.

…Because the demand for water to cool the massive computing centers will exceed the carrying capacity of our rivers and aquifers. Although we have been blessed with sustaining rains in the past month, all of us know that the water levels in our wells and in our nearby streams remain at historically low levels.

…Because the demand for electricity now is setting back our collective efforts to develop a clean energy future, encouraging expanded transmission to bring in energy from fossil fuel electrical generation plants in neighboring states.

Just this past weekend, many of us enjoyed the incredible views at the epicenter of the new Culpeper Battlefields State Park on Fleetwood Hill, with a 360-degree panorama of open space. Speaker after speaker, from the Culpeper tourism and economic development director to Gov. Glenn Youngkin, celebrated the importance of the open spaces and views for solace and remembrance and as an anchor to the economy. If not for the courageous and sustained efforts of conservation-minded citizens, landowners, and partners like the American Battlefield Trust, Brandy Station Foundation, and many others, these places would have been lost decades ago to new and expanded highways, sprawling residential developments and a proposed Formula 1 race track.

At the Upperville Colt and Horse Show, thousands enjoyed a week under the shade of majestic oaks with sweeping views of the Loudoun Valley. That view represents generations of effort by PEC, the Land Trust of Virginia, Goose Creek Association, the Route 50 Coalition and thousands of individual families.

The remarkable qualities celebrated at both of these events are directly threatened by the next generation of high voltage transmission lines to support the expanded data center industry in Virginia.

Thanks to all for their work, day and night, to engage and mobilize our communities to fight for something better. It’s worth it. By being present and taking action ourselves and by reaching out to others — from friends and family to business leaders and members of local boards to governors, the General Assembly and Congress — we can continue to advocate for reasonable regulation of impacts and for the mitigation of the impacts we cannot avoid. Now is the time to make the case.


Chris Miller, President

This letter appeared in the 2024 summer 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