The fall is, for many of us, a time to restart and re-energize after a summer of vacation. For PEC, this particular fall is the beginning of a period of redoubled eﬀort across the full range of our programs to ensure the Piedmont continues to be a national model for sustainable growth and conservation. We are also girding for an extended and diﬃcult debate about the impact of the explosion of data center development and the rapid expansion of related energy infrastructure all across Virginia, but particularly in the Piedmont and Northern Virginia.
All over the globe, cloud computing, data mining, artiﬁcial intelligence, communications and all things digital are exploding. But for a combination of reasons, Virginia bears a grossly disproportionate share of the infrastructure that underpins it all.
The volume of major land use proposals threatens everything we’ve achieved together over the past 50 years. To date, we’re counting well over 100 million square feet of new data center campuses that will take as much land as roughly 500 Walmart supercenters and consume more energy than all other uses in Virginia combined. Increasingly secretive dealings and disregard for community opposition is undermining our power as engaged citizens. The collective data center-related challenge we face today is far greater than Disney’s America was 30 years ago, and we need to approach it with an even greater level of time, commitment, legal assistance, partner engagement, communications, and every other tool in our arsenal.
As a society, we need to strike a balance between the potential prosperity that massive investment in high tech oﬀers and the potential negative impacts that come with it — to public health, drinking water, climate goals, farmlands and forests, wildlife, communities and quality of life. As PEC works to understand, communicate, and respond to the scale and scope of the challenge, we will need your support to ensure Virginia’s new economy is aligned with smart planning and conservation values. This can only happen with additional resources for staﬀ, experts on energy and energy infrastructure, legal representation in what’s sure to be an extended battle, and an expanded communications and civic engagement program.
The upcoming election of local and state representatives is an opportunity to educate candidates about issues of importance to you. PEC has worked with partners at the Virginia Conservation Network to publish Our Common Agenda, an in-depth analysis of conservation issues facing Virginia and practical state-level policy recommendations to keep us moving in the right direction. You can ﬁnd these recommendations at: vcnva.org/our-common-agenda. We need you, too, to let your local and state oﬃcials know your own expectations about how we plan for this growing industry, how we regulate to minimize its most signiﬁcant impacts on our land, communities, and power grid, and how we mitigate the inevitable harm it brings to the lands and resources we care about the most.
The reality is, there is no transparent, commonly understood planning in Virginia for either the data center sector or for the energy infrastructure required to support the explosive growth in data centers. But, relying on our past experience with land use and energy infrastructure planning decisions at the local level, PEC has for the past three years been sounding the alarm at local, state and national levels, raising awareness among the public, and organizing new coalitions that we hope together will bring about a transformational change in the state’s approach to data center development that protects the people of Virginia and all we’ve fought and worked for to make the Piedmont what it is today.
We need your support now more than ever. The pressures on our region are real and growing and we must respond and deliver solutions that protect our natural resources while advancing Virginia’s clean energy future. To implement our strategy, PEC needs 30% more annual support to take on the challenge that data center siting and energy use represents, in addition to our core programs. Every donation makes a diﬀerence, and we are deeply appreciative of your past support that has helped us accomplish so much. Our goal is to raise an additional $1.5 million to cover our current expenses and respond to the threats and opportunities ahead — we hope we can count on you to help us during this critical time.
Chris Miller, President
This letter appeared in the 2023 fall 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.