Causes and Effects of Widespread Data Center Development

While it’s unlikely to expect local and state governments to insist that data center developments locate somewhere else, specific policy steps can ensure a more positive impact for communities.

2 minute read

December 21, 2022, 10:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


A wide highway with a few cars on a gloomy day. Low-rise commercial buildings and more car infrastructure is visible to the side of the road.

Famartin / Wikimedia Commons

Ivy Main reports on the proliferation of data centers in Virginia. While the appeal of such developments is well documented, and mostly succeeding in finding space in local land use regulations, there are also, less well documented, drawbacks.

First, Main explains the case for data centers:

Data centers pay a lot of local taxes while requiring little in the way of local services, and the steady buildout has supported thousands of construction jobs across the region. Indeed, so many data center companies have chosen to locate in Northern Virginia that we now host the largest concentration of data centers in the world. No wonder other regions of the commonwealth are angling to bring data centers to their neck of the woods too.

But then there are some of the drawbacks:

To drive through Data Center Alley is to witness suburban sprawl on steroids, with its attendant deforestation, loss of farmland and loss of wildlife habitat. The environmental destruction doesn’t stop at a facility’s property line; a single building covers acres of land, causing massive rainwater runoff problems that can impact streams and drinking water resources miles downstream.

Main also lists water consumption, noise pollution, air pollution, and energy inefficiencies as other problems created by Virginia’s data centers. The headline of the article says the state “has a data center problem.” The lede says it’s actually “several data center problems.”

The article digs into why Virginia has so many data centers, which includes policies set at the regional and state levels. Main also suggests some policy changes to help mitigate some of the negative effects of the state’s data centers.

Friday, December 9, 2022 in The Virginia Mercury

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