Virginia Coalition Calls for Increased Data Center Industry Oversight

Environmental groups voice concern that the states large, and growing, number of data centers is putting unsustainable pressure on natural resources and utility infrastructure.

2 minute read

December 13, 2023, 5:00 AM PST

By Mary Hammon @marykhammon

A coalition of environmental and land-use organizations in early December called for an increase in regulation on the human health and environmental effects of the data center industry. The newly formed group, called the Virginia Data Center Reform Coalition, represents concerned residents who “have begun clamoring for more guardrails, scrutinizing the tradeoffs data centers bring to their community,” writes Jake Bolster of Inside Climate News.

Thanks to large amounts of available land and tax incentives to attract tech companies over the last two decades, Virginia’s northeast corridor hosts the world’s highest concentration of data centers: buildings or groups of buildings that house computing machines and their related hardware equipment. Virginia’s data centers generate over half a billion dollars in state tax revenue and account for nearly 70 percent of global internet traffic. Data center operators there include tech giants like Amazon, Google, Meta, and Microsoft.

“But as more companies build more data centers that handle increasingly large volumes of complex internet traffic, energy and water and land-use demands from those facilities have skyrocketed,” reports Bolster. This puts massive pressure on local utilities and impacts air quality, water supply, and progress toward the state’s climate goals.

The Virginia Data Center Reform Coalition is calling upon legislators in Virginia to study the cumulative impact of data centers, increase state oversight over data centers’ regional impact assessments, and ensure the costs of building and operating new grid infrastructure to serve data centers is paid by technology companies, not ratepayers.

The coalition stresses their aim is to reset the relationship between Virginia and the data center industry—not drive the industry out of the state,” writes Bolster.

“Our regulatory oversight is behind other large markets in Europe and Asia,” Julie Bolthouse, director of land use at the Piedmont Environmental Council, told Inside Climate News. “We need to catch up.”

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