None of the sessions at last month’s Virginia Clean Energy Summit (VACES) in Richmond were devoted to data centers, but data centers were what everyone was talking about. Explosive growth in that energy-hungry industry has everyone — utilities, the grid operator, and the industry itself — scrambling to figure out how Virginia will provide enough new power generation and transmission. And, worryingly, no one seems to have an answer.
Or rather, lots of people have answers, but none of them achieve the trifecta of providing data centers the energy they need while continuing the explosive growth trajectory that state leaders seem to want, and at the same time keeping Virginia’s transition to zero-carbon energy on track. Something has to give. Which will it be?
With no action, the “give” comes from the people of Virginia. Residents will see growth they don’t want, pay for infrastructure that doesn’t serve them, suffer from pollution that is not of their making, and see their tax dollars subsidize an industry that employs almost no one.
The no-action option isn’t a solution
But first, a quick recap. Northern Virginia already has the largest concentration of data centers in the world. As of late 2022, data center electricity demand had grown to 21% of Dominion Energy Virginia’s entire load, and likely an even larger percentage of the load of Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative (NOVEC), which serves much of Data Center Alley.
Worse, the industry is just getting started. Grid operator PJM’s grid forecast projects Dominion’s data center load will quadruple over the next 15 years, while NOVEC’s will rise to ten times what it is today. Other rural electric cooperatives in Virginia told PJM they also expect a huge demand from data centers, a prediction confirmed by news that Amazon Web Services expects to spend $11 billion on data centers in Louisa County, in the territory of Rappahannock Electric Cooperative.
In its Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) filing in May of this year, Dominion told the State Corporation Commission (SCC) that due to data center demand, it plans to ignore Virginia’s commitment to achieving a zero-carbon economy. Instead of increasing the pace of renewable energy and storage construction, it wants to keep coal plants running past their mandatory retirement dates and even build new gas combustion turbines as well as billions of dollars’ worth of new transmission infrastructure. The result will be higher costs for consumers and massive increases in carbon emissions, violating the carbon-cutting mandate of the Virginia Clean Economy Act.
Bill Murray, Dominion senior vice president for corporate affairs and communications,, seems to have tried for a more conciliatory tone in talking to Senate Finance Committee members last week about the challenge of meeting data center load. Murray is quoted in the Richmond Times-Dispatch telling members, “We have worked through these challenges before.” Isn’t that reassuring? If only it were true.
If Dominion’s response has been less than adequate, others have not done better. PJM, already woefully behind on approving new renewable energy generation interconnection requests, blames states for wanting clean energy rather than doing its own job to help the market provide it. A PJM representative told the VACES audience utilities should just keep their fossil fuel plants running until it can work its way through the backlog, hopefully by 2026.
Virginia’s Data Center Coalition doesn’t see energy as its problem to solve, and its members seem strangely content to run on fossil fuels. Others in the industry are trying to do better, though. Whole conferences are devoted to the subject of lowering the carbon footprint of data centers. In addition to a pledge to use renewable energy 24/7, Google has achieved remarkable levels of energy efficiency (for you nerds, they claim an average PUE of 1.1). Google, however, has only a small footprint in Virginia.
Amazon Web Services, the biggest data center company in Virginia, buys renewable energy but is not striving for the 24/7 standard. AWS’ senior manager for energy and environment public policy, Craig Sundstrom, told a panel at VACES that by 2025, AWS will have offset its use of grid power with purchases of renewable energy on the PJM grid, and he pointed to 16 solar projects the company has in operation or under development in Virginia. That’s a great start, but it’s only a start. With no battery storage in the mix, AWS will still be using grid power from fossil fuels most of the time.
Why are ratepayers footing the bill for Virginia’s data center buildout?
Wishful thinking will not solve this
So what should data centers do? Or, since most of the industry doesn’t want to do anything, what should Virginia utilities and policymakers do?
VACES conference attendees had a few suggestions. The nuclear energy true believers were there, touting small modular reactors (SMRs). Gov. Youngkin and many Virginia legislators are fans of nuclear, but the timing was unfortunate. A few weeks after VACES, the first SMR in development — the one that’s supposed to prove how great the technology is — lost its customers due to increasing cost projections. The chances of SMRs ever outcompeting solar paired with storage seems more remote than ever.
Green hydrogen, a vital part of our energy future, has cost and availability problems right now, too. Microgrids powered by hydrogen fuel cells would be a fantastic solution. I’ll set my alarm for 2030 to check on how that’s going.
Meanwhile, representatives of Washington Gas and Roanoke Gas earnestly tried to sell the VACES audience on the virtues of methane captured from wastewater treatment plants and hog waste cesspools like those at Smithfield Farms’ concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).
Some of this so-called renewable natural gas (RNG) may be available now, but it is exceedingly hard to imagine there would ever be enough to supply even the back-up generators at Virginia data centers, to say nothing of meeting 21% (and growing!) of Dominion’s total load. North Carolina has incentivized pig waste biogas for many years, but it still makes up only a fraction of a percentage point of that state’s energy supply.
To hear the gas folks tell it, though, RNG is not just carbon-neutral but carbon-negative, achieving this Holy Grail status by capturing and burning methane that would otherwise escape into the air. They assert that mixing a mere 5% of this biogas into ordinary fossil methane will effectively decarbonize the entire pipeline. In other words, we should be glad CAFOs are such an environmental disaster.
That dog won’t hunt. If gas companies get to claim the virtues of pig waste biogas, they also have to account for its vices, including the greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution associated with methane capture and leakage throughout collection and delivery.
Also, if factory farming is the answer to the needs of data centers, God help us. Maybe the tech industry should move to Iowa.
A better approach
One of the better ideas coming out of VACES was a simple one: if clean energy can’t come to the load, the load should go to clean energy. Iowa, in fact, is just one of several states that get more than half their electricity from wind and solar. And indeed, some large tech companies are looking at separating their operations between those that are time-critical and need to be next to load centers and those that don’t, with the latter able to take advantage of better climates and greener energy.
Tech companies don’t necessarily have to look beyond Virginia to take their operations to clean energy. Nothing prevents them from locating in rural counties where they can surround their data centers with fields of solar panels and banks of batteries. For that matter, a large operator like AWS could buy offshore wind, starting with the Kitty Hawk project that is still seeking a customer.
Many Virginia data center operators, though, will still need to access the PJM market. They should be expected to follow Google and buy renewable energy and storage to meet at least most of their electricity needs on a 24/7, hourly matching basis. Given the PJM bottleneck, they will need a grace period of two or three years. After that: no renewable energy, no tax subsidy.
Building more Virginia data centers requires increased pollution controls
That’s point one of our data center strategy. Point two: data centers that have to source their own renewable energy will be motivated to use less energy, but Virginia can also set an energy efficiency minimum they should meet to qualify for Virginia’s tax subsidies. They need not match Google’s success, but they should come close.
Point three: Dominion claimed in its IRP that it could not build enough solar itself to meet the soaring data center demand; this was its excuse for keeping expensive coal plants running beyond their planned retirement dates. If Dominion can’t build it, let others do it. The General Assembly should remove the 35% limit on the amount of solar and storage capacity that third-party developers can provide. A little free-market competition never hurt anyone.
Point four: If the growth of data centers requires utilities to invest more for energy generation and power lines, the data centers should be the ones paying the extra cost, not residential customers.
Point five: Leaders should not separate the joy they feel in attracting data centers from the pain their constituents feel in living with data centers and transmission lines, breathing pollution from diesel back-up generators and having the quality and quantity of their freshwater resources threatened. Data center developers and revenue-hungry local governments are not the appropriate decision makers for development at this scale. The administration should convene a task force with the job and power to do comprehensive planning for data center siting, development and resource use.
Adopting these five points will not stop data centers from locating in Virginia, and that isn’t the goal. What it will ensure is that the development is well planned out, fair and equitable to everyone.
Virginia Museum of Transportation hosts Santa Claus at the Candy Cane Carnival
ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) – The Roanoke Valley is getting into the holiday spirit with the Virginia Museum of Transportation hosting its Candy Cane Carnival this weekend. The holiday festivity included a special guest appearance from Santa Claus.
There were lots of activities for the whole family to enjoy, including balloon animals, caricatures, face painting and live music. Some passengers even got to ride on the train that was decorated with holiday lights.
If you missed the carnival on Saturday, it’s going on again on Sunday at the museum.
Copyright 2023 WDBJ. All rights reserved.
Suspect in West Virginia double murder found dead in Ohio motel
BELLEFONTAINE, Ohio — A suspect in a double murder in Vienna, West Virginia on Friday afternoon was found dead inside a motel room in Bellefontaine, Ohio early Saturday morning, officials say.
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The U.S. Marshal’s Service and members of their Task Force contacted the Bellefontaine Police Department just before midnight Friday about a homicide suspect who was possibly in the Bellefontaine area, according to WHIO.
The suspect was believed to have killed two people in Wood County, Virginia. According to the news outlet, they left the area in a stolen car. The U.S. Marshal’s Service was able to track down the vehicle at the Comfort Inn on Northview Drive.
The U.S. Marshal and their Task Force and the Bellefontaine Police Special Response Team worked to secure the motel as well as evacuate rooms by the alleged suspect’s room, according to WHIO.
Officers attempted to speak with the suspect when they heard a single gunshot was heard from inside the room. Eventually, officers entered the room and found the suspect dead with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. According to the news outlet, the suspect’s identity has not been released due to next of kin notification.
The suspect was wanted in connection with a double murder in Vienna, West Virginia Friday afternoon.
Vienna Police Department said, just before 5 p.m. officers were called out to 1003 38th Street. Two people were found dead with apparent gunshot wounds inside the house. A family member had found them and contacted the police.
Police identified the two as Thomas J. Platt, 45, and Christy L. Roseberry, 43. Investigators were able to determine a suspect after obtaining a search warrant, speaking with witnesses and gathering other information.
“Vienna Police gathered information on the suspect and contacted surrounding law enforcement agencies to apprise them of the ongoing investigation and to be on the lookout. Vienna Police quickly received assistance from the United States Marshals, who arrived at Vienna PD Headquarters and assisted with gathering information on the possible whereabouts of the suspect,” police said.
Vienna Police Department confirmed that the suspect was found in Ohio just after 2 a.m. Saturday morning dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
How to Stream the Virginia vs. Syracuse Game Live – December 2
The Virginia Cavaliers (6-1, 0-0 ACC) are home in ACC action against the Syracuse Orange (5-2, 0-0 ACC) on Saturday, December 2, 2023 at 12:00 PM ET.
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Virginia vs. Syracuse Game Info
- When: Saturday, December 2, 2023 at 12:00 PM ET
- Where: John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, Virginia
- TV: ESPN
- Live Stream: Watch this game on Fubo
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Virginia Stats Insights
- The Cavaliers are shooting 44.0% from the field this season, 2.8 percentage points higher than the 41.2% the Orange allow to opponents.
- In games Virginia shoots higher than 41.2% from the field, it is 5-0 overall.
- The Cavaliers are the 317th ranked rebounding team in the nation, the Orange rank 87th.
- The 64.4 points per game the Cavaliers record are 5.0 fewer points than the Orange allow (69.4).
- When Virginia scores more than 69.4 points, it is 3-0.
Catch college basketball action all season long on Fubo!
Virginia Home & Away Comparison (2022-23)
- Virginia put up 68.6 points per game at home last year, compared to 65.7 points per game in road games, a difference of 2.9 points per contest.
- The Cavaliers ceded 56.4 points per game last year in home games, which was 8.2 fewer points than they allowed away from home (64.6).
- Virginia averaged 6.6 three-pointers per game with a 33.4% shooting percentage from three-point land in home games, which was 1.0 fewer threes and 4.8% points worse than it averaged in away games (7.6, 38.2%).
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Virginia Upcoming Schedule
|11/20/2023||Wisconsin||L 65-41||Suncoast Credit Union Arena|
|11/22/2023||West Virginia||W 56-54||Suncoast Credit Union Arena|
|11/29/2023||Texas A&M||W 59-47||John Paul Jones Arena|
|12/2/2023||Syracuse||–||John Paul Jones Arena|
|12/5/2023||North Carolina Central||–||John Paul Jones Arena|
|12/16/2023||Northeastern||–||John Paul Jones Arena|
© 2023 Data Skrive. All rights reserved.
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