Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Call for data center guidelines

Three years ago, we started voicing concerns about a proposed data center development within the legislative boundary of Prince William Forest Park- Potomac Technology Park. We acknowledged that data centers had a role to play in modern society - many of our programs from the history of the Barnes House to protecting Quantico Creek are available online for anyone to see thanks to data centers that have already been built. But we also recognized that they needed to be properly sited with adequate buffers and set-backs. These siting concerns drove our opposition to projects like the Potomac Tech Park and Prince William Digital Gateway.

Where data centers are located is still important. But with the rapid increase in projects we are seeing, and this industry’s insatiable demand for power, water and land, we are growing more and more concerned about the cumulative impacts of this industry. Impacts on our electric grid, energy bills, water resources, and climate change goals are all of concern. These impacts are felt not only here in Prince William County, but across the state and the globe.

It is because of these cumulative impacts that we are a founding member of a state-wide coalition calling for data center reform, which has bipartisan support. While state-level action is underway, there is much we can and should do at the local level.
The revenue potential from data centers is enticing for parks and schools and other programs. But we are already seeing that that promised revenue may be much less than initially projected while the aggregated impacts continue to mount. This leaves us wondering if the benefits will truly outweigh the costs in the end.
For that accounting to work out in the county’s favor we need our planning process to be clear, transparent and predictable, and for it to account for impacts on our communities, natural areas and climate change goals. To the latter point, the work of the sustainability commission and implementing the Community Energy and Sustainability Master Plan is key to the planning process.

We need transparency regarding the power and water requirements of data centers. We need clear guidelines for the location and construction of data centers, including provisions for noise control, the establishment of adequate buffers and setbacks, protection of natural open spaces, and requirements for renewable energy usage. These suggestions are not exhaustive but rather highlight a few key elements that few key elements for you as leaders to consider. By establishing clear guidelines and adhering strictly to them, we can ensure that applicants, planners, staff, and the community are aware of expectations and can work together towards sustainable solutions. Thank you for your attention to this matter, and we look forward to working collaboratively with the Board to address these pressing issues. 


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