Data centers are the bricks and mortar of the internet. These buildings store servers, digital storage equipment, and network infrastructure for large-scale data processing and storage. Our increasingly digital world has an ever-growing need for data creation, processing, and storage from businesses, online platforms, video streaming, smart and connected infrastructure, autonomous and driver assist vehicles, and artificial intelligence.
Data centers use an incredible amount of power, which has been growing as demand for data storage and computing power has skyrocketed. The Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) reports the current power demand for data centers is 60-90 megawatts per building, which is more than the power used by 15,000 households at their most energy intense or peak use. Data center power usage is a flat constant demand. In the future the power use for data centers may increase due to the integration of AI since their more powerful chips require more power to run and more cooling.
The United States houses nearly 30% of data center servers, more than any other country; and northern Virginia houses more data centers than any other locality. In May when Dominion Energy filed its 2023 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) with the State Corporation Commission (SCC) it essentially showed that Virginia plans to decarbonize the grid under the VCEA had collided with the exploding demand of the unconstrained growth of the data centers in Northern Virginia.
The IRP plan presented by Dominion would increase carbon emissions from current levels, instead of dropping to zero by 2040, as required under the VCEA. In the IRP submitted to the SCC Dominion forecasted that power demand would rise 80% and that peak load will rise from a bit more than 17,000 megawatts now to 27,000 megawatts by 2037. You cannot plan that amount of electricity use growth while eliminating generation capacity. It has never been done, and Dominion admits that they need to not only keep all their fossil fuel power generation operating but are asking to build more fossil fuel generation to meet this forecast demand.
All that power must be delivered to the data centers. PJM Interconnection, our regional transmission grid operator, works behind the scenes to ensure the reliability of the power grid to keep the data centers humming and keep the lights and heat on. The PJM extends into 13 states and the District of Columbia: Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. PJM balances the loads and makes sure the grid can deliver the power when it is needed.
PJM is currently looking at proposals to deliver more power to data center alley, which it now defines as an area stretching from Ashburn to south of Manassas. This would encompass the PW Digital Gateway which has yet to receive its rezoning, but will be heard by the Planning Commission on November 8th beginning at 2 pm. To meet the power demands of data centers PJM plans to expand the grid with hundreds of miles of new high-power lines that sit atop 100-foot towers.
Last month, PJM Transmission Expansion Advisory Committee (TEAC) posted a list of 72 project proposals as part of their data center load planning. The PEC took all those proposals and digitized as many of the paths as they could from the project descriptions to create a map you can find at this link. The PEC held an informational meeting in Upperville last week to inform residents who thought the data centers would not impact them that people can see what’s being considered and the communities and resources that might be impacted.
As you can see in the thumbnail map above, the power is being brought to the Ashburn to Manassas Alley from both east and west. If you look at the larger map the power comes from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. This is the PEC map prepared for a Fauquier audience. The red lines will be areas a new power corridors of 100 meter tall power towers, the purple are the power corridors that will be rebuilt with bigger and better towers, the black are right of ways that will be expanded.
According to the PEC: “The PJM TEAC requested proposals for transmission expansion projects to help address modeled “overload violations on the grid” caused by currently operating data centers and to meet immediate load requests for electric service through the planning period (2022-2027). Although not all of these proposals will likely move forward through this “2022 RTEP Window 3” period, it is likely that we will see those not selected return in the next 2023 RTEP Windows. As a result of the massive data center boom occurring in Virginia, we believe this is only the beginning of the massive transmission line proposals we are likely to see over the next few years.”If you open the PEC map (give it time it loads slowly) you can enter your address and see how these proposal might impact your neighborhood or view shed, or simply take a look at overall impact. When I did, I got a nasty surprise: 100 foot towers bisecting my neighborhood creating a 52 foot wide utility corridor between homes
|The enlarged section of bottom right at Hickory Grove|