Whitney Pipkin at the Bay Journal, Virginia regulators consider letting data centers regularly use fossil-fuel power for part of the year
Virginia regulators have proposed allowing nearly 300 data centers in Northern Virginia to use backup generators over a five-month period during which energy “transmission problems” are anticipated.
Many of these backup generators produce power by burning diesel or natural gas, which releases pollutants that pose risks to human and environmental health. To protect regional air quality, Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality regulates when and how frequently data centers can run their emergency on-site generators to ensure they are working while limiting their cumulative impact.
As opposed to the coal and gas fired plants that provide much of the region's power?
During normal operations, data centers can be powered by a variety of sources, ranging from the municipal electric grid to their own solar panels. In Virginia, natural gas and nuclear power were the top sources of electricity in 2021, but that is changing, fueled partly by data centers. Google and Amazon, which operate many of the region’s centers or contract with them, have each committed to source energy entirely from renewable sources by 2030 and 2025, respectively.
During past interviews with the Bay Journal, state regulators said they imagined multiple data center generators running at the same time only in the case of a major emergency impacting the regional power grid. Environmental groups, meanwhile, have been increasingly concerned about the rapid and regionally concentrated growth of an industry that uses massive amounts of energy to satisfy the world’s appetite for electronic data.
The Northern Virginia counties of Loudoun, Fairfax and Prince William are home to nearly 300 data centers that are crucial to moving about 70% of the world’s internet traffic. Those centers, and the reliability of the internet, by extension, could be impacted by upcoming power transmission issues that are anticipated from March to July of this year, DEQ Director Mike Rolband said in a statement explaining why the agency was proposing a temporary variance from its own regulations. Responding to questions by email, DEQ Spokesman Aaron Proctor said demand for electricity from data centers in that region "could potentially exceed the capacity of the area's electric transmission system" during that time period.
I can hardly wait for the rolling blackouts to start. But at least you'll still be able to do a search on Google and order from Amazon.