As the proposed Amazon data center moves toward what could be its final consideration by the Warrenton Town Council, there have been some recent developments.
Buried distribution lines
A visit to Virginia Department of Transportation’s regional office on Jan. 13 fueled Warrenton Town Councilman Bill Semple’s (Ward 2) worst fears: that the most likely route for an underground distribution line to the proposed data center from a Dominion Energy substation off Falmouth Street -- if it is built there -- would run north on Falmouth Street, east on Lee Street, then north up Walker Drive to Blackwell Road. “It will literally tear up my ward,” said Semple.
“Construction will create backups, bottlenecks, traffic jams, and problems getting in and out of the driveway for months. For whose benefit? Not yours,” he wrote in an email to constituents.
Semple had arranged a meeting between himself, Councilman Jim Hartman (Ward 4), Director of Public Works Frank Cassidy, and Director of Planning Denise Harris at the local VDOT office on E. Shirley Avenue. They met with resident engineer D. Mark Nesbitt and land engineer Craig Simpson to probe whether it might be possible for underground power lines to run up U.S 15/29 instead.
The engineers told them VDOT had not heard from Dominion on the subject, Semple emailed the council. Still, the engineers told the group that while a final decision would be made in Richmond, VDOT generally did not like to give up its right of way along limited access highways.
Semple wrote his constituents: "The [VDOT] representatives were very gracious and sympathetic. My conclusion? As I said in an email to council the next day? Not a snowball's chance in hell."
General Assembly bill would underground transmission lines
A bill moving through the state legislature would address another worry about the data center – that Dominion Energy would power it with 230 kV overhead transmission lines from Vint Hill Road, crossing multiple subdivisions and back yards.
The new bill, HB 1370, which passed the Senate 39-0 on Feb. 2, would add one new project to a series of “pilot” projects that put power lines underground. The new project could be a transmission line designed to power the Amazon project on Blackwell Road, said county supervisor Holder Trumbo, who pushed for the legislation.
Trumbo acknowledged that Dominion’s current posture is that high-power lines from the Wheeler substation off Vint Hill Road would not be needed, and that the data center would be powered by smaller distribution lines from a new substation near Old Meetze Road.
Still, he said, the State Corporation Commission has the final say on what lines go where, and this provides insurance against them reinstating the Vint Hill to Blackwell Road route.
Trumbo said he had heard objections that this bill would “enable” a substation in town by burying the lines to it, but he said his goal is to protect Fauquier County from overhead 230 kV lines.
The new bill only covers projects whose applications arrive by Oct. 1, 2023, but Trumbo said it could be extended through future legislation, and that this one could set the stage for bills to protect Fauquier from new power lines he expects to be built across the county for data centers in Prince William County.
“That's the whole purpose,” he said. “That transmission line issue will be a very hot one in Fauquier over the course of the next 10 to 15 years.”
As of Friday, SB 1370 had moved to the House calendar and was in the commerce and energy committee.
It's also critical for us residents to know the following, which has been obscured by the process and because Amazon and its representatives have distanced themselves from the huge power needs for their operation. First, the proposed distribution line through town will be exclusively for Amazon's use, not for anyone else. Does it makes sense to run a distribution like clear across town for miles just to service Amazon? Why? Second, Dominion Energy has said that the power substation is not needed if the Amazon SUP is not approved. This was repeated at public meetings and when Dominion was questioned by council members. It is being proposed solely because of Amazon's massive power needs. Finally, Dominion's preferred choice for a substation is along the Greenway, Why? The site is along one of the most popular recreational areas of town, has a documented wetland in the middle of the property, additional acreage used for stormwater management by the town, and borders Alwyngton Manor. Putting a substation there threatens all of these, not to mention not even satisfying 2 and possibly all 3 of Dominion's own criteria for siting substations. It also opens up the floodgates for other properties East, South, and West of town, and possibly in town, to be turned into massive computer server warehouses once the substation is built. We just learned today that Maple Tree Farm is touting its 145 acres as a "data center" site, with 4 large buildings along the Greenway just beyond the pedestrian bridge over Route 29. These are the additional stakes connected to the Amazon SUP. A lot hinges on the town council's vote.
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