A closely watched bill that could derail the controversial Prince William Digital Gateway was transferred from one Senate of Virginia committee to another Jan. 23 in a move that its sponsor, Sen. Chap Petersen, D-34th, said was “not a good sign.”
Petersen’s bill, SB 1078, would prohibit local governments from approving data centers located within one mile of a national or state park or a “historically significant site.” The bill would also require local governments to conduct site assessments to determine new data centers’ effects on water usage, carbon emissions and agricultural resources prior to approval.
Fauquier County supervisors have already approved by-right development for nearly 1 million square feet of data centers in Vint Hill, which is part of the state-designated Vint Hill Farms Station Historic District. A data center developer last year signed an agreement with at least one landowner to build on a still-vacant site.
In the Remington area, where two natural gas power plants, an industrial-scale solar energy facility, a quarry and several transmission corridors are already located, county supervisors approved a 1.8 million square-foot data center complex in 2018. The site, dubbed the Remington Technology Park, is located about 1.2 miles from the future Rappahannock Station Battlefield Park on the Rappahannock River, though maps of the Civil War battles that took place in the area show troop movements much closer to the property zoned for data centers.
“There are clearly people working behind the scenes to defeat this bill, but I’m not going to be deterred,” said Petersen, of the city of Fairfax, in an interview Monday morning, after the Senate Local Government Committee sent his bill to the Senate Rules Committee.
Petersen announced his bill last week in a joint press conference with Del. Danica Roem, D-13th, who has introduced two of her own data-center measures.
Petersen declined to speculate on why Local Government Committee Chairman Lynwood Lewis, D-6th, of Accomack, sent the bill away.
Lewis said during the committee hearing that he suggested the move so that SB 1078 could be heard alongside Petersen’s other data center measure, Senate Joint Resolution 240. The resolution calls for the state energy department to study the impacts of data center development on Virginia’s environment, economy, energy resources and carbon-reduction goals.
Petersen said he’s not sure whether the bills will fare better or worse in the Rules Committee. He said he believes SB 1078 is better suited for the Local Government Committee because it deals with zoning issues and historic sites.
Petersen’s bill has been hailed by opponents of the Prince William Digital Gateway, a plan to open 2,139 acres adjacent to the Manassas National Battlefield Park to data centers, as a silver bullet that could halt the corridor.
Data centers house the computer servers and hardware required to support businesses and the internet. Northern Virginia has the highest concentration of data centers in the world. They are lauded for the tax revenue they bring to local governments but have also come under greater scrutiny for their use of large amounts of electricity and water and for the noise generated by their roof-top cooling equipment.
Several communities in western Prince William County are fighting the expansion of data centers planned close to homes and schools and inside Prince William’s rural crescent.
Also facing intense scrutiny is an Amazon data center proposed for Blackwell Road in Warrenton on acreage zoned for industrial use that lies at the town’s gateway near U.S. 15/17/29.
The Local Government Committee voted 7-3 to refer SB 1078 to the Rules Committee. Among those voting to defer the bill was state Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-29th, who represents a large swath of Prince William County. In an interview after the vote, McPike said it was “fairly typical” for similar bills to be grouped together in one committee.
McPike said he hasn’t heard of any attempts by Amazon to fight the bill. McPike carried a successful bill on behalf of data centers last year, Senate Bill 513, that standardized the way data center property is assessed for local tax purposes.
Elena Schlossberg, executive director of the Coalition to Protect Prince William County, which opposes the PW Digital Gateway, said McPike called her at about 6:45 a.m. Jan. 23 to tell her Petersen’s bill would be referred to the Senate’s Rules Committee. A handful of Digital Gateway opponents were already on their way to Richmond for the 9 a.m. Local Government Committee meeting, Schlossberg said.
Schlossberg said she is disappointed the bill will have to wait for its first hearing -- especially in the wake of the announcement of the incentive package for Amazon.
Reach Jill Palermo at email@example.com