Northern Virginia Becoming A Data Driven Landscape

Over the past several months, I’ve logged a lot miles from the Eastern Shore to the mountains in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. I like to pick up the local monthlies, weeklies, and, where they still exist, the dailies. In nearly every county I visit, there is one issue causing great alarm, concern, and anger among voters. Data Centers. This paper has published its share, with another in this edition.

My goodness, some of you might say. Another article on data centers? Yes, another one. The frenzied growth of these giant, noisy buildings is redefining the Northern Virginia landscape before state and local officials can get a handle on how to manage that growth. We would all do well to learn as much as can, so that we can be part of conversations and decisions that will shape the region’s future.

Ten years ago, few people could have foreseen these new, urgent challenges to local planning. Data centers require so much electricity and water that they are straining local capacity. They gobble up hundreds, even thousands of acres. Sometimes entire forests are cut down for the solar fields that feed the grid that feeds power to data centers. And they raise the value of land so much that few local governments can say no to re-zoning requests — which can mean hundreds of millions of dollars a year in high-growth counties. 

We are tethered to the cloud — there’s a reason it’s called the World Wide Web. That’s unlikely to change as more people work from home, shop from home, and entertain themselves at home. It’s an issue that is beyond local governments’ ability to manage on their own. We need to figure this one out through regional standards and regulation by the states. 

There is, at last, interest in Richmond to take the issue seriously, described in this month’s story. Stay informed, and stay in touch with your legislators.