Data centers, driving power demand in Virginia, want renewable energy

Solar farms, like this one in North Carolina, are in high demand among Virginia’s big energy users.  (© Alice Keeney)

As part of the assessment of Dominion’s annual long term energy plan, a group of data center providers and customers with facilities throughout Virginia wrote to the State Corporation Commission urging it to consider their industries’ commitment to renewable and clean energy when evaluating Dominion’s plan.

The letter from companies including Adobe, eBay, Equinix, and Salesforce encouraged Dominion and the SCC to think a lot harder about the utilities’ renewables mix, especially considering that data centers are responsible for much of the growth in demand predicted by Dominion at a time when improvements in energy efficiency are keeping load growth generally flat.

Given the growth of our energy-intensive industry across Virginia, it is not surprising that data centers constitute the largest share of Dominion’s load growth — increasing by approximately 500 megawatts over the past six years,” the letter stated. “Over this same period, peak loads for Dominion’s non-data center customers actually declined, a trend that is expected to continue.”

Noting that data centers and cloud services industries support more than 40,000 jobs in the state and are responsible for more than $10.2 billion in economic output every year, the companies said winning more investment from them will require Dominion to strengthen its own investment in renewable energy sources.

Data center companies and their customers recognize the value of renewable energy in helping to control energy costs and achieve price predictability,” the letter said, “as well as driving toward our ambitious sustainability and greenhouse gas reduction targets.”

The companies noted that renewable energy is the most cost-effective resource, meaning more renewable energy will help data centers control energy costs, and that investors are more vocal about wanting data centers and cloud service facilities to be operated in ways that reduce their carbon footprint as much as possible.

They also warned of over-investing in new dirty-energy infrastructure, which could burden ratepayers with unnecessary and expensive assets, noting that a “clean grid is the grid of the future” and offering to help accelerate the transition to such a clean grid.

This letter represents an invitation and an opportunity for SCC to push Dominion to get serious about how it plans for renewables and grid modernization,” said Will Cleveland, attorney for SELC. “Dominion has shown its reluctant do so on its own, so it’s time for the state to do what it can to force the utility into the future.”

Other big energy-using institutions in Virginia are also working toward ways of reducing or eliminating their carbon footprints.

The University of Richmond recently announced a solar power purchase agreement with sPower, a private solar power producer, to build a solar farm that can produce up to 41,000 megawatts annually. The university contracted for a portion of the array, which will go to offsetting pollution from 100 percent of the dirty energy the university buys from Dominion.

Similarly, the University of Virginia has boosted its sustainability efforts and there is a campaign underway to set a goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2035.

Across industries some of Virginia’s biggest energy users — and some of the largest drivers of Virginia’s economy — want more clean, renewable, reliable energy sources, and state utilities need to do more to meet this growing demand.

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