Legislation to regulate Va. data centers faltering

This article was republished with permission from WTOP’s news partner InsideNoVa.com. Sign up for InsideNoVa.com’s free email subscription today.

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner InsideNoVa.com and republished with permission. Sign up for InsideNoVa.com’s free email subscription today.

Three bills to regulate Virginia’s burgeoning data center industry have faltered in the General Assembly.

Del. Danica Roem, D-Prince William County, and Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax County, filed several bills this year to strengthen regulations and study the industry. 

Three of the duo’s bills would specifically block the controversial PW Digital Gateway, a proposed 27.6 million square feet of data centers on 2,139 acres along Pageland Lane in western Prince William.

The Prince William Board of Supervisors approved the guidelines for the project on Nov. 2 after a more than nine-hour public hearing and a roughly 14-hour meeting. The guidelines for the overall development, an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan, do not deal with specific construction plans.

QTS Realty Trust Inc. and Compass Datacenters are seeking rezonings to develop the area.

Bills tabled

Roem’s House Bill 1986 and Joint Resolution 522 were tabled by house of delegates committees within the past week, primarily by legislators representing areas unaffected or marginally affected by data center development.

HB 1986 would have required the State Water Control Board to adopt requirements for certain stormwater management techniques for data centers within one mile of state or federal land. It also would have required any data centers within one mile of state or federal land to reuse stormwater runoff that exceeds the levels generated by the existing land.

A subcommittee of the Committee on Commerce and Energy tabled the bill by a 6-1 vote on Jan. 26.

The motion to table was supported by Dels. Christopher Head, R-Roanoke; Kathy Byron, R-Bedford; Israel O’Quinn, R-Bristol; Joseph McNamara, R-Roanoke; Cliff Hayes, D-Chesapeake, and Rip Sullivan, D-Arlington.

Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Richmond, opposed the motion.

The subcommittee did not discuss the bill before tabling it.

HJ 522 was tabled on a 3-2 vote by the Rules Committee on Jan. 30. The resolution would have directed the Virginia Department of Energy to study the impacts of data center development on the state’s environment, economy, energy resources and carbon-reduction goals.

“All this bill does, in its most simple form, is ask us to look at what we’re doing before we do it,” Roem said.

Byron and Head were joined by Del. Tony Wilt, R-Rockingham, in tabling the bill. Dels. Charniele Henry, D-Alexandria, and D.L. Scott, D-Portsmouth, opposed the motion. Committee Chair Robert Orrock, R-Spotsylvania, abstained.

“Northern Virginia is already the data center capital of the world, and we need to know what we’re getting ourselves into with an expansion of an already booming industry that consumes a massive amount of water and energy,” Roem said.

The committee also did not discuss the legislation before tabling it. However, Orrock noted it ranked at the top of “the most email contacts I’ve had on any one piece of legislation.”

“More have blown up my inbox on your measure than I think all the other ones put together,” he told Roem.

Similar fate for HB 1974

Roem’s HB 1974 did clear a subcommittee of the Committee on Commerce and Energy on Jan. 24 but was tabled by the full committee Tuesday on an 11-9 vote.

The legislation would have required the State Corporation Commission to issue a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for the construction of electrical transmission lines of at least 69 kilovolts along a highway right of way.

Currently, the SCC only needs to issue a certificate for lines of 115 kilovolts or higher. Roem’s bill, however, would apply only to Virginia Department of Transportation Planning District 8, which is Prince William, Loudoun, Arlington and Fairfax counties and the cities of Manassas, Manassas Park, Fairfax, Falls Church and Alexandria.

The subcommittee recommended that the bill clear the full committee by a 6-2 vote. Wilt, Scott and Hayes were joined in bipartisan support by Dels. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott, Daniel Marshall, R-Danville, and Kaye Kory, D-Falls Church.

O’Quinn and Del. Amanda Batten, R-James City County, opposed it.

Two stalling

Meanwhile, in the Senate, Petersen’s legislation has been consolidated under one committee.

Petersen’s Senate Bill 1078 would bar local governments from approving data centers within one mile of a national or state park or other “historically significant site.”

The Digital Gateway is well within a mile of Conway Robinson State Forest and Manassas National Battlefield Park.

The bill was referred to the Committee on Local Government, but on Jan. 23, that panel moved it to the Committee on Rules.

Local Government Committee Chair Lynwood Lewis, D-Accomack, said the chair of the rules committee, Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, requested the move. He said Locke’s committee was considering Petersen’s resolution to study the data center industry and felt both bills should be reviewed by a single committee.

At the hearing, Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta, said the local government committee should at least hear testimony about the bill, but a motion was made to transfer the legislation. It passed on a 7-3 vote, with Hanger and Sens. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, and Travis Hackworth, R-Tazewell, opposing the motion.

Petersen told the Prince William Times that the moves are “not a good sign,” and “there are clearly people working behind the scenes to defeat this bill, but I’m not going to be deterred.”

Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-Prince William, supported the motion but has told local media that he hasn’t decided a stance on the proposal.

Petersen’s bills are scheduled for a hearing at 10 a.m. Friday.

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