Originally published to LoudounNow

One of Loudoun’s biggest industries is also one the world’s biggest energy users.

The numbers around Loudoun’s data center sector—the biggest data center market in the country—are staggering and constantly growing. Loudoun is home to more than 70 data centers, and according to the county Department of Economic Development they cover 10.5 million square feet, with millions more on the way.

About 70 percent of all the internet traffic in the world travels through Ashburn. They are a major leg in the county’s budget, putting little burden on county services but expected to bring in more than $200 million in local tax revenues in the current fiscal year. To make that much from local real estate taxes, Loudoun County would have to raise its tax rate 25 cents per $100 of assessed value.

The industry also has been a major driver of increasing real estate prices in Loudoun, with developers gobbling up vast tracts of land and in some cases paying more than a million dollars an acre for it. And they are famously one of the most electricity-hungry industries in the world. How much energy does Loudoun’s data center industry use? About enough to power a time-traveling DeLorean—or a medium-sized city.

The largest electric utility in Virginia, Dominion Virginia Power, powers the state’s data center industry. Dominion Director for Customer Service and Strategic Partnerships Stan Blackwell oversees the utility’s work to provide that electricity. And he said the demand for energy for the data center industry in Virginia has surpassed a million watts. “Our actual load in Dominion’s service territory [in Virginia] is over a gigawatt of load,” Blackwell said. “… the majority of that is centered around Loudoun County.” And, he said, the industry is well on its way to two gigawatts, expected to pass that mark in the next five years.

Dominion Media/Community Relations Manager Charles E. “Chuck” Penn Sr. said the utility estimates 1 megawatt of capacity is enough to power 250 homes. That means two gigawatts would be enough to power roughly a half-million homes—more homes than there are in any single city or county in Virginia. By comparison, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated about 411,000 housing units in Fairfax County in 2016.

RagingWire Vice President of Data Center Operations Phillip Sandino said when his company is looking for a place to put a new data center campus, it looks at workforce, fiber optic connections—and how quickly a utility can bring that massive energy demand to the site.

Sandino has seen the data center power issue from both sides. RagingWire is one of the major players in Loudoun’s data center market, and before working there, Sandino spent 13 years at Dominion Energy as the executive responsible for running power generation facilities, liquid natural gas operations, and in charge of key customer accounts.


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