Proponents of the Prince William Digital Gateway – a controversial plan to allow a massive new data center corridor on land adjacent to the Manassas National Battlefield Park in the county’s “rural crescent” – say the existing high-voltage transmission lines along Pageland Lane are a main reason the project should be approved.
The 500-kilovolt lines, constructed in 2008, stand 120 feet tall, mar the landscape and detract from the area’s rural feel, according to Pageland Lane area landowners backing a plan to open 2,133 acres along the roadway to new data centers.
More than 100 property owners along the roadway have signed contracts with two data center developers to sell their land at a rate of about $1 million an acre if the Prince William Board of County Supervisors ultimately approves the plan.
But the unexpected news late last week that Dominion Energy doesn’t have enough electrical infrastructure to serve data centers coming online over the next few years in Loudoun County’s data center alley around the Dulles Airport revealed new details about the limitations of the current transmission lines near the proposed PW Digital Gateway.
Data centers currently operating, under construction and approved in Prince William County will not be impacted by the pending power crunch because of recent and pending power improvements in the area of Innovation Park, according to Aaron Ruby, Dominion Energy’s media relations manager.
Those include a new “Wakeman substation,” planned near the Manassas Airport, as well as a new 1-mile-long transmission line from the Cannon Branch substation in Manassas to the Winters Branch substation south along Prince William Parkway. The $11.7 million project would essentially double the existing transmission line there and is set to be completed by the end of 2023, according to the Dominion Energy website.
But Ruby said additional high-voltage transmission lines will be needed to meet the needs of new data centers proposed as part of the PW Digital Gateway.
“In terms of Digital Gateway, we do expect new substations and transmission lines would be needed, but it’s too early to know the size, location or timing,” Ruby said in a July 31 email.
Exactly how much new electrical infrastructure is needed for the PW Digital Gateway “will depend on how much land is approved for development, when it’s developed and what NOVEC needs to serve the project,” Ruby added. “Those details will allow us to better determine what transmission infrastructure may be needed.”
Whether the news will alter the pace of the county’s review of the PW Digital Gateway is unclear. The planning commission reviewed the plan during July 20 work session but took no vote. The planning commission must hold a public hearing on the related comprehensive plan amendment for the PW Digital Gateway – and vote on whether to recommend the supervisors approve or deny it – before the matter heads to the Prince William Board of County Supervisors. The planning commission’s public hearing has not yet been scheduled.
Board of Supervisors Chair Ann Wheeler, D-At Large, did not immediately return an email Tuesday, Aug. 2 seeking comment on the need for more transmission lines in conjunction with the PW Digital Gateway.
Opponents of the PW Digital Gateway have long doubted that that the existing transmission lines running along Pageland Lane would be sufficient to serve the 27 million square feet of new data center space proposed for the PW Digital Gateway. At maximum capacity, the corridor would be nearly as large as the existing 29 million square feet of data center space currently operational in Loudoun County, which has the largest concentration of data centers in the world.
Neither the supervisors nor the planning commission have yet publicly discussed whether more transmission lines are needed for the PW Digital Gateway. The information Ruby shared in the July 31 email is the most public admission from Dominion Energy so far that the existing Pageland Lane transmission lines will be insufficient.
The news about the power crunch for the additional data centers around Dulles Airport – and the need for new transmission lines to adequately serve the PW Digital Gateway – did not surprise Elena Schlossberg, director of the Coalition to Save Prince William County. Schlossberg said Dominion Energy officials told members of her group back in January that the existing transmission lines would not be enough.
“We’ve been saying it, we’ve been writing it, we’ve been going before the board and saying it,” Schlossberg said in an interview Tuesday.
The coalition is fiercely opposed to opening the rural crescent to data centers and is spearheading the effort to collect signatures to recall both Wheeler and Supervisor Pete Candland, D-Gainesville, over their ties to the PW Digital Gateway.
Candland’s own home is included in the PW Digital Gateway proposal, which means he has had to recuse himself from any board decisions or discussions on data centers in the area of the PW Digital Gateway, which is located in the Gainesville District. Wheeler has come under fire for personal investments in companies involved in data centers, which total between $185,000 and $900,000 according to her statement of economic interest posted on the county website. (Wheeler’s exact investments are not clear because the form lists amounts in ranges, such as $50,000 to $250,000, instead of precise amounts.)
Schlossberg said she hoped the Loudoun County power crunch recently brought to light by regional power consortium PJM will be enough to sound the alarm about the major power loads required by data centers and the unsightly infrastructure needed to provide it.
Schlossberg said the entire region should put the brakes on new data center approvals until a more thorough and public power assessment can be conducted.
“I feel like people will finally wake up and understand that the demands of these bulk load customers, such as data centers, are not a gift to Northern Virginia. It’s crazy,” Schlossberg said. “And more importantly, we are not going to be able to provide this level of need by solar or wind. Those are just grains of sand in a much larger bucket.”
Reach Jill Palermo at firstname.lastname@example.org