Letter: Jane Miley, Leesburg

Editor:In a May 8 open letter, data center owners Microsoft, Apple, Salesforce, and seven othersdemanded more solar and wind power and continued to state sustainability goals vs. use of natural gas, whereas Dominion again cited the energy demands of the data centers as justification for expanding its use of natural gas, including the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). 

            Dominion should align its goals with those of the state Legislature in the Grid Transformation and Security Act, which calls forinstallation of 5,000 MW of solar and wind energy by regulated utilities through 2028. Could this goal could be higher and accomplished sooner? In 2018NC produced 4400 MW of solar power; Georgia, 1500 MW; NJ, 2500 MW. Why is Virginia not doing this already?

Unfortunately, Dominion’s latest Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) was approved in June 2019, including the controversial ACP. Dominion projects an uptick in customer bills at $30 each just to cover the cost of the ACP

What are the data centers doing?

Data center owners Adobe, eBay, Equinix, and Salesforce have committed to 100% renewable energy soon; Akamai, 50% by 2020, likely by purchasing renewable power purchase agreements (PPAs) vs. depending on local utilities. Data centers have a lot of clout due to their energy usage and should take the lead in pushing utilities towards “greening the grid.”      

            Also weighing in, Akamai Technologies, Amazon Web Services, Iron Mountain, LinkedIn, and QTS report that the data center industry in Virginia creates more than $10 billion in business each year and pays $349 million in state and local tax revenue in the state. Several of them made renewable PPAs in 2018. Of note, Georgia Power included a 200 MW renewables program in its 2016 IRP and added another 950 MW to its 2019 IRP. If they can do it, why not Dominion?

            Amazon Web Services (AWS) expects to bring online five new solar farms in Virginia in 2020, total capacity of 120 MD. And on Earth Day this year, Facebook announced six new solar farms in Virginia and North Carolina, in partnership with Dominion, total capacity of 350 MW, planned to be operational in the mid-2020s.

            The companies state that solar-plus-storage has beaten the price of new gas plants and that data centers are already proving its effectiveness in 24/7 operations. Greenpeace views this as proof that the ACP is not needed. Dominion continues to plan for natural gas and nuclear energy.

At the July industry conference, data center owners pondered “how to go green when the grid stays brown?” Google (the largest corporate buyer of RE in history) cited frustration since 2010 in getting utilities to provide RE, though it has done deals with Duke Energy, the Southern Company, and a 400-plus MW deal with TVA. 

            The result of an epic battle in Nevada between Switch (data center design company) and NV Energy resulted, after a $100 million campaign, in allowing open access energy in NV (large energy users may purchase energy from sources other than the local utility company). Perhaps data centers in VA should adopt this tactic.

            Dominion was a point of discussion at the conference. As the main utility serving Virginia, home to a majority of data centers, its power runs the internet—on the wrong kind of fuel. Data centers want to consolidate their collective voices to amplify their purchasing power. The consensus was that the time to push is now, not just because we must reduce greenhouse gases, but because with changing technology (such as electric vehicles) the utilities likely will soon focus on other issues.

Jane Miley, Leesburg

One thought on “Letter: Jane Miley, Leesburg

  • 2019-09-19 at 4:18 pm

    Jane, This is an interesting and important topic. Two aspects of this I didn’t notice in the letter is that power companies are typically managed by the public utility commission on a return on asset basis so they are usually interested in adding to assets. The charges for power are based on an integrated cost considering all the sources of power not just the one you prefer. What this means is that you would be very unhappy (despite your green preference) if the power company could charge you just for the cost of solar instead of averaging in hydro, nuclear and coal in your bill. If you really want the grid to use less fossil fuels then I suggest you push for connecting all power grids and starting industrial and other major electric users on a staggered basis as it is the peeking power that drives up costs more than almost anything else. Same with water so don’t take that morning shower when it is convenient but take it at noon. 🙂

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