The new data center is planned for land across the street from the Wal-Mart on John Marshall Highway (Route 55) in Haymarket. Dominion Virginia Power has begun floating proposals to build a new substation and transmission facilities to service the new center.
The project’s secrecy has caused almost as much of an uproar as the proposed power lines.
Officials from the county and the utility have not publicly named the intended user of the data center.
It is widely assumed by residents and elected officials, however, that the user is Amazon.com, which has been quickly expanding its Amazon Web Services cloud computing business in the area in recent years, including a contract with the CIA. One possible hint: This online job posting.
“This is so obvious that all the denials just make the confirmation just all the more reasonable,” said state Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William). “Nobody is denying this is for Amazon. If it weren’t for Amazon, I think someone for the county would have said, ‘No that’s not the client.’ ”
Upset by the proposed power lines, Marshall and state Sen. Richard H. Black (Loudoun) wrote Amazon founder Jeffrey P. Bezos at the company’s headquarters in Seattle Monday urging him to choose another location or insist that the power lines be buried underground. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Dominion is vetting multiple routes for the new lines to reach the data center site, either from the north, south or east. All of the routes would include 120-foot-wide easements and high voltage power lines running 100-feet high or more.
The officials wrote to Bezos to raise concerns about what they called the “adverse impact which the new high voltage lines required to serve the data center will have on residences, historic designated areas, and significant future economic development.”
“Placement of new power lines where none were ever proposed or existed previously, changes the rules in the middle of the game. This is not fair to residents, nor to major business enterprises which have invested in land for economic development. It is also unfair to preservationists concerned with protecting Hallowed Ground near the Manassas Battlefield,” they wrote.
An Amazon spokesman did not return a request for comment.
Residents have created a grassroots group to oppose the new “power towers,” called the Coalition to Protect Prince William County, and produced a slideshow to garner support.
Elena Schlossberg, director of the nascent group, said hundreds of Prince William residents were prepared to tell lawmakers and Dominion officials that the power lines ought to be buried or portions buried and run along the Interstate-66 corridor. The group also paid for signs that have begun to populate front yards in and around Haymarket.
“This is part of the rural crescent. You have open spaces with farms, there’s cows being raised, there’s horse farms. You’ve got a lot of historical and cultural spaces that would be affected by this,” Scholossberg said. “The community is coming together saying we want the route that disturbs the lease number of people and that the I-66 corridor is the best location for that.”
Data center construction has become big businesses in the outer Northern Virginia suburbs, where increased power capacity has helped trademark the area as one of the hotbeds of cloud computing in the country. Economic development officials in Loudoun County in particular have bet on data center growth as a way to grow tax revenue.
But the data center business has prompted other questions. The facilities create relatively few jobs and fill the landscape with anonymous, window-less buildings at a time when Loudoun County is gearing up for construction to begin on the second leg of Metro’s Silver Line. Area residents are known to battle fiercely against unwanted corporate intrusions, having famously beat back a proposal by Disney to build a theme park in Haymarket in the 1990s.
Charles Penn, a spokesman for Dominion Virginia Power, said the company was unable to share details of the Haymarket data center project but that the utility would rely heavily on public input in deciding where to put the transmission lines.
“We are right now in the position of analyzing a number of different routes and that is an ongoing process and in the coming weeks we will be able to fill in the community on more of the details,” he said.
A state regulator, the Virginia State Corporation Commission, is likely to make the ultimate decision about if and where the lines are built. Penn said the company plans to apply for the needed approvals after the first quarter. He said Dominion would do so, “with an eye always on finding a route that would have the least amount of impact on residents, the least amount of impact on the environment and the least amount of impact on historical attributes.”
Schlossberg, who lives in Haymarket, had planned a rally Jan. 6 at Battlefield High School, but it had to be rescheduled on account of the snow. She said she believes the data center is for Amazon but that the user was beside the point.
“We couldn’t care if it’s Amazon, NSA, CIA, it doesn’t matter to us. Just don’t ruin our community to get your power,” she said.
Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz