Amazon Web Services data center deal in Virginia sparks backlash

Amazon Web Services plans to invest $35 billion in new data centers in Virginia under an agreement with the state, Gov. Glenn Youngkin on Friday.

Millions of dollars in incentives to close the deal still need legislative approval, but General Assembly leaders from both parties expressed support in a news release issued by Youngkin’s office.

However, data centers have increasingly become a political topic, especially in northern Virginia, where the structures are more common and where neighbors have voiced noise and concerns. in the environment.

Data centers house the computer servers and hardware needed to support modern internet use, and demand continues to increase. But data centers require high-powered fans and lots of cooling capacity that generate noise. They also consume large amounts of electricity that may require the construction of high-voltage transmission lines to support them.

Bills proposed in the legislature this year would further regulate where centers can be located.

The governor’s office said the locations of the data centers, to be built in 2040, will be determined at a later date. But tech companies prefer northern Virginia because it’s close to the internet’s historic backbone, and the proximity to connection points provides nanosecond advantages that are important to tech companies that rely on servers to support them. the financial transactions, gaming technology and other time. – sensitive applications.

Bill Wright, a resident of Prince William County who opposes a large expansion of the data center recently approved through the Board of Supervisors of the county great community oppositionsaid Friday’s announcement shows that “the influence of big tech money has become intoxicating to our politicians.”

He said that he is not against the data centers themselves and hopes that the state will put them in places that do not harm the environment, and in rural areas where jobs are needed. But he expressed skepticism that the state is willing to stand up to tech companies that want centers in northern Virginia.

‘Overwhelmed’ by Amazon’s data centers

“Northern Virginia is overwhelmed by these things,” Wright said. “We might as well start calling ourselves the Commonwealth of Amazon.”

Suzanne Clark, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, said Amazon Web Services is exploring multiple site locations “in collaboration with the Commonwealth” but did not specify any sites.

Northern Virginia has been a tech hub since the internet was formed, and now hosts more data centers than the next five largest US markets combined, according to the Northern Virginia Technology Council. They’ve also proven to be a cash cow for the local governments that host them — data centers now account for more than 30 percent of the total funding budget in Loudoun County, a suburb of the capital. country with over 400,000 residents.

Another data center opponent, Elena Schlossberg with the Coalition to Protect Prince William County, expressed dismay that Youngkin felt emboldened to announce a data center deal in a year when state and local officials were on the Virginia election ballot – and as a community concern. Data centers are growing.

“It’s just baffling that he doesn’t see communities coming together” to oppose the data centers, he said.

In a tweet, Youngkin spokesman Macaulay Porter said the $35 billion represents the largest capital investment in Virginia’s history. In terms of jobs, the governor’s office said it is expected to create more than 1,000 jobs across the state. That pales in comparison to the 25,000 jobs associated with Amazon’s decision in 2018 to build a second headquarters in Arlington County.

The agreement calls for Amazon to receive incentives from a new Mega Data Center Incentive Program, as well as a grant of up to $140 million for site improvements, workforce development and other costs. Both will require legislative approval.

The exact amount of the grant under the incentive program will depend on the number of jobs created, according to enabling legislation being considered by the General Assembly. It would also include temporary exemptions from a sales and use tax imposed on Virginia data centers.

‘Long-term environmental consequences’

State Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, is sponsoring legislation that would restrict the placement of data centers near natural or historic resources. Petersen said Virginia risks being overwhelmed by data centers if protections aren’t put in place.

“In my opinion, data centers are short-term financial gains with long-term environmental consequences. Industrial buildings without actual workers are not the economy of the future,” he said. “In in fact, they may be obsolete in a decade. Meanwhile, we are losing valuable farmland and historical sites.”

An Amazon Web Services spokesman declined to comment on the record about how many data centers are planned and Amazon’s preference for where to locate them.

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