Loudoun Data Centers Drive Electricity Demand

Dominion Energy has filed an application to build two new electric substations in Loudoun County to serve a growing population and the boom in data centers…. mostly the data centers.

A typical data center consumes about the same amount of power as 7,500 residential households. There are more than 100 data centers operating in Loudoun now, according to the Washington Business Journal, with many more in the development pipeline. Their power demand is equal to that of about 750,000 homes. Loudoun County expects its population to grow from about 400,000 residents today to nearly 500,000 by 2045.

Dominion’s proposed 230-kilovolt switching stations will have dedicated circuits for future data center customers. Data center demand is forcing a reconfiguration of Virginia’s electric grid. In addition to the substations, Dominion needs to build or upgrade electric transmission lines to Northern Virginia. Needless to say, none of these projects are popular. Everyone likes the tax revenue they generate, but no one wants electric grid infrastructure in their back yard.

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10 responses to “Loudoun Data Centers Drive Electricity Demand

  1. The thing about these data centers is that they can run off of solar during the day and then use the grid at night.

    Some would say that it’s a disadvantage that they cannot use solar all the time and ask if solar is worth it if it can’t provide power 24/7.

    But that’s the wrong way to look at it.

    Think in terms of how much grid power is needed – if you use solar. You need 1/2 the grid power. That’s a savings. It’s LESS than you’d need than if you needed 100% grid power.

    That’s the problem the opponents have. They are looking for a 100% solution or they say it’s not a solution – binary thinking.

    What if you had a way to save 1/2 the power need of your house or your car… would you think that it was not worth it if it could take do the job 100% of the time?

    Solar will never be the only solution – it will ALWAYS need grid power to run with it. But that’s a significant savings all on it’s own and making it an all or nothing proposition is …. well I don’t know what to call it – willful ignorance I guess.

    The bigger problem we have is that Dominion wants to charge for solar – what it charges for grid electricity so there is no savings at all. You pay grid power prices no matter what energy sources are used and if you try to buy solar from other sources – Dominion wants to stop you from doing that.

    So all this “stuff” about more data centers and their power needs is Dominion-talk to justify Dominion building more stuff – and charging rate-payers for it.

    We’re all snooks and rubes if we continue to fall for this narrative.

    • You are correct! But this underscores the need for EITHER cycling gas units (or imported wind power) for the night-time demand OR batteries (and pumped hydro storage that works like a battery) to “time-shift” some of that daytime solar generation to make it available at night.

      • Yep – we need the gas – no question. But every hour we burn solar is an hour we don’t need to burn gas – and that’s the point that many are missing when they say solar is not “dispatchable” or not “reliable”.

        Further on a wider scope basis – if you have a lot of nukes, while they _are_ dispatchable, they are NOT able to vary in their output which basically makes them incompatible with solar and here’s why.

        Suppose – for the sake of argument – that you did not have gas and all you could have was nukes and solar. But you had to have enough solar to cover peak demand – even when solar was not available.

        If that’s your standard and your nukes are always running at that peak level – when can you actually “use” solar if the nukes are running flat out al the time anyhow?

  2. Whatever Dominion does should not affect the prices paid by consumers for electricity. The full cost of serving the data centers, along with the power consumed, should be borne by each data center. If a data center uses its own solar-generated power part of the day, it should still pay 100% of the costs for delivering Dominion-generated power the rest of the day (a stand-ready-to-serve charge).

    • Bwahaha, “The full cost of serving the data centers…should be borne by each data center”. How did you miss the 4 1/2 year fight in Haymarket over just that issue. It was the first case anyone had ever offered the “line extension policy” as an argument for Amazon to pay for its Haymarket Extension Cord. The SCC staff loved the concept but the SCC judges didn’t want any part of that (and neither did Dominion’s minions in the Capitol).

      Let’s face it, the data centers pay for precious little when it comes to infrastructure. That same Amazon data center in Haymarket is also getting a new force main run to its campus to supply its cooling systems, also on the ratepayer’s dime.

    • re: pay 100%. I agree but what do we mean by 100%. If Dominion insists on building capacity in such a way that it has stranded costs when we could have had solar at lower costs – who should own that extra cost?

      See, TMT – you’re in that boat where Dominion wants to keep you paying for non-solar and then pits you against those who want solar by claiming that they have stranded costs that need to be paid for by everyone as part of the “grid” cost.

      If you just blindly support Dominion’s way – it’s going to cost more and then you’ll be on one side and the solar folks on the other side – and they’re going to win – eventually.

  3. Well I agree with TMT – but I also think these data centers should be able to get 3rd party solar instead of Dominion’s uber expensive solar.

    In terms of incentives – that’s a different horse with a lot of other players and as long as local and state government want to do it – it’s going to continue.

    • They can get all the third party solar they want from the grid PROVIDED they get permission from the SCC to buy it even though they are located in a part of Virginia assigned to Dominion for exclusive, monopoly retail service. That buying from a third party is called “retail access” and the unhelpful Virginia law on that subject is what Steve has been talking about lately.

  4. The serious question is that if someone wants to use a source other than grid power for some period of time – how much SHOULD they pay for grid power “availability” as opposed to grid power on a rate basis?

    This is NOT a foreign concept at all. When you “buy” a water/sewer connection down where I live, it can cost you more than $12,000 dollars and that’s a separate charge from the monthly usage bill.

    That charge is for the infrastructure costs to bring that water to you – that’s the water/sewer “grid” costs that is shared EQUALLY by all users no matter where they are geographically from the water treatment facilities.

    Think of that like you would the electric grid where Dominion and the other utilities will “extend” the grid to you – irregardless of the cost to do so; for some, it will be cheap, for others, it could well be quite expensive and require a new substation or transmission upgrades – but those costs are spread across all other users – equally.

    So you can do this with Dominion. I don’t trust Dominion to figure out what the “availability” fee should be. I’d prefer that the SCC perhaps with some independent 3rd party help – determine what that fee is –

    then implement it – system -wide AND at the same time – allow people to use solar – unrestricted – themselves or through 3rd party suppliers.

    we need to do that.

    We need to be fair to Dominion but as important – we need to be fair to people who want to use solar. Right now – we’re making it an adversarial issue between those who just want grid power without solar and those who want solar. Break it apart and allow both options and allocate the “availability” fee – equally to all.

  5. We are talking about multiple issues:
    (1) Who is paying for this?
    (2) Whose immediate backyard is getting dug up or otherwise impacted?
    (3) Environmentalists are concerned because they want to demand 100% renewable power for all new data centers.

    Actually right now it is Item (3 ) I am hearing the most resistance. Loudoun Co. should try to think ahead to minimize Item (2) disruptions. Item(1) is above my pay grade.

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