How One Data Center Will Change Fairfax County … For the Worse

How One Data Center Will Change Fairfax County … For the Worse

A rezoning to accommodate the tallest data center in Fairfax County is up for a vote by the Planning Commissioners at a Public Hearing, Sept. 20, 2023 at 7:30 p.m. at 12000 Government Center Parkway (application RZ 2022-SU-00019/SE 2022-SU-00038). It will be adjacent to a resource protection area and a tributary to our drinking water, within earshot of a residential community, and of a size that is completely out of character for the area and threatens airport navigation. If approved, it will set a dangerous precedent.

At 110 feet, the data center will be 4+-times larger than the adjacent Chantilly Auto Park buildings which are less than 30 feet, basically putting an 11-story high-rise in the middle of a tiny-homes village. The Airport worries that it “comes very close to a critical air navigation surface. If this surface is penetrated there will be adverse impacts to airport operations.” As the tallest building for miles, it’d be completely out of character for the area and invites similar development in a portion of the county that was not meant for such urbanization.

The data center requires over 130 rooftop HVAC fans generating a constant 24/7 noise at a frequency (Hz) that can travel very far and through barriers. It’s not only an annoyance to humans at 50 dBA (acceptable under the current noise ordinance) but decades of research by the National Park Service and other national/international organizations shows it affects wildlife communication, reproduction, and survival; forcing many to abandon an affected area, leading to deforestation and alteration of the biodiversity.

The 27 air-polluting diesel generators storing 148,500 gallons of flammable diesel fuel and toxic (especially to aquatic life) diesel exhaust fluid are regulated - any Aboveground Storage Tank (AST) with 660 gallons or more must be - but since 2018 the DEQ has reported 69 leaks/spills from regulated ASTs. The potential for contamination of the adjacent Cub Run stream (a tributary supplying the Occoquan Reservoir that provides drinking water for over 800,000 residents) makes the location a very poor choice. Moreover, the air polluting emissions are self-regulated at each facility, not collectively. This year, the DEQ tried to permit data center generators to exceed EPA air pollution standards, but that measure failed. Our area has over 4,000 data center diesel generators and counting.

The data center can’t function unless Dominion Energy builds a new substation and installs miles of transmission lines, which we as rate payers will pay for not the data center. Data centers are the main contributing factor for Dominion’s reliance on fossil fuels for at least 15 more years. But this detail is considered a separate issue by the county. Why be a part of the climate change solution when you can be a part of the problem?

As Northern Virginia becomes the data center capital of the world, we’re learning that the air and noise pollution threat to humans, wildlife and the environment is being ignored because of the promise of potential revenue they may provide to localities.

Data centers are needed but as Chairman McKay said “While we are open to data centers in Fairfax County, they only work if they’re in the proper location”. If approved, then nowhere is off limits.

Cynthia Shang

President of Save Pleasant Valley