How do you save the power grid for all who rely on it when energy emergencies arise? That’s just the question Virginia environmental regulars are tackling. They are currently trying to make it easier for all the data centers in the northern reaches of the state to utilize diesel generators so residential power customers never have to be cut off or face an outage.
The power infrastructure is old and overburdened. Standby generators are becoming more and more common as they are more reliable than the power grid itself. California and Virginia are some of the early states looking at changes to take this precautionary step to protect the region's power grid.
The plan by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), states that data centers can switch to generator power to reduce the strain on the electrical grid, freeing up more electricity for residential customers. The measures would be put into action in the event of an emergency declaration by the PJM Interconnection, which oversees the regional power grid on the East Coast.
Power challenges in Northern Virginia have been causing havoc in the region since last summer, ever since Dominion Energy began informing data centers that power for new facilities in Eastern Loudoun County will be delayed until 2026 due to bottlenecks in the utility’s transmission infrastructure, which has not kept pace with growth in the region.
The language in the DEQ proposal says after limiting new data center connections, the region's grid could still face challenges in the coming months.
"An area in Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William counties has been identified in which data centers may not be able to obtain enough electricity due to transmission problems anticipated from March through July," the DEQ said in release. The agency added "the period between March and July 2023 has been identified as a time of potentially acute stress on the transmission capacity of the grid."
"Dominion Energy identified the area of stress and timing of this variance need," said Aaron Proctor, Communications Manager for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
Dominion said the variance was a precautionary measure while it continues to strengthen the region's transmission system.
"Out of an abundance of caution, DEQ proposed the temporary variance as an additional tool for data centers in case it’s necessary," said Aaron Ruby, Manager, Media Relations for Dominion Energy. "To be clear, transmission capacity is not constrained outside of 'Data Center Alley' in eastern Loudoun and does not impact service to residential or small business customers, or any customers outside of the area."
"Data center load growth in that area has the potential to cause system constraints," said Daniel Lockwood, Strategic and Shareholder Communications at PJM. "PJM and Dominion are working to build out the transmission system to support this load growth."
Dominion is accelerating work on a 500kV transmission line in Southern Loudoun County, which is expected to be completed in 2026 and will help the transmission bottlenecks that are limiting new connections for data centers in Eastern Loudoun. Ruby said the company has other projects in the works as well.
"We’re continuing to develop several near and long-term transmission projects to alleviate the constraints in eastern Loudoun," said Ruby. "The first of the projects will be completed in late June."
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