InsideNOVA: Board votes to support partially-buried Haymarket power line


by Jill Palermo

Those fighting the new 230-kilovolt line, which Dominion Virginia Power officials have said is needed for just one commercial customer, won their first official victory Tuesday when the Prince William Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in favor of a resolution to support their efforts to persuade the State Corporation Commission to approve the only route they say is acceptable for the new power lines – a partially buried option that would run along Interstate 66.

That’s the one route, they say, that will require the least number of unsightly, 110-foot galvanized steel towers, which they charge will threaten residents’ property values as well as various community and historic sites.
The resolution also pledges to initiate a zoning text amendment to review the county’s rules for siting new data centers, which are currently allowed in nearly every commercial zoning designation.

Data centers are typically large, windowless buildings filled with computer servers that tech companies use to store or transmit data. The proposed facility at the center of the current controversy is affiliated with and located across from the Walmart at U.S. 15 and John Marshall Highway.

Before taking their vote, supervisors acknowledged receiving hundreds of emails in support of the resolution.

County leaders have long considered data centers a “targeted industry” because they generate millions in business property-tax revenue without significantly adding to traffic woes or school overcrowding.

But some who spoke at the meeting criticized county officials for being too accommodating to the facilities, noting that Prince William charges lower tax rates for computer equipment and has fewer rules regarding data center location than surrounding counties.

“While we’re very lenient of where we allow data centers, we’re also very lenient in what we collect from them,” said Bob Weir, a member of the Haymarket Planning Commission and a vocal critic of the project and the associated power lines.

Weir noted that Prince William charges data centers about one-third of the taxes collected by Loudoun County, which is home to several data centers; and one-fourth of what Stafford County collects.

Before introducing the resolution, Board Chairman Corey Stewart, R-At Large, said he wanted to be clear that the resolution is not intended to imply that the county doesn’t welcome data centers.

“We want them, but the infrastructure needs to be addressed,” Stewart said. The resolution, he said, would lead to “a deliberative, stakeholder-led process where all viewpoints are going to be considered” before new zoning rules for the facilities are adopted.

But Supervisor Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, had sharp words about what he called “the secrecy surrounding the project,” which he called “unacceptable.”

Citing nondisclosure agreements, county economic development officials have refused to confirm that the power lines are associated with the data center expansion or that the data center has ties to Amazon.

“This is just the first step,” Candland said. “We’re going to have a lot more conversations about these restrictions and how data centers move into the county, because we just can’t have carte blanche when it comes to data centers.”