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Loudoun Times-Mirror Our View: Residents should think carefully when asking for fewer data centers

May 13, 2023

The following is an article from the Loudoun Times-Mirror on why residents should re-think not wanting more data centers around. The same conversation can be applied to Prince William.

We here at the Loudoun Times-Mirror hear a lot of talk about data centers.

We’re sure you do, too.

Over the past few decades, data centers here in Loudoun County have slowly (or perhaps not so slowly) grown to become one of the largest sources of economic gain for the county, and now the so-called Data Center Alley in the Ashburn area is the single largest concentration of data centers on the planet.

If you use cloud storage on any of your devices, there’s a good chance your photos are stored on some server somewhere here in Loudoun County, whether you’re a local resident or you’ve stumbled upon this editorial somehow from your home halfway across the world.

It appears a lot of the talk we hear about data centers comes from folks who are upset by how many of them there are, how unsightly they are, how much energy they use and other issues. And while we can understand and appreciate these issues — the hulking, boxy buildings certainly aren’t exactly a sight for sore eyes — there’s something else Loudouners must consider when thinking about what to do with future data centers.

The county is currently projected to be sitting on a surplus of $146 million by the end of its fiscal year, at the end of June. The largest portion of that money, according to Caleb Weitz, the county’s assistant budget director, comes directly from real estate tax revenue, and the largest portion of that comes from tax revenue on data centers.

And in this coming fiscal year’s budget, more than a quarter of the county’s entire tax revenue is coming from data centers.

It really can’t be overstated how much good can be done with that kind of budget surplus. Let’s look at the issues with schools, for example.

Due to an error from the Virginia Department of Education, school divisions around the commonwealth will be receiving millions of dollars less in funding than they should be receiving from the state. Loudoun County Public Schools is expected to receive $13 million less in funds than it was supposed to as a result of this error at the state level.

But the Finance, Government Operations and Economic Development Committee voted this week to commit $13 million of the county’s fund balance to cover the shortfall for LCPS caused by the state department.

Other counties around the state will most assuredly not be so lucky, especially in rural areas where the Department of Education’s error will be more keenly felt.

Here in Loudoun, the error can largely be ignored, thanks in no small part to the massive amount of tax revenue that comes directly from taxation of data centers. Couple this with the fact that the budget for LCPS is so high that $13 million works out to almost be a rounding error, and it’s clear that the tax revenue gathered from data centers is nothing short of a boon for the county.

There are obviously concerns. While we share climate concerns about data centers’ massive use of electricity, it’s worth noting that, unlike a factory spewing out toxic fumes, data centers’ use of electricity doesn’t have targeted, sight-specific climate effects. Whether a data center is here in Loudoun or somewhere in Minnesota, the same amount of electricity will be used, and it’ll have the same overall environmental impact for the planet, unlike other sorts of pollutants which will directly impact the area around them.

And, sure. We get it. The buildings are ugly. No disagreement there. But the current and future data centers only account for 1.6% of county land. While they may get an outsized sense of notoriety due to their proximity to busy highways in the area, when 98.4% of the county isn’t data center property, it seems perhaps a little silly to complain about their aesthetics so much.

But, when we consider the fact that data centers drive massive revenue surpluses — and the fact that the areas where the data centers are going are zoned for by-right use and there isn’t much that can be done to stop them from going in outside of rezoning those areas — Loudoun residents should be carefully considering what, exactly, it is they’re asking for when they say they want fewer data centers.

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