You may have seen articles referencing Amazon’s recent purchase of a 41-acre parcel in Warrenton as the potential site for a new data center. The property in question is located on Blackwell Road, behind Country Chevrolet (near the Sheetz and Giant) on the northeast side of Warrenton.
Amazon has not yet submitted an application to the Town, or provided any information as to the size, scale or scope of the project. However, they have apparently sent a “load letter” to Dominion Energy, which is now moving quickly to plan a new substation and 230-kV transmission line to serve the potential data center.
On April 14, Dominion presented several possible routes to the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors that would link into either of the two closest substations—Warrenton (off of Meetze Rd, next to the Central Sports Complex) or Wheeler (in Prince William County near Vint Hill).
Dominion has begun to post project information at DominionEnergy.com/blackwellroad.
A lot of unanswered questions
This Tuesday, we participated in a Dominion-facilitated stakeholder meeting to learn more about the potential transmission line routes and provide feedback. The Dominion reps were very clear that the Amazon data center is the only reason the utility would be required to build a transmission line to the other side of Town. Dominion’s community input process includes stakeholder meetings running through August, with community open house events planned for the evenings of June 22 and June 23 (locations to be determined), and a plan to file an application with the State Corporation Commission by fall 2022.
But stepping back, we have a number of concerns we hope will be addressed relatively soon by Amazon and the Town of Warrenton, or during the transmission line siting process in front of the State Corporation Commission. These include:
What exactly is Amazon going to propose at the site? It’s hard to evaluate a project when nothing has been submitted yet. How big will it be? What is the site layout? What are the water impacts? Are they offering anything to mitigate the impacts of the project?
The data center would require Town of Warrenton approval. What happens if the Town denies Amazon’s special use permit?
If the town approves a smaller data center project, how would that impact Dominion’s proposal?
What load projections are being used to determine the need for a 230-kV line?
If the data center was located elsewhere, would there be a less intrusive transmission option? For instance, there is land planned and zoned for a data center in the Remington Service District next to an existing substation.
Who pays? This would be a multi-million dollar project. Would that cost be paid for by Dominion customers alone or could Amazon be made to underwrite a portion of the project? Our understanding from Dominion is that the entire project would be rate-based, meaning paid for by Dominion customers in their monthly utility bills.
Would the State Corporation Commission truly consider underground routes, given price is typically one of its primary considerations when making routing decisions?
Not too late to change course
With an average height of around 110-ft tall, an overhead 230-kV transmission line to Amazon’s Blackwell Road site would have the effect of industrializing any corridor it runs through. And from our initial look, all of the possible routes to the proposed Amazon site would have a detrimental impact on the gateway(s) into the Town of Warrenton, on historic and cultural resources along the route, and to the residential neighborhoods of New Baltimore, Vint Hill, and/or Frytown (a historic African American community).
Rather than accept that this Amazon project is a done deal, we hope community members will urge the Town Council to reconsider approving a data center at the proposed location. Again, Amazon has yet to even submit an application, and it’s abundantly clear this project merits further evaluation given the additional transmission infrastructure required.
If the Town approves a data center at the Blackwell site, it should be conditioned upon both the associated on-site and offsite transmission lines being underground, which would help maintain the character of the area. Furthermore, we believe that Amazon, a company with a current market value of over $1.5 trillion and net income in 2021 of over $33 billion, rather than Dominion ratepayers, should bear the costs here.
As for the state process, if it moves forward, local residents and groups like PEC will need to weigh in with Dominion and the State Corporation Commission to ensure any resulting transmission line project is sized, designed and sited appropriately; that our natural, historic and cultural resources are protected as best as possible; and that the local community is heard throughout the process. Dominion plans to collect community inputthrough August, and we strongly encourage you to make your voice heard.
I’ve summarized as shortly as I can the basics of Amazon and Dominion’s proposals here and on our website, although more information will be forthcoming through our channels. Right now, the most important thing you can do is call on members of the Town Council to seek answers to the questions we outlined above. Another opportunity to provide feedback will be Dominion’s open houses in June. We will share the locations and times once they are announced.
Thanks again for staying engaged.
Julie Bolthouse, AICP
Director of Land Use
(540) 347-2334 x7042