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December 17, 2021 · OPINION

Considerations for Amazon data center proposal here

Water, electricity and design questions await Amazon’s answers for its property in Warrenton.
By Kevin Kask
Piedmont Environmental Council

This past September, Amazon completed its $39.7-million purchase of 41.7 acres in Warrenton along Blackwell Road, behind Country Chevrolet, with plans to build a data center.

Data centers are a modern industrial necessity for storing and processing the ever-expanding data circulated by businesses and individuals on a daily basis. However, because they require vast amounts of land for large campuses, electricity for running servers and water to cool processors, the placement of data centers comes with a number of important considerations.

As of Nov. 30, 2021, Amazon had yet to submit a development application or any technical details on the proposed data center. When it does, the Piedmont Environmental Council would like to see the company address the following considerations:

• Where is the water coming from?

Warrenton’s recent zoning amendment will require Amazon to use recycled water for cooling. In this context, “recycled water” means either treated greywater from a wastewater treatment plant or water that is recirculated through an in-house system. Both scenarios would likely rely on treated public wastewater from nearby sources to replenish its systems. The problem is, neither Fauquier’s nor Warrenton’s wastewater treatment plants produce recycled water at the quality necessary for data center use; even if they did, infrastructure does not yet exist to transport that water to the proposed site.

The public needs to know more about what Amazon’s daily water needs will be, how it plans to connect to a wastewater treatment plant and treat water to the required quality, and/or the efficiency of its in-house cooling systems.

• What about energy?

Data centers inevitably result in significantly increased loads on existing utilities and often require both new transmission lines to carry electricity and new substations to transform voltage levels for distribution. Although Warrenton’s recent zoning amendment requires the underground placement of electric lines between substations and data centers, it’s unclear if Amazon’s potential data center at this site will require new substation or overhead transmission lines connecting the site to existing infrastructure.

The public needs to know where Amazon would source its power and connect to existing infrastructure and the specific locations of any new infrastructure. Additionally, we urge the company to incorporate rooftop solar, energy-efficient lighting and other practicable measures to reduce the energy demands in their proposal.

• Planning and design

The location where the Amazon data center is proposed is highly visible along Blackwell and potentially along Route 29. Careful attention should be given to the design, lighting, and aesthetics of the building to ensure it does not become an eyesore or detract from surrounding land uses.

PEC believes a data center at this site could be appropriate, but the public needs details on water usage, access to electricity, and site design in order to weigh in in an informed manner. We urge Amazon to submit a comprehensive application that includes this important information.

The writer works as the Warrenton-based PEC’s land use coordinator.
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