ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA (AP) – Amazon Web Services plans to invest USD35 billion in new data centres in Virginia under a deal with the state, Governor Glenn Youngkin announced on Friday.
Millions of dollars in incentives to close the deal still require legislative approval, but General Assembly leaders in both parties expressed support in a news release issued by Youngkin’s office.
Still, data centres have become a politically volatile topic, particularly in northern Virginia, where the structures are increasingly common and where neighbours are voicing noise and environmental concerns.
Data centres house the computer servers and hardware required to support modern Internet use, and demand continues to increase. But the data centres require high-powered fans and extensive cooling capacity that can generate noise.
They also consume huge amounts of electricity that can require the construction of high-voltage transmission lines to support them.
Bills proposed in the legislature this year would increase regulate where centres could be located.
The governor’s office said the locations of the data centres, to be built by 2040, will be determined at a later date.
But tech companies prefer northern Virginia because it is close to the historical backbone of the Internet, and proximity to those connection points provides nanoseconds of advantage that are of importance to tech companies that rely on the servers to support financial transactions, gaming technology and other time-sensitive applications.
A Prince William County resident who opposed a massive data centre expansion recently approved by the county’s Board of Supervisors over considerable community opposition Bill Wright said Friday’s announcement shows that “the influence of big tech money has become intoxicating to our politicians.”
He said that he does not object to data centres in and of themselves and hopes that the state will place them in areas that don’t harm the environment, and in rural areas where jobs are needed. But he expressed scepticism that the state is willing to stand up to tech companies that want the centres in northern Virginia.
“Northern Virginia is being overwhelmed by these things,” Wright said. “We may as well start calling ourselves the Commonwealth of Amazon.”
A spokeswoman for the Virginia Economic Development Partnership Suzanne Clark said Amazon Web Services is exploring several site locations “in collaboration with the Commonwealth” but did not specify any sites.
Northern Virginia has been a tech hub since the formation of the Internet, and now hosts more data centres than the next five largest United States markets combined, according to the Northern Virginia Technology Council.
They have also proven to be a cash cow for local governments that embrace them – data centres now provide for more than 30 per cent of the general fund budget of Loudoun County, a suburb of the nation’s capital with more than 400,000 residents.
Another data centre opponent, Elena Schlossberg with the Coalition to Protect Prince William County, expressed dismay that Youngkin felt emboldened to announce a data centre deal in a year when state and local officials are all on the election ballot in Virginia – and as community concern over data centres is growing.