The Suburban Sprawl and Loudoun Data Centers

It’s a self-storage….it’s a movie theater….it’s a data center!!!????

If you live in Loudoun County, you must have notices gigantic buildings made out of concrete go up literally in your backyards.  They are fenced in, secured and fed by multiple AC cooling units that can be as big your houses.  Many of us wonder why these data centers are going up in our backyards.  Are they necessary, beneficial, harmful to us and to our environment?  To find out the answers to these questions, I interviewed Buddy Rizer, the godfather of data center business in Loudoun County.

Buddy works for Loudoun County Economic Development as an executive director for economic development and he specializes in attracting data centers to our area.  I first asked Buddy to tell me the mandate for Loudoun County Economic Development.  He stated that their focus is to attract investment into the county and by many measures they are doing a great job.  Buddy said that more investments by companies mean a bigger tax base which means low real estate taxes for the residents.

Buddy Rizer of the Loudoun Economic Development

I asked Buddy if data centers were great boost to employment for the county.  He said not directly but, it has a long tail effect.  To this date, Loudoun County attracted over 60 data centers to the area.  Each data centers employs 50 people on average which means 3000 new jobs in our area.  Not bad on its own, however one has to account for construction, telco, power jobs that are created to service the development of the data centers.  All and all data center development creates thousands of jobs for the county and increases the tax base.

Buddy also added that in fiscal year 2015, data center business paid $105 million in real estate and property taxes.  That number is expected to go to $120 million in 2016 and $200 million by 2020.

Buddy said that Loudoun County is now famous worldwide since “up to 70 percent of the world’s internet traffic flows through Loudoun’s data centers each day.”  He adds “…data centers come to Loudoun County because of reliable and available workforce and land.”

So far so good, but what about the reputation of data centers for being inefficient energy users who pollute their environment? Numerous studies published by reputable institutions like Stanford University show that data centers waste energy while trying to keep cool the servers running inside 24×7.  They tend to suck up power and water to be used for cooling of servers.  Furthermore, most of the cooling systems used are diesel powered and contribute greatly to air pollution.  In fact data center industry is up there with aviation when measured for negative environmental impact. Buddy indicated that the data centers being opened in Loudoun County are state of the art and they are run very efficiently to lower the operational cost for their owners.

I have conflicting thoughts about the data centers in Loudoun County.  They are not the best looking buildings and they look odd standing tall next to our backyards.  They are net contributors to air pollution and they suck up too much power and water from our area.  They create jobs in high tech industry but, in a section that is becoming more and more a commodity in the market.  On the other hand, Buddy’s arguments are backed by real numbers.  Increased tax base, employment and high tech jobs are good for our area.  Buddy and the Loudoun Economic Development’s charter is to attract investment into our area and so far they are doing a good job.  If we don’t agree with them, we should get involved in setting the direction of spending for our tax dollars