[Baltimore Sun] Maryland must not duplicate Virginia’s data center errors | READER COMMENTARY

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In 2020, the Maryland General Assembly passed a sales and use tax exemption for qualified data centers that substantially lowered the construction cost to between 55 to 65% of initial expenses (Please note that Gov. Larry Hogan had no involvement in this bill except for signing it).

In a recent commentary, former Maryland Commerce Secretary Michael Gill suggests that we “take a page from Virginia’s playbook and cut out unnecessary red tape while encouraging the growth of promising new industries” (“Let’s make Maryland ‘open for business’ again,” May 17). Unfortunately, what the author calls red tape are the environmental laws and regulations that protect people and the environment.

Virginia has now seen the errors in its approach and is now scrambling to protect its people from the harmful effects of data centers. Here are a few things to consider when thinking about data centers: Greenhouse gas emissions from the power usage, air and noise pollution caused by the use of diesel backup generators that need to be run almost weekly to ensure working order, noise from the server themselves, water consumption, water runoff and installing miles of underground fiber optic cable to mention a few.

In fact, Virginia in 2024 had 17 pieces of legislation introduced to restrict data centers and Loudoun County just passed local restrictions. In Northern Virginia, there are now over 4,000 commercial backup diesel generators, many times the size of a typical household generator.

The numbers are stunning: One data center can use the same amount of energy as 50,000 homes. This demand has real-world consequences: Virginia’s Prince William County saw a 19% rise in greenhouse gas emissions between 2005 and 2018, a time-period that matches the data center expansion in the county.

Data centers are increasingly essential to our modern life and have the potential to bring economic gains to Maryland. However, we must implement essential guardrails that protect our climate and our communities. I hate to say it, but there are no jobs on a dead planet.

— Dave Arndt, Baltimore

The writer is co-chair of the Maryland Legislative Coalition Climate Justice Wing.

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