What are the big issues in Virginia in 2024? Think data.

Thank you to Nature Volunteer Elyzabeth Earnley for partnering with us and for co-authoring this article with me!

While much of the work we do at Nature Forward is focused locally, we pay attention each year in Virginia as legislators gather for the General Assembly to write new laws that will affect us both state-wide and locally. This year’s General Assembly takes place Jan. 10 – March 9. We need your help to ask your elected officials to vote in support of conservation! Get ready!

What are the big issues Nature Forward is following this General Assembly?

We’ll be playing close attention to legislation affecting:

  • Native trees and native plants
  • Invasive plants
  • Climate & energy-related issues (e.g. EVs, solar, data centers)

By mid-January, we’ll have a better idea of the specific bills we’ll be tracking (look for another blog post then).

Six different photo examples of conservation landscaping in HOAs.
HB528: Supporting Conservation Landscaping in HOAs

One exciting initiative over the past few months has been partnering with local Fairfax County advocate Melinda Soltys, several of our partners (including Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Virginia Native Plant Society), and ultimately Delegate Krizek to help draft HB528 which is legislation to ensure HOA residents have the ability to install conservation landscaping (e.g. rain gardens, native plant gardens, meadows) on their private property.

We need Virginia residents to speak up in support of this bill now and throughout the General Assembly. Your personal story on this topic, if you have one, will be even more powerful. (Email [email protected] if you want to be more involved in supporting this bill!)


Our delegates can benefit from education on why this bill is important!

Check out our talking points / factsheet then:

(1) Add your public comments here (scroll to find HB528 and then check the box and follow the steps to submit a comment): https://hodspeak.house.virginia.gov/committees/H11/bill_feedback?ses=241

(2) Email your delegate (not your senator just yet) today to let them know you support HB528! If your delegate is on the General Laws Committee, please also email them directly and ask them to support this bill when it comes to them for consideration!

A new issue for Nature Forward: data centers. What’s the big worry?

The internet puts the world at our fingertips. Laptops and smartphones connected to the internet have, for better or worse, given us 24/7 access to Google, Amazon and countless other services flowing information effortlessly through “the cloud.” None of this magic would be possible without data centers, where your data is “in the cloud.”

Two images side by side: On the right, white fluffy clouds in a bright blue sky, and on the left, a huge windowless stark data center building, which is often also called "the cloud".

But, you see, the “cloud” isn’t soft, puffy, and relaxing like you see in the sky. The “cloud” is actually a data center – a huge, windowless building full of servers, computers and the support infrastructure needed to store, process and distribute enormous amounts of data. Two things have accelerated the demand for data centers: (1) the rapid growth of “AI” (artificial intelligence) and (2) cloud computing which helps to improve a company’s security and technical resilience.

Northern Virginia has the largest concentration of data centers in the world. Half of all data centers in the United States are located here. The birth of the internet with AOL laid the groundwork – literally. Fiber optic cable connects data centers to support this concentration of computing power and storage. Virginia’s proximity to urban centers, its mild climate, available land and inexpensive electricity made it a highly desirable location for additional data center facilities. The current cluster of data centers in primarily Loudoun County is three times larger than the next largest cluster in Singapore. The result is that Virginia handles a third of all global internet traffic!

But these data centers have significant environmental impacts, including, but not limited to:

  • Increased greenhouse gas emissions. Data centers use an enormous amount of electricity (up to 50x more electricity than a typical commercial use). Here in Virginia, data centers account for 20% of total electricity demand. Dominion Energy expects the amount of electricity requested when demand is greatest – known as peak load – to double by 2040 in large part because of the growth in the area’s data centers. As a large consumer of electricity, a data center is only as clean as the grid powering it. Recently, Virginia Dominion used the increased demand for electricity from data centers as justification for amending its long-term Integrated Resource Plan to add fossil fuel generation and to slow plans to retire existing facilities. This level of energy consumption puts local carbon emission reduction goals in jeopardy.
  • Significant water consumption. Depending on the design, a large data center may use up to 5 million gallons of water per day, using evaporative cooling to reduce the temperature of the machines that process data.
  • Direct, negative impacts to neighboring communities and natural areas. Far too often, the communities most affected are those least able to afford to mitigate the damage being done to the area. Not only does the equipment inside data centers create noise pollution at ear-damaging levels, but back-up diesel generators, when used, create even more noise plus mind-numbing amounts of pollution. And when additional power needed for data centers comes from fossil fuels, communities in the area of the power plants will also be affected.

During last year’s General Assembly, lawmakers literally turned a blind eye to the environmental impacts of data centers by failing to pass SJ240. That measure would have tasked the Department of Energy with looking into the impacts of data center development on Virginia’s environment, economy, energy resources, as well as our ability to meet carbon-reduction goals. In the meantime, commitments to build are being made for even more data centers, and the impacts could be significant. Just last month, Prince William County’s outgoing Board approved a massive data center complex after a 27-hour public hearing and months of strong opposition.

Dozens of people in a larger crowd of people sitting and listening to a speaker on Conservation Lobby Day in Richmond in 2023.
Reminder: Your voice is important and is needed!

As we face the current climate crisis, we must approach every new piece of legislation or development with a focus on long-term sustainability. Keep in touch with us this coming General Assembly (Jan 10 – March 9) and help advocate for a more sustainable Virginia. We look forward to working with you for a Virginia that will be enjoyable to live in for many generations to come!

Email your legislators today in support of HB528, in support of more sustainable data centers, or any conservation related bill!

Thank you to Nature Volunteer Elyzabeth Earnley for partnering with us and for co-authoring this article with me!