Virginia may let Data Centers fire up Diesel Generators when PJM Grid is under duress

Feb. 6, 2023
It would approve emergency generation from those types of on-site power generators considered Tier II and Tier IV, both related to diesel-fueled machines

Virginia's top governmental regulator for environmental issues is considering encouraging and allowing data centers located in certain areas to engage their emergency generators, many of which run on diesel fuel, when the grid operator issues load management alerts.

The “Maximum Generation Emergency/Load Management Alert” calls come from system operator PJM Interconnection when electricity demand is particularly high and threatening to rise above available generation capacity in the system. The alerts can be system-wise or for particular counties.

The state's variance, if approved, would be for data centers located in the Virginia counties of Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William. It would approve emergency generation from those types of on-site power generators considered Tier II and Tier IV, both related to diesel-fueled machines.

“The local variance shall apply only during periods when a maximum generation emergency/load management alert or higher level of alert, warning or in effect,” the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality proposal reads. “Each affected data center shall notify the department within three hours of commencing to operate its Tier II and Tier IV emergency generators...”

The state’s Department of Environmental Quality could revoke the order for any statutory reason. The variance expires on July 31, in any event.

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Why do Data Centers need their own Microgrid?

PJM Interconnection oversees the grid transmission and movement of wholesale electricity in all or parts of Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennesse, District of Columbia, West Virginia and Virginia.

Data centers increasingly are becoming a dominant user of electricity. A University of Virginia study in 2021 predicted that data centers flocking to the region may help increase electricity sales nearly 40 percent by 2035.

At the same time, the state’s environmental policies are pushing a growth in intermittent renewable energy resources such as solar and utility-scale wind power.

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(Rod Walton, senior editor for EnergyTech, is a 15-year veteran of covering the energy industry both as a newspaper and trade journalist. He can be reached at [email protected]).

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About the Author

Rod Walton, EnergyTech Managing Editor | Senior Editor

For EnergyTech editorial inquiries, please contact Managing Editor Rod Walton at [email protected].

Rod Walton has spent 15 years covering the energy industry as a newspaper and trade journalist. He formerly was energy writer and business editor at the Tulsa World. Later, he spent six years covering the electricity power sector for Pennwell and Clarion Events. He joined Endeavor and EnergyTech in November 2021.

Walton earned his Bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma. His career stops include the Moore American, Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise, Wagoner Tribune and Tulsa World. 

EnergyTech is focused on the mission critical and large-scale energy users and their sustainability and resiliency goals. These include the commercial and industrial sectors, as well as the military, universities, data centers and microgrids. The C&I sectors together account for close to 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.

He was named Managing Editor for Microgrid Knowledge and EnergyTech starting July 1, 2023

Many large-scale energy users such as Fortune 500 companies, and mission-critical users such as military bases, universities, healthcare facilities, public safety and data centers, shifting their energy priorities to reach net-zero carbon goals within the coming decades. These include plans for renewable energy power purchase agreements, but also on-site resiliency projects such as microgrids, combined heat and power, rooftop solar, energy storage, digitalization and building efficiency upgrades.