Some of the world's largest data center and cloud companies have called for Dominion Energy to scrap its plans to invest in natural gas infrastructure and instead focus on renewable energy and energy storage capacity to help power the data centers of the huge hub in Northern Virginia.

Adobe, Akamai Technologies, Apple, AWS, Equinix, Iron Mountain, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Salesforce and QTS delivered a letter criticizing the company during Dominion Energy’s integrated resource plan hearing at Virginia’s State Corporation Commission (SCC), where it unveiled its proposed plans for the next decade.

More than 70 percent of the world's Internet traffic is thought to flow through data centers in Northern Virginia.

Dominion needs a greener, newer deal

Wind turbines
– Sebastian Moss

"Companies providing or using data centers are proud to offer fast, high-quality Internet and cloud services, and we are grateful for access to abundant, reliable, low-cost energy that enables us to do so," the letter states.

"However, a clean, flexible, and dynamic grid - replete with renewable energy and modern energy technologies - is the way of the future. It is vital that the energy investments being made today are forward-thinking and truly serve the best interest of ratepayers, the economy, and the planet for generations to come."

The letter, submitted on behalf of the companies by sustainability nonprofit Ceres, noted that - in addition to the ethical considerations - renewable energy also makes fiscal sense.

"When procured competitively, renewable energy allows us to save money," the companies write. In addition, "'solar plus storage' projects are beating out the price of new gas plants, and data centers are already proving the effectiveness of storage in our 24/7 operations."

At the heart of Dominion's plans is the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a controversial $7bn, 600-mile gas pipeline that the company says is needed to meet growing energy demand. "Of the two big demands they point to, number one is more 'data centers,'" Greenpeace's Gary Cook told DCD last year. "So unless you’re doing something to change that mixed supply, this sector is helping to drive new fossil fuel investment that we can’t afford."

Now, it looks like the industry may be willing to push for change. Speaking after the Ceres letter was published, Cook said: “Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, and other tech giants have now clearly and publicly rejected Dominion’s plan to meet their energy needs with fracked gas through the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

"These tech companies and their customers are demanding the utility focus instead on renewable energy solutions. This pipeline has been rejected by the public, the courts, and now the very customers Dominion claimed it was for.”

Greenpeace estimates that the ten companies that submitted the letter represent over 50 percent of the more than 4GW of data center electricity demand projected in Virginia.

Cook added: “The rapid growth of data centers in Virginia will continue to drive demand for more dirty energy, and more climate change if Dominion’s energy plan and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline goes forward. Tech companies are starting to realize they must break Dominion’s stranglehold on energy decisions in Virginia if they are going to the energy supply needed to build a renewably powered Internet.”

The proposed pipeline, co-developed by Dominion and Duke Energy, is currently bogged down with regulatory issues and legal challenges by environmentalists represented in court by the Southern Environmental Law Center.

"From a reasonableness standpoint, it never made sense to build an interstate gas pipeline through two national forests, a national park and some of the steepest mountains in Virginia and West Virginia," Greg Buppert, SELC attorney, told the Triangle Business Journal.

"The company has stubbornly stuck to that route. The problems it's run into, I think, are entirely self-inflicted."

Dominion Energy CEO Tom Farrell called the regulatory process “very frustrating” in an earnings call this month. "An appeal to the Supreme Court with regard to the Appalachian Trail crossing will be filed before the end of the second quarter. We believe that the Solicitor General of the United States will join that appeal."