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Salesforce is calling on Virginia’s utilities, regulators, and lawmakers to prioritize clean energy in their policymaking and grid-planning activities. Today, approximately 70 percent of the world’s internet traffic flows through data centers in Virginia. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to power those data centers, but less than 6% of the power generated in Virginia comes from renewable sources, leaving fossil fuels — a major contributor to climate change — to dominate. If we don’t take immediate, collective action to transition away from fossil fuels and halve greenhouse gas emissions in the next 12 years, we risk the long-term health of the planet, its people, and the global economy.
Today, data centers are cited as the largest source of growth in electricity demand in Virginia. Energy providers are intending to meet this growing demand with additional fossil fuel projects despite clear preference for clean and renewable energy from many data center companies. In fact, more than 17 data center companies operating in Virginia have committed to purchasing 100% renewable energy. Last fall, and again this spring, Salesforce teamed up with several data center and technology companies to urge Dominion Energy to prioritize clean-energy technologies in their grid planning processes.
Virginia utilities, like Dominion Energy, have made progress in recent years developing options for some of their customers to purchase renewable energy. We were also encouraged to see the Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board adopt a new regulation earlier this month to cap and reduce carbon emissions from the Commonwealth’s electric sector. These are both important steps on the Commonwealth’s path toward a low-carbon future; however, they are only the start. Meaningful progress will also require new policies in addition to the acceleration of current goals.
As the cost of renewable energy continues to fall, investments in new fossil fuel infrastructure — like the Atlantic Coast Pipeline — may leave ratepayers burdened with uneconomic investments for years to come. Just last week, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission rejected a proposal to build a natural gas power plant, citing the potential financial risk to customers in a time when the energy industry is rapidly evolving. With the upcoming review of Dominion Energy’s resource plan, we encourage the Virginia State Corporation Commission to similarly ensure the state’s resource planning leverages the full benefits of clean energy technology and takes into account both the public’s best short-term and long-term interests.
A low-carbon future is critical for both human health and economic prosperity in the Commonwealth. For sufficient progress to be made in the next 12 years, we need actions today. It’s time for Virginia to embrace the transition to a clean energy future.
Patrick Flynn is the vice president of sustainability for Salesforce, the global leader in customer relationship management, where he defines and leads the execution of Salesforce’s environmental strategy.