(The Center Square) — The Virginia Chamber Foundation held its first Virginia Forum on Infrastructure and Its Impact on Economic Development on Tuesday, with participation from business community members, representatives from Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration and industry experts.
“It was important to have this event because everything we do is dependent on reliable infrastructure,” Hannah Emerson, a spokesperson for the chamber, told The Center Square. “Much attention has been given to infrastructure at the federal, state and local level in recent years, and much of our existing infrastructure is growing older and will be inadequate in the near future.”
The event touched on what Emerson called a “rapid increase” in the demand for energy and electricity in Virginia, a byproduct of an expanding population, the proliferation of smart devices and the growing presence of electric vehicles.
Keynote speaker and President of Rappahannock Electric Cooperative John Hewa presented the challenge facing utility and infrastructure companies in the commonwealth in terms of “three energy themes”: A rapid transition to clean energy, the “international EV wave” and Virginia’s unique data center market.
Virginia is the data center capital of the world and still works to attract more — both data centers and electric vehicles place a significant burden on the grid.
As an example, Hewa cited a statistic that “one hyperscale data center site could require 500-1,000+ megawatts of capacity, while a typical large box store may peak at <1 megawatt.”
Yet, while suppliers must meet unprecedented energy demands, Virginia law requires that they move away from traditional energy sources like fossil fuels.
The solution will require a team effort and potentially never-before-seen investments in the grid. The event’s panelists and speakers – including executives and presidents of energy, broadband, housing and economic development organizations, state Secretary of Transportation, and CEO of Virginia Housing – underscored the importance of working together to meet local and regional infrastructure needs.
“The panelists emphasized that infrastructure is often regional, and meeting the infrastructure needs of one locality will require collaboration and cooperation from other localities who may be seeking their own solutions,” Emerson said. “Because infrastructure is very costly, regional approaches are especially useful to raising the revenues required to pay for necessary infrastructure.”
The event concluded with the announcement of the creation of the Blueprint Virginia Infrastructure Executive Committee, which Hewa will lead as chair, and Terry Ellis, vice president of government and regulatory affairs for Comcast, will serve as vice chair.
Blueprint Virginia 2030 is a “business plan for the commonwealth” that the chamber created, and this committee will work toward the goals and objectives of that plan.
“I look forward to working on policies that address the commonwealth’s infrastructure needs for the future,” said Hewa. “Industry experts participating in the committee will bring a broad range of institutional knowledge and experience to the group, which will help implement the recommendations delineated in Blueprint Virginia 2030.”