Developer: Influx of data center jobs to Surry will be gradual

Published 12:04 pm Monday, October 9, 2023

The 2,000 to 3,000 new jobs a developer of carbon-free energy expects the nation’s first-of-its-kind combination data center and hydrogen fuel hub will bring to Surry County won’t come all at once, nor will all the positions be permanent.

Middleburg-based Green Energy Partners LLC announced in April it had secured 641 acres adjacent to Dominion Energy’s Surry nuclear power plant for the project.

GEP Chief Operating Officer Bill Puckett and Renee Chapline of Surry County’s economic development office each say the influx of workers is intended to be gradual over a 10- to 15-year build out.

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“Residents don’t have to panic that 3,000 people are going to show up,” Puckett said.

He anticipates the project, which is currently being reviewed by county zoning staff, will go before Surry’s Planning Commission by mid-November. Surry’s Board of Supervisors will then need to give final approval for the project to proceed.

Data centers are physical buildings that house computer infrastructure needed to run file-sharing and internet-based services. According to Puckett, they require large amounts of electricity to maintain 24-7 operations and cooling systems, which is why GEP is proposing to eventually power the centers on-site with four to six small, modular nuclear reactors, or SMRs.

The United States has used small, modular reactors on nuclear-powered naval vessels for decades, but the idea of using them to power towns and cities on land is relatively new. Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s “all of the above” energy plan released in 2022 calls for at least one SMR in Virginia within the next decade. GEP expects to connect the site to Dominion’s existing power grid and bring the SMRs online within the next 10 to 12 years.

According to Chapline, data centers bring high-paying permanent jobs, but typically, not many. A Microsoft data center in the town of Boydton, she said, employs less than 100 people but brings Mecklenburg County substantial tax revenue.

“It’s kind of good for a small community,” Chapline said.

The estimated 2,000 to 3,000 jobs would be the collective total of temporary construction workers and permanent data center and hydrogen hub employees over a 15-year period, Chapline and Puckett said.

Puckett declined to speculate how many permanent positions the center would generate but asserted it would bring a “significant number” of jobs as various phases of the project are built.

GEP is currently conducting studies to determine the proposed facility’s impact on the county, Puckett said.

Puckett, in April, said GEP was drawn to Surry after searching across the East Coast for two years due to the county’s existing infrastructure, electrical grid and access to fiber-optic high-speed internet. Surry completed a build out of universal fiber-to-the-home, the industry gold standard in high-speed internet access, in 2021 by partnering with Dominion and Prince George Electric Cooperative subsidiary Ruralband to allow any county resident who wants a fiber-to-the-home connection to purchase one.

Editor’s note: This story was updated on Oct. 10 at 11:03 a.m. with Bill Puckett’s latest title.