Surry proposes ‘emerging technologies’ zoning

Published 2:11 pm Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Surry County is proposing a new “emerging technologies” zoning district to create a path forward for the nation’s first combination data center and hydrogen fuel hub.

Middleburg-based Green Energy Partners LLC announced in April it had acquired 641 acres for the facility adjacent to Dominion Energy’s Surry nuclear power plant after a two-year search across the East Coast for prospective sites.

Green Energy initially planned to break ground as early as the fourth quarter of 2024 but before that can happen, it must receive rezoning approval from Surry’s Board of Supervisors, as the land is currently classified as agricultural. The company’s plans hit a roadblock when county officials could find no appropriate descriptor in Surry’s zoning ordinance for the first-of-its-kind facility.

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“Currently there’s no clear path for projects like that,” Surry’s director of planning and community development, Horace Wade, told Surry’s supervisors on Dec. 7.

That’s why Surry is now proposing to create one.

Surry’s Planning Commission is scheduled to discuss a first draft of the zoning ordinance amendment on Dec. 18. Once the commission votes on the draft, it will head to the supervisors for final approval.

The county has been working with Anne Darby, planning department manager at Summit Design and Engineering, to craft the ordinance changes.

“The idea is to create a district that is as permissive and as flexible as possible while still giving the Planning Commission and board and the county control over what would go into the district,” Darby told the supervisors on Dec. 7.

The district as proposed would require a minimum 500 acres of contiguous land to qualify for the zoning and would cap the height of any structure at 75 feet, or between five to seven stories.

Permitted uses within the new zoning would include “data warehouse center” and “renewable energy generation facility.” A conditional use permit would be required for the four to six small, modular nuclear reactors, or SMRs, Green Energy is proposing to power the facility.

Data centers are physical buildings that house computer infrastructure needed to run file-sharing and internet-based services. Bill Puckett, Chief Operating Officer of Green Energy, told The Smithfield Times in April that data centers require large amounts of electricity to maintain 24-7 operations and cooling systems, which is why his company is proposing to eventually power the centers on-site. Green Energy, as of April, planned to initially connect the site to Dominion’s existing power grid and bring the SMRs online within the next 10 to 12 years.