Surry planners advance ‘emerging technologies’ district

Published 7:56 pm Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Surry County’s Planning Commission on Dec. 18 advanced a new “emerging technologies” zoning district, intended to create a path forward for the nation’s first combination hydrogen fuel hub and data center.

The commissioners voted unanimously with members Stephen Berryman and Carmen Judkins absent to urge the approval of a slate of changes to Surry’s zoning ordinance. The draft changes will next head to county supervisors for final approval.

Middleburg-based Green Energy Partners announced in April it had acquired 641 acres for the combination data center and hydrogen hub 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 county supervisors.

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Surry’s zoning ordinance, according to county officials, lacks an adequate zoning district to classify the first-of-its-kind facility. The slate of zoning ordinance changes would create one for the project and others like it.

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

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 from 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.