Opposition to Unchecked Power Backups at Data Centers (Bill HB 579/ SB 474)

Bay Journal

Update: In the final days of the General Assembly session this bill has been amended to earmark 15% of all tax revenues that the state would collect from data center operators for the state’s Strategic Energy Investment Fund, which the Maryland Energy Administration uses to fund clean energy and climate programs. Though some environmental groups have dropped their opposition, this bill still removes Public Service Commission oversight and allows backup diesel generators of any quantity, any size, anywhere.

This bill still represents an exemption from critical state emissions targets. There is an opportunity here to carefully study how this emerging use will fit into the state's economic and natural resource goals but this bill instead sets troubling precedents.  

A vote is expected any day. Please take action by clicking "start writing" - and thanks!

Background: Data centers are an emerging land use heavily established in Northern Virginia but not yet a common sight in Maryland. The state and local jurisdictions do not currently have a regulatory framework to deal with this novel and intensive land use.

What are they? Whenever artificial intelligence is used or something is saved "to the cloud," the data lives in a server in a large warehouse like building.

Data centers require a lot of resources:

->Seeking less expensive farmland for giant impervious buildings

->Constant supplies of fresh water to cool servers are taken from streams and then returned at a higher temperature. An example - a query to artificial intelligence platform ChatGPT uses 2 cups of potable water.

->The power needs of a large city, necessitating costly grid updates passed to ratepayers

But what about when the power goes out?

For all the cutting edge technology, proposed data centers are seeking approvals to use diesel generators as backup supplies - enough generators to power a large city- with the associated emissions.

Imagine if the power went out and every house in Baltimore fired up a generator. The Public Service Commission correctly denied one such proposal in Frederick County citing emissions concerns.  

In a bid to attract data center construction to Maryland, Governor Moore has proposed a workaround. HB 579/ SB474: Critical Infrastructure Streamlining Act seeks to remove the PSCs oversight on backup power generators for data centers and allow diesel generators of  any size, in any quantity, anywhere to serve data centers.

MCA, with partners, has written to oppose this bill and has recommendations to convert this bill into a study that would build a framework for where these water, land and energy facilities fit into Maryland's goals for emissions reductions and conservation. We are particularly grateful for the leadership of Sugarloaf Alliance on this issue

MCA also supports SB0861-Public Utilities - High-Energy-Use Facilities - Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions put forth by Senators Lewis Young and Watson. The bill would require facilities that have high energy use - notably data centers and cryptocurrency mining operations to move toward 100% reduction in emissions by 2040 (5 years after Governor Moore has pledged the state will use 100% clean energy) with milestone targets between now and then, with compliance monitored by the Public Service Commission.

We are asking that you personalize an email to leaders in Annapolis to oppose a blank check for emissions from data centers and support an approach that balances this new use with critical emissions reductions goals.

Click "start writing" - and thanks!

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