The Risk and Uncertainty of Current Times

By Dale Mullen, Gregory Riegle, Jonathan Blank, McGuireWoods LLP

Risk and uncertainty define the present year. Understanding how to mitigate risk can allow us to reimagine uncertainty as opportunity.

Uninterrupted Internet access is now an indispensable resource for business, education, health, finance and personal interaction. One prominent feature of this resource is the data center. The modern data center includes data and rack space as well as a collection of primary and backup power sources; high-capacity cooling, ventilation and humidity-control systems; access to the best telecommunications networks; water and wastewater systems; uninterruptible power supply; fuel storage; and sophisticated security systems. Each of these many elements introduces a new point of regulatory and compliance risk.

Below we outline two areas of risk that can be recognized and mitigated in the modern data center.

Risk: Air Permitting, Compliance and Fuel Storage

Air permitting and permit compliance for large-scale emergency generators provide a developing point of risk for data centers. A new facility connects about every two weeks in Data Center Alley in Northern Virginia. While a data center is subject to no greater environmental regulation than any other large commercial development, data centers are unique in the amount of energy consumed and the necessity of large amounts of replaceable power. In the aggregate, at full capacity for one hour, data centers in Northern Virginia would consume more than 1 gigawatt hour of electricity—the equivalent of 3.125 million photovoltaic panels or 412 utility-scale wind turbines. In addition, there are over 3,300 emergency generators, each requiring on-site fuel storage (underground, above ground or in attached tanks).

Being aware of the risks—and paying careful attention to detail in federal, state and local regulations governing construction, operation and reporting requirements in air permitting, compliance and fuel storage—at every phase of capital projects and operations can prevent costly compliance efforts later.

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