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Local Residents and Energy Projects

Julian Silk's picture
Adjunct Professor,
  • Member since 2010
  • 326 items added with 8,394 views
  • Feb 15, 2023

This will be a discussion of two energy projects, with some reflections more generally on what environmental advocates might do.  All these posts are personal opinions; it has to be stressed that this is extremely personal, and no other group or person has any liability for what is expressed, because of the controversial nature.

The Washington Post had a good article on the battle over a data center that Amazon has proposed building near Warrenton, Virginia.  It can be found at 


It discusses the opposition to the data center and describes the groups spearheading the opposition.  What is really good about the article is that it distinguishes between the local residents who are not part of the groups, and the groups themselves.  In this case, the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) is one of the groups most opposed, and it has its headquarters in Warrenton.  Three blocks away, at Sunny's Grill, on Main Street in Warrenton, it is possible to get a sense of local opinion, and the people there, watching Fox News on TV, seem very much in favor of the data center, because of the jobs it will bring local residents, and the local nature of the residents has to be emphasized.  PEC wants to preserve the rural nature of the area, and avoid the transmission lines (which Dominion Energy would have to build for the project), etc.  Dominion's proposal to put the transmission lines seems to cut no ice with the opponents.

The other energy project which is currently in the news, and which has a funny sort of mirror image to the Amazon project is a project to build a major wind farm in Lava Ridge in Idaho.  In this case, the local residents are almost unanimously opposed to the project, as noted in 

among other sources.  The proponents insist Lava Ridge would add jobs - 1,000 during construction and 20 permanent jobs - see 

In both these cases, the issues really are economic, and who gets the benefits.  In the Amazon case, it is hard to escape the impression that the supporters of the project are relatively poor, while the opponents are relatively rich, and this by itself will be enough to prevent the project from being built in the planned area near Warrenton.  But the PEC may find this is a somewhat Pyrrhic victory - while the project will not be built there, some compromise will be worked out in the Virginia legislature to have the project built somewhere else in Virginia, probably closer to Washington, DC, through some sort of land deal.  This may preserve the rural character of Warrenton, but it will deprive the Warrenton residents who reside there of economic benefit, and this is storing up trouble for later.

In Idaho, the jobs might in fact be real.  But there is no guarantee at all that the jobs would go to the local residents who are currently there, and those people would suffer the financial losses in terms of grazing land and other issues that simply aren't being offset.  Newcomers might get the jobs; nothing guarantees any immediate or even short-run benefits for the incumbents.  Given this, the odds are that the project will be drastically reduced, which the Bureau of Land Management has proposed, or dropped altogether.

There is a moral from these two projects, which is the last thing environmental groups want to hear, but which should be put out in the open.  To get the environmental improvements the advocates want, it will be highly worthwhile for the advocates to develop projects which are either complementary or put in place beforehand to provide economic benefits to the local, incumbent residents.  The PEC would have to spend money, and it might be a lot of money, identifying projects in Northern Virginia that would employ the residents of Warrenton who are going to be left out if the Amazon project is defeated.  Having algae farms near Occoquan, with some sort of construction center or carbon capture facility in the Potomac Mills Mall, in Woodbridge (fairly near Warrenton) if the mall does not completely recover from the effects of the 2020 lockdown, may be fanciful.  But the PEC and other groups ought to be thinking about environmentally sound projects that do employ the locals, to minimize the polarization that is going to take place otherwise.  

Something similar might be developed in Idaho.  Again it is far-fetched to imagine a small modular (nuclear) reactor being used to develop "pink" hydrogen as a backup for any sort of wind project.  But the Idaho National Laboratory, which is primarily concerned with nuclear research, is a well-known and popular employer in the state.  It may be possible to move the Lava Ridge project, on a smaller scale, to a less contentious area and cooperate with the Lab to provide employment to the people who currently reside in the affected areas.  

It will be easy to ridicule these ideas.  But polarization is dangerous, not least for environmentalists, who need broad public support, not just the deep support of committed rich people.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Feb 15, 2023

Always interesting to see the stark contrast when it comes to influence communities have on these decisions-- wealthy communities maybe with more power to push back on the NIMBY vs. working communities who may see projects in terms of their job creation. 

Julian Silk's picture
Julian Silk on Feb 15, 2023

Matt Chester is right, but there are some more comments that should be made to clarify the situation.

1)  The people at Sunny's Grill aren't dirt-poor, but working-class and middle-class.  They are poor relative to the wealthy backers of the environmental groups opposing the Warrenton data center.

2) No aspersion is being cast on The Piedmont Environmental Center.  The people there are very nice.  It's just an honest disagreement.  It is also a shock to see that there is no real interaction between them and the people at Sunny's Grill - no signs in Sunny's Grill stating, "We support The Piedmont Environmental Center" - when they are really only a parking lot apart.

3) The Washington Post rightly notes that other groups besides The Piedmont Environmental Center, in particular, Citizens for Fauquier County, oppose the data center.

4) For the Lava Ridge project, it would make sense to try to develop alternatives to just wind.  Some payments for carbon farming or some other devices to support the incumbents would help with approval of some of the project.

5) It is easy and commonplace to have the environmental groups state (and it may not be explicit), "We want charismatic believers to rouse our donors and get people from outside the community or such in the community as who really care about the environment to participate!  Who cares about these trivial immediate problems and the opponents?"  The short answer is "You do".  The problems may by no means be easily overcome.  The opposition to Lava Ridge may be so intense as to lead to a ban on all major wind projects in the whole state of Idaho; people who get hurt want revenge, not sweet-talk.  To the extent that environmentalists can reach across barriers and get things done, even if the accomplishments are modest, they will be better off.  Donors will eventually see that cheerleading and legal battles that fail don't accomplish meaningful environmental progress, and get disenchanted and drop out.  Untoward events - "That can't possibly happen!" - are a certainty.

Julian Silk's picture
Julian Silk on Feb 21, 2023

More on Lava Ridge, which may be posted elsewhere in Energy Central:


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