Checking in on Northern Virginia: Q&A with Kent Hill, Dominion Energy

ASHBURN, VA — Kent Hill is currently Manager, Strategic Economic Development for Dominion Energy, one of the nation’s largest electric and gas utilities. He is responsible for management of the company’s economic development program, which includes support of state and local economic development efforts, and new business development. He provides leadership for the “Dominion Energy Data Center Services” business unit that supports the continued growth of Dominion’s extensive portfolio of data center customers with over 10 million square feet in Virginia. Kent is a Certified Economic Developer and a graduate of the Economic Development Institute at the University of Oklahoma. He holds a BS degree in Biological and Agricultural Engineering from North Carolina State University and an Energy Management Diploma from Virginia Tech. He is a past president of the Virginia Economic Developers Association. A frequent speaker at CAPRE’s Mid-Atlantic Data Center Summits, we caught up with Kent to learn more about the latest in Northern Virginia as we head into 2019.

CAPRE: Thanks for chatting with us Kent. Based on attending CAPRE’s 2019 Industry Forecast on January 31, what did you find most surprising to you about the industry as we enter the new year?

Kent Hill, Manager, Strategic Economic Development, Dominion Energy

Hill: I wouldn’t call it surprising, but we just continue to grow year to year. If you go back 2-3 years, people would say there’s no way this market can continue to sustain at that rate and it continues to outpace all other markets by a long shot if you look at the current square footage under construction, Northern Virginia pretty much exceeds all other markets combined particularly if you expand that south to Richmond, which now has a Facebook project. VA as a whole, data center construction is pretty much greater than all the other markets combined, and that’s phenomenal

CAPRE: What did you think of the event?

Hill: It was very well-attended and I saw a lot of old friends and new faces. As we have new participants that are new entrants to that market every year, and established players continue to grow year over year, the event provided good content and the panel discussions went very well.

CAPRE: What will the game changer in 2019 in terms of new technology?

Hill: In the Northern Virginia market, real estate is challenging — being able to find property. I think we’re going to see a bigger discussion on multi-story data centers. that discussion is already happening. counties and localities in nova are looking at that from a zoning perspective. One reason would be the lack of real estate available to fit the zoning requirements. But I think we’re going to see more multi-story designs coming into play and also potentially re-purposed sites – commercial, industrial locations that can be repurposed as a datacenter from a real estate perspective we’ll see those developments occur and we’re already seeing some interest I that direction.

New SquareAlso, Virginia Beach is a new location for multiple sub-sea cables. between New York City and Miami, that’s the only major cable landing location along the east coast. So in terms of connectivity to Europe, south and Central America an eventually Africa, this will be a game changer in terms of internet traffic flow and latency. That’s going to be a plus for Virginia and Ashburn as well. we’ve seen Facebook’s location in Virginia, QTS recently announced their Mid-Atlantic network access point, which is going to take advantage of these cables. So I think that’s going to be very interesting, to see how traffic changes opportunities for companies.

CAPRE: What company do you find most interesting right now as we start the year?

Hill: All these companies are our customers and we don’t favor any of them because they’re all growing. But certainly, CyrusOne has had tremendous amount of growth. But again, AWS continues to grow and there are multiple real estate stats showing the square footage of all these guys. There are at least 5-6 companies growing at a pretty rapid rate.

CAPRE: What is the most significant challenge for 2019 based on what you heard during our forecast?

Hill: From an electric power provider standpoint, we have to continue t provide a robust network to support this growth. We just connected 18 new data centers in 2018 and we are on pace to be at similar level this year. we’re delivering over a gigawatt to our data center market in Northern Virginia which is pretty incredible. So to stay on top of that we are building out our transmission network.

In Ashburn alone, we have 13 sub-stations within a mile of each other and we are building out an additional 4-5 currently under development. It’s not an insurmountable challenge though, because we are meeting it to stay ahead of the market. We are also seeing more companies having renewable energy requirements. We’ve developed several options from a utility perspective to deliver a 100% renewable option. So we’ve done hundreds of megawatts to some of the big players (AWS, Microsoft) with that option. As a company, we’ll be delivering over 3000 megawatts of solar over the next few years.

CAPRE: Got it. Thanks for your time, Kent. We’ll see you at one of CAPRE’s Mid-Atlantic Data Center Summits soon!

For more from Hill, check out previous CAPRE Insider Reports: