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City Council talks lights, solar, data centers  

by | Jul 10, 2024 | ALLFFP, Fredericksburg, Government

The Fredericksburg City Council breezed through its regular Tuesday night session, the last before it reconvenes at the end of August. But not before addressing the elephant in the region.  

After approving a short consent agenda, Mayor Kerry Devine turned the conversation to data centers, suggesting Celebrate Virginia South as a possible location for one such facility in Fredericksburg.  

“Data centers are all around us at this point and many of us have gone to look at some in the region, to try to get a better understanding of what it would entail for Fredericksburg to have a data center in it,” Devine said. “About 20 million square feet is being planned in Stafford, Spotsylvania, Caroline, King George – all around us. And literally billions of dollars are going to be invested in those data centers and that means… there’s going to be millions of dollars flowing into those communities.”  

Devine stated that data centers could significantly lower tax rates and improve economic development for those localities. Citing Stafford County’s recent agreement with Amazon on a water reuse program for its data center, Devine said that some of the concerns regarding data centers are being addressed.

“What I would like to request is that we direct staff to explore Celebrate Virginia South as a potential data center development,” she said.  

And most of council agreed it was time to consider the options.  

“I think it’s incumbent on all of us to find ways to diversify our revenue streams and not rely so heavily on property taxes. So I’m all in favor of your request and support it,” Ward 3 Councilor Tim Duffy said.  

Ward 2 Councilor Jon Gerlach said he’s advocated for city officials to find other sources of revenue to ease the burden on taxpayers. Gerlach said as the city grows, the need for services will increase.

“If there is a way to bring a data center to Celebrate South in an environmentally responsible manner, I would be all in favor of it,” Gerlach said.  

Vice Mayor Chuck Frye Jr. said data centers could be a positive move for the city. Councilor Will Mackintosh noted the impact on employment that comes with the developments.

“I know that they are not huge job creators but it takes a fair number of highly trained and well-paid people to run one of these things,” Mackintosh said.  

Mackintosh said he hopes city schools and Germanna Community College take the initiative to develop training programs so local students can join the region’s workforce.   

“I’m very excited about this development in our region as a source of employing our young people and making sure that we’re building the training pipelines for that,” he said.  

Proclamations and resolutions 

In other business, retiring police Lt. Scott Worley and Fredericksburg Arts Commission Chair Kenneth Lecky were recognized with proclamations thanking them for their years of service to the community.  

Mackintosh was named to the elementary school naming committee at the request of the school board. That motion passed 6-0. Councilor Jason Graham was absent due to a family emergency, explained Devine.  

David Brown, assistant city manager, gave the council an update on sustainability initiatives in the city.  The conversion of lights in certain public buildings to LED fixtures is complete. The energy-efficient lights are installed in the police department, the Bass-Ellison building, the library, Dixon Park, the Dorothy Hart Community Center, and the city shop. The project cost about $200,000.  

Brown also noted the same contractor is developing cost estimates for the installation of solar panels in the city. A contractor is evaluating energy use within city buildings to discover potential adjustments to reduce overall usage.   

Brown said changing the city fleet of vehicles to hybrid hit a snag as manufacturers cut back on the number of hybrids they are producing. Brown noted the city is shopping for more fuel-efficient vehicles, such as those that utilize EcoBoost systems.

“We still maintain a hybrid fleet,” he said. “But we will still continue to look for opportunities where we can either get the electric or hybrid vehicles.”  

The request for proposals for a solar energy project on closed landfills in partnership with Stafford County closes July 31, said Brown, before highlighting a few new projects in the works.  

A pilot program with Dominion Energy will evaluate street lights in the Mayfield area, to upgrade 91 high-pressure sodium vapor lights and four mercury vapor lights to all-LED. The lights vary in wattage from 70 to 250 watts, said Brown. A finalized plan will be presented in August.  

Frye questioned Brown about the height of the street lights, noting that many are blocked by tree canopy.

“The neighborhood is full of trees and I’m wondering if you’re looking at the actual height of the lights, on the poles,” Frye said.

Brown noted that the poles are owned by Dominion and this project is only focused on the bulbs, but selective pruning may be recommended in places where the lights are blocked by limbs.  

Brown closed by stating that the position of environmental sustainability coordinator was re-advertised, and staff are reviewing applications.  

Mackintosh asked Brown about future sites for electric vehicle charging stations.

“We’ve endeavored to work and look with some outside agencies for creating supplemental stations for that purpose,” Brown said. “One entity to which we had presented, there was some issue with language in regards to contracts. That was with our previous city attorney and they have not come back to us.”  

Brown stated that staff also looked at creating permanent methods for homeowners to charge vehicles curbside. But because the leads would be crossing a public sidewalk, it would essentially create a private parking spot on a public street.  

Resolutions to carry over capital funds related to asphalt rehabilitation passed 6-0 as did a resolution to amend the budget to reflect three grants awarded to the Fredericksburg Police Department. Council made appointments to the circuit court’s board of equalization and passed a resolution on administrative refunds from assessment adjustments.   

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