Project Oasis to Study Data Center Opportunities in Southwest Virginia


Former mine land could be reclaimed as sites for data centers if a feasibility study shows positive cost-benefit ratios. That was the thrust of the message as the leadership team from InvestSWVA Tuesday outlined its plans for Project Oasis during an afternoon briefing in Wise County.

Project Oasis seeks to identify and study data center opportunities across GO Virginia Region One, particularly on previously mined land, and is funded in part by a GO Virginia grant that was announced on August 6, 2019. The purpose of the project is to provide third-party validation for Region One to become the location of choice in the Commonwealth for data centers.

“Project Oasis is intended to be an example of how this region can work collectively and collaboratively to build a workforce geared toward hi-tech work,” said Will Payne, project lead for InvestSWVA. “Southwest Virginia can be a leader in data center development and our plan is to provide third-party validation and innovative opportunities for the tech industry.”

InvestSWVA detailed the work plan and goals of Project Oasis during a gathering of legislators, local economic developers, broadband and power representatives, and data center experts.

Project Oasis is looking at possible data center sites in all 16 localities within the Region One territory. The scope of work includes:

•Site Selection (power/fiber): The Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME), as the Commonwealth’s go-to expert on previously-mined property, will assist with identifying power and broadband availability to sites. These sites will then be vetted and evaluated, resulting in a list of viable sites for consideration.

• Site Selection (water): DMME will also assist with identifying water availability in mine pools beneath sites being vetted, with the idea that the cold water in these mine pools could be used to help cool data centers.

• Engineering Feasibility and Design: The project will study the feasibility of using mine pool water circulation to augment data center cooling. This includes providing a preliminary design of the HVAC cooling system at a site, assuming it is feasible.

• Mine Stability Analysis: Project Oasis will undertake an analysis to calculate the stress water circulation would have on mine stability.

• Market Analysis: Project Oasis will conduct a study into the market and appetite for data centers in Southwest Virginia, barriers to locating in the region, and the site characteristics required to secure a data center project.

InvestSWVA anticipates the project will take six months to complete. The GO Virginia Region One Council is providing $50,000 toward this project. Matching funds are being provided by DMME via non-state generated funding sources to research the possibility of using water in underground mines that are no longer operating to cool a potential data center through a geothermal closed loop system. GO Virginia Region One Council Chairman Mike Quillen and DMME Deputy Director Butch Lambert presented checks at the briefing.

“The Region One Council was excited to approve this innovative approach to diversifying the region’s economy,” said Mike Quillen, chair of the GO Virginia Region One Council. “The scope of work involved in the project could be a valuable tool to better position the region for data center expansion and it supports existing efforts already underway to improve regional sites.”

“DMME has been involved in re-purposing mined land for an economic benefit for decades, said DMME Deputy Director Butch Lambert. “We support initiatives that see an opportunity from reclamation and that benefit our region. We hope the results of this research will add a recruiting tool for business for every coalfield county.”

“Virginia has experienced tremendous success in attracting data center jobs and investment, and the data center sector is now a substantial driver of Virginia’s statewide economy,” said Josh Levi, president of Center Strategies, LLC. “There is a lot of competition nationally for data center investment. The effort by GO Virginia Region One and InvestSWVA to proactively assess, benchmark and articulate the region’s assets and capabilities is smart. It will help regional leaders determine innovative opportunities they may have to attract the industry to this region.”

Levi presented at the briefing on behalf of the Data Center Coalition, the trade association for the data center sector, and the Northern Virginia Technology Council, a regional trade association which has been a lead advocate in Virginia for the data center community.

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