What to know about data centers coming to Brunswick County

Energy-intensive data centers are now allowed in some areas of Brunswick County.

Brunswick County leaders agreed to amend text proposed to update the county’s Uniform Development Code to clarify that data centers are permitted in the county’s general industrial zoning districts.

According to Palo Alto Networks, data centers are facilities that centralize an organization’s IT operations and equipment “for the purposes of storing, processing, and disseminating data and applications.” Data centers, according to the cybersecurity firm, contain critical assets and are “vital” to ensuring that organizations and businesses can operate every day.

These facilities are used to store, distribute, create, manage, process and transmit digital data.

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As modern organizations move away from physical on-site servers and toward virtual cloud support systems, data centers play an essential role in supporting the business. There are said to be 7 million data centers worldwide, with nearly every business and government entity using such a facility in some capacity, according to Palo Alto Networks.

A general industrial zone largely allows manufacturers, factories, and warehouses to be located on large tracts of land away from more crowded residential or commercial areas.

In August, the Brunswick County Board of Commissioners approved a request from the Brunswick County Board of Education for the construction of two containerized data centers — one to be built near the Bolivia Applied Science and Technology Center and the other near North Brunswick High School in Leland.

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The cost of designing and building the two centers is estimated at approximately $2.5 million. The small containerized centers are 25 feet long, 12 feet wide and 12 feet high.

While the new Brunswick County Schools data centers are slated to be powered by existing utility transformers, power usage in the larger centers could strain the district’s existing infrastructure.

According to the US Department of Energy, data centers consume 10 to 50 times more energy than a typical commercial office building. The ministry says data centers represent about 2% of the electricity used in the country, and this is expected to grow as the use of information technology grows.

In September, the Brunswick County Planning Board held a public hearing to unanimously approve the recommended text amendment. Data centers, at the time, were not covered in the county’s Unified Development Code and had to be added, said Kirsty Dixon, Brunswick County’s planning director. This prompted the need to amend the requested text.

In October, the Brunswick County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to adopt a text amendment, adding data centers as a permitted use in the light industrial cluster in the county’s general industrial zoning district. The text amendment also provides a definition of data centers, further clarifying that associated components related to digital data storage – such as substations, generators, antennas, power poles and towers – are also permitted.

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Jamey Cross covers Brunswick County for StarNews. Contact her at jbcross@gannett.com or message her on Twitter/X @jameybcross.

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