Atlanta/ Politics & Govt
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Published on May 15, 2024
Georgia Governor Kemp Vetoes Pause on Data Center Tax Break, Fostering Industry Growth Amid Environmental ConcernsSource: Wikipedia/U.S. Embassy Jerusalem, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Gov. Brian Kemp put his foot down and decided against suspending a juicy tax break for data centers, ensuring the continuation of a financial perk that has helped Georgia become a top player in the industry. According to a report by WABE in collaboration with Grist, this move keeps the tax exemption for high-tech equipment standard until 2031, much to the delight of industry insiders but to the dismay of some environmental advocates and state legislators.

This isn't just about local politics—the bill that Kemp vetoed had gained traction as Georgia Power was dealing with an energy demand surge, attributed mostly to these very data centers. The power consumed by these digital behemoths isn't just lighting up our emails and Zoom calls; it's also tapping extensively into the state's electric grid, often fueled by fossil fuels. And as Ben Emanuel, southeast conservation director for American Rivers, pointed out in an interview obtained by WABE, they're guzzling down water at a rate that's concerning, with the evaporated H2O not returning to its source.

Despite legislative efforts to have the environmental impact of these data centers properly assessed, Kemp's decision highlights the tension between incentivizing economic growth and managing public resources—a balance yet to be struck. “I think as a state, we need to find a way to pause to consider how we balance economic development incentives with managing public resources,” Emanuel told WABE.

In the commerce corner, the Data Center Coalition's president Josh Levi is popping champagne bottles, praising Kemp for averting what he saw as a potential "uncertainty" crisis that could have stunted expansion plans. On the flip side, Georgia Chamber of Commerce president Chris Clark played it neutral, telling WABE, “We don’t really have a position on whether or not you should incentivize data centers. The concern is changing the rules in the middle of the game.”

One lingering piece from the axed legislation was the notion of a special commission to study data center locations, a homework assignment Mark Woodall of the Sierra Club believes should've been completed before handing out tax breaks. Woodall, however, isn't throwing in the towel, expressing hope to WABE that state lawmakers will bounce back with renewed efforts next session. “Hopefully the legislature is not gonna give up,” he said.