Not Here Not Anywhere is a fossil free group, so why are we interested in data centres?
One of our core aims is to stop the development of new fossil fuel infrastructure; from huge developments like Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminals to gas-fired power stations that use fossil gas to generate electricity. A few years ago when researching new gas power stations in Ireland, we noticed that many of these developments were being proposed alongside another type of infrastructure: data centres. Data centres are large buildings which house servers and other IT equipment to support data delivery and storage. The high level of electricity required to power data centres makes them a huge risk to achieving the rapid, just energy transition to a fossil free future that we urgently need. Scroll down to read about data centres in Ireland, policy recommendations, and find out what you can do to make your voice heard on this crucial issue!
Want to take action now? Scroll down to find out how!
Data Centres in Ireland
The last few years have seen rapid growth in the number of existing and planned data centres in Ireland, with 70 data centres operational as of May 2021 and capacity increasing 25% in the last year alone. This is already putting unprecedented strain on the electricity grid, with grid operator Eirgrid estimating that data centres may account for up to 27% of Ireland’s electricity demand by 2028. Powering data centres requires a huge amount of electricity. For example, if Amazon’s eight centre project in Mulhuddart, Dublin 15 is realised, by 2026 it would use c. 4.4% of Ireland’s entire energy capacity – the equivalent of Galway City. The Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) in Ireland recently noted a risk of rolling electricity blackouts due to the substantial energy consumption of data centres – a risk that is disproportionately borne by the most vulnerable groups in society. Although renewable electricity generation is increasing rapidly in Ireland, if data centre expansion continues at its current pace, we will still need additional fossil fuel generation, particularly gas generation, to power data centres. In some cases, a data centre is used as justification for building new fossil fuel infrastructure. The Shannon LNG project promoter, New Fortress Energy, has declared plans for a huge data centre next to a proposed LNG terminal.
Data centres in Dublin (Source: Host in Ireland report May 2021)
Data centre policy recommendations
Currently, the Irish government’s policy on data centres wholly supports their unrestricted development. To ensure that data centres do not undermine the just transition to a fossil-free future, we make the following policy recommendations:
1. A national policy must be developed that sets a cap on the level of data centre energy demand that can be accommodated by the grid, while meeting our renewable energy and climate targets consistent with our commitments under the Paris Agreement. A moratorium should be placed on data centre development until this policy is developed.
2. New data centres must be powered entirely by one of the following, and existing centres should be required to transition rapidly to:
- On-site direct renewable power source generation, or
- Off-site renewable power source with dedicated grid connection
Without the use of Renewable Energy Certificates or Purchase Power Agreements.
Any energy infrastructure associated with data centres must comply with best practice public participation.
3. New data centres should have infrastructure in place to enable heat generated from them to be utilised for district heating systems.
A bill which would place a moratorium on new data centres, along with new fossil fuel infrastructure, has been proposed by Bríd Smith TD and we support this Bill.
NEW DATA CENTRES – TAKE ACTION NOW
New data centres must apply for planning permission through the planning authorities; usually An Bord Pleanala or the relevant County or City Council. Proposed developments are subject to public consultation, which means we can have our say by submitting to the consultation.
Step 1: Finding Data Centre Applications
Check for proposed data centres in your area by going to the planning section of your county or city council website and searching for “data centres”, as follows:
- Go to Eplanning.ie website (Hub for all county council planning websites)
- Open a page for your local authority
- Go to “Development Description” (bottom left of screenshot below)
- Search “data storage” in “development description” box
Step 2: Submitting
To help develop your submission, you might find our recent template submission to Clare County Council useful, and Futureproof Clare have also provided a template in relation to an August 2021 planning application for a data centre in Co.Clare.
Use these examples, along with our data centre briefing to develop your submission and submit to the public consultation before the date indicated by the council.
For a detailed guide to submission, see the walkthrough from Phoebe Duvall, Planning Officer, An Taisce, at our webinar – from 39 minutes in this video.
Notes on submitting
- Personalise your submission as much as you can. Please do use our template as a guide and reference but if you have time add in your own views and ideas as this will be more positively received by the council.
- You can send your submission by email to the address provided by the council. Payment of €20 is required and you can pay this by card over the phone or send a cheque.
- Don’t forget to check the submission date straight away – this should be 5 weeks after the planning application is lodged.