Data centres should be bound by emissions ceilings, Government says

Coalition to reject Dáil motion to impose moratorium on further expansion

Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan at a Down to Earth Exhibition launch on Monday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan at a Down to Earth Exhibition launch on Monday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

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The Government will reject a Social Democrats motion in the Dáil today to impose a moratorium on the further expansion of data centres, with Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan dismissing it as a “blunt instrument”.

However, in an amendment to the motion tabled by Wicklow TD Jennifer Whitmore, the Government has said all sections of the economy, including data centres, will be subject to sectoral emissions ceilings, effectively limiting uninhibited expansion of the centres.

The expansion of the centres has led to a large increase in electricity demand. They now account for 11 per cent of electricity. On Wednesday, Eirgrid published its latest generation capacity statement, which projects that data centres could account for 25 per cent of all electricity demand in Ireland by 2030.

Facebook’s new Data Centre in Clonee Co Meath. Dozens of centres have opened in recent years, bringing the total to 54, with a combined power capacity of 642MW. Another 10 centres are under construction
Facebook’s data centre in Clonee Co Meath. 

Yesterday, a Maynooth University academic, Dr Patrick Bresnihan, told an Oireachtas Committee that if all proposed data centres were to get the green light, they would use 70 per cent of the electricity grid capacity by 2030. Government figures have said this will not be the case.

In her motion, Ms Whitmore points to the danger of rolling blackouts because of excessive use of electricity by data centres and calls on the Government to enact a moratorium on the development of such centres and the issuing of planning decisions, until an impact risk analysis has been carried out.

Security of supply

Mr Ryan is expected to concede in the Dáil today that Ireland is facing several short -term challenges to security of electricity supply. However, he will argue that it is primarily driven by unplanned technical failures in two of the State’s largest power plants and not by increased demand from data centres.

The Government amendment acknowledges Ms Whitmore’s key argument that there is increasing electricity demand from large energy users, including data centres. But it will argue it can be dealt with by a range of actions, including a commitment to have 70 per cent of electricity generated by renewables by 2030.

Google opened its first data centre in Dublin in 2012. A second data centre opened earlier this year.
Google opened its first data centre in Dublin in 2012. 

It will accept that data centres will need to be subject to sectoral emissions ceilings.

There may also be a move to position data centres away from Dublin close to where the renewable power (mostly from inland and offshore wind) is generated. In a defence of data centres, the Government amendment also argues they enable remote working.

Mr Ryan is expected to say that a moratorium is not a proportionate response to rising demand from data centres, and it would be a “blunt policy response”.

People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith will present a Private Member’s Bill calling for a similar moratorium on Thursday.

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