Plans for a €350 million data centre by Amazon in Drogheda have been put on hold following an objection to the project by An Taisce over claims planning authorities are failing to take account of the negative impact of data centres on Ireland meeting its renewable energy targets.
The environmental and heritage group has launched an appeal with An Bord Pleanála against the recent decision of Meath County Council to grant planning permission for what would be the online retail giant's second data centre in Drogheda.
Amazon has already secured approval for another 48 megawatt (MG) data centre at the IDA Business and Technology Park around 2.5km outside Drogheda, with construction already under way on the project, while it has also signalled interest in the development of a third data centre in the area.
The US multinational hopes to commence construction of the second data centre on an adjacent site in mid-2023 with the facility becoming operational by 2026.
The proposed development consists of a two-storey building with a gross floor area of over 29,500 sq m (317,535 sq ft) including provision for 26 emergency generators.
Both data centres are expected to create about 50 jobs each with up to 400 people employed during the construction phase.
‘Systemic infringement of EIA process’
In its appeal, An Taisce claims local authorities and An Bord Pleanála are granting permission for data centres “on a case-by-case basis without adequately addressing the cumulative impacts of energy use.”
It claimed such an approach represents “a systemic infringement of the Environmental Impact Assessment process” as defined by an EU directive which requires that direct, indirect and cumulative impacts be fully assessed and mitigated.
An Taisce’s planning and environmental policy officer, Phoebe Duvall, claimed the uninhibited development of data centres was diluting the benefits of increased renewable energy generation in recent decades.
“Any new data centre should provide a new, directly linked supply of renewable energy and should not jeopardise Ireland’s existing national climate/renewable energy targets,” said Ms Duvall.
She pointed out that data centres are projected to account for 31 per cent of all electricity consumed in Ireland by 2027 with the Irish Academy of Engineering estimating that they will add between 1.5 and 3 million tonnes of CO2 to Ireland's overall greenhouse gases by 2028.
“Ireland already hosts an enormous and disproportionate amount of Western Europe’s data infrastructure. Therefore, data storage development proposals in Ireland need to be based on appropriate and complete considerations of the direct, indirect and cumulative effects of the development on energy demand and therefore on climate,” said Ms Duvall.
Last month, the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities and Eirgrid warned Ireland faced "rolling blackouts" unless urgent action was taken to address the unprecedented growth in electricity demand from data centres.
Based on Amazon’s projected energy use by the proposed data centre which An Taisce claims represent 0.26 per cent of Ireland’s annual greenhouse gas emissions, Ms Duvall disputed the company’s claims that its impact would be “indirect, long-term, negative and slight.”
Amazon has declared its long-term commitment to achieving 100 per cent renewable energy usage with a target of 2025.
The company, which employs 3,100 people in the Republic, said the data centre will provide infrastructure for its cloud computing services which are used by millions of customers globally.
It said the proposed development represented a significant investment that would create additional direct, indirect and induced economic and employment benefits for the area.
Amazon has an existing wind farm projects in Cork with two more in Donegal and Galway due to begin operating next year.
The company said they would deliver 229MW of renewable energy capacity each year, reducing carbon emissions annually by 366,000 tonnes of CO2 and producing enough renewable energy to power 185,000 homes per annum.
An Taisce has called for approval for any new data centre to only be given if its consumption of energy is matched by a similar or greater increase in renewable energy infrastructure.
It also expressed concern about the impact of the proposed facility in Drogheda on local water supplies given its high usage of water for cooling purposes.
An Bord Pleanála is due to give its ruling in the case by November 3rd.