Data centres will remain a key component of Ireland’s infrastructure, the Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan has said, even as concerns over the pressure they are putting on the State’s energy supply continue to grow.
Responding to a decision by Fingal County Council to approve planning permission for three new Amazon data centres that will use 73 megawatts of power, the Green Party leader said the Government was working with data centre companies and wanted them in Ireland, but said they would have to play a role in decarbonisation.
The Minister said he had not seen the Fingal planning decisions, but stressed that planning consent did not automatically mean the projects would go ahead.
There are at least 10 data centres making their way through the planning system, with over 40 granted approval and a further 14 under construction, according to the most recent data from bitpower, a consultancy firm that tracks the Irish data hosting sector.
Responding to the Fingal County Council decision, Oisín Coughlan of Friends of the Earth warned that data centres could soon consume as much as 30 per cent of Ireland energy supply. He said plans to bring the Tarbert power station in Co Clare back online this winter would generate 150 megawatts. “So half of Tarbert will be dedicated to keeping these data centres going rather than keeping our lights going.”
Speaking in New York, Mr Ryan said there were “complex issues that we have to address, including how we take power on to the grid; how we provide power for such data centres, how they live within the climate limits that we need to present. We can’t be here at the UN talking about a leap [towards renewables] while tripping ourself up at home in busting our own emission targets.”
He said the Government would work with the data centre companies. “We do want them, but they can’t be outside this climate parameter. They can’t go into operation if they’re putting energy security at home at risk.”
He noted that data centres absorb about 18 per cent of electricity supply, and suggested that some of the backup power from data centres could be used to support the national grid when wind levels were low.
Mr Coughlan said he was not saying there should be no data centres, but he warned that Ireland was already heading towards10 times the European average even before the latest planning approvals. “Of course we’re going to have data centres, we just don’t need to have every data centre that’s going in Europe. The other country that has anything like ours is Singapore – 14 per cent. We’re heading to 30 per cent.”
The Labour Party’s climate spokeswoman Senator Rebecca Moynihan reiterated Labour’s call for a moratorium on all new data centres.
“Government can no longer sit on their hands with the news that Amazon has received planning permission to build three data centres in Dublin. They have continually buried their heads in the sand when it comes to questions over Ireland’s long-term energy planning. It’s deeply concerning.”
She called for the establishment an expert working group “to assess the environmental impact of data centres, to propose solutions for climate-proofing data centres and to commit to climate-proofing measures of new developments.”
Meanwhile, the pretax profits published by data centre-builder Winthrop Technologies on Wednesday showed profits climbing almost six fold to €86 million last. year. Consolidated accounts for the Dublin-headquartered company showed that revenues topped €1 billion for the first time, surging by 55 per cent from €685.24 million to €1.06 billion in the 12 months to April of this year.
The directors say the firm “has a strong order book for 2024 and beyond, and a strong cash-generating capability”.
The company’s website states it is constructing five separate data centre projects in Dublin, including one for a “US hyperscale” client.