Engineer who objects to Apple centre says power demands ‘underestimated’
US environmental engineer Allan Daly says he has been ‘called all sorts of things online’
Allan Daly (left), who opposes the proposed Apple data centre in Athenry on grounds of environmental concerns, with campaigners who support the project, in Derrydonnell last Tuesday. Photograph: Nuacht TG4
Allan Daly knows how objectionable the word “objector” can sound. The US-born environmental engineer, who is one of two Co Galway residents seeking a Supreme Court appeal over planning approval for Apple’s Athenry data centre, admits he is often as irritated as anyone else when he hears the term.
“And it is a knee-jerk reaction that we all have, as sometimes there is a point to objection and sometimes there is not,”he says. However, he firmly believes that any detailed study of this particular project proves that he has a point.
Up till now, both he and solicitor Sinead Fitzpatrick, who has pursued the legal action with him, have been loath to agree to interviews. However, earlier this week, Daly decided to write a public response after he was criticised online by a member of one of two support groups for the project in the town.
“I’ve been called all sorts of things online, but people in general have been fine here,”he says, explaining how he and his wife, an artist, love the community they settled into in 2010. He did report one incident to the Garda, and in his statement this week he expressed concern about “ blatant xenophobia and ugliness” exhibited by some in the town over the project.
However, a separate posting online by another resident accused him of being “not even from this country, let alone Athenry” and said he had “no right to object”.
Daly, a Pennsylvania native who does much of his consultancy work in the US, says he cares very much about Athenry, and Ireland, and about sustainable planning which is “not just jargon”. He says he has no objection to data centres per se, once they are restricted to zoned sites near towns and cities, with employment benefits, and once the high energy use is factored in. He has also objected to the Amazon data centre in Dublin.
The power demands of data centres have not been sufficiently considered, he believes, at a time when Ireland does not have the level of surplus renewable energy which Denmark has to offer. Eirgrid has forecast that if all the data centres IDA has planned for are actually built, it could account for 75 per cent of new energy demand by 2030, and the grid will have to be upgraded substantially.
The Bord Pleanála inspector handling the Apple appeal had agreed with Mr Daly’s argument that it could not clearly be shown how Apple’s power demand would be met from “100 per cent” renewable sources, he says.
“Yet the board’s approval did not require the multinational to show how it would offset the project with a wind farm, or the waste-heat recovery system it was required to built in Denmark,”he says.
The IDA had a 97-hectare site in Athenry which could have accommodated the Apple plan – amounting to eight data halls in all, he maintains. The waste heat recovery could have been used to heat the two secondary schools, hotel and perhaps “up to half the town”, he says. Apple had committed to this form of energy use in Denmark.
Ireland is expected to miss its 2020 target of deriving 40 per cent of energy from renewables, and will have to pay in credits or “statistical transfers”, which will be passed on to the taxpayer He estimates that the Apple plan – as stated in the environmental impact statement – will use 1,850,000 MWh per year , which means that” one data centre alone will add at least €27.8 million per annum to the cost of statistical transfers purchased by the State.
If it meets the minimum 40 per cent renewable target, the State would still be “on the hook” for 375, 000 MWh of renewable energy at €15 per MWh, he says.
He says he also cares about Ireland’s “environmental stewardship as a whole” and notes that the sewerage scheme for Athenry is only now beginning, nearly two years after a discharge permit required the works to be complete. He contrasts the haste with which Taoiseach Leo Varadkar wishes to change legislation to facilitate data centres, while the Government has missed this year’s deadline for transposing 2014 amendments to the environmental impact assessment directive.
Mr Daly also says he cares as much as anyone about jobs and economic development, and says the high level of vacancy in Athenry town centre is a problem common to rural towns – but not one that a data centre project can solve due to the low level of permanent employment. He firmly believes that a data centre some 4.5km from the town will do little to benefit struggling businesses, but also challenges the notion that Athenry is dying on its feet.
Mr Daly says he and Ms Fitzpatrick are bearing the costs of their legal action – a judicial review and now a Supreme Court appeal application – themselves and there is no hidden third party. They have been able to conduct much of the legal work, but are bearing the costs of their barrister.
“It has by no means been easy or inexpensive to bring this legal action, but my hope is that it will have a positive outcome, either locally or nationally,”he says.
Together, apart: Two groups in support of centre fall out over ‘tactics’ Two groups in Athenry, Co Galway, which were formed to support the €850 million data centre project outside the town, have fallen out over criticism of “tactics”.
Paul Keane of the Apple for Athenry Facebook page says he is “very concerned for the welfare of objectors” due to the “behaviour” of members of a separate support group . Mr Keane says he has been “threatened” but has not notified the Garda of this.
However, Noel Doherty of Athenry Bring Back Apple (ABBA) disputes the claims, and says it is “very sad” the situation has reached this stage. Mr Doherty was a founder of Apple for Athenry and an organiser of the march in favour of the project in November 2016. He helped to form ABBA.
Mr Doherty says he was one of three people who expressed their disapproval to US environmental engineer Allan Daly, when they met him during a TG4 Nuacht interview at Derrydonnell.
“We told Allan Daly that he had already had a fair hearing at Bord Pleanála,” Mr Doherty says. “Paul Keane arrived too late to witness any of this, and he then decided to criticise us on social media.”