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Data centre curbs show political importance of keeping lights on

Inside Politics: Tech companies that own data centres will in future have to provide their own emergency power supplies

New data centres will be required to cut their consumption of power if required as part of efforts by grid operators to boost the security of supply. Image: iStock

In recent months senior Government figures from Taoiseach Micheál Martin down moved to reassure the public that electricity blackouts would be avoided this winter.

Low winds leading to less power generation by turbines as well as the need to take some power plants offline for repairs led to concerns over the electricity supply during the months of increased demand.

The chief executive of Eirgrid, Mark Foley, last month told an Oireachtas committee that data centres – which are massive electricity users – have “stepped up to the plate” and will switch on their power generators in the event that a power supply emergency is declared this winter.

He said such a scenario is “very unlikely” to arise and told TDs and Senators: “I think people can sleep in their beds at night and be satisfied they will have electricity.”


Data centres agreeing to fill any gaps with their own supply is of course voluntary this winter.

Now, as Arthur Beesley reveals in our lead today, tech companies that own data centres will in future have to provide their own emergency power supplies to gain access to the national grid.

New data centres will be required to cut their consumption of power if required as part of efforts by grid operators to boost the security of supply.

The new rules will be imposed on big technology companies by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities.

Such measures, to be unveiled within days, will apply to unsigned contracts for new grid connections.

They also include a requirement to assess the location of new data centres, which are heavy electricity users, when deciding on a grid connection.

That essentially means that new centres are unlikely to be in built in areas such as Dublin where the grid is heavily constrained already.

There has been a focus in recent weeks on the high usage of electricity by data centres, which provide storage for the internet and cloud computing and make technology such as video calls and streaming possible.

The move to curb data centres reflects deep anxiety about the stability of the network as supply struggles to meet rising demand.

Such policies are highly sensitive for the Government, given the heavy presence in the State of tech giants such as Google, Amazon and Facebook that need data centres to run international businesses that function online.

However, the current cold snap has underlined the importance of electricity supply to anyone whose home heating relies on it – as growing numbers will under the Government’s climate-action plans.

Politically it is more important to keep the lights – and heat pumps on – for the voting public than to worry too much about what the tech companies might make of the new rules.

Pandemic business supports may be extended

There have been calls – particularly from the hospitality sector – for financial supports for businesses to be extended given the huge uncertainty over the Covid-19 pandemic.

Although the Government will seek to avoid renewed lockdown measures, they have not been ruled out if the pressure on the health system gets too high. While no new supports are on the table, the Government is contemplating extensions of the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) and Covid Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS) in the event that it must close businesses again.

The supports were discussed by a high-powered Government committee on Monday night. As we report here, it is understood that options being explored include allowing new entrants to the EWSS and extending the CRSS beyond the current cut-off point of the end of the year.

However, expect the Government to do everything it can to avoid imposing fresh closures. Such a move would represent a major failure in its strategy of seeking to ensure that once a section of society reopens, it stays open.

Meanwhile there is uncertainty over plans for a long-awaited scheme to subsidise antigen tests.

A draft plan was drawn up yesterday and was due to go to Cabinet. It is understood that the initial proposal envisaged rolling out the programme through pharmacies first, before other retailers, with a discount of around €4 per test across the board, but this was still under discussion late in the evening. It was unclear whether it will make the Cabinet agenda.

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Ministers gather for Cabinet this morning.

The Dáil kicks off at 2pm with Leaders’ Questions.

Government business sees statements on the Climate Action Plan from 3.49pm.

Sinn Féin has a Private Members’ motion on the planned mother and baby homes redress scheme that will be debated from 6.15pm.

Minister for Education Norma Foley takes parliamentary questions from 8.15pm.

Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue will be at the committee on agriculture in relation to the Sea Fisheries Bill and supplementary spending estimates for his department from noon.

Energy security and data centres are on the agenda for the committee on environment from 3pm.