Ireland should pause development of data centres, Dáil told

Moratorium on data centre developments would be a ‘blunt policy response’, Ryan says

Ireland faces  challenges in energy supply with threats of winter power outages, significant gas and electricity price rises and surging energy and water demands from data centres. Photograph: PA

Ireland faces challenges in energy supply with threats of winter power outages, significant gas and electricity price rises and surging energy and water demands from data centres. Photograph: PA

 

A moratorium on developing data centres would be a disproportionate “blunt policy response” to challenges in the energy system, Minister for Climate Action and Environment Eamon Ryan has said.

He insisted “policy and regulation” is the best way forward and stressed that “we are not ignoring this issue. It is centre stage in our plans to manage our energy systems.”

Mr Ryan was responding to a Social Democrats call for a pause in developing new data centres as Ireland faces major challenges in energy supply with threats of winter power outages, significant gas and electricity price rises and surging energy and water demands from data centres.

Coal- and oil-burning electricity plants at Tarbert and Moneypoint may have to be kept operating beyond their scheduled closing dates to avoid power cuts, in a likely blow to Government climate change ambitions.

Opening a two-hour debate on the issue on Wednesday Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore claimed the Government is “blindly supporting the rapid expansion of the sector, without placing any demands or responsibilities on them”.

Such was the concern in other countries like the Netherlands and Singapore about their growth that they have stopped issuing building permits.

Ireland has been described as the “data centre capital of Europe” and Ms Whitmore pointed to the 70 data centres in operation, eight under construction and between 25 to 30 in the planning stages.

“This sector is growing so quickly it is projected that 100 plus centres will be in operation by 2025, hosting, Amazon, Microsoft, and many others”.

Data centres, used to housed computer systems including telecommunications and storage systems, are expected to account for 27 per cent of all electricity demand by 2028, up from 11 per cent currently.

The Wicklow TD said “data centres are water and energy hungry projects, requiring the same amount of energy as a large town or a small city like Kilkenny and use between 500,000 and five million litres of water a day”.

Ms Whitmore said a moratorium is needed “until we are very clear about the implications of a dramatically expanding sector, until the security of our energy supply can be guaranteed, and until people across Ireland can be certain they won’t have to pay the economic and environmental costs associated with these energy hungry projects.”

Mr Ryan said the CRU (Commission for Regulation of Utilities) and Eirgrid, the state-owned electric power transmission operator in Ireland will publish their energy plans next month, to help strengthen the policy and regulatory framework.

He said he will bring a revised climate action plan to Government which will “set out a suite of actions that will address rising energy demand while facilitating sustainable growth in the digital and ICT sectors”.

Mr Ryan pointed out that such centres were part of the digital and communications infrastructure for many sectors of the economy and are a hook for further investment and job creation. The technology sector is a major employer and has a key role in driving digitisation of the Irish economy. He added that “data centres enable remote working, cutting transport carbon emissions as is so clearly evident over the past 18 months”.

Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd described the Social Democrats call as “stopping the clock