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Artist's impression of the proposed Ennis data centre

Clare senator: Ennis data centre ‘ill-timed and ill-placed’

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PLANS for a €450 million data centre in Ennis have been described as “ill timed and ill placed” by Clare’s Green Party senator.

The observation by Senator Roisin Garvey came as the developers submitted a response to appeals against the proposal submitted to An Bord Pleanala.

A decision on the controversial plans for the Art Data Centre Campus near the Tulla Road is set to be made by An Bord Pleanala in the new year.

Appeals against the development have been submitted to An Bord Pleanala by Clare Green Party, Futureproof Clare, Friends of the Irish Environment and An Taisce as well as three individuals.

Senator Garvey commented this week, “At a time of huge energy security concerns this is ill timed and ill placed.

“There is a moratorium by Government on Data centres and if any more go ahead in the future they will have to have access to renewable energy.

“I think West Clare with its offshore wind capacity could be a better fit in the coming years.”

An objector to the plans has described as “startling” a report outlining total greenhouse gas emissions for the development are expected to be nearly 10% of the 2030 emissions ceiling for electricity.

Developer Art Data Centres has responded to the An Bord Pleanala appeals submitting documents totalling almost 200 pages of information. The appellants now have less than three weeks to respond to the information.

The developer’s response contends that data centres are “a key component of a modern economy and society”.

It points out that the proposed development is intended to be occupied by a multi-national data centre operator.

“These operators bring significant employment and contribute significantly to the Irish economy while also engaging extensively in projects and initiatives to benefit communities and small and medium enterprises,” it states.

The appeals have highlighted concerns about the levels of carbon emissions associated with the development and the subsequent climate impact.

The developer’s response insists the applicant has “fully addressed” the requirements of EU, national, regional and local policy in the Environmental Impact Assessment Report and other technical reports submitted in relation to the application.

A report submitted by AWN Consulting Ltd on behalf of the developers includes a response to climate concerns amongst other issues raised by the appeals.

According to the report the total of GHG (Greenhouse Gas) emissions for all phases of development are expected to be 9.8% of the electricity 2030 ceiling, 0.87% of the national 2030 target and 0.042% of the EU ETS cap.

The report outlines, “The energy generated and associated GHG emissions to serve the proposed development will fall within the scope of the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) either as a result of electricity from the national grid (with diesel generators as an emergency measure) (for Phase 1) or as a result of on-site generation of electrical power using gas generators (Phase 2 & 3) with all phases requiring a Greenhouse Gas Permit in order to operate.”

Colin Doyle, one of the appellants to the planning decision stated, “A startling conclusion of their new climate assessment is that the greenhouse gas emissions from the data centre would consume one tenth of the national emissions ceiling for electricity generation in 2030. And that’s under the most optimistic scenario,” according to Mr Doyle, who appealed the planning decision.

Addressing concerns raised about the lack of renewable energy in the proposed data centre, the developer’s response outlines “a strong commitment to sourcing renewables to the extent that it is at all possible and feasible”

The developer has said it would be willing to accept a planning condition to enter into a Corporate Power Purchase Agreement (CPPA) with Irish renewable energy generators/suppliers “for the purposes of providing a renewable energy supply to the proposed data storage facilities, based on the ultimate power profile of their customers”.

One of the individuals who appealed, Martin Knox of Ennis said that a corporate power purchase agreement does not solve the problem.

“We need that renewable energy for our current electricity demands. The county development plan is for 550MW of wind by 2030. If the data centre needs 200MW renewables, it should be additional to that.”

Developers claim the data centre will create between 400-450 permanent jobs when the data centre campus is fully operational. Up to 1,200 will be employed in construction and 600 jobs in support services.

Bridget Ginnity of Clare Green Party has welcomed efforts to bring employment to Ennis but added, “Things have changed a lot since this project was first proposed by the county council.

“Five years ago, data centres seemed like clean industries with good, high tech jobs. Now we know it is a power plant a quarter the size of Moneypoint and that employers like Twitter and Facebook fire as quickly as they hire.”

Looking to alternatives she said, “There are business opportunities in renewable energy and housing upgrades that give good employment and reduce our carbon emissions. The county council needs to develop these opportunities instead.”

She added, “Farmers may wonder why they should bother to reduce their emissions when one data centre would completely undo all their efforts, even if they stopped farming altogether.”

Art Data Centre Campus in Ennis became the first to be approved following publication of the Government’s new data centre policy, with Clare County Council granting it planning in August.

The proposed site, adjacent to Ennis, was zoned in 2019 for ‘Data Centres & Power Generating Infrastructure’.

The developers have outlined the 200 MW Ennis Project underpins the Government Policy Statement as it has the key infrastructure on the 145 acres including access to the grid, main gas interconnector running through the site which facilitates self-generation availability on site, and access to both wind and solar farms in Clare through the grid or private wire. 

It also has the key availability of existing high-speed fibre located both on and adjacent to the site.

 The energy centre turbines have been designed to run on green hydrogen which Minister Eamon Ryan has indicted he is hopeful will be available by 2030 when the project is due for completion.

Speaking when planning permission was granted Tom McNamara, CEO of Art Data Centres stated, “This Ennis Project fulfils the Government’s key requirements  immediately while state bodies, regulators and the electricity sector work to upgrade infrastructure, connect more renewable energy and ensure security of supply.

“The infrastructure that is available in the Ennis site will assist Government in national ambitions to deliver ongoing opportunities for the country in the tech industry.”

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