Plans by Clare County Council to attract new large-scale data centres to the county should be accompanied by a link to generate the required energy through renewable sources.
That’s according to An Taisce heritage officer Iam Lumley, who stressed that lessons need to be learned, following Apple’s decision to abandon its plans for an €850 million data centre in Athenry.
The company, which was facing a fresh Supreme Court and European Court appeal to a facility it announced more than three years ago, is proceeding with a second data centre in Denmark.
“Several years ago, we applied to build a data centre at Athenry. Despite our best efforts, delays in the approval process have forced us to make other plans and we will not be able to move forward with the data centre,” said the company in a statement.
Mr Lumley said that, if a data centre is being planned for a county, it should be linked to the provision of renewable energy on a phased basis, which was not done in Athenry.
When planning permission was granted to Apple in Athenry, he said there was a red line drawn around a building connected into the electricty grid without any attached conditions requiring the company to provide new and renewable energy to avoid putting an additional burden on the grid.
“Apple were saying they were going to do this but there should have been legally-enforced conditions. This created the basis for the legal challenge.
“If you are building a shopping centre at the end of a town that will require 2,000 car parking spaces, you have to work out how traffic will deal with this.
“What is unusual about data centre is they have relatively small employment relative to the huge investment. A data centre requires very technical equipment that requires even temperature and a lot of energy to be cooled in summer and warmed in winter,” he said.
He claimed that Galway County Council was so keen to attract Apple that it just approved the planning permission and An Bord Pleanála did the same.
If Apple had put forward a proper plan to create renewable energy off-site for the grid that is interconnected, he said the legal challenge would not have been successful.
“The scale of energy required by Apple when all the eight buildings were built would be equivalent to 10% of national energy consumption.
“The first phase was 30 megawatts and this could have been sourced anywhere on the grid. Apple could have gone into partnership with a wind energy developer,” he said.
Last year, the council sought expressions of interest from landowners, companies and developers who own or can identify sites, which will support the development of one or more large-scale data centres in County Clare by 2023.
The call has been issued by the local authority’s Economic Development Directorate, which has already identified a number of potential sites that could support data centre projects, including in Ennis, Scariff, Clarecastle and Shannon.
The council sought to identify additional sites or properties with landbanks of up to 50 acres in size that would be easily developable, with the potential for future expansion possibilities.
Meanwhile, Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys has said the State’s planning and legal processes need to be more efficient.
Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One at the time, Ms Humphreys said the Government and IDA had done everything it could to assist the Athenry project but, ultimately, delays in the planning process were to blame for Apple’s decision to pull out.
Apple first announced plans to construct the data centre on a greenfield site at Derrydonnell Woods near Athenry in February 2015.
Construction of the first phase of eight promised to generate 300 temporary jobs, with up to 150 permanent staff required to run the plant.
The following September, Galway County Council gave permission for the project to proceed, subject to conditions, but that decision was subsequently appealed to An Bord Pleanála.
Following an oral hearing, the planning authority confirmed the permission in August of 2016.
However, a review of that decision was sought by three objectors, locals Mr Daly and Ms Fitzpatrick and businessman Brian McDonagh in the High Court.