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Division over planning approval for Ennis Data Centre

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THE development of a €450 million data centre on the outskirts of Ennis moved closer this week, as Clare County Council granted it planning permission.

Environmental group Futureproof Clare described the Council’s decision as “abhorrent” and on Wednesday a spokesman told The Champion they would appeal it to An Bord Pleanála and that others who had objected to the development will do likewise.

Art Data Centres is behind the planning application, which it says will generate up to 450 permanent jobs when fully operational, with up to 1,200 in the construction phase along with 600 in support services.

It would be located just off the main Ennis-Tulla road and would also be easily accessible from the M18.

Clare County Council has been enthusiastic about the development of a data centre at the site for a number of years and in 2019  it amended the County Development Plan to facilitate one.

At the time the Council’s Director of Economic Development Liam Conneally said the project could be what he called ‘a game changer’ for Ennis and County Clare.

Representatives of the council travelled to Lulea in Sweden as part of the preparatory work in 2018, and subsequently the then Mayor of Clare Tom McNamara said that if a data centre could be developed in the county it would be the same as “having a goldmine”.

Following this week’s granting of planning permission, Mayor of Ennis Clare Colleran Molloy said the decision is the correct one.

“I really do think the right decision has been made. If we don’t trust the processes, where are we going? That application, from Art Data Centres, has been with Clare County Council for almost a year. Clearly the controversy comes from different viewpoints and those viewpoints had every opportunity to be heard during the planning process. There has been ample opportunity given, and as I said already, if we don’t trust our processes, where are we going?”

She feels it is likely that the decision will be upheld by An Bord Pleanála.

“You just don’t know, but it does seem to me that a lot of due diligence has been put into the process, not just by the applicant, but by the local authority, and ample opportunity was given to those who object to voice their objection.”

The Fianna Fáil representative rejected claims that air quality in Ennis will be worse if the data centre proceeds.

“You can say whatever you want, write whatever you want, but you need to be able to back it up with science. Now I’m not a scientist, but what I’m advised is that emissions from data centres are not dangerous to public health.”

In a statement Art Data Centres stressed that the site is set up to use green hydrogen in the coming years, while it will use power from renewable sources also.

“The 200 MW Ennis Project underpins the Government Policy Statement as it has the key infrastructure on the 145 acres including access to Grid, Main Gas Interconnector running through 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 the Minister Eamon Ryan has indicated he is hopeful will be available by 2030 when the project is due for completion.”

In a statement it released shortly after the Council’s decision, Futureproof Clare warned that public health is being compromised to allow the data centre to proceed.

“The plans to build one of the largest data centres in the country here in Ennis brings with it an additional threat to the health of people here as the plans include a gas burning plant that will only make the air quality here worse than it already is, leading to asthma and other respiratory problems.”

Futureproof Clare also claimed that the development will see a huge amount of energy used, at a time when a reduction in consumption is sought.

It claimed the development “will consume as much electricity as 200,000 homes and emit 657,000 tonnes of CO2  annually”.

“By approving this planning application, Clare County Council has abdicated its responsibility to safeguard the health and well being of those living in Ennis and beyond.

“This development will not provide substantial numbers of well paid jobs to Co. Clare residents but will make Ennis’ already poor air even worse, contribute significantly to climate change, and use tremendous amounts of electricity and water.”

It claimed that the economic benefits will not be as the backers have claimed and its statement concluded saying, “Councillors have complained about the air quality in Ennis and also referred to this data centre as a “gold mine”.

“The comparison is apt because a gold mine is one of the most environmentally destructive industries you can set up in an area. It will destroy the air, it will destroy the water and the gruelling night shifts will destroy the workers.

“As the climate crisis continues to unfold, as Europe suffers from the effects of drought and extreme heat; Futureproof Clare believes it is abhorrent that individuals are asked to make drastic changes to their lifestyles (as they should) whilst corporate polluters such as those in the data centre industry go unchecked by regulators.”

The Council  planners’ report on the proposed development found that it is in line with Government policy, but in a statement the Clare Green Party said it does not believe that to be the case.

“The Government statement sets out six principles for the sustainable development of data centres. The proposed centre does not align with the principles for additional renewable
use, decarbonisation in line with the Climate Action Plan 2021 or advanced storage such as wind/solar/battery farm.

“As it is a speculative venture, it is not possible to evaluate whether other principles requiring commitments from the end client will be adhered to.”

It added, “Farming attention was focused recently on the challenge of meeting the 25% agricultural emissions reduction by 2030.

“By comparison, the annual greenhouse gas emissions from the proposed data centre exceed the emissions from the entire cattle herd in Clare.

“In addition, the water consumption is likely to place a significant demand on town supply, particularly during periods of dry warm weather when use is already restricted.”

While it credited the Council with looking to bring business to Clare, it said the project is the wrong one to pursue.

“The Clare Green Party acknowledges the efforts by the County Council to bring economic, social and environmental opportunities to Ennis and Clare and that the Ennis Data Centre is a key project within Ennis 2040.

“However, unless the proposed development is genuinely sustainable, an alternative key project should be identified that generates local business and at the same time helps to reduce our carbon emissions.”

Owen Ryan
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Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.

About Owen Ryan

Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.