Ireland wants to drive data centre development - but it needs a rejig of planning rules first

The government is trying to attract more developments and avoid an Athenry repeat.

By Jonathan Keane Reporter, Fora

THE GOVERNMENT WANTS to boost data centre development in regional areas to reduce the strain on Dublin – but the strategy hinges on legislative changes to the planning process.

It has already prepared new legislation that will give special status to large data centre developments after the high-profile axing of Apple’s planned data centre in Athenry after a drawn-out objection process.

The proposed rule changes would reclassify data centres as a “strategic infrastructure development” to streamline decision-making.

Under the new rules, data centres that are over “certain size thresholds” would be subject to these streamlined processes. No details have been specified as to what these thresholds would be.

The government is also examining the judicial review timelines on planning decisions, which it said will provide companies with greater certainty on their investments.

Data centres employ a relatively small number of people. Currently there are 1,800 people working in data centres in Ireland, according to a government report published today, with 1,900 employed annually in construction of the facilities.

However the report added that many tech companies that have built data centres here – or plan to build the facilities – have other activities in Ireland that employ thousands.

Data centre investments have contributed €7 billion to the economy, the report said, with around two-thirds of that coming from the projects’ direct impact and the remainder indirect benefits.

Energy

The report noted that data centres consumed large amounts of energy and development of the facilities would also be dependent on the Renewable Electricity Policy Development Framework, which aims to improve Ireland’s use of renewable energy resources.

A single Amazon data centre planned for north-west Dublin, for example, could use as much power as a small city at times of peak demand if the full masterplan is completed.

The government is pushing for more data centres to be developed in regional areas to reduce energy pressure on the capital.

While data centres are “very energy intensive”, they are “critically important” to Ireland’s digital economy, Business Minister Heather Humphreys said.

“We know that Dublin is under the most pressure in terms of energy capacity,” she said. “That’s why we need to look at putting data centres in regional locations which might be under less pressure.”

The IDA said that it has identified a number of regional locations around the country for possible data centre developments that have the necessary energy infrastructure.

Apple had planned to build a €850 million data centre facility in Athenry before its legal challenges, while Facebook is in the process of developing a data centre site in Clonee, Co Meath.

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