Apple’s proposal to build a data center campus costing up to $950 million (€850m) in County Galway will face a hearing by the local planning board, as objectors raise fears that it would flood golf course, and make inordinate demands on Ireland’s power grid. Meanwhile the EU is investigating the Irish government’s tax deal with the consumer electronics giant.

Apple applied to build a data center in Derrydonnell Forest, Athenry a year ago (April 2015), and had provisional approval in September, subject to appeals. The proposal is for one hall, with plans to extend this to eight buildings. Initial objections claimed that the proposal would harm wildlife and create noise and traffic, while further comments fear it could increase flooding of greens at Athenry Golf Club. Apple has responded confidently to all of them.

Apple Galway Ireland
Artist’s impression of Apple’s Galway proposal – Apple

Bring it on 

“We welcome the opportunity to address any additional questions An Bord Pleanála may have,” Apple said in a statement to the Irish Independent. “The planning process is an important way for everyone to have their say and we’ve made every effort to incorporate the feedback we’ve received.”

This will be Apple’s ”greenest data centre yet”, the spokesman said. It will blend with its surroundings, and will run on 100 percent renewable energy. 

There is no date set for the oral hearing at the Galway planning board (An Bord Pleanála), but the process is supposed to be complete by June. 

Apple has asked to build one 24,500sqm (260,000 sq ft) hall, in Derrydonnell forest, an area currently used to grow non-native trees. The company proposes that it may eventually build up to eight halls on the site, over the next fifteen years, which would take up virtually the whole of the forest, with the borders replanted using native species.

The full proposal would reduce the habitat of bats and badgers, say some objections, and the Bord has also received a complaint from Athenry Golf Club, 1km away from the site.  

apple data centre 1 building info
Apple data centre plan – Building Info

Flood and power drain

“Our primary concern is the totality of the proposed development, especially the extent of the proposed masterplan, and the potential this has to alter the hydrology of the local area and potentially increase the frequency and duration of flooding already experienced at the golf club,” says the golf club’s appeal, as reported in Business Insider

Apple’s original proposal considered floods, with a report from Ove Arup concluding that ”the risk of fluvial flooding of the site is considered to be very low, as there are no watercourses on the site or in close proximity to the site. The site is located in Flood Zone C i.e. outside the 1 in 1000 year fluvial flood extent. Therefore, a Justification Test for the proposed development is not required.”

Another appeal calculates that, if all eight halls are built, the complex would increase Ireland’s electricity consumption by more than 8 percent.  of Ireland’s electricity. The first hall would use 30MW, but if all halls were built, the site would need 240MW. That works out at around seven percent of Ireland’s total electric power capacity of 3.5GW, but engineer Allan Daly points out that data centers operate continuously so the actual energy usage would be a higher proportion: “It is safe to say that Apple’s data centre will be the largest single user of electricity within the Republic of Ireland, by far.”