Concerns have been voiced by the Galway Chamber of Commerce that the repeatedly delayed judicial review of Apple’s planned $950 million data center - in the context of the company’s facility in Denmark being well underway, with another one on the cards – could lead to the project being dropped altogether.
The 263,000 sq ft (24,000 sq m) data center would be built on a 500 acre stretch of land, employing 300 people during its multiple construction phases and 150 upon completion. And although the facility would require 20MW from the grid, Apple plans to purchase renewable energy to offset any environmental concerns.
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“We must now be concerned for the future of the data center at Athenry considering the advanced situation in Denmark,” Maurice O’Gorman, president of the Galway Chamber of Commerce, told the Galway advertiser.
“This concern includes the loss of construction jobs, full time jobs, support jobs, ancillary industries, and the potential for future data centers opting to locate here.”
Both the Irish and the Danish projects were announced at the same time in 2015, but while one has been taking shape, the other has been suffering setbacks.
The Galway data center received planning permission from An Bord Pleanála (“The Planning Board”) soon after it was requested, but has since faced multiple legal delays due to environmental concerns.
One such complainant, Irish engineer Allan Daly, has also contested Apple’s planned construction of a facility in Mulhuddart, in the outskirts of Dublin, requesting that an assessment of the country’s available green energy be made before planning is approved. Brian McDonagh, head of Ecologic Datacentres, supports the investment but questions the company’s decision to cut down the trees of a forest in Athenry’s neighboring town, Derrydonnell, instead of building on open land nearby, stating this flouts forestry rules.
However, grassroots movement Athenry for Apple members are adamant that the data center has quasi-unanimous support amongst locals, and fear that, were the project to be dropped, the local economy would suffer in the short term (from the loss of jobs) and in the long term, by dissuading other major companies from investing in the area.
Last year, the group took to the streets in support of the data center project, after which the Irish High Court decided to fast-track its decision, promising to give a verdict within six months. Seven months later, it is still pending.
Noel Doherty, spokesperson for Athenry For Apple group said: “Refusal to grant permission, or Apple pulling out, would set Athenry and the surrounding area back 10 years, and send out a very bad message to other companies looking to locate in County Galway.”
“We are very concerned people will think we do not want the center, but nothing could be further from the truth, we need the center in Athenry,” he said. “The center is vital for Athenry in terms of both employment in the region and the regional economy, and Apple locating in Athenry could see the county become a technology hub for the western region.
“Apple locating here is the key to development of the town over the next 10 to 15 years and would encourage greater infrastructural and amenity development in order to facilitate the new center, and it would encourage other multi-national companies to consider locating here. Turning down Apple will make other companies think twice about looking to County Galway and send out a very bad message.”
Other than announcing a $921 million data center in Denmark, Apple has given no indication that it intends to pull out. A hearing to determine the project’s outcome is due on July 27th (granted there are judges available).