News that Apple has permission to re-open its project to build a data center in Galway has met with division.

Apple revived its application for planning permission on land in Derrydonnell this year, after abandoning plans for a data center there in 2018. This week, Galway County Council approved this, extending planning permission till 2026. It's not clear if Apple actually plans to build a data center, or simply sell the land with planning permission, but local politicians gave the decision a mixed reaction.

Apple Galway Ireland
– Apple

The Apple Athenry saga continues

The decision is “a very positive development” according to Ciaran Cannon, Fine Gael member of parliament for Galway East, reports the Galway Advertiser. Cannon is the constituency's Teachta Dála (TD), representing it in the lower house of the Irish Parliament.

People Before Profit, the green/socialist party, disagrees. Its Galway representative, Adrian Curran, said the extended planning permission was “environmentally disastrous," and cast doubt on the possible employment brought by the center.

“Many people have been misled into thinking Apple’s Athenry project would bring vital jobs to the area,” said Curran. “In reality its benefits for Athenry are doubtful. These vast warehouses do not provide plentiful or sustainable employment as they need limited maintenance, and they also create few secondary jobs.

“With more than 70 data centers currently operating and a 25 percent increase in their expansion in Ireland in the last year alone, by 2030 these centers will consume 30 percent of the State’s total electricity demand, swallowing over half of any increase in renewable energy in the next decade,” Curran told the Advertiser.

Ireland has ambitious targets to decarbonize its economy to mitigate climate change and these targets mean it should be reducing rather than increasing its energy use, according to Professor Barry McMullin of Dublin City University. In a conversation today about another proposal for a data center in the west of Ireland, 60km away in Ennis he told DCD that any additional electricity use in the country should be avoided due to the climate emergency.

"Given the severity of the crisis and how little time we now have, I would say, the emergency response should be planning for at least the next 15 years, and possibly longer, to set a significant contraction in absolute energy use," said Professor McMullin. "Expanding your electricity supply, in order to service the migration of energy use from heating and transport into electricity is not unreasonable. But expanding your electricity supply to do things that you're not doing at the moment at all? That's a different proposition."

Apple bought the land in Athenry for around $15 million in 2014, and had plans for a data center approved in 2017, before it was grounded by a lengthy series of appeals. Apple abandoned its plans in 2018 and put the land up for sale in 2019. No buyer was been announced, and the original planning permission for the site is due to expire in September 2021. The new application sees the Cupertino company wishing to extend that permission until November 2026.

Signs are that Apple is simply reviving the planning approval in order to facilitate the sale. The planning application says: "Due to delays associated with the judicial processes initiated after the relevant planning consent issued and, more recently, the complications over the last year... arising from the Covid-19 pandemic, the subject development has not been brought to fruition.

“This extension is being sought in order to provide adequate time to facilitate the provision of the subject development. It is the intention that the project will be undertaken as soon as practicable once suitable developers are identified."

In 2019, it was reported that Apple wanted to sell the site as a “ready-to-go data center development site," and Apple's extension application says it wants to “support the provision of the consented works by identifying interested parties to develop the project,” so that the buyer can “proceed with the consented works within the relevant timeframes.”

Get a weekly roundup of EMEA news, direct to your inbox.