A €450 million ($464.3m) data center project in Ennis, in the West of Ireland, has been approved.

The Art Data Centres project won approval despite new policies from central government which will limit data center development owing to fear that data centers, which use 14 percent of Ireland's electricity, could overburden the electricity grid causing blackouts, and potentially prevent Ireland's planned shift to renewable energy.

Ennis art data centres.jpg
– Art Data Centres

Local environmental group Futureproof Clare has vowed to appeal the decision of An Bord Pleanála: "We have to push back against this development which is going to have adverse impacts on public health, and it's going to consume inordinate amounts of water and electricity," said member Tim Hannon on Clare FM radio.

Hannon promised "protests, public meetings, and direct action" against the development: "Whatever might be necessary to prevent the development if it's approved by the planning bodies. Futureproof Clare won't be giving up this fight anytime soon We don't have faith in our planning process."

Part of Ennis' plan

Art Data Centres describes the project as a €450 million data center, and that is what was originally proposed in 2019. There were protests as Clare Council rezoned land for the data center project which was increased to €1.2 billion. with the land it covered increasing to more than 100 acres. The Council's decision was delayed last year, but Clare County Council's planning page now shows that approval has been granted, just on the due date of August 8.

"The €450-million Ennis data center has been four years moving through various stages including strategic site assessment, zoning & planning," said the Art announcement. "Art will create between 400- 450 permanent jobs when the data center campus is fully operational. Up to 1,200 will be employed in construction and 600 jobs in support services."

The new Government policy, published on 27 July, says that data centers are essential to the needs of business in Ireland. The Irish premier, or Taoiseach, Micheál Martin recently confirmed there will be no moratorium on new data centers.

Under the new policy, data centers must have a positive economic impact, make efficient use of the country’s electricity grid through using available capacity. They should alleviate constraints and increase renewable energy use, preferably being colocated with some renewable generation capacity.

However, there has been a de facto moratorium in the Dublin area, as the state-owned utility EirGrid says the grid in the capital was under strain. No new data centers are expected to be authorized before 2028, though there is a backlog of existing permissions reportedly totaling around 1GW.

This week Irish data center developer Dataplex entered voluntary liquidation, after Eirgrid kept it waiting 12 months for grid power approval on two Dublin projects, only to be refused for both.

Co-founder and CEO Eddie Kilbane told DCD that "for us, Ireland is now closed to building out any new data centers."

Earlier, Interxion (Digital Realty) paused plans for expansion on new projects.

Go West!

Things are a little different in the West of Ireland, where Art's planned development has been specifically identified by Clare County Council as a transformational site, in its Draft Ennis 2040 Economic & Spatial Plan.

Art Data Centres CEO Tom McNamara explained in 2021: "With Eirgird increasingly focused on data centers locating away from Dublin and the east coast to reduce pressure on existing grid infrastructure in those areas, projects like this can avail of underused grid capacity in other regions and tap into the growing number of renewable energy developments in the west and south of the country that offer clean sources of power."

The Art plan, on Tulla Rd at Junction 13 of the M18 motorway connecting Galway to Limerick, is in line with the published plan, said McNamara this week: “This is great news for this data center campus and for Clare as the project will be a key pillar of the Ennis 2040 Economic Plan for the area which was launched by Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Leo Varadkar in 2021.”

The campus will have six 33MW buildings, along with an energy center and vertical farm. It will cover 145 acres and 1.3 million sq ft (120,000 sqm). Construction will be phased over seven years starting in 2022. The design is by Colin Hyde of ARC:MC, and Robert Thorogood of HDRInc.

The campus will have access to 200MW of power from the network grid, as well as gas generation on site, fed from a mains gas interconnector. This is a key point as this meets the requirements of the regulator CRU for on-site dispatchable power. It will also have access to wind and solar farms in Clare through the Grid or private connections.

The on-site backup is by gas turbines which can also run on green hydrogen, which Minister Eamon Ryan has said may be available by 2030, when the project is due for completion.

"Ennis can avail of underused grid capacity at the Ennis Substation and tap into the growing number of renewable energy developments in the west and south of the country that offer clean sources of power," said the Art announcement. "Additionally, more dispersed data center developments like this help diversify economic growth and job creation to regions outside of Dublin."

The announcement points out that Ireland has plentiful wind energy on the west coast. Local utility ESB is building 1400MW of onshore wind and has plans for a green energy hub at Moneypoint.

Ennis is the largest town in Munster, with good fiber connectivity and a location close to Shannon International Airport.

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