29 September 2021
The Social Democrats have today called for a moratorium on data centres until a whole-of-Government strategy is devised.
Speaking in the Dáil this morning, Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore introduced the motion and stressed that there were a number of issues with the Government’s current approach to data centres, including the lack of any environmental, economic and energy demand impact analysis on the infrastructure.
Data centres store digital information at scale and 70 such structures currently are in operation in Ireland. The majority are found in the capital, making Dublin the largest data centre hub in Europe.
Previously the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) warned that rolling blackouts could occur due to the demand from data centres and Deputy Whitmore said that the lack of action in response to their assessment was evidence that “the Government didn’t seem too concerned”.
Given the risks the infrastructure has, Deputy Whitmore concluded that it was “imperative” that a moratorium be put in place as an interim measure until proper impact analysis is done and until “a proper whole of Government strategy is established and any energy and environment concerns are addressed”.
Friends of the Earth Ireland backed the Social Democrats’ motion and warned that the Government “has been asleep at the wheel when it comes to data centre growth”.
“It seems that Ireland’s FDI policy and approach to data centres has been allowed to develop without any reference to our climate obligations and electricity needs,” Head of Policy Change at Friends of the Earth Jerry MacEvilly said.
Data centres & emission ceilings
In response to the motion, Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Eamon Ryan said that data centres will have to operate within sectoral emission ceilings under new climate legislative framework.
“It’s also clear to me that these digital industries also wish to transfer to zero-carbon power and I have confidence that working collaboratively we can enable this transition,” he told the Dáil.
The Minister also said that he tabled an amendment to the motion that acknowledges there is an “increasing demand from large energy users, including data centres, and that a range of actions are being taken and will be taken by CRU and EirGrid in relation to a security of electricity supply over the coming months and years ahead”.
According to a report published today by EirGrid, the state-owned electric system operator in Ireland, electricity demand in Ireland will increase significantly due to the expected expansion of “large energy users”. The authors stress that gas will be required to address the growth in demand for periods of low wind and solar generation.
The motion comes just two days before the Dail will debate an opposition Bill to restrict the development of new data centres and fossil fuel infrastructure.