Government plan for rural data centre development
7 June 2018 | 0
The Government has published a policy statement that aims to establish a “plan-led approach” to the development of data centres in Ireland, with specific consideration to rural siting of such facilities.
The statement, prepared by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, in conjunction with other relevant government departments, is said to have followed a government agreement last October to strengthen the Strategic Policy Framework around the development of data centres in Ireland.
The policy statement announcement said the framework has been pursued as part of set of objectives for wider economic growth and regional development. According to the announcement, other strands include the finalisation of the Renewable Electricity Policy and Development Framework, the amendment of the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act to include data centres, and measures to streamline judicial review of strategic infrastructure projects.
The policy statement is widely seen as a direct response to Apple’s withdrawal of a plan for a major data centre facility in Athenry, announced in 2015, which was finally confirmed as cancelled in May of this year. However, the timing of the various developments in the policy statement suggests that after the visit of An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to Silicon Valley in late 2017, where he met Apple CEO Time Cook, the fate of the Athenry project was strongly suspected, prompting the need for change.
The aims of the policy statement are to “drive Ireland’s ambition in the digital economy as a location of choice for investment and a seed-bed for technology entrepreneurship across a range of sectors and activities”. It further aims to contribute to regional development with the attendant benefits for economic activity and job creation, both directly and indirectly. There is also specific mention of aligning enterprise electricity demand generation and distribution capacity, with the emphasis on renewables.
Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD, in commenting on the policy statement, recognised the status of data centres as key enablers for the digital economy.
“The demand for data centres is there and this Policy Statement is about having a coherent strategic plan in place to deal with that demand. This is a joined-up, cross-Government approach on their development in Ireland,” said the Minister.
“We all know that data centres present challenges given that they’re very energy intensive, however, they are also critically important to ensuring that Ireland continues to be a leader in the digital economy. This is about striking a balance between the challenges and opportunities.
“While the number of people directly employed in data centres is relatively small, the fact is there are over 100,000 employed in ICT companies here. The reality is many of those companies need data centres to facilitate their activities and continued growth”.
The Minister’s comments are supported by a recent European report, with a specific section on Ireland, from Copenhagen Economics that found tangible benefits for siting data centres here.
According to the report, between the years of 2011 and 2017, the Google’s data centres in Ireland represented a €350 million direct investment in construction and operations, while there was €400 million contribution to Ireland’s GDP, with the creation of an average of 700 jobs a year, directly and indirectly.
IDA Ireland will increase its emphasis on promoting a range of regional options for data centre investment, according to the policy statement. The authority has recently identified specific sites in regions throughout the country that are potentially suitable for accommodating the sustainable development of large scale data centre projects, in terms of proximity to necessary energy and other appropriate infrastructures. The statement said this is building on the work the authority has already carried out, and will continue to do, actively promoting a range of regional options for data centre investment.
The importance of data centres to Ireland, the statement emphasises, particularly given the country’s reputation as a leading location for digital economy companies, and the potential for development in regional locations is also recognised in the Government’s Project Ireland 2040 plan, which it says makes clear that the promotion of Ireland as a sustainable international destination for ICT infrastructure is a key national objective.