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Clare County Council Decision to Approve 66 Diesel Generators for Data Centre 'Threatens Ennis Residents health'
Press Release - Future Proof Clare & Friends of the Irish Environment - 10th Aug 2022
PRESS RELEASE - 10 AUGUST 2022FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE FROM: Future Proof Clare, Friends of the Irish Environment, and many others
Clare County Council Decision to Approve 66 Diesel Generators for Data Centre 'Threatens Ennis Residents Health'
Ennis Data Centre and Gas Plant ‘totally unsustainable’
‘The plans to build one of the largest data centres in the country here in Ennis brings with it an additional threat to the health of people here as the plans include a gas burning plant that will only make the air quality here worse than it already is, leading to asthma and other respiratory problems.’
Despite the concerns of local residents, multiple environmental groups, as well as Eirgrid , Clare county council has made the abhorrent decision to give planning permission to an unknown company (Art Data Centres Ltd.) to construct a data centre on the Tulla Rd, Ennis which will consume as much electricity as 200,000 homes and emit 657,000 tonnes of CO2 annually.
By approving this planning application, Clare County Council has abdicated its responsibility to safeguard the health and well being of those living in Ennis and beyond. This development will not provide substantial numbers of well paid jobs to Co. Clare residents but will make Ennis’ already poor air even worse, contribute significantly to climate change, and use tremendous amounts of electricity and water.
Last Wednesday, on August 3rd, a public meeting took place at The Copper Jug Bar and Café (Courtview, Lifford, Ennis, Co. Clare) which was organised by an alliance of local and national environmental groups. At the public meeting, local residents voiced their concern for their own health and the health of their children.
Dr. Patrick Bresnihan, lecturer in the Department of Geography at Maynooth University, has been one of the most vocal critics of government policy regarding data centres, attended the public meeting via Zoom and stated that:
“We don't need that type of development, the promise from the industry and proponents is that they are going to provide jobs, beyond construction they don’t really provide jobs….. long term jobs. They don't really provide other benefits in terms of spin off industries.
What we do know is that they are hugely energy intensive and water intensive. We don’t need this type of development, particularly in the context of climate change which is only becoming more pressing and urgent.”
The issues surrounding the proposed data centre was brought starkly into focus by Ruairí Ó Fathaigh, industry expert and ‘Futureproof Clare’ member when he said:
"The growth of data centres in Ireland is bringing our energy grid to crisis point while also sucking our aquifers dry to cool them down.The plans to build one of the largest data centres in the country here in Ennis brings with it an additional threat to the health of people here as the plans include a gas burning plant that will only make the air quality here worse than it already is, leading to asthma and other respiratory problems.”
Ruairí Ó Fathaigh went on to add that:
"At no point is the question asked why are we allowing our natural resources and our health be put on the line for a few measly jobs to support advertising and surveillance industries when the parts of the internet people actually enjoy like communicating and sharing with their friends and family can be done using a fraction of the current data centres here, let alone require the doubling of them"
Futureproof Clare doesn’t believe that this development should be granted planning permission for a variety of reasons. The Commission for Regulation of Utilities' (CRU) now requires data centres to produce enough energy for their own needs onsite, but the planned data centre can't do that. The development is projected to consume more electricity than Clare and Limerick city combined (200MW or equivalent to 200,000 homes).
Massive generation expansion to support data centres is only making a transition to renewables harder. Over the past four years, demand for energy from data centres has increased annually by 600GWh which is the equivalent of adding 140,000 households to the power system each year.
The development will place immense strain on the already pressurised national grid. Data Centres now consume 14 per cent of Ireland’s energy demand. Data centres use up a considerably higher share of electricity in the State than in other countries. A 2020 European Commission put average data centre usage in 2018 at 2.7 per cent of electricity demand, compared with 14 per cent in Ireland. Eirgrid, the national grid operator, raised serious concerns about their ability to provide energy for the entire country, saying that the facilities will account for 33% of all electricity consumption by 2030.
The development could use as much water as Ennis, most companies operating data centres have arrangements with Irish Water to keep their usage private for commercial sensitivity reasons.Data centres owned by large multinationals, including Facebook and Amazon, are using the same amount of water as some of Ireland’s largest towns.
According to details provided by Facebook, its Irish data centre used 395 million litres of water in 2019 – roughly the same amount used by Kildare town‘s 8,600 inhabitants in any given year. The planned development for Ennis will consume even more water and have a greater environmental impact.
Projected employment is greatly exaggerated. Of the promised 250 jobs the only guaranteed ones will be security where workers receive just over €12 an hour without any bonuses for night work and technicians and electricians who get a standard factory wage for doing what isn't much different that other factory work. The additional employment isn't guaranteed, especially not for Ennis, with maintainers, Site Reliability Engineer (SREs), able to work remotely from wherever there's an internet connection.
Air Quality in Ennis has been a disaster with particulate levels exceeding the WHO limits almost every day.In practice this means people in Ennis die sooner and are more prone to asthma and other respiratory diseases. According to WHO the average safe levels of fine particulate matter (PM), which are associated with burning of smoky solid fuel measured at EPA monitors over a 24 hour period are 10mg per metre.In Ennis, air quality PM is regularly 12 times higher than the safety level. This is deeply concerning and a very serious issue.
Provision for 66 diesel generators in the planning application should also alarm local residents.These diesel generators which would need to spin up and down to match supply on the grid as the demand from the data centre is inflexible. The particulate and NOx emissions from generators cycling like this can be 2-5× higher than under constant operation due to the temperature variance when cycling. Diesel generators release more than 40 toxic air contaminants (many known or suspected cancer-causing substances, such as benzene, arsenic, and formaldehyde), greenhouse gases, particulate matter (PM), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), nitrous oxides (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2). N
Nitrogen oxide is the single most important ozone-depleting emission. These harmful pollutants create smog and exacerbate respiratory conditions.The CRU are considering implementing massive unit price hikes for large energy users like data centres if they don't resort to using their backup power when supply is constrained meaning this worst case scenario could become common place when older coal and oil fired power stations in Tarbert and Moneypoint shut down in 2023 and 2025.
Melina Sharp, environmental activist and ‘Futureproof Clare’ member is deeply concerned about the impact the development will have on local air quality, stating that:
“With increased instability on the grid and the planned closure of Moneypoint in 2025, the data centre in Ennis will need to run its own backup generators to avoid having to shut down. This means that the dirtier diesel generators will be spinning up and down beside the town more often producing harmful emissions that lead to asthma and other respiratory illnesses, with some recent studies also showing an increased risk of Alzheimer's in urban settings.”
Constructing a gas plant at the edge of the town will make Ennis’ already poor air quality significantly worse. Somewhere between 1,300 and 1,500 people a year die in Ireland as a result of air pollution.
Ireland’s greenhouse gases have jumped by almost 5% within the last year, driven by increased use of coal and oil for electricity generation, as well as agriculture and transport. Data centres are the primary contributor to increasing demand for electricity, and as a consequence, increased fossil fuel infrastructure. Constructing another gas plant, such as the 120MW planned as part of this development will make the nation’s climate obligations even more difficult to meet. The sectoral emissions target reduction for the energy industry was reduced from 81% to 75% due to the increased demand from data centres requiring our most polluting electricity generation stations to operate at higher capacity and having their operational lifespan extended.
Councillors have complained about the air quality in Ennis and also referred to this data centre as a “gold mine”.The comparison is apt because a gold mine is one of the most environmentally destructive industries you can set up in an area. It will destroy the air, it will destroy the water and the gruelling night shifts will destroy the workers
As the climate crisis continues to unfold, as Europe suffers from the effects of drought and extreme heat; Futureproof Clare believes it is abhorrent that individuals are asked to make drastic changes to their lifestyles (as they should) whilst corporate polluters such as those in the data centre industry go unchecked by regulators.
For interviews or more information contact Emanuela at +353 87 777 2877
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