Business

Sunday 24 September 2017

Apple site objector may stall Amazon's €1bn plan

An artist’s impression of the data centre planned for Athenry in Co Galway
An artist’s impression of the data centre planned for Athenry in Co Galway
John Mulligan

John Mulligan

One of the main opponents to Apple's planned €850m data centre development in Co Galway has objected to a proposal by Amazon to build a massive €1bn data centre in Dublin - raising the prospect it could also be hit with a lengthy delay.

Amazon had hoped to begin construction of its campus this year.

But Allan Daly, an engineer from Athenry, Co Galway, has argued that permission for the project should not be granted until the internet giant specifies precisely how much energy the campus will use.

He also suggested that Fingal County Council should not grant permission for the huge development until an assessment of Ireland's renewable energy framework, currently being undertaken by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, is completed.

There's no visibility on when that assessment will be finalised, however.

Amazon's web services division already has a number of data centres in Dublin, but its latest plan - dubbed 'Project G' - is its most ambitious to date in Ireland.

It plans to initially build a 223,000 sq ft data centre in Mulhuddart, close to a huge biologics facility owned by pharma giant Bristol-Myers Squibb.

That unit is likely to cost up to €200m.

But Amazon has told Fingal County Council it might build seven more data centres on the 26-hectare IDA-owned site.

That could involve a further €700m capital outlay.

The company hopes to begin construction of the first data centre on the site this year, and to complete it within 18 months.

Apple unveiled its plans for an €850m data centre campus at Athenry in February 2015, on land owned by Coillte.

It, and another new data centre in Denmark, are intended to power the company's iTunes Store, its iMessage platform, maps and Siri function for customers across Europe.

The centre in Denmark - whose planned development was announced at the same time - is already under construction.

But Apple's Athenry project has been bogged down by both planning appeals and court proceedings leading the tech giant to express its concerns over the delays to State agencies.

Last November, more than 2,000 people staged a march in Athenry supporting Apple's plans for the town.

Last year An Bord Pleanála upheld a decision by Galway County Council to approve the development.

However, Mr Daly was one of three people who then asked the High Court for a judicial review of the case based on environmental grounds.

The Commercial Court heard that case last month and reserved judgment. It has been anticipated that the outcome would be known this month.

Amazon has said that, like Apple, its data centre operation will be powered entirely by renewable energy.

But Mr Daly has cast doubt on claims that Amazon would "buy" its renewable power from a specific energy provider when all renewable power generated is instantly despatched to the national grid.

"Any agreement to somehow 'purchase' existing renewables from energy suppliers creates a false nexus between Ireland's existing wind farms and the development proposal," he told Fingal County Council.

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