Apple is facing further delays on a proposed €850 million data centre in Ireland after appellants called on a local planning body to hold an oral hearing around environmental and power consumption issues.
Apple filed a planning application for the data centre last April and was hoping to start building the facility on a 500-acre site before the end of last year.
The Cupertino-headquartered company wants to use the data centre to store European user data and to help power online services including the iTunes Store, the App Store, iMessage, Maps, and Siri for customers across Europe.
Most people in the area want the data centre to be built, local sources have told Business Insider.
But the application for the data centre in Derrydonnell Forest, situated near a small town called Athenry, in County Galway, is currently being held up by An Bord Pleanála — an independent planning group that decides on appeals from planning decisions made by local authorities in Ireland.
An Bord Pleanála was initially due to pass a decision on the data centre on February 3, but that date was pushed back to May 23. An Bord Pleanála said it pushed the decision date back because it had not received all the information it needed from Apple.
That date is now likely to be further extended, according to two An Bord Pleanála employees that we spoke to over the phone on Friday.
Nicola Meehan, an executive officer at An Bord Pleanála, told Business Insider that two appellants have requested an oral hearing, which has been approved by An Bord Pleanála. Meehan added that a date is yet to be set for the hearing.
These oral hearings aren’t unusual for major infrastructure projects in Ireland but Apple will need to satisfy a panel of planners at the hearing if it is to get the green light on the data centre.
Another An Bord Pleanála employee that we spoke to over the phone said the “files are still with the inspector” and there’s “likely to be a new revised date” for the decision.
The two parties that requested the hearing are an individual, Pat Larkin, and David Hughes Architects. They paid €50 when making their request for the oral hearing on top of the €220 they paid when they filed their initial appeal with An Bord Pleanála.
According to documents available through Galway County Council’s website, Larkin has a number of concerns over the proposed data centre. Among them, he is worried that the data centre will have a negative impact on the environment and that the data centre is being built on a site that hasn’t been designated for industrial use.
Larkin and a number of other parties have highlighted that Apple wants to build the data centre on “unzoned lands.” However, Galway County planning guidelines are understood to allow for a “specialist enterprise development that is large scale or high value” and a development that facilities opportunities for “science and technology based employment.”
Business Insider has contacted Apple and is awaiting a response.
A spokesman for Apple told The Irish Independent: “We welcome the opportunity to address any additional questions An Bord Pleanála may have. The planning process is an important way for everyone to have their say and we’ve made every effort to incorporate the feedback we’ve received. Our plans are for our greenest data centre yet which is designed to be sympathetic to its surroundings and, like all our data centres, run on 100% renewable energy from day one.”
Other parties that have come out against certain aspects of the data centre development include Athenry Golf Club, which is concerned about flooding, and Ireland’s Department of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht, which is concerned about the impact wildlife, including bats and badgers.
An engineer named Allan Daly has concerns about the data centre’s electricity consumption, notably that it could increase Ireland’s overall electricity consumption by 8.2% by the time it is fully built out. Apple claims in its Revised “Environmental Impact Statement” that the data centre won’t use this much energy.
Our data centre will have an initial 6 megawatts power requirement when it comes online in 2017. According to EirGrid’s projections, this would amount to approximately 0.17% of Ireland’s national electrical power. At full capacity, which we expect to be around 2021, the first data hall will have a power requirement of 30 megawatts which is approximately 0.78% of Ireland’s national electrical power use for 2021. At full capacity in 10 to 15 years time we expect the maximum power requirement to be 240 megawatts, though it will likely be less because of technical improvements in energy efficiency, which would represent 2.5%.
Daly told Business Insider by email: “In my opinion, the proposal is a serious breach of established planning policy that contravenes the principles of sustainable and sequential development in East Co. Galway. Most data centre proponents tend to overlook the planning issues with the belief that the economic benefits to the area — in the form of jobs gains and supporting and/or “magnet” enterprise — override all other considerations.”
Frank Greene, president of Galway’s Chamber of Commerce, told the Irish Independent that the data centre could act as a catalyst to bring additional investment to the region. “The wider significance of having Apple as part of the DNA of the Galway region is huge,” he said. “It’s also going to have a big multiplier effect on indirect jobs here.”
Daly said he believes the Irish planning system can be extremely subjective and discretionary. “This makes planning decisions vulnerable to political influence by other government agencies (such as IDA Ireland, the agency responsible for the attraction and development of Foreign Direct Investment in Ireland), as well as individual politicians. There is no doubt that significant pressure has been applied to An Bord Pleanála to approve the development applications associated with Apple’s data centre.”
The oral hearing will take place at an undecided venue in Galway, which Apple will be invited to attend.
Apple was initially hoping the data centre would begin operations at some point in 2017 but the setbacks suggest a later start date may be on the cards.
Some 5,500 of Apple’s 18,300 European staff are based in Ireland, which is also home to its European headquarters. The company plans to hire an additional 1,000 staff in Ireland before 2017.
Google, Microsoft, and Amazon have also built data centres in Ireland, and Facebook also has one planned. Many of them have based their European headquarters in the country, which offers a lower corporation tax rate than other European nations.
Elsewhere in Europe, Apple is planning to build a data centre in Denmark on the same scale as the one in Ireland. The company does not reveal where all of its data centres are but reports suggest Apple also has data centre facilities in Newark, Santa Clara, and Cupertino on the west coast of the US, as well one in Maiden on the east coast.
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