EngineNode’s Clonee data centre gets the green light

14 Jul 2021

Image: © sdecoret/Stock.adobe.com

The new data storage facility is expected to create 500 jobs during construction and 275 jobs when operational.

Irish data centre company EngineNode has been given permission to build a data storage facility in Clonee, Co Meath, despite appeals to stop the project by environmental groups.

Located near Facebook’s Clonee data centre, the project has faced backlash from environmentalists and local residents alike.

EngineNode was founded in 2018 by former Eir employees Jason O’Conaill and Ronan Kneafsey. O’Conaill was head of data centres while Kneafsey was the managing director of telecoms and data centres at Eir.

In November 2019, the company applied for a 10-year planning permission for the development of a data storage facility on the 60-acre site in Clonee.

The campus will include four two-storey data storage buildings, a two-storey office building and a storage centre, among other facilities. It is expected to create 500 jobs during construction and around 275 jobs when operational, according to The Irish Times.

Impact of Irish data centres

Ireland is one of the world’s most desirable locations for data centres. Last year, TikTok joined tech giants such as Google, AWS and Microsoft that have selected the country as a data hub.

However, while data centres provide critical infrastructure for our internet-reliant society, they also consume high volumes of energy.

Last year, environmental groups An Taisce and Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) lodged appeals against Meath County Council’s original grant of permission.

They said that Ireland already hosted a disproportionate number of data centres in western Europe and that any additional infrastructure would put pressure on the national grid.

Ireland at the time had 10 data centres under construction that would add 202 megawatts to the grid, while another 31 with planning permission would add 629 megawatts, according to FIE.

According to a report by grid operator EirGrid, data centres will put added pressure on electricity supply in Ireland and could account for 29pc of demand by 2028.

However, senior planning inspector Karla McBride said that despite the EngineNode project’s energy demands, she was “satisfied that this issue will be ultimately addressed as Ireland moves towards its objective of providing 70pc of its energy renewable sources by 2030”, according to The Irish Times.

Clonee becomes centre of attention

Clonee is also home to a €300m Facebook data centre which the tech giant claims is powered by 100pc renewable energy.

It worked with Brookfield Renewables to tap into its wind energy assets in Ireland to not only power the three data centres on the site but also its international headquarters in Dublin.

First opened in 2018, the Clonee site hosted around 300 Facebook staff and had plans to double its size the following year. Last year, however, the expansion had to be suspended amid the Covid-19 outbreak.

Facebook was briefly in a dispute with EngineNode last year. According to a report in the Sunday Business Post, the social media giant claimed EngineNode had tried to build on its lands without permission.

EngineNode was also involved in a disagreement with Meath County Council’s demand that the company paid €1.85m towards a new road before work can start on the project.

The condition required EngineNode to make the payment to the council as a special contribution towards a new €12.8m Bracetown link road.

Some local residents had also objected to its construction on the grounds that the scale and size of the development will impact the area’s landscape negatively.

However, senior planning inspector Karla McBride said that the proposed data centre will not negatively affect the houses or commercial buildings in the area to any significant extent.

Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic