€1.2bn supersized Ennis data centre seeks planning permission

16 Jul 2021

Visualisation of the proposed data centre near Ennis. Image: Tom McNamara & Partners

With plans to cover more than 1.3m sq ft, the data centre project tabled for Co Clare will create 250 permanent jobs in the area.

Another attempt to build a new data centre in the west of Ireland is being made. This time, the planning application is for the Art Data Centres campus, a €1.2bn project on a 145-acre site in Ennis, Co Clare.

The build of the Ennis data centre campus has been identified by Clare County Council as key to its economic plans for the area.

“Development of this data centre campus has been specifically identified as a transformational site by Clare County Council in its draft Ennis 2040 Economic & Spatial Plan and is in accordance with the Government’s role for data centres in Ireland’s enterprise strategy,” said Tom McNamara, whose consultancy will manage the development.

“More dispersed data centre developments like this help diversify economic growth and job creation to regions outside of Dublin.”

The mega data centre campus proposed will span 1.3m sq ft. It will consist of a vertical farm and six two-storey data halls designed on a flexible and modular basis.

An on-site energy centre will include 18 lean burn natural gas engines. Each generator will have its own 25m flue.

Construction of the campus is expected to take six years, creating 1,200 construction jobs. When operational, 250 data centre jobs will be available at the site.

McNamara outlined the advantages of the Ennis site, which was rezoned as a data centre-specific enterprise site in 2019. “Because of its access to power, fibre and location close to Shannon International Airport, it is a natural home for this project,” he said.

Power and protests

The proposed Art Data Centres campus will be adjacent to the Ennis EirGrid network sub-station. This will provide a high level of energy supply that is both diverse and resilient.

It is also believed that connecting to the EirGrid network will provide access to low-carbon energy generated from wind energy along Ireland’s west coast.

This grid power will be supplemented by the on-site gas-based energy centre. The aim is for this aspect of the project to benefit from Gas Networks Ireland’s own low-carbon goals and its plan to gradually replace natural gas with green hydrogen and biomethane over the coming years.

The planning application has been compiled following a public consultation by Tom McNamara & Partners, which was conducted via an interactive online presentation due to Covid-19 restrictions.

If permission is cleared, construction is set to begin in late 2022.

The Ennis site will have hurdles to clear with the public in its planning process. In 2019, local residents strongly objected to the rezoning of the site on the Tulla Road leading out of Ennis, and suggested that the council should have selected a more suitable brownfield site.

These residents have been advised that their concerns can be raised at the planning application stage.

A retry for regional data centres

The Art Data Centres project could benefit from changes to the planning process for data centres driven by the failed completion of another project proposed for the west of Ireland.

Apple’s much-anticipated Athenry data centre secured planning permission for a site purchased in 2014. The €850m data centre was expected to be completed by 2017 but years of delays, appeals, planning issues, court shortages and protests for and against the project led the Big Tech giant to call it off in 2018.

However, Apple’s Athenry dream may yet be revived. The company’s planning permission for the site expires in September 2021, but it has applied for a five-year extension. A decision is due on the matter in August.

In the case of Apple’s data centre, the key objection to the project was that its environmental impact had not been adequately assessed before permission was granted.

Art Data Centres will submit an environmental impact statement with its planning application.

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

EngineNode applied for a 10-year planning permission for the development of a data storage facility on the 60-acre site in 2019. 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 202MW to the grid, while another 31 with planning permission would add 629MW, 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.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.