One of Apple‘s largest data centre projects is being held back as locals in Ireland have protested against the construction of the hub due to environmental issues.
Residents in Athenry, Galway, have made a formal complaint to an Irish Government-backed body expressing environmental concerns related to the construction of the €850 million, 263,000 sq ft data centre in the region.
The complaint was filed to the An Bord Pleanála, which is responsible for the appeals and applications for strategic infrastructure development in Ireland. The government-backed body is expected to make a decision on the case by May this year.
According to the filed complaint, locals are concerned about the increased traffic and noise during the hub’s construction, in addition to concerns about the local protected wildlife, such as bats and badgers, who live in the Derrydonnell Forest, next to where the data centre is planned to be built.
This week, it has been revealed that the An Bord Pleanála has sent Apple a document requesting for information around five critical points related to the project.
In documents obtained by Business Insider, the An Bord Pleanála has asked Apple for a reason why the company is planning to build the data centre next to the mentioned forest. This is despite Apple having been granted permission for construction last September by Galway’s City Council.
In the letter it says: "It is considered that the applicant has not adequately addressed the issue of site location and the alternatives considered prior to selecting the proposed site."
Secondly, the body is questioning Apple on its 100% renewable energy plans for the site and is requesting more information on this.
According to the An Bord Pleanála, Apple has not provided project specific information around green energy or details on how renewables would be connected to the site.
Apple has previously said it plans to use renewable energy to power the 300MW site, in an investment set to reach up to €400 million.
The Irish governmental body is also asking Apple and Arup, the firm that will help the iPhone maker with the data centre design, to re-submit its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
The board is questioning both firms around a substation connection that is planned for the site. The An Bord Pleanála is also not satisfied with the way Apple, in the EIS, has laid out the environmental plan, as the one submitted only addresses the first phase of construction regarding one data hall, despite the company planning to build as many as eight data halls.
The letter says: "The format of the EIS is also considered to be somewhat inconsistent with regard to the extent of the development proposed and the impacts presented.
"The site location is justified on the basis of a phased development of up to eight data halls and a masterplan for the overall development of the site has been submitted with the application, however sections of the EIS assess impacts on the basis of Phase 1 alone."
Under the EIS, the An Bord Pleanála also wants Apple to look into the impact of "the absence of viable direct sustainable energy sources."
What is where? Yellow: Galway City; Blue: Planned location for Apple’s data centre; Red: Derrydonnell Forest where protected species are.
Furthermore, the board is requesting from Apple and Arup the results from their ecological surveys, with special attention to those related to bats and other protected species. The body wants the two companies to advise on whether they plan to conduct any further surveys or not.
Lastly, the An Bord Pleanála has requested both companies to provide more information on the site’s soil. The document says: "The applicant is requested to submit an overview of the ground characteristics in the vicinity of the proposed percolation area for treatment systems serving the administration building and data halls."
Apple filed a planning permission to Galway’s City Council to build a data centre in Athenry in April 2015. The data centre is going to be used to store EU data and help the Cupertino based company boost its online services such as iMessage, Maps, Siri, and iTunes.
Speaking to CBR, Garry Connolly, president of Host In Ireland, has played down the hype around the fact that the An Bord Pleanála has got involved in Apple’s data centre plans.
He said that planning applications in Ireland have a due process which allows citizens to express their opinions and views in developments on any fixed structure that is being constructed.
He said: "It is not unusual for planning objections to be made which can range from concerns that the construction will cause traffic congestion in this case the local Flora and Fauna will be effected.
"Like any working democracy if the objections are fair and reasonable they will be investigated if however they are not they will be dismissed. It would also be normal for planning to be granted subject to x,y,z being catered for."
Ireland is currently experiencing a data centre boom and pushing to become one of Europe’s leading hubs in this space. In a recent analysis run by CBR, it was found that since 2008, data centre capital investment in the island has topped over $6 billion, to which Apple is contributing with over $1.5 billion.