Data Centre Moratorium: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members]

The following motion was moved by Deputy Jennifer Whitmore on Wednesday, 29 September 2021:
That Dáil Éireann:
notes that:
— the data centre sector in Ireland is undergoing a surge in development, with approximately 70 data centres constructed, representing a 25 per cent increase on last year, a further eight under construction and between 25-30 more in the planning stages;
— a substantial amount of public funding has been spent on construction-related investment for data centre and large energy user growth and the sector expects €6.7 billion in investment between 2020 and 2025, adding to the €6.2 billion that has been invested in the sector to date;
— data centres are energy and resource-hungry projects, requiring the same amount of energy as a large town or a small city like Kilkenny, using between 500,000 and 5 million litres of water a day;
— according to EirGrid, data centres and large energy users are expected to use 27 per cent of all electricity demand by 2028, up from its current 11 per cent share of the national grid, and energy use by data centres is expected to double over the next five years;
— electricity prices rose by almost 19 per cent in the year to the end of August as indicated by the latest Central Statistics Office Consumer Price Index;
— Ireland’s commitment to 70 per cent renewable energy by 2030 is in line with our decarbonisation goals;
— the contribution of data centres to job creation is unclear, as the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment currently does not collect this information and estimates that between 30-50 permanent jobs are created per centre;
— the Government is committed to developing energy efficiency standards for equipment and processes, particularly those set to grow rapidly such as data centres;
— the Government’s Statement on the Role of Data Centres in Ireland’s Enterprise Strategy (2018) is the only Government policy on the development of the sector and pre-dates global and national energy security concerns, and also notes the updated climate legislation and targets, and the recent surge in data centre development in the country;
— there are forecasts of an impending energy crisis this winter, with two separate amber alerts already issued by the Single Electricity Market Operator this month due to temporary electricity supply shortfalls, and seven such alerts have been issued in the past 15 months, compared with just 11 alerts over the previous ten years;
— the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) has warned of 'rolling blackouts' if action is not taken to deal with the power demand from data centres, recommending either a moratorium on the construction of data centres, or new conditions on construction; and
— the Industrial Development Agency has warned that the energy crisis has the potential to inflict 'considerable reputational damage' and negatively affect the country’s ability to attract foreign direct investment;
acknowledges that:
— in the context of a climate crisis, post-Covid economic recovery and ongoing energy security concerns, data centres must be managed sustainably through appropriate planning conditions, sustainable energy sources and all necessary economic risk impact analysis carried out on the development of data centres in Ireland;
— the Government has not carried out an environmental, economic and energy demand impact analysis on the development of data centres to date;
— there is little to no transparency as to how the Government is managing data centre growth in Ireland, and no single Government Department has taken ownership of the sector’s development or the collection of data in relation to data centres;
— Ireland is at risk of not meeting its renewable energy targets as a result of increased energy demand from data centres;
— there are concerns of higher energy prices as a result of data centres’ increasing share of energy demand, not only curbing post-Covid economic growth but leading to higher rates of fuel poverty, an outcome in direct conflict with just transition principles;
— there could be a potential negative impact on attracting foreign direct investment, which creates much larger numbers of jobs than data centres, if energy demand is not properly managed; and
— concerns have been raised that construction of data centres could take away necessary labour for the construction of much-needed homes during the current housing crisis; and
calls on the Government to:
— enforce higher standards as set out in the European Union Code of Conduct for Energy Efficiency in Data Centres, removing the voluntary nature of the code and putting in place obligations to prevent the industry from self-regulating during this rapid state of development of data centres;
— request that the CRU publish its findings on data centres from the recent public consultation and to outline a proposed direction on data centre connection to the electricity grid system, and publish its decision as soon as possible;
— consider the CRU proposals that EirGrid and ESB Networks would be required to prioritise connection applications from data centres in accordance with a series of factors, including whether data centres:
— generate enough energy on site themselves to support their demand for electricity;
— can be flexible in reducing their consumption at times of system constraint;
— have chosen a location relative to grid constraints;
— have the ability to provide onsite dispatchable generation and/or storage; and
— have the ability to reduce consumption when requested by the system operator; and
— enact a moratorium on the development of data centres and the issuing of planning decisions as an interim measure until an economic, environmental and energy impact risk analysis has been carried out.
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:
"notes:
—that in June 2021, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) published a proposed Direction to the System Operators related to Data Centre grid connection,for consultation, setting out a number of options for managing data centre connection demand, and EirGrid has issued advice to data centres on new requirements to connect to the grid in advance of this proposed Direction;
—that earlier this year, EirGrid carried out a nationwide public consultation on 'Shaping our Electricity Future', setting out options for strengthening the grid so that it can carry significantly more renewable generation as well as meet increasing demand from high volume energy users;
—the fundamental importance of security of energy supply which is vital for the proper functioning of society and the economy, with over two million customers relying on the electricity grid and 700,000 customers on the natural gas grid to heat and power their homes and businesses;
—that the CRU has statutory responsibility to ensure security of electricity supply;
—that all sectors of the economy will have sectoral emissions ceilings under the climate law, and that all data centres, whether using electricity or backup fuels, will need to be within that sectoral ceiling, and that electricity has the clearest and shortest path to decarbonise and will be a key advantage over other industries that use fossil fuels;
—that a range of actions is being taken by the CRU and EirGrid in relation to security of electricity supply over the coming winter and years ahead, which include maximising the availability of existing generators, developing new generation capacity, changing grid connection rules for data centres, and working with large energy consumers to,where possible, reduce their electricity demand during peak period, and the current unpredicted cause for concern is related to the lack of availability of a number of power plants; and
—that the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications is carrying out a review of the security of energy supply of Ireland’s electricity and natural gas systems for the period out to 2030 in the context of net-zero emissions by 2050;
further notes:
—that management of the impact of electricity demand on the grid is more appropriately dealt with through regulatory measures in the electricity sector;
—the important role of the ICT sector and data centres as part of the digital and communications infrastructure for many sectors of our economy, and data centres are core infrastructure for the digital economy and act as a hook for further investment and job creation, and more than 20,000 direct jobs in the Irish economy are supported by those operating large data centre infrastructure here, with the technology sector in Ireland employing over 150,000 people;
—that the Programme for Government: Our Shared Future commits to developing efficiency standards for equipment and processes, particularly those set to grow rapidly, such as data centres;
—that energy price rises in the marketplace are predominantly related to current international gas price increases and are unrelated to data centre development; and
—that in 2020, data centres accounted for approximately 11 per cent of the total electricity used in Ireland, demonstrating that the impact of data centres on Ireland’s energy demand, and the related electricity emissions, is significant, and EirGrid project that demand from large energy users, including data centres, could account for 27 per cent of all demand by 2030; and
affirms that:
—the Government will set out, in the forthcoming Climate Action Plan, a suite of actions that will address rising energy demand, while facilitating sustainable growth in the digital and ICT sectors;
—the electricity demand growth from large energy users, including data centres,requires careful management of the grid in the context of Ireland’s significant decarbonisation and climate ambitions;
—the Government’s Statement on the Role of Data Centres in Ireland’s Enterprise Strategy policy will ensure a role for data centres in enterprise policy and alignment with electricity emission reductions; and
—the CRU intends to publish, as a matter of urgency, its final direction to EirGrid and ESB Networks in relation to data centre connection policy that will prioritise data centre connections based on location, the availability of on-site generation and flexibility in reducing demand when required.
- (Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications)

I must now deal with a postponed division relating to amendment No. 1, in the name of the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications to the motion on a data centre moratorium. On Wednesday, 29 September 2021, on the question that the amendment be made, a division was claimed and in accordance with Standing Order 80(2), that division must be taken now.

Amendment put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 80; Níl, 61; Staon, 0.

  • Berry, Cathal.
  • Brophy, Colm.
  • Browne, James.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Burke, Peter.
  • Butler, Mary.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cahill, Jackie.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Canney, Seán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Carroll MacNeill, Jennifer.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Costello, Patrick.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Crowe, Cathal.
  • Devlin, Cormac.
  • Dillon, Alan.
  • Donnelly, Stephen.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Duffy, Francis Noel.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Feighan, Frankie.
  • Flaherty, Joe.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Foley, Norma.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Higgins, Emer.
  • Hourigan, Neasa.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Lahart, John.
  • Lawless, James.
  • Leddin, Brian.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • Martin, Catherine.
  • Matthews, Steven.
  • McAuliffe, Paul.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • Moynihan, Aindrias.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Murnane O'Connor, Jennifer.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noonan, Malcolm.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Brien, Joe.
  • O'Callaghan, Jim.
  • O'Connor, James.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Gorman, Roderic.
  • O'Sullivan, Christopher.
  • O'Sullivan, Pádraig.
  • Ó Cathasaigh, Marc.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Rabbitte, Anne.
  • Richmond, Neale.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Shanahan, Matt.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smyth, Niamh.
  • Smyth, Ossian.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Varadkar, Leo.

Níl

  • Andrews, Chris.
  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Barry, Mick.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Brady, John.
  • Buckley, Pat.
  • Carthy, Matt.
  • Clarke, Sorca.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Connolly, Catherine.
  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Cronin, Réada.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Pa.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donnelly, Paul.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Farrell, Mairéad.
  • Funchion, Kathleen.
  • Gannon, Gary.
  • Gould, Thomas.
  • Guirke, Johnny.
  • Harkin, Marian.
  • Healy-Rae, Danny.
  • Healy-Rae, Michael.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kenny, Gino.
  • Kenny, Martin.
  • Kerrane, Claire.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McNamara, Michael.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Munster, Imelda.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • Mythen, Johnny.
  • Nash, Ged.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Nolan, Carol.
  • O'Callaghan, Cian.
  • O'Donoghue, Richard.
  • O'Reilly, Louise.
  • O'Rourke, Darren.
  • Ó Broin, Eoin.
  • Ó Murchú, Ruairí.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Quinlivan, Maurice.
  • Ryan, Patricia.
  • Sherlock, Sean.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Duncan.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Tully, Pauline.
  • Ward, Mark.
  • Whitmore, Jennifer.
  • Wynne, Violet-Anne.

Staon

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Jack Chambers and Brendan Griffin; Níl, Deputies Cian O'Callaghan and Jennifer Whitmore.
Amendment declared carried.
Deputy Holly Cairns did not vote in this division due to an agreed pairing arrangement with Minister Helen McEntee for the duration of the Minister’s maternity leave.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.
The Dáil adjourned at 9.43 p.m. until 9.00 a.m. on Thursday, 30 September 2021.