Apple’s Irish data centre delayed as appeals board raises questions

Ireland’s national planning appeals board has delayed a decision on a $950m data centre that Apple wants to build in rural Galway until the computer giant provides a lot more information on five key issues, including why it chose that specific site.

According to the planning application that Apple filed in April last year, the centre will occupy a 500-acre site near the small town of Athenry, and the main building will be a single-storey server farm with a floor area covering 24,500 square metres.

A decision was expected this month, but the appeals board, the An Bord Pleanála, has written to Arup, the consulting engineer for the scheme, seeking detailed answers to questions including what other sites Apple considered, how exactly the facility would be powered by renewable sources, and the data centre’s environmental impact.

Apple has until 7 March to respond or the planning body may dismiss the application.

Galway County Council granted planning permission for the data centre last September, but local residents and Athenry Golf Club appealed, Galway Bay FM reported.

The Irish data centre is one of two that Apple is planning to build in Europe. The other is to be located in Viborg, Denmark. The centres are designed to store European users’ data and to power Apple’s online services, such as its iTunes service, its App Store, iCloud, Siri and iMessage services.

According to news website IrishCentral, the letter dated 4 February called into question Apple’s choice of the site.

"The proposed development is located in an un-serviced rural area on lands outside of any settlement and which are not the subject of any specific development objective," it said. "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.

"The applicant is therefore requested to submit further information regarding the alternative sites considered and justification of the site size requirement used in the assessment of alternatives, comment on the specific alternative locations identified in the appeal submissions, and should be undertaken at a national scale."

An Bord Pleanála’s second issue is how Apple will make good on its promise to power the centre entirely from renewable energy.

The letter said: "No site or project-specific information regarding renewable energy projects is provided and details of how they might be connected to the proposed development is required."

The board also expects Apple to submit a further Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), taking into consideration the development of a substation or grid connection, which was not addressed in the first EIS.

The board’s fourth issue involves the lack of ecological surveys provided by Arup and Apple with the original submission, especially the lack of surveys carried out on bats in the area.

The fifth issue relates to the geological makeup of the site. The letter requested information on the depth of bedrock, the depth of the water table, the soil and subsoil classification and an assessment of their permeability.

Photograph: The town of Athenry, presently best known for its castle and churches (Andreas Borchert/Wikimedia Commons)

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