Wednesday, 29 September 2021
Data Centre Moratorium: Motion [Private Members]
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;— 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.
— 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
The Social Democrats are calling for a moratorium on the development of data centres in Ireland. We are calling for it because the sector has experienced unprecedented growth unlike anything Ireland has seen before. Instead of being confident and intentional about the growth and management of data centres and facilitating them to be part of our energy future in a sustainable way, the Government is blindly supporting the rapid expansion of the sector without placing any demands or responsibilities on them and allowing them to grow based on the shiny promise of the branding opportunities the Government believes this technology will bring.
Currently there are 70 data centres in operation, with eight under construction and between 25 and 30 in the planning stages. This sector is growing so quickly it is projected that more than 100 centres will be in operation by 2025, hosting Amazon, Microsoft and many others. This expansion does not come without a financial cost to the taxpayer. Much public money has been spent on data centre and large energy user infrastructure, totalling approximately €7 billion to date, with a further €7 billion expected in the next five years. The Engineering Academy of Ireland projects this cost could go up to €9 billion.
Data centres are water- and energy-hungry projects, requiring the same amount of energy as a large town or small city like Kilkenny. They use between 500,000 and 5 million litres of water a day. According to EirGrid, data centres are the largest demand driver out of all the demand-connected customer groups. This contrasts starkly with demand growth in other sectors outside the data centre industry, which have remained largely flat in recent years, and it has meant the rate at which data centres are seeking to grow is unprecedented in Ireland. It is reported that EirGrid’s latest generation capacity statement, to be released today, warns that the electricity system is being stretched beyond its capacity, due mainly to the increasing number of data centres, and that to maintain energy supply to these facilities it will be necessary to delay the retirement of oil- and coal-fired electricity generation plants. This goes completely against our climate ambitions. It is also predicted we will need to rent emergency power generation at a cost of hundreds of millions of euro.
The Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Ryan’s Government has been asleep at the wheel when it comes to management of data centres. In other countries, such as the Netherlands and Singapore, growth of data centres has caused so much concern that they have halted the issuance of building permits for them. A similar moratorium here would be good practice. A moratorium is needed until we are very clear about the implications of a dramatically expanding sector, until the security of our energy supply can be guaranteed and until people across Ireland can be certain they will not pay the economic and environmental costs associated with these energy-hungry projects of scale. However, the response from Government parties continues to be that data centres need to be protected at all costs, regardless of what the evidence and the experts are saying. In fact, the Tánaiste said data is like "gold" or "diamonds" and that the data centre industry is pivotal to growth strategies for economic and regional development in Ireland. However, let me be very clear that if this is done incorrectly, data centre depth development could also be our downfall. If our security of energy supply decreases, if prices rise for customers, if power outages become the norm and larger employers choose not to invest in this country, we could lose jobs as well as the race to reach our renewable energy targets by 2030, and all for the sake of the sacred data.
This is why it is very important we know what we are getting ourselves into. We must acknowledge how this will impact on the individual in Ireland. Is it about asking people to make sacrifices to reduce their own carbon footprints while data centre growth unravels all the hard work done in a blink of an eye? People are doing their best to tackle climate change in their own way. Where people can, they are buying electric vehicles and they are encouraged to do so. Others are retrofitting their homes or buying more sustainable products. As we ramp up our response to climate change our choices will get even harder and tougher, but more impactful. That said, people need to know the choices they are making are amounting to something, to some change that will benefit our atmosphere and our global fight against climate change. They need to know it is a fair and just transition to a zero-carbon economy.
We are now facing a perfect storm when it comes to our energy supply. Rocketing international prices for natural gas have seen wholesale prices jump by 250% already this year, meaning consumer bills will be up by as much as €500 this winter. Given Ireland is nowhere near meeting our target of generating 70% of our electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030, we are still highly vulnerable to these price shocks. We need to ask ourselves whether it is fair that ordinary people will pay the cost as Ireland struggles to reach its 2030 renewable energy goals because of rising energy demand from data centres? Is it fair that an imminent energy crisis is forming and people will be faced with higher energy prices and potential blackouts? Is it fair that fuel poverty is increasing and more and more people are choosing to self-disconnect to save on their own fuel costs? People are already asking why, in an energy crisis, our Government is still committed to data centres. They already know this current situation is not fair.
The Government says it has this under control but there has been little to no transparency on how the Government is managing and forecasting the development of this sector. To date, the Government has not carried out an environmental, economic and energy-demand impact analysis on the development of data centres. I have sent countless parliamentary questions to all the relevant Ministers and not one can tell me what analysis has been carried out to determine the impact these centres will have on our energy economy and our carbon footprint. It is also unclear the contribution data centres will make to job creation as even the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment does not collect this information. The Department estimates between 30 and 50 permanent jobs are created per centre. Thus we do not have a clear understanding as to why the Government is so insistent on the growth of this sector.
There is little to no transparency as to how this Government is managing data centre growth in Ireland and no single Department has taken ownership of the sector’s development or is collecting data about them. This is a sign of a self-regulating market and growth which is now unsustainable. Even the EU code of conduct for data centres is a voluntary measure which does not publish energy data of individual data centres. The only strategy we can work off is a 17-page 2018 document entitled Government Statement on the Role of Data Centres in Ireland's Enterprise Strategy. It is the closest thing the Government has to a policy platform.
At best, it is flimsy, short-sighted and overwhelmingly optimistic of the benefits of data centres, including job creation. A new one is required in the context of updated climate action legislation, our energy crisis and the unprecedented growth of the sector since this document was published.
Even amid the warnings from the Commissioner for the Regulation of Utilities of rolling blackouts if action is not taken to deal with the power demand from data centres, the Government does not seem too concerned. The Industrial Development Authority, IDA, 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, but this warning does not seem to be filtering into Government circles either. The Government made a commitment in the programme for Government to develop energy efficiency standards for equipment and processes, especially those set to grow rapidly, such as data centres, but we are still waiting for this. These are essential if we are sustainably to develop the data centre sector.
It is important the Government has time to develop policy to make sure data centres are as efficient as possible and can in fact contribute to our renewable energy targets by generating their own electricity, creating district heating and other innovative green energy solutions. Tomorrow, we have statements on the upcoming climate action plan. Ideally, we should be in a place knowing full well the role data centres will play in our energy demand and meeting our climate action targets, but we do not and so we will continue to fly blind on this course.
In the context of a climate crisis, post-Covid economy 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 being carried out on the development of them in Ireland. The Government has failed to do that to date. The Social Democrats are not opposed to data centres, but we want a pause in their development until the Government can tell us some pretty basic information. What are the implications of their continued growth? How can our energy infrastructure cope with the increased demand necessitated by data centres, and how can we reach our climate action targets, given the huge surge in energy demand?
For that reason, it is imperative a moratorium is put in place, as an interim measure, until an impact analysis has taken place, a proper whole-of-government strategy is established, and any energy and environmental concerns are addressed.
I appreciate that data centres and their impact might be abstract. They are out of sight and the industry and Government might hope that keeps them out of the public mind and out of this Chamber for debate, but it is an urgent issue and one that can illuminate where this Government stands on climate action and just transition and whether it stands in opposition to vested interests. It is an urgent conversation that needs to be had, and I thank my colleague, Deputy Whitmore, for her work in bringing this Private Members' motion forward.
When we talk about the digital economy, the cloud and big data, we are often not thinking of the physical world, and that is purposeful to keep it as abstract as possible, but what is not abstract is the feeling the Government is prioritising the needs of multinationals over everyday citizens. This is an all too familiar feeling. Data centres, though out of public view, are not invisible and they are not benign or neutral entities. They are unapologetically energy intensive creatures and the business model of the companies that record these data centres is based on people consuming more and more data, meaning the need for more and more data centres.
It would be remiss if I did not acknowledge just what data are being stored in these centres. It is our data and our information, what we google, our old Facebook posts, and what we decide to remove from our online shopping baskets before checkout - the millions of pieces of data we unknowingly give away but are highly valued and profiteered from. It is energy sapping on a human level. Many centres are dedicated to this and it seems wholly undemocratic that profit from data is being valued more than our citizens and our communities.
We have heard of the massive amounts of energy required by data centres to function. The Commission for Regulation of Utilities, CRU, believes it may not be possible for Ireland to meet the demands of such goals due to the exponential growth in the data centres and the lack of intervention from Government. There are more than 70 data centres in Ireland, with approximately 25% of all centres in Europe now based in Dublin. EirGrid warned earlier this year that data centres have the potential to take up to 70% of national power by 2030, based on the current connection requests.
Over the past four years, EirGrid has seen an annual increase in usage by data centres of approximately 600 GW, which is equivalent to the addition of 140,000 houses, and over the next ten years total electricity demand is to increase between 19% and 50%. This is just the energy requirements and ignores the massive amount of land and water also required by data centres to function. The cooling systems required for data centres to operate require between 500,000 and 5 million litres of water per day; 2.6 million litres per day are used in Athlone.
The allure and shine of the magic of large multinational companies such as Apple, Facebook and Google has gone without question, interrogation or analysis. Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke famously said "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic". It is a quote that often accompanies the latest tech product or new Apple release, but it is also the Government's policy here. How can we sustain the inevitable growth of data centres? What are the effects of this growth? How will the energy required by data centres be balanced against our climate action targets? These are the questions that require robust and detailed answers, and until we have these and the Government starts to see there is no magic here, we need this moratorium.
This week, it was announced that due to energy shortfall in meeting the demands for energy, Ireland will extend the use of older, high-emissions coal and oil electricity plants, which will have dire consequences for our climate action targets. We should not have to tell the Green Party this. Our Government is ignoring these data centres take and is willfully failing to interrogate the true cost of policy, despite the warnings and the current evidence. The IDA has cautioned that our energy supply crisis could result in reputational damage, because you can be sure that once it is evident our grid cannot cope with demand, people will be left in the dark - not the companies, but people. We have already heard about Intel potentially passing on Ireland due to the energy crisis. It will be people who are left in the dark when rolling blackouts hit because of the failure of this Government to act, and that is an all-too-familiar feeling.
This is a pro-people motion. We do not want the scenario in which lights cannot be turned on, kettles cannot be turned on, food cannot be cooked and people are left feeling cold. This is a pro-business motion. We cannot have a scenario, come Christmas or January, in which businesses are once again asked to close their doors because we do not have the energy to keep them open. When the blackouts happen, it will be once again felt that this Government and governments are on the side of big business as opposed to the people.
I thank my colleague, Deputy Whitmore, for the work she has done on this issue and for bringing forward this motion. Both my colleagues, Deputies Whitmore and Gannon, have already put forward a very strong case for this moratorium. It is with a sense of disbelief that we are bringing this forward and having to make these arguments to a Green Party Minister who should know well why the interests of climate change and the people demand a moratorium be put in place on data centres and is put in place now.
I want to focus on one aspect of the cost of the supine facilitation of data centres by the State and I want to talk about its impact on housing and retrofitting of our existing housing stock. As the Government and the Minister are well aware, we have a massive deficit in skilled construction workers, which will put us under huge pressure in building new homes and retrofitting our existing stock. Professor John FitzGerald recently issued a stark warning on this and said that, as a country, we will have to choose between building the new homes we need or retrofitting our existing stock. It is a very stark warning, and it does not come from nowhere. It comes from a situation in which we have massive neglect of apprenticeships for skilled workers in construction. We are at about 10% of apprenticeship levels compared with 2004 in key construction and wet trades. The Government projects we need 27,000 additional skilled construction workers just to meet our existing needs.
What has this got to do with data centres? Data centres are pulling skilled construction workers away from retrofitting our existing housing stock to meet our climate change targets and from building new homes. We need those skilled construction workers for those key tasks of retrofitting and building new homes. That is the choice the Government is making here. Let us be clear: the Government has chosen data centres. Think about what a data centre is. It is where you holds content from social media and websites, such as photos of buildings and homes. The Government is prioritising the electronic storage of photos of homes and buildings across the world over and above meeting our needs for skilled construction workers to build actual homes in Ireland and retrofit our existing stock to meet our climate change targets.
That is absurd. It is ludicrous. We should not have to tell a Green Party Minister about the Government's prioritisation. It makes no sense at all. Let us meet our housing needs first and the need to retrofit existing housing stock, and then we can look at data centres. We already have far more than our fair share of data centres in Ireland and it is not the case we need to do more in that regard.
I do not think the electorate will thank the Government for its prioritisation of this issue and for ignoring the big deficit we have, for example, in skilled construction workers. A 2019 study by the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland showed that the biggest obstacle to the construction output is skills shortages and that is before we expand the retrofitting programme that needs to be done. A 2020 survey of skills showed that 80% of surveyors reported an undersupply of skills across most construction trades and professions. That is before we increase the building of new homes or ramp up retrofitting. We must ask what the priority of the Government is. Is it to meet the needs in terms of our climate change targets, housing and retrofitting or is it to continue the supine facilitation of data centres for global corporations and putting those needs ahead of the needs we have as a people? That is not acceptable. It is not too late for the Government to change course, to accept our motion and to agree a moratorium and then to do the detailed analysis my colleague, Deputy Whitmore, has so strongly put forward and that needs to be done.
I move 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;further notes:
—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;—that management of the impact of electricity demand on the grid is more appropriately dealt with through regulatory measures in the electricity sector;affirms that:
—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—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."
I wish to share time with Deputy Fergus O'Dowd.
I thank Deputies for raising these important matters. Clearly, the current security of electricity supply situation, together with high international price increases in natural gas, are a matter of serious concern to all. The Government will continue to help vulnerable customers by providing extensive supports for household energy costs via energy efficiency and welfare schemes. I expect to see further progress in that regard in the budget next week.
Energy and climate policy is rapidly changing, driven by the urgent need to tackle climate change. In Ireland, this means rapidly decarbonising our electricity grid to act as the linchpin for emissions reductions in other sectors. Under our new climate legislative framework, all sectors of the economy will have sectoral emissions ceilings and data centres must be within these sectoral ceilings. It is clear to me that these digital industries also wish to transfer to zero-carbon power and I am confident that working collaboratively with them, we can enable this transition.
The expansion of data centres in Ireland, particularly in the Dublin region, is projected to lead to a large increase in electricity demand, which gives rise to challenges for the energy system. Data centres accounted for 11% of electricity in 2020, and this morning EirGrid published its latest generation capacity statement, which projects that demand from data centres could account for 25% of all electricity demand in Ireland by 2030.
We are facing real short-term challenges to electricity security of supply, primarily driven by unplanned technical failures on two of our largest gas plants, both of which are expected to be back online shortly. To suggest it is solely down to increased demand from data centres is not borne out by the facts. The increase in data centre demand was forecasted and is increasing in line with forecasts.
In the medium term, to back up the additional 11 GW of new renewable power supplies we will bring online, we must replace our ageing high-carbon power sources with a mixture of batteries and a flexible gas power plant that can help us transition to zero carbon while also using gases like hydrogen. This has been challenged by a failure to bring capacity through recent market auctions. The Commission for Regulation of Utilities, which has statutory responsibility in this area, has outlined its plan this morning on how to address this system adequacy issue.
I have moved an amendment to the motion, which acknowledges there is increasing electricity demand from large energy users, including data centres, and that a range of actions are being taken by the CRU and EirGrid in relation to security of electricity supply over the coming winter and years ahead. It is acknowledged that the growth in the needs of large energy users must be managed within the electricity system regulation and sectoral emissions ceilings. Increasing electricity demand from industry, from electrification of both heat and transport, will be defining features of our future energy system. Increased electricity demand will drive the need for more onshore wind, more offshore wind, and more solar power as well as storage and grid infrastructure. We also need large users to provide demand-side response and flexibility services.
EirGrid has undertaken a comprehensive assessment of the future needs of the power system as part of its comprehensive consultation, Shaping our Electricity Future. That analysis would suggest that where there is existing grid capacity in areas with high levels of renewables, the location of large energy users there, including data centres, can provide stability and help balance the grid. The simple equation here is bringing the demand closer to where renewables are located, thus reducing the need for additional electricity grid development.
The ICT sector and data centres are part of the digital and communications infrastructure for many sectors of the economy and act as a hook for further investment and job creation. The technology sector in Ireland is a major employer and is also playing a key role in driving digitalisation of the Irish economy, which is core to increasing productivity, competitiveness, and innovation. Data centres enable remote working, which cuts transport carbon emissions, as has been evident in recent months. It is also worth iterating there is no direct State subvention of data centres, as the Private Members' motion alleges. All large energy users pay for their infrastructure through network charges. There is no subvention of data centres from either the State or household electricity bills.
Calls for a moratorium on data centre connections would be a blunt policy response. We are better served to enable the transition to a zero-carbon electricity system through policy and regulation. A secure, low-carbon and flexible energy supply enables Ireland to use our comparative competitive advantage in offshore clean energy to locate clean digital industries close to the power and to provide employment and livelihoods for citizens.
Working with the relevant State agencies, the Government wants to ensure there is a plan-led, regionally balanced approach to such developments. An example is the recent announcement by Bord na Móna of the 200 MW energy park near Rhode, County Offaly. It combines 200 MW of clean power, hydrogen generation and utilisation, battery storage and flexibility from large demand users. This maximises the value to society and minimises the costs. This is the fundamental underpinning of the just transition whereby we create clean jobs from clean power.
Finally, and importantly, the amendment affirms Dáil Éireann's support for a number of measures that will help manage data centre development and strengthen the policy and regulatory framework. I will shortly bring a revised climate action plan to the Government, which will set out a suite of actions that will address rising energy demand while facilitating sustainable growth in the digital and ICT sectors.
The amendment affirms the Government's intention that the policy statement on the role of data centres in enterprise policy will be reviewed shortly. The wider policy and regulatory context has shifted since 2018 and we now need to ensure better alignment with electricity emissions reduction and security of supply challenges. Most important to my mind, the amendment also affirms that the independent regulator, the CRU, also intends to publish its data centre connection policy later next month. That is the key response.
I heard Deputy Whitmore on the radio this morning. She is correct that we need to plan. We have been doing exactly that. We have tasked EirGrid to come up with the Shaping our Electricity Future plan, which it will publish next month. We have worked with the CRU to get the new policy regulations on how we connect data centres. That too will be published next month. Far from ignoring this issue, it has been centre stage in our plans to manage our energy system. The CRU and EirGrid have been developing the plans in the past year and they will be published next month. That is the best policy approach.
I strongly oppose the motion. By its nature it wants to stop the clock and stop development in the country. I accept there is clearly an issue with energy supply in the future.
The research the Social Democrats allege they have done has been very poor and needs to be informed far more constructively. For over 30 years, technology successes in Ireland have made our country the destination of choice for leading technology companies. The IT sector accounts for €52 billion, which is 16% of the gross added value in our economy. Over 140,000 people are employed in the business. In data centres specifically, over 20,000 people are employed in different parts of the country. It is not just that but the contribution they make in taxes, exports, capital expenditure and so on. It is quite clear from the IDA document that they are a critical part of the infrastructure in our country and it states specifically that large data centre companies are fully committed to powering their data centres renewably.
If the Social Democrats did further analysis they might find that Amazon announced two renewable energy projects in 2019, in Donegal and Cork, and a third one in 2020. These three projects together will bring renewable energy to the Irish grid which would be the equivalent of powering 180,000 Irish homes. These three Amazon projects mean they will be using 100% renewable energy by 2025.
On the question of water use, there are old cars and new cars, gas-guzzlers and modern cars being produced every day. The same is true of data centres. The Deputies spoke about water use. Here is a figure they should have found out. I found it out because Amazon applied to build a data centre in our town. The Amazon data centre in Drogheda will use the equivalent of eight households per annum water use. There are huge differences between old technology and new technology and there are huge changes coming about. Companies like Amazon that have invested in Drogheda are also attracting other industry. We recently had new jobs for Drogheda. It is a very attractive location for inward investment as a global leader in the circular cloud and sustainable data centre infrastructure is now based in our town. One data centre is attracting new recyclable circular economy industries into our economy. The Deputies should take their heads out of the sand and look at the facts.
I did not interrupt you so please shout somewhere else. The point is we have to examine this issue fairly and objectively. The Deputies must talk facts not fiction. We must deal with the energy supply issue and-----
When people think about the main drivers of climate change they generally think of things like burning fossil fuels, deforestation and single-use plastics, but rarely do they think about or give adequate consideration to the role that data centres play, despite their environmental cost. This is partly because we have become so accustomed to the idea of the cloud where our data are said to exist. However, this metaphor fails to reflect the reality of brick-and-mortar data centres and their huge carbon footprint. Ireland has become a cheerleader for these digital factories with 70 operational data centres, 54 of which are in Dublin, making Dublin the largest data centre hub in Europe. This proliferation of data centres has occurred with seemingly little consideration for our climate targets or ill-equipped infrastructure, unless we consider a 17-page document entitled "Government Statement on the Role of Data Centres in Ireland's Enterprise Strategy" to be any kind of robust scrutiny or planning assessment.
We all accept that the colossal amount of digital information produced every day needs to be stored somewhere. That is why data centres have become a critical feature of modern life, but if we do not stop to assess the impact of data centres, blackouts and widespread fuel poverty could also become features of modern life. We are repeatedly fed assurances that data centres will be fully powered by renewables and future technological advances in time. However, the specific technology needed to achieve this and the timeline for market adoption remains unknown. In the meantime, we are expected to accept that data centres could amount to 70% of our energy consumption by 2030, if all proposed data centres are connected to the grid. This is an utterly untenable situation. Either the Government is burying its head in the sand or it has fallen for the industry's greenwashing of data centres. Given the State's overriding devotion to foreign capital, one would be forgiven for assuming it has put the interests of tech companies ahead of the public interest and the planet.
While I do not agree with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil's long-standing approach to foreign direct investment, FDI, whereby they have offered a scarcely equalled environment to avoid tax liabilities, it certainly aligns with their ideology. Low corporation tax, light-touch regulation and special tax arrangements are attractive to multinationals engaged in a race to the bottom. However, I fail to see how this Government's approach to data centres is consistent with its FDI policy. Regular power cuts would hardly complement any strategy to attract and retain multinationals. Even the IDA has conceded that the growing instability of our electricity network is "causing disquiet in the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) community". It is clear that continuing with no real strategy on data centres would not bolster our reputation as a favoured destination for FDI, a reputation the State is always at pains to protect. More important, it would show a complete disregard for Irish households, jeopardise our energy supply and inflame the single biggest threat to our country and our planet, that is, the climate crisis.
Even if we were to accept such a scenario, what would be the benefit? Is there anything to be gained from housing a disproportionate amount of the world's data? Are a relatively small number of jobs worth it? This moratorium would allow time to answer these questions and analyse the true impact of data centres. Without it, the burden of tackling the climate crisis will once again fall disproportionately on the shoulders of those least responsible for it. If this Government is really serious about climate action and a just transition, it must press pause on data centres now.
Last year, data centres took approximately 11% of the total electricity used in Ireland, and it is projected that they could account for over 30% of all demand by 2030. This is unbelievable. A sector which most people have only recently become aware of is using over one tenth of our electricity, and this is likely to rise to over one third in nine years. Does this industry employ a corresponding number of people to justify this massive power usage? Does it pay a similar amount in taxes to the State? Is it a sector that has been allowed to balloon, use a disproportionate amount of power and keep on growing? Where was the national discussion on this? Why has this industry, which has not been identified by the Government until recently as a priority, been given this powerful position? Listening to Fine Gael Deputies you would swear that we are asking for something outlandish but our motion today simply calls for a moratorium until a proper risk analysis of their economic, environmental and energy impact is carried out. This is a basic requirement for good governance and sound policy making. It is irresponsible of the Government to allow data centres to gain such a position without full and proper risk analysis, but it is absolutely reckless that this would now happen in the context of a climate crisis and warnings of winter power shortages.
We know data centres are resource-hungry projects, using the same amount of energy as a large town or a small city like Kilkenny, and consuming between 500,000 and 5 million litres of water a day. This is deeply worrying and deeply unfair. Data centres are being quietly promoted by Government Departments, with little understanding of their impact. We are facing the very real prospect of blackouts where families and communities will be without power. At the same time, there are known risks to water supply in many areas of the country, including towns in west Cork, due to insufficient infrastructure. On one hand, we have data centres consuming massive amounts of electricity and water, and, on the other, we have ordinary people at risk of power cuts and water shortages. This is a very revealing insight into Government priorities.
The 2018 Government statement on data centres in Ireland’s enterprise strategy notes that "data centres pose considerable challenges to the future planning and operation of Ireland’s power system" but is short on solutions to this major issue. It vaguely mentions that the Government can take steps to mitigate this and that data centres' desire for green electricity could stimulate supply and technology innovation in renewable energy. Against the very real risk to energy supply, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment offers hopes and possibilities but this is of little reassurance to worried SMEs and communities.
Reading over the Government statement and listening to Ministers' speeches at the opening of data centres, it seems clear that they have fully bought into the demands of large ICT companies. Data centres bring in foreign direct investment and create construction jobs, but at what cost? Deputy Cian O'Callaghan spoke about the cost in regard to the construction sector and housing. Is this sustainable in the long run? We do not know, and this is the issue. We are being asked to support this industry based on the assertions of large corporations. Where is the holistic analysis? Where are the environmental impact discussions? Where will the energy come from?
In response to a parliamentary question on data centre energy use, the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications informed me that the forthcoming climate action plan will set out the actions required to deliver on Ireland's emissions reduction targets, including in the electricity sector. However, it is reported that data centres made up 1.85% of our total carbon emissions last year. This industry is increasing our emissions. How can the Government reconcile this with the climate action plan? Each sector will have to do its part to reduce emissions but this will be made harder on households, farmers and small businesses if they have to counterbalance the increasing emissions from data centres. Our motion is asking the Government to assess properly the impact of this sector before even more resource-hungry centres are built. It only seeks that we make fully informed decisions, considering the economic, environmental and energy effects of these massive developments. The Government and the public should know what is involved before committing us to a course of action that could result in blackouts and make reaching our emissions targets harder than it already is. There is no valid argument against pausing to assess properly this industry, its role in our economy and the trade-offs we will have to make. I urge all Deputies to support the Social Democrats' motion.
I thank Deputy Whitmore and the Social Democrats for bringing forward this timely and necessary motion. What we have unfolding before us, particularly in recent months, is a picture of abject failure on behalf of successive Governments to prepare and manage energy and electricity policy, and supply and demand, adequately. Amber alerts are now a common feature, electricity outages are increasingly common and avoiding blackouts cannot be guaranteed. At the same time, this Government will bend over backwards to facilitate the entry of energy-sapping data centres into the market. As we now have about 70 of them, we think it is a good idea to get the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, CRU, to have a look at their impact – now, not before we started granting permissions.
It is not as if the Minister has not been warned. My party has for years warned about this high-wire act. In our Powering Ireland 2030 document, published in 2018, we pointed to the need to manage demand, to curtail the expansion of data centres and to take control. These warnings, and the warnings from EirGrid and the CRU, appear to be falling on deaf ears in Government Buildings, so I think it is right that the Dáil now calls for an emergency brake on the future development of data centres.
We appreciate the need for data centres. They provide a vital service that keeps many of the digital aspects of our lives running but it is clear the uncontrolled and ill-conceived Government policy, which has encouraged the rampant expansion of data centres here, is now threatening the electricity supply to Irish households and businesses, which is simply unacceptable.
The last Fine Gael Government set a target of making Ireland the data centre capital of the world, with absolutely no thought about the impact this would have on our carbon emissions or on electricity supply. The current Government has not changed approach. On the one hand, it rolls out the red carpet for data centres while, on the other, it postpones renewable electricity support scheme, RESS auctions, it dithers with the roll-out of offshore wind - just listen to Wind Energy Ireland - and it dithers with microgeneration, which is always just around the corner but still not here.
EirGrid and the CRU have warned that rolling blackouts are possible if action is not taken on the unprecedented growth of electricity demand from data centres. The Minister added to these concerns on the national airwaves this morning. Make no mistake about it: this crisis, and it is a crisis, is a direct result of incoherent Government policies pursued by Fine Gael in recent years and continued by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party.
In the last four years, data centre demand has grown by 2,400 GW hours, the equivalent of 560,000 homes. If allowed to continue, current and planned data centres could consume anywhere between 25% and 70% of peak electricity demand by 2030. This simply is not feasible or sustainable. It is reckless and dangerous. Based on the track record of the three Government parties, it risks the lights going out and widespread social unrest, not to mention the irreparable damage it will do to the climate and the climate movement. The growth of data centres is already jeopardising the State’s 2030 target of reducing emissions by 51%, a commitment that is less than three months old. Research carried out by The Business Postin conjunction with the MaREI Institute shows this. There has been a rapid expansion of data centres in recent years but the truth is we do not know at what cost or to what benefit. For example, we do not know how many jobs or what economic benefit they deliver. There are no concrete figures on the energy demand that current and planned data centres will consume, with figures ranging from 25% to 70% of peak demand by 2030. In terms of demand on water, the Oireachtas climate committee yesterday heard evidence that this can be anywhere between 500,000 litres and 5 million litres per day per data centre during a heatwave. That is a lot of houses, not eight houses in Drogheda.
In the meantime, we roll out the red carpet. Data centres benefit from our PSO, among other things. They do not pay their fair share. PSO is levied at peak demand but, of course, data centres have a gigantic but steady demand so they do better, while little old women in my constituency are forced to do their washing in the middle of the night to save a few cent. Then, there are the tax reliefs that this Government knows nothing about. Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party: it is almost like hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. Yesterday, my colleague, Deputy Doherty, highlighted that the Minister for Finance does not know the total value of tax reliefs that have been gifted to companies through capital allowances claimed against their data centre investment. The Minister for Finance does not know. It is literally unbelievable. From listening to the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, today, it sounds like he does not know either. At the root of this motion, in my opinion, is an absolute lack of confidence that this Government has this real energy challenge in hand or that it is in control. I share that concern. I look at the Government amendment, I hear the Minister on the national airwaves, I hear him speak this morning, and I am not inspired. In fact, it is the opposite. Deputy Ryan is the Minister responsible. This is the Government responsible, but it points to EirGrid and the CRU, stating that management of the impact of electricity demand on the grid is more appropriately dealt with through regulatory measures in the electricity sector. That is not good enough. Make no mistake about it: if the lights go out, the Minister and the Government will be the ones held accountable.
The threat now posed to the electricity system will not just have negative consequences for households and businesses; it will also have a massively damaging effect on Ireland’s international reputation. The prospect of the CRU’s final direction to EirGrid and ESB Networks, as the Minister points out in his amendment, is not enough. The truth is that it is an absolute indictment of the Government that we have ever got to this point, in 2021, in Ireland.
The Government would do well to heed the warnings and act without delay.
I commend the Social Democrats on bringing forward this important motion. Today we are the European capital of data centres. In reality, that is a badge of climate dishonour for this State. We are playing host to more than 70 of these centres, with many more under construction or at advanced stages of the planning process. The Taoiseach's recent comments were to the effect that we would look at escalating the planning of these new centres.
EirGrid first estimated these data centres would be using 29% of our energy by 2028 but less than a year later the estimation jumped to 31% by one year earlier in 2027. Clearly, reaching climate targets would be fanciful, meaning the cost to our society would be large and we would incur fines. We have already seen increases in our fossil fuel imports to offset the increased energy demand. The CRU has even suggested imposing a moratorium on them because of the risk of blackouts this winter. That seems like the sensible thing to do. Instead, what do we do? We give them capital allowances. In terms of how much tax is foregone, who knows? I asked the Minister for Finance how much tax is foregone in this regard last week and how much this is costing this State. The reply I got was that we do not have that figure. Revenue does not collect that figure. That badly needs to be rectified for environmental reasons and in the interests of transparency and fiscal prudence, to borrow the Government's favourite buzz term.
What I find most frustrating about all of this is how the Government continues to talk out of both sides of its mouth. At the start of August the Taoiseach lectured us on how climate change will have increasingly devastating consequences unless we address it. On that, he is right. Then two weeks later, what did he do? He told us he will streamline the planning application process for data centres. Again, he has been talking out of two sides of his mouth. Then, this month he thought he would lecture world leaders on climate change. His apparent lack of self-awareness is frightening. The Taoiseach may as well have been spraying aerosol cans while burning leaves in front of other world leaders because that is how ridiculous this was.
We need to take climate action seriously. We need to examine the issue of data centres. We have a sensible motion before us. We would not be the first state to do this. Let us do this. Let us back this motion and start taking the climate crisis seriously.
Both the Minister and his Government are sleepwalking our country into a catastrophe. In the past week we heard from Dr. Patrick Bresnihan of NUI Maynooth who warned that if all the proposed data centres go ahead, they will account for up to 70% of our grid capacity by the end of the decade. In the same week the Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, sounded like a spokesperson for big tech when he was quoted in the newspapers announcing plans to update our data centre policy, having been directed to do so by Google, Amazon and Microsoft. If it was not so farcical it would be so damaging to our country.
The Government is throwing our emissions targets out the window and handing our precious water and energy resources over to big tech companies and all under the eyes of the Minister present who has responsibility for climate change. What is the Government's response to this and the climate emergency generally? It is to slap a higher carbon tax on domestic users - normal people - and to turn a blind eye as energy costs skyrocket while we prepare for the possibility of blackouts this winter and water shortages down the line. It looks like it is not only developers who are writing housing policy for this Government. Big tech is writing our climate and energy policy too.
There are two data centres planned for the IDA Business and Technology Park in Drogheda. This is a business park that was supposed to provide 5,000 jobs for Drogheda. These two data centres will provide anywhere between 60 and 100 jobs, but they will use as much water as Kilkenny city and have one and a half times the energy use of Kilkenny. A third data centre is in the planning process for our town.
The Staleen water plant outside Drogheda is already struggling. We have had water shortages. The Minister will remember them. They were covered on the news every night. There are significant problems with water infrastructure in the Drogheda area. Irish Water representatives told me on site at the Staleen water plant several years ago that the capacity is not there. That was long before three data centres were in the planning process. The applications for these centres are not providing solutions for what will happen during periods of low rainfall or periods of hot weather when data centres need more water for cooling, and all of this at a time when water is already scarce.
It is completely reckless that the local authorities responsible for giving planning permission do not take account of any of this. I said earlier that the Tánaiste was out talking on behalf of the tech companies and changing our policy. Obviously, others seated behind the Minister are also in favour of that.
I thank the Social Democrats for bringing forward this motion. We do not seem to have a coherent strategy on the development of this industry and its impact on our current electricity and water infrastructure. It seems planning applications are made and decided at local level in local authorities. How are we planning to reduce the use of fossil fuels to generate electricity at a time when we will have 1 million extra electric cars, hundreds of data centres and an increase in population of more than 1 million people, as projected for the coming decades?
Seventy data centres have been built and at least 30 more have been planned, which will put immense pressure on the grid at a major cost to the taxpayer. We will spend €9 billion on the grid to allow Amazon, Microsoft and their peers to set up data centres. As has been said, Dr. Patrick Bresnihan of NUI Maynooth told the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment and Climate Action this week that while data centres currently represent 11% of the grid capacity, the energy used by those existing connections will rise to almost 30% of overall capacity by the end of this decade. This compares with the worldwide situation where only 2% of electricity is consumed by data centres. My constituency of Dublin West has seen a significant number of these data centres and a massive data centre is currently under construction just across the border in Clonee, County Meath. The Amazon data centre in Mulhuddart will use the same amount of electricity as Galway. That is astonishing. The people of Ireland are not stupid and can appreciate the problems that will arise with the vast number of data centres planned. They hear about rolling blackouts nearly every week which are covered in the media and discussed on radio and television.
Some 59% of people polled by RED C want data centre development to be controlled to reduce rolling electricity blackouts. They want a restriction of data centres to avoid these blackouts and help the country to achieve its climate targets. Does the Minister have the authority to demand these data centres would switch to auxiliary powers in the event that we have rolling blackouts and do not have the capacity to provide electricity for people in their homes?
We are having this discussion in the context of a broader discussion on fuel poverty. I heard one of the Minister's colleagues, a junior Minister, last night, on a show I do not often watch, advise people who cannot afford to heat or light their homes that they can access an exceptional needs payment. Heating your house is not an exceptional need. It should be a basic right. If that is the advice coming from the Government, we will do nothing to control the cost of energy. If people find themselves this winter in a situation where they cannot heat their homes, and they will, the best advice the Government is giving them is to apply for an exceptional needs payment. To say that is not good enough is an understatement. When people say the Minister and his Government are out of touch, this is what they mean. Heating your home should be a basic right, not an exceptional need. The Minister should have a word with those with whom he shares government because if that is the best advice they have, it is incredibly disappointing but not surprising.
I want to thank Deputies for bringing forward this motion today. We have a simple problem - there are too many data centres. They are a drain on our national energy grid and water infrastructure. The nature of the development and servicing of them is unsustainable. The companies to whom the data centres belong know they are a problem. They are on the offensive. They are out lobbying and advertising all over the place. They are telling us all about the benefits. One cannot listen to a podcast without being told about the benefits of data centres. That advertising and lobbying is working. It is getting to the Minister and Government. They are very aware of and are listening to this message.
The situation is unsustainable for energy and water. It cannot continue, yet the Government is quite happy to see that it does. Data centres are energy-hungry and resource-hungry projects. They require the same amount of energy as a large town. As has been alluded to already, Dr. Patrick Bresnihan from NUI Maynooth told us that in terms of environment and climate change while data centres currently represent 11% of energy use that will rise to 30%. The Minister and the Government seem prepared to do nothing about it. That is a shame.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Social Democrats' Private Members' motion. The issue of data centres has to be dealt with urgently. Yesterday, as has been said, Dr. Patrick Bresnihan of the geography department in NUI Maynooth, in my home town, was one of the experts who came to talk to us at the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action. He made a good impression. It was a serious and sobering exposé of where we are with regard to balancing the energy needs of an increasing number of data centres and the energy needs of those in the community, namely the people we serve.
We are trying to achieve this balance, but thankfully globally there is growing awareness of the existential crisis humans face on this planet. We are long past the point where it is reasonable to say that we should massively increase our energy from renewables and then we would have plenty of capacity for running data centres. To paraphrase the Government mantra, we cannot build renewable energy overnight.
This month alone, we have had two amber alerts and it is not even winter yet. Data centres will become a critical issue and I worry about the impact that will have on social cohesion as we face the climate crisis. People will be hit by carbon taxes and will pay more for fuel and energy, yet face shortages of that same fuel and energy while the Government lavishes finite resources on entities that arguably do little economically for communities beyond the building of them.
Social cohesion and a just transition are critical if we are to survive this looming climate crisis. How does the Minister think people will react if they are facing power outages in their homes and villages while data centres still have the lights on? I do not think it will be pretty. I do not think the Government needs a crystal ball to envisage the feet on the street and images that will make the water protests look like a walk in the park. I support the motion and commend Deputy Whitmore on putting it forward. We need a moratorium on data centres and an emergency break. The Minister has no idea how unsettling it feels to be asking a Green Party Minister to support a green-intentioned motion.
I am glad to speak for the Labour Party in support of this motion and commend Deputy Whitmore and her colleagues on bringing it forward. I am glad to have the opportunity to debate the important and pressing issue of data centres in a measured, thoughtful and rational way. The wording of the motion is careful. It simply calls for a pause on the development of data centres and sets out very clearly and persuasively the reasons for doing so.
When I took up the brief for the Labour Party on climate very recently and started looking into the question of data centres, what surprised me most was the absence of an updated national plan or Government strategy. To me this is particularly surprising given the projections of massively increased demand arising from data centres which others have spoken about. We have seen from EirGrid's analysis that demand from data centres could account for 27% of all demand in Ireland by 2029. Others have spoken about that. It is a staggering figure. Given that data centres' demand is predictable, and that we can project demand and demand is steady, it seems even more surprising that the most up-to-date Government statement on the role of data centres is from June 2018. We need a clarity of approach from government at a national level as to how the demand for energy from data centres will be managed.
Having listened carefully to what the proposers of the motion have said, I note they have not said they are not opposed to data centres. That is a sensible point. That ship has sailed. We are all utterly reliant on data centres and global connectivity. We all accept how crucial the tech sector is for Ireland. In Dublin Bay South, my constituency and that of the Minister, we are all very conscious of the enormous contribution the tech sector has made. Taking a measured and rational approach, I would agree with the Minister that we need a plan-led regionally balanced approach. Policy and regulation are required to enable the transition to a zero carbon electricity system.
What is currently lacking from the Government, both in the speech from the Minister and the Government's amendment to the motion, is clarity and a sense of how the growth of data centres is to be managed over the short and medium term. In his speech the Minister mentioned the publication of plans in the next month, but in the meantime we do not know what the position is. The wording of the Government's amendment states that it will set out "a suite of actions" and that the Government's statement on the role of data centres will ensure an "alignment with electricity emission reductions". We need to know how this is to be managed now.
The motion calls for a pause in further development as an interim measure until the sort of crucial assessments that we need into the environmental, economic and energy impacts have been carried out. That sort of risk analysis seems a sensible and measured approach.
There are two reasons that we need to support the motion and that the Labour Party will be voting for it. First, the motion recognises the demand on energy and, as we have said, the projected increased demand in energy demand as a result of the development of data centres. Second, the motion recognises the climate emergency within which we are all struggling with these issues.
In terms of the demand on energy, others have pointed out that there are 70 operational data centres in Ireland. Most are concentrated around Dublin. It is the largest data centre hub in Europe. That is not something to be dismayed about because if they are not here they will be elsewhere. The climate emergency is a global one. We have to bear that in mind when we are speaking about data centres. As the Minister said, many multinationals have stated their commitment to transition to zero carbon power and carbon emission neutrality.
That is all welcome, but we know, given what EirGrid has said today, that even where the energy that fuels data centres comes from predominantly renewable sources, as we hope it will, the demand still adds pressure to the grid. We are still reliant on non-renewable sources of energy, and demand becomes unsustainable without clear policy interventions and clear and urgent action being taken by the Government. The absence of an indication from the Government as to what that intervention will be is what the motion speaks to.
It is also important to note that, as I said, demand from data centres will be steady. We can project what it will be, but that is all the more reason to have a coherent national strategy in place. It is not just about energy and energy demand; it is also about the demand on our water supply. We know that most data centres use a huge amount of water to cool their servers.
In terms of the climate emergency, all present are very conscious of the fact that we are at a crucial juncture in the international movement to fight climate change. We are conscious of the IPCC report published last month. Tomorrow the Dáil will debate the upcoming climate action plan in anticipation of the COP26 conference in Glasgow at the end of October. There is a huge mobilisation of young people, in particular, many of whom were outside Leinster House last Friday.
Many are anxious to see us take urgent action to address climate change. It is because of this and the Government's commitments that commit us to reducing our emissions and reach a 51% target by 2030 with a net zero-carbon emissions target for 2050 and to reaching 70% renewable electricity by 2030, that we know this is simply not compatible with the projected increased demand in data centres unless there is a radical and urgent intervention by the Government and a clear and coherent plan as to how this demand is going to be met while aligning us with those ambitious but vital targets on climate emissions reduction.
To conclude, this motion simply calls for a pause. It is an essential interim measure to ensure that we meet climate targets and develop a sustainable policy on the location of data centres. It is crucial that we do this. We owe it to future generations, and to our young people who are out protesting every week, to do this. We are lacking currently from Government a clear strategy as to how this will be managed into the future. That is why the Labour Party is proud to support the motion.
I would like to quote Moody's Investor Service from two years ago where they commented on the prospect of energy prices rising in Ireland:
The key driver behind this rising demand is the huge electricity appetite of the country’s data centres, estimated to rise to 29% of total demand by 2028, coupled with the ongoing closure of coal, peat and gas plants, which are pressuring reserve margins and could push prices higher.
Here we are with energy prices going through the roof. The international context is also driving this, but Moody's predictions are coming to pass. The consequence will be fuel poverty for many people in this country. A Green Party Minister is presiding over keeping fossil fuel driven electricity generation open to fuel data centres. He is also presiding over the prospect of blackouts in order for the data centres to continue to operate and expand while ordinary people are hit with higher electricity prices that many will be unable to afford.
I will given Members a picture of a data centre because sometimes people cannot picture what a data centre is if they do not live beside one like I do. In a way what is happening is proves the point made in the leaked mitigation strategy report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, which states that the growth model of capitalism is incompatible with avoiding climate catastrophe. We are talking about the supposedly green sectors of capitalism, including Facebook, Google, Apple, etc. The truth is what exists, supposedly, in the cloud has a massive physical footprint. There is massive water usage of between 500,000 and 5 million litres of water a day and massive electricity usage.
Just around the corner from me in what used to be the Jacob's biscuit factory, which employed approximately 1,000 people, there is a behemoth of an Amazon data centre, which probably employs between 30 and 50 people because that is the truth of what data centres employ in general. What is all the activity that is going on that uses the water and electricity? They like to give people the impression that all this is the stuff that makes life better but a large part of it is not. We do not know the exact figure because it is all supposedly commercially sensitive but a significant volume of energy is spent on advertising and, in particular, on algorithms to target people with advertising and create wants that did not exist previously. These do not add to people's quality of life. They do not contribute to a good life for ordinary people. Instead, they are part of a system of surveillance capitalism.
We have to ban data centres. I welcome the motion tabled by the Social Democrats. It would be good to have a moratorium. What has been hinted at is that it would be more sustainable to locate data centres outside Dublin and in the west or midlands. That would not work. Professor Barry McMullin has made the fundamental point that expanding energy usage, which is what data centres will do, at a time we do not have 100% renewable energy is similar to trying to go down an upward moving escalator. We have 11% usage currently that will rise to 30% and we have significant water usage and so on. It is incompatible with the Green Party's climate targets, and with the Government's own climate targets, inadequate as they are, to continue with further data centres. We have to shout "Stop" and, therefore, we have to pass our Bill to ban future fossil fuel infrastructure and future data centres.
Let us talk about Moneypoint. The Minister of State's party leader told RTÉ this morning that using oil and coal power stations for longer than expected will not jeopardise Ireland's emissions reduction targets. Greta Thunberg had establishment politicians precisely like his leader in mind when she talked yesterday about how they open their mouths and go, "Blah, blah, blah."
If Tarbert and Moneypoint power stations are not closed by the agreed dates, the climate movement might usefully have a debate about trying to do so by way of a direct action people power campaign. Such a move would put the Minister of State and his Green Party colleagues in a difficult position. Either back down and shut down fossil fuel power generation, as the climate movement demands, or stay in government as his party's leader last did while the cops move in to crack the heads of climate campaigners standing up for a just cause the way that they did at Rossport the last time the Green Party was in government holding the Ministry. Only this time it will be a far more difficult sell-out for the Green Party. The issues will be coming to a head precisely as the clock ticks down to 2030, and this time with the eyes of a generation of young people upon them. No doubt, the Minister of State will say that the alternative is power cuts, but I do not agree. Data centres use up between 2% to 3% of electricity output worldwide. In Ireland, the equivalent figure is 11% and this could treble before the end of the decade. Uncontrolled development of data centres is incompatible with our climate goals. As has been mentioned, it is like trying to run up the down escalator. Placing carbon limits on data centres is not the answer. That will only lead to data centres switching to green energy and eating up a hugely disproportionate volume of our much-needed green energy supplies. I urge the Minister of State to act like his house is on fire. It is time for action and not for more "Blah, blah, blah".
As well as the potentially disastrous consequences for CO2 emissions and water usage of constructing further data centres, it is important that ordinary people who may not know much about what data centres are and what value they give, which is little in terms of employment. As Deputy Murphy explained, much of what they do is highly questionable in respect of their contribution to the betterment of society. People also need to understand that there is a connection between the significant energy price hikes that they have experienced over the past year and data centres. Energy prices are going up and people’s bills are increasing because there is a major surge in demand for energy globally, with data centres in this country and throughout the world contributing significantly to that surge. People need to understand that this issue is, in the first instance, about the climate emergency and the damage such centres do to our environment, but it is also hitting people in their pockets as we speak with hikes of between 20% and 40% in their energy bills. People in this country have been subject two, three or four energy price hikes, amounting to hundreds of euro annually.
As well as saying we should stop the construction of data centres, we should insist that carbon tax increases be set aside in the next budget. Any increase on top of those price hikes for ordinary people would be grossly unjust. Carbon tax increases are aggressive and unfair. They should be set aside and energy price caps should be imposed to stop the hikes, which are robbing ordinary people because of issues that are not their fault.
I am sharing time with Deputy Canney, but I am not sure if he is present.
People are quite shocked at the approach of the Green Party on this. I have a lot of time for many of the Green Party activists who are elected representatives. I believe that many of them have approached their time in Dáil Éireann with the best of objectives and sincere values in trying to fix the climate crisis in the State. I am stunned, however, at the level of capture that I have seen among Green Party Members in this Dáil. Many people voted for the party first and foremost because they believed they were going to be an ethical watchdog in government with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Obviously, that has not happened. We have seen the number of scandals that have occurred during the Government's term while the Green Party has stood idly by on that. Many people figured that the Green Party was taking a strategic view and giving a blank cheque to typical Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael behaviour because they were so focused on the green agenda and on making sure that their agenda is achieved. How come we then see the Green Party get captured with regard to what is happening around data centres at the same time? It is really hard to understand how on one level they can renege on their objective of being a watchdog in respect of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael wrongdoings, and, on the other, sell out so quickly on their core objectives of achieving CO2 reduction and climate policy that will fix the environment on this planet.
Instead of seeing the green flag being flown by the party at the moment, the white flag has been raised on many issues so far in government. The landscape the Green Party is in charge of at the moment is turning into a landscape of chaos. Energy security is the first responsibility of any government. Being able to keep the lights on is the first responsibility of every government. There is no better way to unite all sectors of society in anger against the Government than introducing energy instability. It affects everybody. It affects people in being able to just put the kettle on or to make a bottle for their child, it affects businesses ability to function, and it affects hospitals and other services that we depend to be delivered. Yet, the energy situation in the State is now in chaos. It is entering a period of significant instability. It will be a fatal blow to the credibility of the Government if it does not ensure energy stability in this country.
I was shocked to listen to the interview of the Minister of State's leader on "Morning Ireland" earlier. I heard him make an argument for the extension of the lifespan of the coal-fired station in Moneypoint and the oil-fired power station in Tarbert. I asked myself the question: was this argument any different from the argument that would have been made by Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael in previous years? These two parties have covered themselves in green wash and have stood in every green photo opportunity but have never delivered on anything over the past ten years. I asked myself if the leader of the Green Party was delivering a message in any different way from how those two political parties have delivered. The answer is very clearly "No".
The idea that the greens are making an argument currently for a entire sector to be given free rein in the delivery of increased output of CO2 is incredible. Other countries have decided to put a cap on it and if those sectors want to increase in size in the future, they have to do so on the basis of sustainable energy alone. Other countries have the cart the right way around with regard to the horse, but unfortunately the Green Party in Ireland has not. I cannot understand why the Green Party wants to undermine the entire green project for the sake of data centres. Many people are learning that the mobile phone is now becoming a weapon of environmental destruction in many ways. It is important for environmentalists to start to reappraise the use we make of mobile phones and of data in this country. I cannot understand why the Green Party is putting all of its political capital in data centres. It significantly undermines our message to the rest of society. Data centres are not employment rich; in fact they are employment poor. They have a low impact on the improvement of society, income levels, and general business within society. It undermines the Green Party's message to everybody else in society. How can the Minister of State and his party tell working-class families to take the burden of a carbon tax in the future when the party is giving a free rein to data centres in the State? How can they tell farmers to reduce the size of the national herd, reduce their ability to make a living in this country, and radically alter the business model they operate? How can the Green Party ask farmers to accept the low wages they are experiencing at the moment and accept that thousands of them will leave the agricultural sector on an annual basis, while at the same time giving free rein to data centres? It radically reduces the party's ability to be taken seriously when it is selling its other messages to other sectors of society.
I will talk about water now. Many of these data centres are located on the east coast. Due to climate change the east coast is has far less water at the moment. In my county of Meath for example, Enfield was without water for 17 days in August. In a first world country in the 21st century, for the majority of the days in the month of August people were turning on the taps with no water coming out. I know of 100 people living in the centre of Meath whose wells are running dry at the moment. That may be because of the new extraction involved at Tara mines, but all of these watercourses are linked to each other. The River Boyne is lower than it ever has been because of the pressure that water is under. Yet, the Government is proceeding with an industry that is extremely harsh on water in an area that is already in big trouble.
I will point to the other elements of the Green Party's impact so far in Government. Ireland is, I believe, the only country in Europe at the moment where no solar farm is plugged into the national grid. Ireland is the only country in Europe where there is no feed-in tariff yet for microgeneration. The North has been festooned with solar panels for nearly a decade, which are on top of homes. Energy is generated by families, plugged into the electricity grid, and they get some money in return. We are still not in the position where there is an auction in this country for microgeneration using a feed-in tariff. The Green Party is not delivering. The party has raised the white flag and is ceding ground to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael on its core values, and that needs to change.
I thank the Social Democrats for bringing forward the motion at a very opportune time when we are threatened with outages and exorbitant costs for electricity, energy and fuel such as diesel, petrol and heating oil because of carbon tax and the many other charges that people are not prepared for. Electricity costs are up 19%. Has the Minister of State ever heard the phrase "You cannot get blood out of a turnip"? People will not be able to pay for electricity or energy to keep themselves warm this winter.
The Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, will be aware that two weeks ago his party colleague, the Minister, Deputy Ryan, said there was no problem with energy supply. He came out yesterday to say that we will be in trouble for the next four or five years and that we may have outages. This does not inspire confidence in him, the leader of the Green Party, or in the Government.
Everything is supposed to be electric, such as electric cars, but we have no charging points and we do not even have enough electricity. The Government reinstated Moneypoint workers to whom they had given redundancy. The Government has been caught with its trousers down because it did not realise we would run out of electricity when it closed Bord na Móna and closed Moneypoint.
I am asking the Government to bring back the workers to Bord na Móna to ensure the people of this country do not have to suffer power outages. Many people do not know what a data centre is, but if the lights go out in this country, the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, and the Government will know what they are.
I support the motion, which is welcome. Data centres are popping up all over the place. There are 17 of them in this country, which places a significant demand on energy supply. Most of them are in Dublin. The huge demand on energy concerns me. Does it mean we will face further amber alerts or are we drifting towards blackouts, as has been stated for some time now by the Minister, Deputy Ryan? Regarding climate action to date, the focus of the Green Party has been on rural Ireland, with families paying massive carbon tax, penalties on fuel, including at petrol stations, increases in electricity costs and home heating oil and so much more. Families are suffering and businesses in west Cork are telling me that they are running into serious problems and cannot afford to keep going.
We were promised in this House by politicians who were in favour of the carbon tax and climate action that it would not affect the national herd. We now know different. Several farmers from west Cork who have 75 cows on their farms see no other way out but to reduce their herd to 50 cows. That will result in an astonishing drop in income for them. It is also an astonishing attack on Irish agriculture. At the same time, there are data centres all over Dublin sucking up energy beyond belief but there is concern about that. If there is ground to be made up in this country, it appears it is to be made up in rural Ireland. I have put forward solutions to the Minister, Deputy Ryan, in regard to the energy crisis. There is potential to have a floating LNG terminal, which would bring so many benefits for this country, but he has rejected it. With the Green Party in government we have data centres all over Dublin creating energy instability in our country while in this House, the party, along with Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and a few nod and wink politicians, supports the destruction of rural Ireland, with the culling of cattle and fuel and energy bills rising out of control all affecting rural people and families.
If all the data centres proposed for Ireland are to be connected, they will use as much as 70% of Ireland's electricity capacity by 2030. Dublin has developed into a major data hub, but at what cost to our electricity supply? Ireland wants to reduce its emissions by slowing down energy use. Data centres put massive pressure on an existing system that is broken. Why is the Green Party in government turning a blind eye to this issue while farming groups are being pressurised to reduce the national herd by 50%? Household electricity costs have gone through the roof. The running costs for SMEs have also gone through the roof. The system is under pressure. There is much talk about a move to electric vehicles. We do not have the energy supply to support it.
The planning system was changed several years ago to allow for strategic infrastructure for data centres. What does Government expect people to do? Every action being taken by Government is costing rural areas the most. Carbon emissions is a big issue in rural Ireland because of the lack of infrastructure. Electricity costs are going through the roof because we have no other way of doing things. The Green Party is a city-based party. All of its Deputies are from the city. They know nothing; they are spoiled rotten. The Green Party thinks all it needs to do is throw some fairy dust up into the air and everything will be perfect. The leader of the Green Party and its elected members are away with the fairies. They need to wake up and look at what they are doing outside of Dublin. The are punishing rural Ireland. Rural Ireland will punish them at the next election. God help them all when they come to the doors.
The Minister, Deputy Ryan, has done an Elvis Presley and left the building, which was the wrong thing to do. He should have remained here and listened to what Deputies have to say on this issue. It was he who on one of the few times he left Dublin, went to Kildare to announce the closure of Bord na Móna, one of his proudest moments. It was a shameful moment, one that he, the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, and all in the other parties and none who supported that decision will regret for a long time. One of the aims of the programme for Government 2016 was an LNG project for the Shannon Estuary. In the infinite wisdom of Government, we now do not need an LNG project. Of course, we do. I accept that it should not use fracked gas, but there are other ways of having LNG in this country. We need surety of supply for energy. We should not be here today saying we do not want any more data centres here because they are using up our energy; we should be discussing how we can bring about surety of supply. The response from Government is a proposal to increase the number of generators, which are to be operated on diesel or gas. That is a very inefficient way of dealing with the situation. It has also mentioned purchasing energy form the UK and France, which will be nuclear energy. That is not a smart move. We should focus our efforts on surety of supply. It is important to make the point that not only the Government parties, but Sinn Féin, the Labour Party and others are in a race to the bottom regarding the need to protect the climate and the future and not the here and now. I am worried about the elderly people who this winter and next might not have energy in their homes.
This debate is about data centres. I remind the Government that older people require heat and electricity to cook their breakfast and dinner. Many of them have no alternative to electricity because the chimneys in their houses are closed off. The Government parties need to watch what they are doing because it will come back to bite them in the bottoms, as it is doing so already.
Gabhaim buíochas leis na Social Democrats as ucht an rún seo a chur os comhair na Dála. I thank Deputy Whitmore and her colleagues for bringing forth this motion. As far back as 2019, I tabled a question on this issue having read the Government's statement on the role of data centres in Ireland's enterprise strategy. I welcome the opportunity to talk about it today even though I have only four minutes in which to do so.
I have never been as frightened. Deputy O'Dowd is a lovely man, but taking his speech, the Minister's speech and this policy, I am frightened. I am fearful that they either have no idea what they are talking about or they are completely and utterly in the hands of the developers who are leading the data centres, as confirmed by EirGrid in its report. I say that reluctantly. To accuse the Social Democrats, who I am not here to defend, of stopping the clock is sick in a sense when, in reality, the clock will be stopped by climate change. We declared an emergency when the children of this country stood on the streets in May 2019, which was less than a year after this Government's statement on the role of data centres in enterprise. In case there is any doubt, Government was delighted to set out that the State's ambition was to be the digital economy hotspot in Europe. We will be a hotspot all right. I can tell you that.
The Government is amending the planning processes such that buildings over a certain size will become strategic. There are not enough thumbs on the Government's hands to endorse this strategy. Before that, we had the policy and study of the benefits. Perhaps the Deputy I mentioned earlier got some of his facts from this. Had he looked at both documents and done a word search manually, as I did, he might have noted that climate change is not mentioned, except in regard to the Department. Climate change does not feature, water does not feature, unsustainability does not feature nor does the fact that the data centres are being utterly led by the developers.
I read a good article earlier this year, which I have mislaid, about the feathery - I have difficulty with the word "ethereal" - view of data centres and the cloud as if they are up in the sky when they are very much down on the ground. I do not think people - I do not like the phrase "ordinary people" - know, as I did not know until I read this policy, what these centres are about, notwithstanding what happened with the proposed site in Athenry, County Galway. As outlined by the Social Democrats, we have 70 centres in being and 30 more in the process. What is the magical figure, where do we stop, when do we begin to question and where is the bigger debate on the need for all of this data?
As for accusing us or anybody here of wanting to stop, I want a thriving Galway city, I want foreign direct investment and I also want indigenous industry, but I want an analysis of how we will have that and still meet our climate objectives. We cannot do that with the speech we got today or the contribution from the backbencher because it is utter denial. We have learnt nothing except we are in hock to the big boys and, indeed, the big girls who are here.
I have only 18 seconds left. I hope I get a chance later in the week. There are many facts I would like to go into, particularly that it is being led by the developers and that the CRU, when it appeared before the committee in July, thought it was okay to continue on as is. The CRU would seem to have changed its mind now. I will stick to the time.
I thank the Social Democrats for tabling this motion. Like most Members in the House, I would agree with each and every one of the concerns its Members have expressed in the motion about data centres, the amount of energy they use, the cost of that energy, the water that is used and the sustainability of it all.
Notwithstanding that, I am quite ambivalent about the motion because I am not, I have to say, convinced by their response. I listened to Deputy Catherine Murphy yesterday talk about what good employers Intel were in Kildare and they are. Of course, they use huge amounts of energy etc. We in Ireland want Facebook, Google and Twitter headquartered here. We want all of these corporations headquartered here generating employment, generating wealth and raising the standard of living throughout the country, but they have one thing in common. Every chip that Intel makes goes into a computer and ultimately the user of that computer is storing data somewhere. Likewise, Facebook is storing vast amounts of data somewhere. Google is using vast amounts of data somewhere. Is it okay for us if the data that is being generated through companies based in Ireland are stored elsewhere? Is the problem that the data are being stored in Ireland or is it the vast amounts of data that are increasingly being used and stored? I have a major concern about the amount of data. I share the Social Democrats' concern about that, unless we tackle it. We are in a position, as a country.
In saying I am ambivalent about the Social Democrats' motion, I am completely underwhelmed by the Government's response. I accept the Government acknowledges the problem but we need to do something about it. What are we going to do? Are these data okay if they are stored in America instead of Ireland? We, at least, have a temperate climate here. My understanding is data centres have to be at a certain temperature throughout the year. If they are in a climate like that in America, it will cost a great deal more to heat them in the winter and to cool them in the summer. I looked at the top ten locations for data centres in the world. They include China, Russia, Japan, Australia and America. The Netherlands and the UK are there too, but the rest of them are not temperate climates. Is it okay we use even more energy across the world storing those data once they are not in Ireland? I am not convinced that is the response. The response has to be a reduction. The problem is not a data centre in Ireland. The problem is the use of data by everybody in Ireland and everybody in the world who are customers of companies based in Ireland regardless of where those data centres are.
Doing nothing is not the solution. I am not suggesting it is and that we do nothing. We have to face up to the problem at an Irish level and at an international level. Is it to be taxed? Are people to be curtailed in the amount of data they use? We can complain about the use of anything, for example, companies that make plastic, but we all use so much plastic. We will have to change how people behave. That is a very difficult thing to do. It is a lot more difficult than introducing a moratorium. I am not saying we should do nothing because what we can do is so insignificant but shifting where the data are stored to somewhere else is not the answer - shifting where that plastic is produced to somewhere else is not the answer - as long as Irish consumers and consumers right across the world continue to use these data and those data are stored somewhere, using vast amounts of energy and perhaps more energy in other places than it does here.
I thank the Social Democrats for raising this very important issue. I regret that I cannot support the motion and I am not in any way impressed by the Government's response.
I thought Deputy McNamara's was among a number of really thoughtful contributions this morning. Sitting in the Chair is always a good place to be to listen to the debate.
It is a necessary discussion but I am disappointed. That is why I liked the contributions of Deputies Bacik, McNamara and others. I found some of the other contributions incredibly one-sided - this rush to be on the side of the virtuous here. Yet someone is eating, to use the terms we use about data, or consuming a great deal of data. It is a generational issue. Your Spotify, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and TiKTok are all data. I am not loading this on a particular generation but if those data were not being used, there would not be a reason to store them. Equally, the provision of data centres has saved multiple indigenous Irish companies, including semi-State companies and, I imagine, commercial companies, a huge amount of money in terms of research and development because these companies now manage their data. They themselves do not have to manage their data. They give it to these companies to manage, thereby saving institutions in this country hundreds upon hundreds of millions of euro. Imagine if each financial institution, technological institution or tech company had to manage its own data and continually upgrade its systems to ensure those data were secure. Instead, you have a corporate provider - we may not agree with it - who does all that and guarantees it and takes responsibility for it. That is data. If we are to have a cycle and want it to be a virtuous cycle, the target cannot always be those who manage the data, store them and secure them, including memories such as photographic memories. All those photographs we take every day on our iPhones, all those selfies around Leinster House and all those videos we publish on social media are up in the cloud.
I know a bit about the cloud because part of it is in Tallaght. Deputy Paul Murphy also made a considered contribution, and he talked about the Amazon Web Services, AWS, site in Tallaght. The Deputy correctly mentioned the old Jacob's factory - the Irish Biscuits factory - which was a great employer in Tallaght. It closed, and that site lay dormant for many years despite different attempts to get companies to move into it. AWS moved in. What the Deputy forgot to mention was, and this is what we need to bear in mind too, it is not only the investment. There are hundreds of people employed in the construction of that site, in securing the site and in landscaping the site. Then there is the commercial rate the local authority gets. When I was a councillor on South Dublin County Council, there were approximately 15 companies that paid 85% of the commercial rates, and if you were to remove any of them from South Dublin County Council, it would impact the services provided to each and every citizen of the county. I am not being an advocate, because I recognise we need to have a conversation, but let us not say we are the bad guys and they are the good guys because they all use data and I use data.
Then I thought of the funniest ones of all. I am sure there must be a significant carbon footprint in that data centre that is housing all Sinn Féin's electoral data, although it is not in Ireland.
It is in Germany so at least our electricity grid is being spared that burden. The whole talk today is that data centres are bad and everybody who is against them is good. Data are essentially with us. They are like the air we breathe. The amount of data has grown and it is time for a conversation, but that conversation should not be framed around pitching those who favour and see the value of the enterprise side of it, and all the good and positive things data centres bring, against those who do not.
I want to talk about AWS because it is the only instance I know of in my constituency. Many of the contributions here said there is very little economic, labour and employment benefit. Obviously, we all know about the corporation tax that is paid. That is the headline figure but there is also the commercial rate. Commercial rates are the lifeblood of every county in this country. Councils could not move, exist, function and do all the things they do, from libraries to roads to environmental issues to parks, without the significant contribution, and rightly so, the commercial rates bring them.
Figures from the IDA Ireland and the company show that close to 9,000 sustainable jobs were created as a result of AWS's investment in Tallaght. There is great synergy going on between AWS and South Dublin County Council in terms of the district heating scheme. We talk about water and I am very conscious of the amount of water. Do we know if data centres must use clean water? To the best of my knowledge, AWS has been investigating the use of brown water to cool data centres. The CEOs of these companies will be sacked if they do not achieve their carbon footprint goals.
One of the final things I will mention is the employment spin-off, which has not been discussed. By the time it is finished in Ireland, all these data centres hope to use and rely on renewable energy and actually give back the grid, which is what AWS is doing with the district heating system that is proposed with South Dublin County Council.
To conclude, and I thank the Acting Chairman for his forbearance, this has to be a balanced debate. There are no good guys and bad guys here. Everybody in this Chamber uses huge amounts of data. We also have a responsibility, as was mentioned by a speaker yesterday, to look at how we can limit our use of data and then perhaps we would not need as many data centres. Let us have a balanced debate on it, however.
I thank the Deputy. Before calling on the Social Democrats to reply, I must advise Members that we have to try to work to 12 o'clock. It is not mine or the Members' fault; it is just one of those things.I call Deputy Catherine Murphy.
Four days before the previous general election, the current Minister with responsibility for energy went public about wind energy development and the significant development that was needed before data centres were built. I refer to the following article that appeared on Extra.ie:
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has said he will push for massive offshore wind power capacity to be developed before any more data centres are built if his party re-enters government after the general election.
Speaking to Extra.ie, Mr Ryan said that the next government needs to be sure that data centres 'don't interfere with meeting climate targets', with the government committed to supplying 70% or around 10,000 megawatts (MW) of energy from renewable sources by 2030.
'Ireland has everything to gain from this type of energy and data centres fit into that but they have to fit into it, we can't build the data centres first and then try and tap into the offshore energy, I think we need to get the offshore energy built and that then deals with a lot of the sustainability concerns that people have'.
Indeed, that addresses the point made by Deputy McNamara regarding where they should they be located. They should be located where we have renewable energy to power them. I believe that is the point the Minister, Deputy Ryan, was making last year. Four days later, after that article published, we had a generation election and the Green Party was very successful in winning 12 seats. I believe there was an expectation this would make a sizeable difference in terms of focusing the Government.
Essentially, this is a central issue in terms of power supply. How can the Government possibly argue for people to go out and buy electric cars and then power them by Moneypoint? It is argument the Green Party was making last year. I do not know who wrote the speech the Minister gave, but to be perfectly honest with the Minister of State, it must be an embarrassment. The noticeable absence of Green Party Deputies in the Dáil this morning says it all.
I will finish on one point because I am going to allow my colleague, Deputy Whitmore, to wrap up. We are not looking for something that has not been done elsewhere. Singapore has recently become the first country to introduce a moratorium on data centres. It is taking what we believe is the very sensible approach of only lifting the moratorium when renewable energy capacity has been increased and data storage technologies, which would reduce the energy burden, have been developed. The Government might also wish to know that Singapore is the fifth largest recipient of foreign direct investment, FDI.
We are seeing at the moment that IDA Ireland, which was an advocate for data centres, is now making the argument that are our problem with energy and secure energy supply is actually an impediment and could cause us reputational damage. We must get to grips with assessing what is needed. We do not do planning in this country but we have to do it with regard to this because what is happening is unsustainable.
In his speech earlier, the Minister, Deputy Ryan, made quite an astounding admission. When talking about the challenges of the electricity and the security of supply, he said, "The increase in data centre demand was forecasted and is increasing in line with forecasts." I thought the Government had taken its eye off the ball with this and fallen asleep at the wheel when it came to managing data centre increases. It seems this was actually quite a conscious decision, however. The Government consciously allowed data centres to increase to the point where we are facing blackouts. It consciously allowed data centre energy requirements to increase to the point where energy prices will skyrocket and we will have to have oil and coal-fired electricity, which was meant to be shut down and which will have to be continued. That a Green Party Minister consciously allowed that to happen is astounding. I could not believe it when I heard the Minister say it.
The Government made a decision to allow our energy supply to be stretched to the point of breakage. That is exactly what EirGrid said, that it was primarily from the data centres. The Government consciously allowed that to happen. For the Minister to call our moratorium a blunt instrument is frankly ridiculous. It is not a blunt instrument; it is the only responsible thing this Government can do at this point.
It is estimated that if all the data centre applications are granted, that will result in 70% of our electricity being used by data centres by 2030. There has to be a pause on it until the Government gets its house in order and figures out exactly what it means and how it can condition these data centres to make them sustainable and energy and water efficient to make them part of the data and energy solution in the country.
The Minister met last week with the Fridays for Future group, which talked about how it wants a fossil-free future, a liveable city and a just society, which I believe are things we would all like to see. It wants urgent and immediate action. Instead of the Minister taking urgent and immediate action today and putting a pause on data centres, he is going to allow them to continue to grow. Does the Minister think it is quite disingenuous that he said this to those students last week while getting his photo opportunities and is now refusing take the tangible actions they want him to take when he has the opportunity?
The Government has the opportunity to make a change now. It has the opportunity to put communities, investment, jobs and the environment ahead of a specific industry. I really hope it takes that opportunity.