Tech giants log on for Irish wind power


June 29, 2015

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Nine of the world’s ten largest software firms are now present in the Republic of Ireland.

The nation was one of those in Europe hit hardest by the economic crash of 2008, which led to a devastating property bust and harsh public sector cuts nationwide. But the country has continued to attract US tech firms keen to open a European headquarters. They have been attracted by the fact Ireland is English-speaking, that it is in the Eurozone, and that it has a favourable tax regime.

Think of a well-known website and it probably has a significant operation in the country. Amazon, Dropbox, eBay, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, PayPal and Twitter have regional headquarters buildings in and around Dublin, while Apple operates in Cork.

This is relevant because this cluster of strong technology firms is also providing much-needed corporate backing for wind.

The likes of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft have all signed significant wind power purchase agreements around the world over the last year, and Ireland is getting in on the action too.

Earlier this month, Facebook submitted an application to build a €200m data centre in Clonee in County Meath, which it is looking to power using locally-sourced wind energy.

This follows Apple’s announcement in February that it is planning a 1.2m sq ft data centre in Galway powered by renewable energy, along with one in Denmark.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is seeking consent for another data centre at Grange Castle Business Park in Clondalkin in west Dublin, while Google is also reportedly planning further data centres. Both firms have previously done deals to power data centres with wind energy.

The Irish Wind Energy Association has said there would be ‘several hundred megawatts’ of wind farms needed to support this growth in the number of big data centres in Ireland. This is an important addition for the wind market in the Republic of Ireland, which has capacity of 2.3GW in 191 wind farms, as of February, and capacity of 222MW completed last year.

But such deals rely on there being enough wind power available. Irish leaders are currently looking at measures that would restrict where developers can site new wind developments.

For instance, the Irish environment minister is preparing new planning guidance that would specify that no turbine could be erected within 700metres of a house, up from 500metres now; and there would also be a height-to-distance mechanism that means that the taller a turbine is, the further it has to be located from homes. This would cut the number of places in Ireland that could accommodate wind farms, and would particularly hit larger projects.

This may help placate people who object to the spread of onshore wind, but it also makes it tougher for developers to build new wind farms; and the knock-on effect of that is it makes it more difficult for tech firms to find the power they want for new data centres.

The Irish government is not alone in looking to introduce tougher rules for onshore wind farms, of course. But it must be careful not to hinder investment in large tech projects.

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