The Social Democrats have called for a moratorium on new data centres in Ireland, in order to assess what impact they are having on the national grid.
The party will introduce a motion to that effect in Dáil Éireann this week, arguing that the country’s electricity system is being stretched beyond capacity.
Wicklow TD Jennifer Whitmore told Newstalk: "At the moment, the Government really has no understanding of the impacts that the data centres, their energy use, their water use, are really having on the country. And they’re not managing it properly.
“So the Social Democrats are calling for a moratorium on data centres. Just to give the Government time to actually conduct a risk analysis of what it means for our country. How many data centres are too many?”
Demand for data surged during the pandemic and in May 2021 represented 11% of Ireland’s power consumption and it is set to continue rising.
EirGrid has forecast that a medium case scenario would see data centres using 29% of the country’s electricity by 2028.
Muireann Lynch, Senior Research Officer with the Economic and Social Research Institute, said such a change would be “significant” for the sector.
“The question is, ‘how many of them [data centres] will actually be built?’
“A lot of data centre applications go in that don’t actually happen. But even on conservative projections, it’s going to be huge amounts… Are we going to be able to cope with it? It’s not impossible but it’s going to be incredibly challenging.”
Environmentalists have also raised concerns - Green Party MEP Ciarán Cuffe objected to a proposed new centre in Clare.
While admitting that data centres are a necessity in the modern world, he warned against accepting every new application.
“It’s right and proper that Ireland has data centres but I think we have to carefully assess this planning application… against Ireland’s, and indeed the European Union’s, commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“I think there is a danger that if we simply embrace every single data centre that wants to set up in Ireland, we will have a limited carbon budget for agriculture or for transport.”
While former energy minister Pat Rabbitte said the IDA should be explaining to the public where we stand on electricity supply.
He told Newstalk Breakfast: "The fact that some gas-fired plants are out of commission, the closure of peat plants, the veracious appetite of big data centres for energy, the demand on the economy now that is growing.
"All of these things have put severe pressure - I wouldn't say we're on a knife edge, but we certainly are stretched.
"It is a very delicate situation, so that I think we have to be very careful."
But he says people deserve an explanation.
"It seems to me that the IDA ought to be heard on this: if you take big data centres, for example, the energy demand is larger than a very big Irish town.
"A single data centre has a bigger energy requirement than a major Irish town.
"I think the IDA should - I'm surprised they haven't entered the debate - they should give us an assessment of the pros and cons.
"They may be doing that to Government, but I think the public would deserve to hear them".