In the Netherlands, the project to set up a huge Facebook datacenter is controversial

In the Netherlands, the announced installation of the largest data center in the country in the agricultural commune of Zeewolde, by the American company Meta, is reviving the debate on the locations of these giant infrastructures which consume a lot of energy.

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, probably had no idea that the project to set up a huge data center in the municipality of Zeewolde, in the Netherlands, would turn into a national affair. On December 17, 2021, the city council voted in favor of granting Meta a permit to use a large agricultural land, where the company planned to install Tractor Field 4, a gigantic data center. But on December 21, questioned by worried residents, the Dutch Senate blocked the procedure, putting the matter in the hands of the government.

For his part, Meta believes that the vote of the city council is a “Positive result”, even if it remains “Still a lot of work to be done before an investment decision can be considered”. In other words, the American giant is waiting to have all the necessary authorizations and permits before it is happy to be able to start the work. Meta promises to be a “Good neighbor” for the entire Zeewolde community, referring to job creation, investment in the local economy and the free supply of waste heat generated by the datacenter to heat homes or municipal facilities. These are all reasons why Egge Jan de Jonge, municipal councilor, considers that this data center will have “A positive impact on the whole region”.

Except that the residents of Zeewolde do not all agree. Thus, 5,000 of them have signed a petition opposing the project and a Facebook group (!) Is very active to protest against this establishment. Susan Schaap, 61, is one of the leading figures in this protest movement. She specifies that opponents do not all criticize the project for the same reasons, even if the same arguments often come up.

The equivalent of 1,300 Olympic basins of agricultural land

The first of these concerns the size of this future datacenter, announced as the largest in the Netherlands. Tractor Field 4 would cover 166 hectares, or the surface area of ​​more than 1,300 Olympic swimming pools. “It’s too big for such a small town” some say, while others worry about the destruction of good-yielding farmland, when more than 200 other data centers have already emerged in the country. For still others, it is the energy consumption of the infrastructure that is of concern. It is estimated at 1,380 GWh, ie double the consumption of the 22,000 inhabitants of the municipality. “It’s disproportionate. All this to host false information, cat videos, comments, likes and conspiracy theories ”, caricature of opponents cited by Wired.

If the Netherlands attracts the giants of the global Web so much, it is because Amsterdam is home to an important Internet exchange point and because, like the United Kingdom or Germany, the country has been able to put in place a policy attractive for the installation of these immense infrastructures on which European internet activity depends. This is why a player like Microsoft opened its first Dutch Hyperscale center in 2015. Today, the discussion on these locations is becoming political and is moving to the national level.

A debate that has become political

For Stijn Grove, managing director of the Dutch Data Center Association which brings together some of the web giants, the arguments raised by opponents are irrelevant. He recalls that if data centers consume energy, it is indirectly because people are spending time online and using the Internet more and more. “Politicians complain, but they also constantly use Facebook and Instagram to get their messages across (…) By complaining about data centers, you are basically complaining about email usage, internet usage, cloud usage. ” “If you really look at the power consumption of data centers in the Netherlands, it’s 0.32%, so it’s very little”, adds Stijn Grove, indicating that the actual energy consumption of such centers has not increased in ten years.

This is not the first time that the installation of data centers has entered the debate in the Netherlands. This was notably the case in 2017, when Microsoft’s infrastructure in Wieringermeer was accused of absorbing almost all of the green energy produced by a nearby wind farm of 82 wind turbines. At the time, it was noted that the Dutch only used 25 to 35% of the energy consumed by data centers located in the country. Microsoft recently launched construction of two new 50 and 16 hectare centers in Hollands Kroon.

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