Construction mega data center Zeewolde has been postponed due to possible impact on nature

The environmental effects of the soon-to-be-built mega data center near Zeewolde are not sufficiently clear. This is the opinion of the EIA Committee after analyzing the environmental impact report of data center builder Polder Networks. The municipality therefore postpones decision-making.

In an advice to the municipality and the province, the EIA Committee writes that it cannot judge well enough the effects on the local nature of water and energy use by the data center. The submitted environmental impact report from the initiator of the data center lacks important information, making it impossible for the municipality and province to arrive at an informed opinion about the arrival of the data center. The EIA Commission conducts independent research into the content of environmental advisory reports for large construction projects. The municipality has accepted the advice and has moved the decision-making about the commitment to build the data center to October. First, the report must be supplemented.

In an advisory report, the committee ruled that the company Polder Networks bv does not describe sufficient options for the use of sustainable energy and the effects of the plan to use residual heat in the municipality of Zeewolde and Harderwijk. The plan has also not been elaborated sufficiently and there is, among other things, too little insight into the effects of using surface water for cooling on the local waters Hoge Vaart and Wolderwijd. The advisory report does not assess the environmental impact itself, but only the content of the environmental impact statement.

At Trekkersveld 4, a 166-hectare data center is to come from an as yet unconfirmed American party, possibly Facebook. Recently, the company Polder Networks bv, which serves as an intermediary for a data giant, has already bought 80 hectares of that 166 from the municipality.

Inadequate and too optimistic

The EIA Committee states that a number of matters are insufficiently described in the environmental impact statement that the company has drawn up and the additional investigations it has commissioned. In the first place, the company pays too little attention to the generation of sustainable energy on site. For example, it says it has the intention to use 100 percent sustainable energy from a new source, but it says it has no plans to place solar panels on its own property, for example. There would be too little space for solar panels on the roofs of the data center, or on the other ground. The committee questions this and states that 126 hectares of the 166 hectares of land remain unused, where solar panels could potentially be located. The data center will be located on the other 40 hectares.

The company has also insufficiently elaborated on how residual heat produced by the data center can be reused. There are plans to recover 105Gw of heat at two of the five server halls to be built and that this could be reused via a heat network to Zeewolde and Harderwijk, but according to the committee there are several snags to this plan. For example, transport to the cores of Zeewolde and Harderwijk leads to a loss of efficiency and there are technical challenges, such as deep drilling under the Veluwerandmeer. The committee therefore warns against too much optimism. The effects of the required pipelines and heat transfer stations are also not described in the environmental impact statement.

Impact on nature

Another important aspect, according to the committee, that has not been elaborated enough is the effect on the nature of building the data center. For example, according to the committee, the consequences of nitrogen emissions on nearby Natura 2000 areas are underestimated and the area where the data center is to be located may now be used as a nesting area for birds and must first be clearly investigated. It has also been insufficiently elaborated on how the construction of high-voltage pylons above the Hoge Vaart will affect birds and bats. This construction is necessary to connect the data center to the power grid.

But the main effect on nature is the use of surface water to cool the data center on days when the outside temperature is above 29.5 degrees Celsius. For example, there are plans to use water from the canal and the nearby Wolderwijd lake, and the used water will be discharged back into the waters. But too little account has been taken of the thickening of the water: part of it evaporates during cooling and you extract water from a canal, and more when it is warm and drier. This can have adverse effects on the water level.

It is also unclear what the consequences are for nature of discharging water with a different chemical composition. The water quality is within the established limit values, but this must be further investigated, according to the committee, because the two waters are an ecological connecting zone, on which many aquatic animals and plants depend.

The committee mentions a number of other problems such as air quality, noise pollution and the impact on traffic and infrastructure. According to the committee, all these points must be in order before the municipality and province can make a decision about the arrival of the data center. The former says in a press release that it has decided on the basis of the advisory report of the EIA Committee to decide on construction only in October, instead of 24 June, so that there is sufficient time to improve the environmental impact assessment.

Plans for the upcoming data center at Zeewolde. Polder Networks recently bought the green, purple and half of the blue part of the municipality. The rest hope to buy it soon. Image: Municipality of Zeewolde.

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