Under pressure from Facebook, former minister Eric Wiebes (Economic Affairs and Climate, VVD) gave the American tech company priority last year for a connection to the high-voltage grid.
Facebook wants to build one of the largest data centers in Europe in the municipality of Zeewolde. If the ministry did not organize an exceptional position for the Americans with high-voltage grid operator Tennet, Facebook would “look for another investment place (another country in Europe)”.
Despite major objections from his own officials and secretary of state, Wiebes arranged the connection for Facebook. In doing so, all regular procedures for large users of electricity were set aside. That’s in documents released Friday morning by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy after an appeal to the Government Information (Public Access) Act (Wob).
The municipality of Zeewolde announced last week that it supported the plans for the construction of a mega data center of Meta (as Facebook has recently been called) on 166 hectares of agricultural land adjacent to the industrial area Trekkersveld. The responsible alderman Egge Jan de Jonge (CDA) previously said that “Zeewolde was going to play in the Champions League from scratch”.
Doubt among top officials
In an advice of 13 August 2020 to the then minister Wiebes, top officials from his department doubt whether it is desirable for the central government to participate in the establishment of “a gigantic data center” in Zeewolde where Facebook can share its data “from all over Europe (and beyond). )” to save. That is not in line with the ‘existing and intended policy that large hyperscale data centers should be located on the edges of the Netherlands’. In addition, “the economic added value is relatively limited” because few people work in data centers and because they are usually built by foreign contractors.
Another problem is that the Central Government Real Estate Agency, which owns half of the land where the data center is to be built, “has a sales freeze on agricultural land”. Also, the “controversy over data centers and their use of wind and solar energy could have a negative impact on public support for the construction of wind and solar parks,” warn top officials.
After all, ‘Hyperscales’ such as Facebook’s consume a lot of green energy, and the Netherlands is already nowhere near meeting the production targets for sustainable generation.
The preferential treatment for the American company also affects the capacity problems on the high-voltage grid. RTL recently reported that new schools and companies sometimes have to wait years for a connection.
The documents show that Tennet is not waiting for Facebook, which hid behind the code name ‘Tulip’ for a long time. “The cooperation between Tennet and Tulip is very difficult.”
On September 10, 2020, the department is still going, after advice from the state lawyer. Wiebes, who repeatedly stated in the media that he was “not about the establishment of data centres”, sends a letter to Tennet in which he writes that the importance of Facebook’s establishment in the Netherlands “justifies” that Tennet “deviates from its usual method”. Facebook is allowed to build a substation on the Trekkersveld itself, which Tennet will then acquire and manage “free of charge”. “I request that you make every effort to complete the construction of the substation and the Tulip connection as soon as possible,” Wiebes concludes in his letter.
Also read: Facebook vs Zeewolde – how local politicians should decide on a national issue
Wiebes’s letter has by no means resolved the unrest at the ministry. When Arjen Lubach dedicates a broadcast on October 11 to the absurdities of the construction of a mega data center by Microsoft in the northern part of North Holland, Wiebes receives another note from his officials full of objections. The plans for new large data centers such as Facebook’s are chafing with the ‘spatial government policy’. Data centers lead to ‘an extra CO2 reduction task’ and, as large energy consumers, also receive ‘a 90 percent discount on the network tariffs’. The reaction of the then State Secretary Mona Keijzer (CDA) to the plans of Facebook (“very strange”) is at odds with that of Wiebes, who promises “entire support”, provided the municipal council of Zeewolde and the provincial administrators in Flevoland are still enthusiastic. about facebook.
Wiebes also scribbles an objection with his pen. “The real problem with Tulip is that no strategy has been developed for the use of residual heat!”, he writes. However, he does not set strict requirements for the reuse of the warm air from the data center. The municipality of Zeewolde recently announced that it will take at least another five years before it becomes clear whether and how Facebook will use its residual heat.
In a memorandum at the beginning of 2021, Minister Bas van ‘t Wout (VVD), as Wiebes’ successor, will receive instructions on how to parry difficult parliamentary questions, for example about the use of space and the sale of agricultural land. Officials suggest that complicated discussions about data centers can be avoided by “deliberately not describing whether or not we want to facilitate new data centers.” The minister can also emphasize that ‘regional governments are responsible for spatial integration, and not the central government’. That passage should “provide enough guidance to channel the political discussion”, according to the memorandum.
Despite the direct involvement of former minister Wiebes, it is now formally up to the 19 councilors of Zeewolde to decide on Facebook’s billion-dollar investment. The council will vote on December 16.
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