Wind turbines seen from above Knocknalling
Digital boost for rural economy as multi-million datafarm approved
Sunday Herald 20 June 2010
By Colin Donald, Business Editor
Promoters of the nascent datafarm sector, a potential pillar of Scotland’s green economy of the future, are celebrating a “major breakthrough” this weekend, after Internet Villages International’s 240-acre site at Ecclefechan was given the green light by Dumfries and Galloway Council.
IVI, in partnership with US infrastructure giant APC by Schneider, claims to be pioneering a new kind of data storage facility that will draw from and stimulate Dumfriesshire’s plentiful renewable energy sources, and which employs what it claims is the UK’s first risk-reducing “build-as-you-go” occupancy model.
Approval for the scheme, whose backers are finalising a multi-million pound storage deal with one of Britain’s biggest companies, has been hailed by local and national development officials, as well as the IT industry. With hundreds of downstream jobs in a data “cluster” in prospect, it is seen as a landmark development for the hard-pressed rural economy of the south west. It will also raise Scotland’s global profile in the fast-moving world of data storage and “cloud computing” – the growing trend for remote storage of personal and corporate data as PC’s give way to hand-held and mobile devices.
The Ecclefechan site is strategically close to the M74 and the major north-south power and fibre optic connections. It is close enough to sources of biomass, wind, and energy from the proposed Solway tidal barrage to have realistic aims of being 100% renewables-powered. As well as independent power sources, the rural location also appeals to an increasingly security-fixated industry.
Tony Fitzpatrick, head of economic regeneration at Dumfries and Galloway Council, told the Sunday Herald: “Rural economies seldom get opportunities that offer the possibility of major structural breakthrough, so something like this that is in accordance with the local plan is exceptional. We are already strong in renewables and we now have a chance to connect these two sunrise industries. Rural isolation is normally a barrier to economic development and growth but here we have something where relative isolation is an asset.”
Fitzpatrick also claimed the establishment of data centre assets in Dumfriesshire, with its potential cross-fertilisation with the academic “cluster” at Crichton Campus in Dumfries, could have “economically and socially significant” consequences.
“We have a problem with the haemorrhaging of young talent from the area. [Cloud computing] could make the area a good bit more sexy, and make us better able to retain our ‘bright young things’ and to attract others. We want to create a digital age community, a plan which has kind of been on hold until this scheme received planning permission.”
Tony Day of APC Schneider has been actively promoting Crichton Campus as the site of a “data university”, the core of an industry-academic collaborative project.
Dr Michael Bonaventura of the Carbon Centre, Scotland’s leading centre for carbon-reduction science, called the IVI development “hugely exciting... the ICT industry, specifically around datacentres, will be a vital industry partner for us.”
Mike Shiel, head of electronic markets at SDI said: “We welcome the news that this [scheme] has been granted as it signals an important development in our ongoing work to create a large-scale, renewable-powered data centre industry in Scotland.”
Polly Purvis, director of ScotlandIS, the IT trade body said: “An announcement of this scale is fantastic news and is of course welcomed by ScotlandIS as this type of activity aligns itself well with the established, successful and growing Scottish datacentre market.”
“Current operators from IBM to IFB are already investing significantly in their sites in Scotland to ensure they can compete internationally with industry best practice on power usage, environmental standardised service delivery. We’re developing the ‘Naturally Cool’ brand to promote member capabilities and Scotland as a location which has a great many sustainable resources available, which are vital to a long term data-based economy.”
The M74 corridor also has a consented scheme at Peelhouses near Lockerbie, previously owned by IVI, now by Lockerbie Data Centres (LDC). The project is currently completing design proposals with building proposed to start in September 2010. LDC’s design work includes input from Shell UK which is preparing plans to divert off-site of the North West Ethylene Pipeline, considered a security risk by the industry.
Elsewhere Scotland also boasts a proliferation of smaller-scale, usually urban or suburban developments. These include IFB’s Tier 3 datacentre in Aberdeen, Onyx Group in Edinburgh, Lumison in Edinburgh, Amor the North East and Alchemy who have approval for a datacentre in Shetland. Gillespie Investments is also promoting a renewables-powered datacentre in Airdrie.
The green-lighting of a strategically important project on Scottish soil will increase pressure on the SNP-led government to lobby Westminster for changes in Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC), which penalises large energy users like datacentres, regardless of the source of their energy or their overall impact on carbon emissions. The legislation promoted by the previous government is seen as threatening to “strangle an industry at birth”. One expert said: “The government itself barely understands the implications of CRC, let alone the international players who have the rest of the world to chose from. If it survives people will only store data here if they have to be in the UK, whereas the name of the game is attracting global investment to Scotland.”