Opening water-guzzling datacenter in empty and dry Spain

by Lorraine Williamson

TALAVERA DE LA REINA – The government of Castilla-La Mancha has given the green light for the construction of a “hyper” datacenter of Meta (formerly Facebook) in a dry part of the province of Toledo. It will consume about 600 million litres of drinking water per year. 

That consumption is based on an installed electrical capacity of 248 MW, according to the project’s technical report, viewed by El País. Moreover, according to environmental experts, high water consumption is putting pressure on the water resources of the Tagus River. 

The region is already experiencing water shortages. Furthermore, the Hydrographic Confederation of the Tagus is in a pre-alert situation according to the Ministry of Ecological Transition. But, the Junta has nevertheless presented the plan with enthusiasm and sees the project mainly as “a before and after” for the region. 

Precise consumption is withheld 

The use of more than 600 million litres per year exceeds the average consumption of hyperscale datacenters. They use about 25 million litres per year. The Talavera complex will work with untreated wastewater, up to 4,800 million litres. According to El País, the company Meta – formerly Facebook – withholds precise data about how much water the plant will use. This is also not in the official documentation of the project. 

Special status to speed up procedures 

The datacentre plans are currently subject to environmental impact assessment processes. The competent authorities will evaluate the feasibility of the project concerning water needs and resource availability. Consequently, to speed up procedures, the project has been given the status of Project of Special Interest (PSI). 

Financial injection and jobs 

The infrastructure, as announced, will inject approximately €1 billion into the region and will employ 250 highly qualified workers. Furthermore, the works are expected to start at the end of 2023 and will take between six and seven years. 

Hydrological Confederation is concerned 

Ultimately, the Hydrological Confederation of the Tagus River will confirm the availability of the requested resources for the datacenter. The predicted energy consumption will be 248 MW per year and 400 hectares of solar panels are needed to be self-sufficient. The confederation is concerned about the impact of the project on water resources in the area. 

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Daily consumption of 4,181 people 

The project covers 180 hectares. Talavera de la Reina has 83,009 inhabitants, according to the INE (2018), and the daily consumption per person is 131 litres. The datacenter would use as much as 4,181 people each day. 

National scandal in the Netherlands 

Ana Valdivia, professor at the Oxford Internet Institute, talks about the national scandal that broke out in the Netherlands about a Microsoft complex. That claimed to consume 20 million litres per year. It was later discovered that it was actually 80 million. 

Following Valdivia, the consumption of the Meta datacenter in Talavera de la Reina will be much higher. The case in the Netherlands she refers to was discovered in 2021, when the country was experiencing drought. The Dutch authorities subsequently imposed a nine-month moratorium on the development of ‘hyper datacenters’ until more detailed environmental feasibility studies are completed. 

Lack of transparency 

The researcher has been able to determine that there is almost complete opacity about the consumption of resources in datacenters. Both the EU and the US are working on regulations that require the publication of this data. They also want to tighten up the sustainability requirements that must be met. 

“Your cloud dries up my river” 

Aurora Gómez understands why it was decided to settle in Talavera de la Reina. “They went looking for an unpopulated area with high unemployment.” The promise of employment and investment in such regions, she says, reduces the usual resistance to projects with high environmental costs. Gómez is one of the initiators of Tu Nube Seca Mi Río (your cloud dries up my river) to raise awareness about the environmental and social impact of datacenters. 

Protected area 

In addition, the area where the datacenter will be built is only one kilometre from the Sierra de San Vicente and Valles del Tiétar and the special protected natural area of Alberche. According to Tu Nube Seca Mi Río, that will have an impact on the birds that live there, including the imperial eagle and the griffon vulture, both protected and endangered. 

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