Facebook’s data center plans to worry residents in the Netherlands

Facebook's data center plans to worry residents in the Netherlands

Robin Utrecht | Abaca Press | Alamy

When Susan Schaap, 61, travels from her Dutch hometown of Zeewolde to the nearest town of Leylystad, the 30-minute ride takes her through vast fields of tulips, interrupted only by wind turbines and sometimes sheep. But if the plans of Facebook’s parent company, Meta, are approved, its point of view would be replaced by the largest data center in the Netherlands.

Meta’s data center is “too big for a small town like Zeewolde,” says Schaap, who has become one of the project’s strongest opponents. “There are already 200 data centers in the Netherlands,” she says, and this move would give large tracts of farmland to a single company, “which is not fair”.

Like Schaap, other residents of Zeewolde are outraged that Meta has chosen their city for its first gigantic data center in the Netherlands. They claim the company will be allowed to siphon off a large percentage of the country’s renewable energy supply to fuel pornography, conspiracy theories and likes on Meta’s social platforms.

Their stance reflects a broader shift against Big Tech’s plans to flow to the Netherlands, one of the three key hubs for data centers in Europe alongside the UK and Germany, transforming the issue in a national debate ahead of local elections later this year.

Amsterdam is home to a major Internet exchange, which distributes traffic to nearby data centers, and it has attracted tech giants looking for better connectivity and fiber to set up giant “hyperscale” data centers for process their own data nearby.

Microsoft built the first hyperscale in the Netherlands in 2015. Since then, two more have been built, and that number is expected to increase, according to the trade group the Dutch Association of Data Centers. But Meta’s plan for the Zeewolde site, says Tractor Field 4, is by far the largest to date. It would cover 166 hectares, or the equivalent of more than 1,300 Olympic swimming pools, and devour 1,380 gigawatt hours of energy per year, or at least double the town’s 22,000 inhabitants. use in the same period.

The fate of Tractor Field 4 sparked protests and prompted 5,000 people to sign a petition. Schaap has set up a formal organization, Sichting DataTruc, to give more weight to the voice of the inhabitants with the council. Different groups have different concerns, but each insists that they are not opposed to data centers per se. “We’re not opposed to data centers at all,” says Caroline de Roos of biodiversity group Land von Ons. “What we are opposed to is the use of this really great beautiful farmland for the data center or any industry. It is a waste of cultivated land. For Schaap, size is the issue. “It’s disproportionate,” she said. “Seventy percent of those surveyed [in a recent survey] are against a hyperscale like this, because it’s too big, it demands too much of our electricity, it demands too much of our water.

The argument from the residents of Zeewolde that the data center will take away from the community without giving much back is exacerbated by what they know of Meta’s social media empire. At the top of the Facebook page created by Schaap to oppose the plans, is a sketch by cartoonist Ronald Oudman, showing five buildings towering over the flat Dutch countryside. Each has a label that says “PORNO, FAKE NEWS, SILLY CHATS, LIKES AND COMMENTS and CONSPIRACY THEORIES”. “It has nothing to do with medical applications for hospitals or banking applications, it is not for any purpose but for fun,” says Schaap. “We don’t gain much from all of this. [Meta] talks about community programs and social feedback. But that’s just a big joke, because it’s gonna be peanuts compared to what we’re giving them. “

A spokesperson for Meta declined to comment on concerns about the kind of data it would process in the Netherlands, but said the company wanted to be a “good neighbor to everyone in the region” and that she planned to partner with the local community. if the data center goes ahead. Zeewolde’s advice said on its website that Meta is committed to investing in the local economy and making the waste heat generated by the data center free.

Despite local opposition, the city council and alderman (a local decision-maker) remained in favor. “We believe that the data center will have a positive impact on the region,” city councilor Egge Jan de Jonge told the regional newspaper. The Stentor in December.

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