Data centers in the Netherlands: A shifting landscape?
In the Netherlands the landscape for data center developments and operations is shifting. There’s increasing discussion regarding the development of new data centers in the country. This is because of the impact of the booming data center market in the Netherlands and the effect it’s had on the landscape and energy infrastructure. The Dutch government has announced and will impose new stricter rules for (hyperscale) data centers in the Netherlands. Although, it seems that the discussion regarding data centers in the Netherlands has lost some of its nuance, it’s clear the approach towards data centers has changed and that – to be successful – developments of (hyperscale) data centers should consider sustainability and planning aspects. To deal with these new challenges, a good understanding of these aspects is key in making the right investment and development decisions. This article will provide an overview of the current Dutch data center policies and legislation at national, regional and local levels.
National development of new data center policy/regulations
National Strategy on Planning (NOVI)
This NOVI is broadly based on the Spatial Strategy Data Centers 2030 (Ruimtelijke Strategie Data centers).1 The policy decision aims to ensure that, for the digitalization of the economy, in cooperation with other governments, network operators and the business community, the national government will focus on the rollout of new networks and selective growth of data centers. On this basis, data centers may be located where (cumulatively):
- the energy demand can be met sustainably via current or future energy networks;
- the supply of residual heat to the district heating; and
- they meet the market requirements for digital connectivity.
The government's commitment is to facilitate co-location in the Amsterdam metropolitan area2 for data centers that have hyperconnectivity as a key business requirement. For these co-located data centers, regional explorations of developments towards Almere and South Holland are the logical next steps. Hyperscale data centers can be established in locations where there is a large supply of (renewable) electricity, where connection to the electricity grid can be offered and where space is less scarce.3 Preference is given to locations on the coast, such as at the existing sites in Eemshaven and Middenmeer.
In line with the earlier Spatial Strategy for Data Centers, the government will explore with local and regional authorities how to further implement the selective growth of data centers to better manage and regulate their impact on space and energy supply (electricity and heat), in a way that fits in with the ambitions for digitization. Interaction with the plans of the other authorities is necessary for this.
Nationwide interim decision 2022
Besides the policy objectives mentioned above, a nationwide interim decision on preventing (more) hyperscale data centers was adopted on February 16, 2022. To achieve this, instruction rules will be included in the Physical Planning (General Rules) Decree (Barro).4 The interim decision applies to the entire country, with the exception of the municipalities of Hollands Kroon and Het Hogeland. The duration of the interim decision is limited to nine months, to enable the government to adopt a new (draft) zoning plan to actually start regulating hyperscale data centers. The interim decision specifically focuses on preventing new hyperscale data centers from being established in locations that may not fit into the new policy, at least, during the period required to draft the new policy/the instruction rules and to allow them to take effect. According to the decree, a hyperscale data center is defined as:
"A computing centre or data centre where support is provided for data traffic or data storage, the size of which exceeds 10 hectares and the electrical power is 70 megawatts or more; or a collection of structures with this function that operate jointly as a single entity."
In addition to space and energy use, a characteristic of hyperscale data centers is that they are single-tenant. This means that they are owned, controlled or managed by one party, company or organization, and that the data center is used by that party for its own internal or external services. A hyperscale data center may consist of multiple, smaller data centers at the same location that form a single entity in ownership, control or management and use. These data centers also qualify as hyperscale data centers.
The consequence of this interim decision is that building applications for hyperscale data centers must be postponed and cannot be granted (moratorium).
Regional development of new data center policy/regulations
Data center Strategy 2022-2024 Noord Holland
As a regional government, the province of Noord Holland (North Holland) was the first (and so far only) region to draw up its own data center strategy for the establishment of data centers. The strategy was adopted by the Provincial Council on 31 January 2022, to better balance the growth of the digital economy and the development of the landscape. The provincial data center strategy applies to new data centers with an area of more than 2,000 m2 and an electricity connection of at least 5 MVA.
According to the strategy, new data centers can only be established in the industrial areas of Amsterdam, Haarlemmermeer and Hollands Kroon. In addition, the municipalities where data centers can be established must make agreements with the province on how the data centers will fit into the landscape and on the consumption of energy, water and the use of residual heat. They will make additional agreements with the data center sector regarding sustainability performance. This strategy document still needs to be translated into formal (legal) instruments and provincial legislation.
Local Policies and Regulations
Policy Haarlemmermeer 2020
Following publication of Haarlemmermeer’s current local policy, the city only allows for moderate growth and concentration of data centers until 2030 with 550 megavolt amperes (in addition to some data centers for which environmental permit applications have already been submitted).5 No additional space for data centers is available in Haarlemmermeer after 2030 (except for some specific locations).These conditions relate to the spatial quality and landscape integration, energy use and sustainability of the data centers.
The policy has been implemented in two steps. The first step is the umbrella zoning plan6 in which a number of aspects of the data center policy are regulated (paraplubestemmingsplan). This sets out the first group of important spatial elements for new data centers or the expansion of existing data centers. Under these conditions, it will still be possible to build a new data center in the coming years if the spatial plan already allows and additional landscaping and sustainability criteria are met. The definition of a data center in the umbrella zoning plan is “an enterprise whose primary purpose is the digital storage and processing of information on computers (servers).”7 However, this definition seems more applicable to the customer of a data center, who places their servers there, than the owner/operator of a data center who only provides power, connectivity, cooling and security. There is no minimum capacity to which the umbrella zoning plan applies. This is different for the Amsterdam and North Holland data center policies, which apply specifically from 5 MVA upwards.
The second step to implement the policy is to fully secure Haarlemmermeer’s data center policy in a few years’ time, by designating a number of specific areas where data centers will still be allowed. For the remainder, new data centers will then no longer be allowed. In the designated areas, the growth of data centers can be better controlled.
Policy Amsterdam 2020
Unlike Haarlemmermeer, Amsterdam did not implement a hard planning regime specifically for data centers through, for example, an umbrella zoning plan. However, on 17 December 2020 the municipality of Amsterdam did adopt a new policy: "Amsterdam Duurzaam Digitaal, Vestigingsbeleid data centres gemeente Amsterdam 2020-2030." This policy is not only aimed at maximizing growth, but also at making data centers more sustainable. The points of the Amsterdam policy are:
- focus on energy saving (Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) of < 1.2) and a maximum increase of 670 MVA until 2030;
- distribution of data centers over the wider area;
- focus on landscaping (including the constructions of the underground networks/grid) and urban quality and mixed use; and
- use of sustainable energy and residual heat and secure the circular (re)use of materials.
At national level, a distinction needs to be made between the National Strategy on Spatial Planning and the Environment (Nationale Omgevingsvisie, or NOVI) which is applicable for all data centers, and the recent Interim Decision which is applicable only to hyperscale data centers. On a regional level, strikingly, only the province of North Holland seems to have drafted a policy.8 Finally, at the local level this article focuses on Amsterdam and Haarlemmermeer. This article shows that data center policies and regulations are layered. At national level, policy goals have been set for all data centers. We observe that throughout all the various policies, there are recurring themes. There is strong emphasis placed on effective use of space, sustainability and energy. Regulation and the upcoming trend is certainly something to take into account in data center transactions and (re)developments in the Netherlands.
1 The policy was imbedded in the policy decision number 2.6 of the NOVI, which specifically relates to data centers.
2 The Metropolitan Region Amsterdam (known in Dutch as Metropoolregio Amsterdam) is comprised of 32 municipalities, two provinces (North Holland and Flevoland) and the Transport Authority Amsterdam.
3 This policy statement has now become subject to the latter Interim Decision on Hyperscale data centres.
4 After the entry into force of the Environment and Planning Act, these rules will be transferred to the Living Environment (Quality) Decree (Bkl), one of the AMvBs under the Environment Act.
5 See here (Dutch).
6 The Parapluplan was amended in 2020, please see here (Dutch) and here (Dutch).
7 Dutch: ‘een bedrijf dat zich in hoofdzaak richt op het digitaal opslaan en verwerken van informatie op computers (servers)’.
8 We note that the province of Flevoland has expressed the desire to develop their own data centre strategy. However, according to the media coverage, this is not to be expected before 2023.