João Camargo – Corrupting the Future: The Sines 4.0 Data Centre That Collapsed Portugal’s Government

The scandal which brought down Portugal’s government holds lesson about the energy transition and so much more.

João Camargo is a climate activist in grassroots movement Climaximo in Portugal and in the Climate Jobs campaign. He’s an environmental engineer and climate change researcher at the University of Lisbon and the author of two books: Climate Change Combat Manual (in Portugal and Spain) and Portugal in Flames – How to rescue the forests.
Picture by EU2017EE

A month has passed since the lightning resignation of António Costa and the Portuguese Socialist Party government. While accusations of formal corruption seem to have faded, it has become clear that the megaproject that was at the base of the resignation, Sines 4.0, is part of a group of sterile and opportunistic initiatives that hold back the energy transition and absorb renewable energy capacity to serve the interests of investment funds. If it came to fruition, Sines 4.0 would consume almost as much energy as that produced in all Portuguese dams in 2022, and much more than all the solar energy produced in the same year.

It’s useful to look at “Operation Influencer” (which led to the arrest of several politicians, searches of the Prime Minister’s official residence and, finally, the resignation of Portugal’s Prime Minister) and see what’s left. The Public Prosecutor’s Office arrested several people, who were released shortly afterwards, some of whom have not even been charged. So far, the main charge that has emerged is influence peddling and the scandal is that António Costa’s chief of staff had 75,000 euros in cash in his office. There are very obvious signs of judicial overreach and a growing politicization (in the worst sense) of the judicial branch. But there is clear evidence that the project is as pointless as it is megalomaniacal.

A few days after resigning, the former Prime Minister spoke publicly to explain that despite his resignation, this business model is the one most desired by Portuguese capitalism: on November 11, he guaranteed that mega-projects like Sines 4.0 are to go ahead, whatever the cost. Like the other strategies of the Portuguese elite, the Data Centre is a perversion of the energy transformation and the effective corruption of the public interest when it comes to decarbonization and combating the climate crisis.

The press and politicians confirm that the interest is unequivocal, even declaring the project a PIN – Project of National Interest – creating a green light for bureaucratic approval. PINs are government protected projects because they will make money for a few investors and shareholders. On top of the PIN, there is also an “Environmental Simplex”, which makes it easier to circumvent legislation to protect natural values such as habitats and dangerous areas (like areas of maximum infiltration or steep slopes). But it’s not formal corruption, because it’s all legal. There’s no problem with social impact or impact on future generations, because as there is no legislation to effectively protect these values, it’s all legal, there’s never any crime. This is transversally true “advanced democracies”.

So what would this now famous Data Centre be used for? To increase data storage capacity in the Cloud, for streaming movies and series, for mining and circulating cryptocurrencies, for NFTs, for social networks, for “eCommerce”, online gaming, for videoconferencing, to accumulate more data for ChatGPT and other advanced programming tools, among others. We can discuss whether some of these services are useful, but many of them are not. Computing “needs” are never questioned, as there seems to be no accountability and only infinity as a limit. But this decision is never in our hands, only in those of the entrepreneurs and shareholders who want to make a profit, however they get there, and the politicians who have to sanction them.

In order for the Data Centre to function, a large amount of water will be needed (which is why the vast majority of Data Centres around the world are on the water’s edge), which in periods of drought and heat (the future, therefore) will increase. But focusing on annual energy consumption, it’s easy to see that it’s monumental: 4,769.8 GWh/year. All green, they say. But how much renewable energy does Portugal produce? According to APREN, the national private renewables agency, in 2022 it was around 25,000 GWh. This project aims to absorb 20% of all the renewable energy produced? Twice as much as all the solar energy produced in 2022? Almost all the hydroelectric energy produced in 2022? Half of Portugal’s energy imports in 2022?

Where will this energy come from? Will it come from new renewable power plants? From projects like EDP Renováveis’ Morgavel wind farm, for which the government has approved the felling of 1,800 cork oaks? Or hydrogen production? Others? Or will Sines 4.0 get its energy directly from the grid, as in the exceptional procedure created by the government to allocate grid connections to PIN projects? We’re told that we don’t have enough renewable energy to supply the entire system, but can we take 20% of all renewables for a project that has no public interest? Won’t that serve as a justification for keeping fossil gas in the system? It will.

In Ireland, the data centre frenzy already means that 18% of all electricity in the country is used to supply the interests of Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. In this summer’s heatwave, there was a real risk of having to disconnect the population’s electricity supply to keep them running. The Sines 4.0 project would have an electricity consumption close to the sum of all 75 data centres in Ireland. Megalomania.

What does a project like this promote? What is the real and tangible interest of the service provided to society? Apart from the 700 to 1200 jobs in logistics, security, and cleaning, probably brokered by some temporary employment company, what does it bring? Investment of 3.5 billion euros in what? Where will it end up? Sines 4.0 promotes income for investment funds. That’s all.

Sines 4.0 will be a monumental consumer of energy with no return for society. Betting on projects like this will take energy away from the grid as a whole and occupy territories with gigantic renewable energy projects that only serve to guarantee profits from useless investments. Projects like these and the renewables model guided by the fossil industries and copying their coal, oil and gas monopolies will only deepen resistance to the installation of renewables. Decarbonization? No. It’s just business painted green, while the fossil industry continues. They guarantee the continuation of the war declared on society.

Sines 4.0 benefits from a system and a government that is 100% committed to guaranteeing a course towards social and environmental catastrophe, squandering investment, resources, and territories on projects that are useless for society, but profitable for shareholders and politicians who can hold inaugurations and be photographed for future elections.

Meanwhile, we know that the investigation into hydrogen and lithium has been separated from that into the data centre, but not closed. Nothing is known about formal corruption. The projects are no different from what happened in Sines 4.0: they are the corruption of the future and of any transition.

We have begun our yearly Fundraiser

If not you and us, who then? We are the community that made BRAVE NEW EUROPE possible. Let’s not allow that unhampered, uncensored approach to politics, economics, and climate change to fade. State and mainstream media are no alternative.

Donate HERE.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.