The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Eamon Ryan appeared before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security yesterday, 24 March, to discuss a number of key issues in relation to energy and electricity needs.
Chairman of the Joint Committee, Seán Barrett, said in advance of the meeting, “Our recent report ‘Meeting Ireland’s Electricity Needs Post-2020’ highlighted the need for Ireland to exploit its available wind resource and concentrate research efforts on the development of ocean energy where it could derive competitive advantage and become a niche player”.
(Audio: excerpts of the Committee meeting on 24 March)
“Without immediate action, the level of dependence on natural gas that could result from present policies would be unsustainable. [The report] advocates large-scale financial support for ocean energy research, access to grid infrastructure and, specifically, reform of the foreshore licensing regime”.
Eamon Ryan opened the meeting by saying that Ireland had an opportunity to use green technologies to become Europe’s largest energy exporter.
“This renewable industry is the big deal, it’s the real deal. It’s actually where all the money is going, where all the technology and development is, [...] and we have some of the highest renewable resources in Europe”.
Vital in the development of green energy in Ireland is near shore development where high speed winds and waves, if harnessed correctly, could yield significant prospects for Ireland, not only as a consumer of energy, but also as an exporter to the rest of the world.
However, Minister Ryan noted, other countries in Europe are taking offshore development very seriously. This is because they do not have the near shore capability that Ireland has on its own doorstep.
Looking long term, Minister Ryan said that Phase 1, to take place over the next 10 years, was crucial. He said that failure to build 4 GW of energy through green investment by 2020 would lead to more expensive energy costs.
This in turn would lead to a decline in investments in Ireland coupled with companies leaving to do their business elsewhere for cheaper. The knock-on effect of this would be disastrous for employment.
“Our electricity will be expensive [if we fail to implement Phase 1]. If our electricity is expensive we won’t get digital industries in, we won’t get pharmaceutical industries in, we won’t get food industries working here well. We need cheap power for the new economy”.
Simon Coveney said that he agreed with the Minister’s vision, but that there was a disconcerting distance between Minister Ryan’s ambition and the reality. He said that developers are experiencing particular difficulties off the coast of Arklow, Co. Wicklow.
He said, “If you speak to the people who own the turbines on the Arklow banks, they want to build another 100 turbines, and they’d start that process next year if they could get grid connection”.
Mr. Coveney continued, “My issue is not with where the Minister wants to take the country because I agree with him on that. My issue is the roadmap to get us there. [We should be] connecting projects, having a system in place that isn’t in a straightjacket”.
Liz McManus pointed out that Ireland wasn’t the only country moving to green technology.
”There’s a genuine fear that we’re really not at the races when it comes to realising the potential we have and [...] it’s not for, you know, party-political reasons that I’m making this point because I think [...] we share a common goal and the question is how successfully are we enabling that goal to be reached”.
Senator Joe O’Toole was frustrated that the implementation of strategy was slow and encouraged the Minister to fast track developments off the west coast.
“It is important to know and to recognise that international evidence is clear that the wave energy, wave height, in Mayo [...], they are the most energy rich waves in all of Europe, indeed, as good as any place in the globe”.
But Minister Ryan reiterated the compelling reasons for developing the green industry in Ireland.
“There are various reasons why we’re doing this. One is for climate change reasons [...], the other is to get energy security and the third one, I’d say, is because of the balance of payments and the employment opportunities, trading opportunities for the country. All three of them are utterly convincing in my mind”.