Thu, Apr 21, 2022
Read in 6 minutes
Neasa questioning the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications about the steps he is taking to ensure Ireland delivers on the 5 GW target for offshore wind, and whether Ireland needs to be even more ambitious in this area to support Europe weaning itself off fossil fuels.
Neasa Hourigan TD: The Minister touched on this issue in some of his replies to previous questions, but I will ask him about the steps he is taking to ensure Ireland delivers on its 5 GW target for offshore wind energy. Should we be even more ambitious to support Europe in weaning itself off of fossil fuels?
Minister Eamon Ryan: We are being ambitious. We have to achieve what was set out in the programme for Government, that is, at least 5 GW of offshore wind energy generation by 2030. The programme for Government commits to developing a longer-term plan to harness the estimated 30 GW of wind energy that could potentially be tapped into in our Atlantic waters. The Maritime Area Planning Act 2021 provides the legal underpinning for this new planning and development system, which will balance the harnessing of our offshore potential with the protection of our environment. On 25 April, the application window for maritime area consent, MAC, applications under the new marine planning regime will open for a set of pre-qualified projects. The first MACs are expected to be granted in the second half of this year. In tandem, my Department is designing a pathway, based on consultation feedback, for a second batch of projects to progress through the new consenting system upon the establishment of the maritime area regulatory authority early next year. Work on a revised offshore renewable energy development plan is currently in progress. This plan will set out the pathway for the development of offshore renewable energy beyond 2030. As I have said, we are establishing a cross-departmental offshore wind delivery task force to drive delivery. Its work will include identifying the supporting infrastructure we will need and supply chain opportunities for Ireland’s offshore wind industry. The case for ambition in this area is that we are not the only one in this business now. We are actually playing catch-up with some other countries. The UK has already deployed approximately 14 GW of offshore generating capacity and just announced yesterday that it is accelerating its ambition and raising its target from 40 GW by 2030 to 50 GW. Our German colleagues are out in the North Sea already. Because of Germany’s need to switch away from Russian gas, it is planning to increase its target from 30 GW by 2030 to 70 GW. Belgium has also revised its plan and is now aiming for 8 GW rather than 2 GW by 2030. I am just making the point that we are in the north-west European regional electricity market. Cables, turbines and so on will all have to be shipped to these various different countries so we have to be quick and ambitious if we are to be part of that shift and change.
Neasa Hourigan TD: I thank the Minister for his reply. It is encouraging to hear of the volumes we are now generating in the context of what our European neighbours are doing. Ireland is well positioned in Europe to be a leading light in this regard. Of course, we should have been moving on this years ago and ramping up over the last decade. Our offshore wind resources are by far enough to comfortably satisfy our electricity needs. The Minister will be aware of several industry insiders who have argued that we should increase our ambition even further. Given the number of projects at various stages of planning at this point in time and the potential total capacity of 29 GW or 30 GW, which the Minister mentioned, it seems that the target of 5 GW by 2030 could perhaps be increased. The current target represents the minimum of what we would do if we were serious about tackling the climate crisis, securing Ireland’s energy future and protecting ourselves against the geopolitical threats on the European Continent we are living with at the moment. The past few months have shown that we need to look at this matter through that prism.
Minister Eamon Ryan: We could be more ambitious, and we need to be. The real issue is delivery. One of the ways to deliver is through regional co-operation. I mentioned that many other European countries are now involved in a massive expansion of offshore wind plant. It is not just happening in Europe, but also in America, Asia and everywhere else because it is one of the cheapest and best sources of power we have. We happen to hold the presidency of the North Seas Energy Cooperation group this year. This is a group of nine countries that have signed a memorandum of understanding on working collectively to tap into this offshore resource. I hope that we will be able to get the UK included in that group. It was in the group originally, before Brexit. It is important that the UK is also part of our regional plans. Part of the planning in this respect should involve common organised procurement systems for shipping, cabling, turbines and electrolysers to generate hydrogen from this energy when it gets to shore. I am working with my German, French and other European colleagues in the North Seas Energy Cooperation group to see how that can be managed to aid in this acceleration.
Neasa Hourigan TD: I will touch on the issue of LNG. As a source of energy, it is not particularly cost-effective and it would be economically short-sighted to introduce it. We should also consider the impacts on communities of unconventional gas extraction methods such as fracking and the impacts on communities where LNG terminals are located, which is an issue we very rarely talk about in this country. The industry is very dangerous and polluting to the local area. Multiple studies, including studies by Gas Networks Ireland and EirGrid, have found the existing gas infrastructure to be capable of meeting future demand, even in the event of extreme supply disruption. LNG terminals would also be a significantly costly investment in a fuel we are planning to rapidly phase out. Does the new European agreement with the US create a difficulty for the Government’s current position on this matter? Will the Minister make a statement on his current position on LNG infrastructure?
Minister Eamon Ryan: In response to Deputy Hourigan, I can say that the EU-US agreement does not impinge on us or force us in any direction. We have to make our own strategic decisions based on our own energy modelling and assessment. We always work in European co-operation, but in gas we are separated in effect from the European grid gas connection system because we are on the far side of the UK.