Written Answers. - Alternative Energy Projects.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

104 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the reason there has been little progress in the development of renewable energy, in particular wind energy in Ireland. [10759/03]

The promotion of renewable energy technologies has been pursued consistently by each Government in the last decade. The support mechanism employed is the alternative energy requirement programme, AER. Under this programme selected projects are offered guaranteed power purchase contracts with the ESB for 15 years. Since the programme was launched in 1995, a total of 150 megawatts of alternative and renewables based electricity generating capacity has been added to the grid including 100 megawatts of wind energy. A further 30 megawatts has been constructed more recently under the liberalised green electricity market regime.

Current policy is elaborated in both the Green Paper on sustainable energy and the national climate change strategy. The Green Paper established a target to add 500 megawatts of renewables based electricity generating capacity to the electricity network by 2005. This is a three-fold increase on the previous target. It was also recognised that wind energy technologies would provide the bulk of the target.
Growth in any new sector is incremental building on experience gained by first movers. There has been a steep learning curve in the AER process for developers, investors, the network operators, planners, my Department and the public generally. In this regard, following the conclusion of AER III, my Department formed a renewable energy strategy group to explore the impediments to the greater deployment of wind technology. The group's report, Strategy for Intensifying Wind Energy Deployment, which is publicly available, identified a number of impediments and made a series of recommendations.
One of the significant impediments identified was the failure to match offers of contracts under AER to projects which subsequently secured planning permission for the project and the associated connection. The group recommended that, in the short-term, the programme should continue to use competitive tendering but confine offers of contracts to projects with planning consent. This recommendation has been incorporated into the more recent AER rounds.
Furthermore, in AER VI, the most recent competitive round which is currently open for tenders, I took account of the views of the sector in developing the terms and conditions, resulting in a more favourable approach to indexation of the contract price and an optional front loading of part of the cash-flow.
In addition to refining the AER process, the establishment of Sustainable Energy Ireland as an independent non-commercial state body focussed exclusively on sustainable use of energy including deployment of renewable energy sources is an indication of Government resolve to see sustainable energy policies implemented. In the renewable energy field, SEI is working with developers and planners and to inform public opinion. SEI has also opened a research, development and demonstration programme for renewable energy technologies with a headline fund of €16.25 million to 2006. Additional positive work has been undertaken by the Commission for Energy Regulation to assist the greater deployment of renewable energy technologies and the Department of the Environment and Local Government is currently reviewing the planning guidelines for wind farm developments.
The knowledge gained in the early rounds of the AER programme, the changes recommended by the renewable energy strategy group, the innovations I have introduced in AER VI, the work programme of the SEI, CER and the Department of the Environment and Local Government all demonstrate clear and tangible support for the sector. I am satisfied the positive progress in the past will deliver significant growth in renewable energy projects, including wind, in the short-term.
Last Thursday, I attended the annual conference of the Irish Wind Energy Association and the clear message to me there regarding AER VI was to extend the 500 megawatts target under the published terms and conditions. I am therefore satisfied the AER programme will deliver the current significant target to add 500 megawatts of new capacity on time and a further 78 megawatts to test the potential offshore wind and biomass-CHP technologies.