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Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action debate -
Tuesday, 8 Mar 2022

Energy - Ambition and Challenges: Discussion (Resumed)

I have received apologies from Deputy Alan Farrell and Senators McGahon and Dooley. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss accelerating offshore wind, including fixed and floating offshore wind generation. We will discuss the east coast and we are also very interested in the larger opportunity off the south and west coasts. We will discuss supply chain and logistical challenges. There is also the issue of green hydrogen and development of a green hydrogen economy. On behalf of the committee, I welcome Mr. Peter Coyle, chairman of the Marine Renewables Industry Association, MRIA. I thank him for coming before the committee to discuss this very important topic.

Before we begin, I will read out the note on privilege. I remind witnesses of the long-standing parliamentary practice that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity outside the Houses by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of the person or entity. If their statements are potentially defamatory in respect of an identifiable person or entity, I will direct them to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative they comply with any such direction I give. For witnesses attending from outside the Leinster House campus, there are some limitations to parliamentary privilege and, as such, they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a witness physically present on the Leinster House campus.

Members of the committee are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I remind Members that they are allowed to participate in this meeting only if they are physically located on the Leinster House complex. In that regard, I ask all Members joining us online to confirm, prior to making their contribution to the meeting, that they are on the grounds of the Leinster House campus. I can see a number of members joining us online from their offices.

This part of our meeting will conclude at 11 a.m. I invite Mr. Coyle to make his opening statement.

Mr. Peter Coyle

I am delighted to be here this morning. Presumably the clerk circulated a statement from me. I am not going to read it out to the members; they would die of boredom at my droning voice. I will just pick out the highlights. The Marine Renewables Industry Association represents people across the island engaged in offshore renewable energy, including ten wind developers. We have lawyers, researchers, manufacturers and so on as well.

To provide some context, there are two historic moments. The first is 22 July 1929, the day the Ardnacrusha scheme opened in County Clare. It was an extraordinary step forward for the new State and underpinned the economic development of the State in many respects for the following 50 years or so. It was built with a capacity of 86 MW, which would be enough to light up Dundalk and Drogheda on a nice day in today's terms, but which exceeded national demand for electricity at the time. In the early 1930s, we saw the start of the industrialisation policy, which took place during the Great Depression behind tariff barriers, quotas and so forth. Ardnacrusha underpinned that policy and our economic life, such as it was, throughout the 1940s and 1950s. It helped to create a body of managerial expertise and industrial skills that enabled us to go on to the next stage of development in the early 1970s when we joined the EU.

The second historic moment was 23 December last with the passage into law of the Maritime Area Planning Bill. It is a monumental body of work and a great tribute to the legislators, policymakers, lawyers and those in industry who contributed to its creation. Just two years ago, we really had nothing on the Statute Book or in policy in respect of any form of development at sea. We were dealing with the Foreshore Act of 1933. In practice, if one looks back at the Oireachtas debates of the time, it was all about dealing with fishing rights around large estates. In the past two years, Ireland has put together a tapestry of legislation and policy which enables us to develop our offshore renewables, among other things.

Why should we develop our offshore renewable energy? It is an extraordinary resource; we have Europe's most bountiful and available winds and the most bountiful waves in the world also. Wave technology will come on stream in the 2030s. The first reason to develop it is our enormous energy insecurity. We are rated by the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, as the fourth most insecure country in Europe.

We have had a very calm couple of years, which has meant the lights have been kept on most of the time. More than half the load has been borne by the coal plant in Moneypoint in County Clare and by gas. That coal comes from Russia and, to be blunt about it, there are not that many alternative sources of coal any more. Currently, the contract is with Russia and Moneypoint continues to be absolutely critical to keeping the lights on. The other big contributor has been gas, with half of our gas being imported, some of it from Russia. By 2030, according to the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, 90% of our gas will be imported. We will be in an abject position by then unless we deal with our renewable resource. That is before we even get to issues like EU targets and all the rest of it.

The immediate and most obvious challenge for our industry is to put in place the minimum of 5 GW of offshore energy that is called for by Government policy. To put that in perspective, we have less than 5 GW of wind and everything else, including bits and pieces of solar energy and so on, on land at this time. It is an enormous task and eight years is like two and a half weeks in energy terms. These projects take a long time to plan, get permission, be built and all the rest of it. The big challenge for us and for everyone else is to get that up and running. For the Government, it is a question of getting the new machine in order, including the legislation, all of the policies and the new maritime area regulatory authority, MARA, which is due to open in Wexford in the first quarter of 2023 and will, we hope, be a great new addition to public life. The next call in this area for the Houses of the Oireachtas will be marine protected areas. That legislation is somewhere in the works and will be critically important to finding a way of having a harmonious and constructive relationship between the exploitation of our offshore resources and the preservation of our offshore environment.

As I am conscious of running out of time, I will briefly mention four strategic issues. First, it is vital that our coastal communities are engaged in all of this. There is provision to safeguard their interests under the new Maritime Area Planning Act. There are community benefits that will, for many years, bestow millions of euro per annum on relatively small communities for community projects. Nonetheless, we need to do more to ensure they are involved in, understand and are engaged with planning the offshore future of their communities. There is a model of coastal partnerships in the UK that is working well. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has talked about setting up experimental partnerships here, possibly in Wexford and Donegal. I certainly urge the Oireachtas to support the Department in this and prompt it to do so as quickly as possible.

Second, we now have a vibrant offshore renewable energy policy, which is first-class and on which a lot of work continues to be done in refining and developing it. It is not yet matched, however, on the part of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, which needs to develop a very high level of determination to build a global supply chain in this area. This will not happen between now and 2030 in the case of the stuff that is primarily going into the water, namely, bottom-fixed wind, principally on the Irish Sea, because that is ubiquitous technology and the home of most of the enormous jobs and income that were created as a consequence of that technology is Denmark, which has some 23,000 people employed in this area. That is done and dusted in many respects. We will, of course, have installation jobs and operations and maintenance jobs but most of our resource in the Celtic Sea and off the west coast will have to be exploited by floating wind and by wave. There are no established players, nationally or internationally, in that field at the present time. As a consequence, there is an enormous opportunity there. The Department needs to get involved and engaged and must drive its renowned agencies, namely, IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland, in which I had the privilege of serving for many years, to develop a policy to exploit that opportunity.

Third, we need to find a way in, in all our forthcoming provisions for offshore renewable energy, for floating offshore wind. One of the reasons this is necessary is the industrial opportunity it presents in terms of the jobs and incomes that could be created for communities to which it traditionally has been difficult to attract investment, such as Arklow, Wicklow, Wexford and Bantry. I spent much of my life trying to attract investment to those towns and, for reasons that somewhat escaped me, it never really happened. It really could happen now if we get our act together. It must be done not only for industrial purposes but also for the purpose of ensuring our offshore resource is properly exploited. We need to find a way into our various support schemes for floating offshore wind.

Fourth, we need our legislative leaders to be at the forefront in this effort, alongside industry and officials, who are playing a blinder in this whole area and really are doing an extraordinary job in the difficult circumstances the Covid crisis has imposed on us. We need members of this committee involved in explaining and communicating the changes that are going to come offshore for our coastal communities. These changes will include, for example, the issue of port capacity. We do not have the port capacity nor does anywhere else nearby really have that capacity because they have ambitions of their own, including in Wales, the south west of England, the west of France and the north of Spain. We do not have the port capacity to work at scale in this area. We will get by with what we have, plus some investments that are in the pipeline, particularly in Cork, to get to the 5 GW target, but the 30 GW target, which is the Government's aspiration for the 2030s, and the great dreams we have of developing offshore green hydrogen plants and so on can only be realised if we invest in ports.

Finally, I want to give the committee an example of the vision that is now surrounding this industry and which we need to continue on from the work that is being done on the Maritime Area Planning Act and other policy instruments. The Danish coalition Government decided in June last year or the previous year to invest half of the €35 billion required to build a new island 80 miles west of Jutland in the North Sea. It is a true island that will have a harbour, people living there and a huge substation that will help to ensure an efficient distribution of electricity from the wind farms in the middle of the North Sea to surrounding countries. We need that kind of vision and imagination for Ireland for the 2030s. We could not only be self-sufficient in energy from our own offshore resources but we also could export electricity through interconnectors and have many beneficial developments such as islands out in the Atlantic and off the Celtic Sea. The consequences in terms of income and job creation in this very labour-intensive industry are extraordinary. I commend offshore renewable energy to the committee and apologise for talking for so long.

I thank Mr. Coyle for his very interesting statement. I am very happy that he framed it around Ardnacrusha and the really brave gamble the State took 100 years ago, a gamble that ultimately paid off. It was a serious vision and a huge step for the State to take. We are at a similar point now, when we can take steps as big as that. I know Ardnacrusha very well as it is only up the river from my home city of Limerick. I used to row up the tail race right up to Ardnacrusha. I know it intimately and my grand-uncle worked on its construction. Mr. Coyle is right to frame the challenge we now have around the success and achievement we had 100 years ago.

Speaking to that bigger challenge we now face, I am very mindful of the conflict happening on the other side of Europe. When we set out these sessions, we were very much thinking of the climate crisis but now, of course, we have a security emergency and energy crisis as well. It is timely if not coincidental that we are having these sessions now. They are very relevant to the discussion that is happening across Europe at the moment. There was a very interesting article in The Irish Times this morning by Dr. Hannah Daly, Dr. Paul Deane, Dr. Diarmuid Torney and others in which they talk about Ireland not only providing its own energy needs from its offshore resource but also contributing significantly to Europe's needs. That is the vision we must have and it is one we can achieve. Depending on who one talks to, there is a possibility of harnessing something like 50 GW to 70 GW, maybe more if we take into account the wave resource. I am interested in Mr. Coyle's thoughts on wave energy. I ask that he elaborate on the bigger vision and the industry's view on how that can be accelerated and expedited, accepting that the 5 GW target is a huge challenge as it is.

Officials from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment are going to appear before us in the next hour. This is an opportunity for Mr. Coyle to tell us what we should relay to them if we are to pursue and achieve that bigger vision.

Mr. Peter Coyle

Far be it from me to criticise the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, as I effectively worked for it for 35 years, but I will take the last issue first. To some extent, we are a victim of the siloed aspect of Irish government, in that Departments are tribes in their own right. To put it crudely, they are interested in their own territories and are not very interested in other people's territories. This reflects the fact, which is an issue for another day, that there has been no fundamental examination of the public service since 1969 with the Devlin report. It must be the only institution in the world that has not been examined in more than 50 years.

Some of the mechanisms that are being put in place behind the scenes, which to non-bureaucrats appear to be unwieldy and bureaucratic, are designed to get over that silo effect and improve communications. There is no ill will between these people. It is just that this matter does not feature as much on that Department's radar as it does on that of the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications. I do not mean this to appear critical, but the latter has sucked in a great deal of the talent in the public service in recent times because of this very important issue, which is extraordinarily complex to address.

We have the two most renowned agencies in the development agency world in the IDA and Enterprise Ireland. I have worked for both of them, so I am biased, but they are world renowned and the best in the business. If they are given a political direction and a Civil Service direction to go big and have ambitions in this area, they can achieve great things. They will not be able to do anything in the short term about bottom-fixed offshore wind energy, though, because it is an established industry. It did not exist 22 years ago. The first offshore wind farm was built in Denmark in 2000. The second in the world was Arklow with its little 25 MW, which opened in 2004. We did not take up that opportunity, though. I am one of those who was responsible for not taking it up because, unusually and uncharacteristically, we in the IDA scoffed at offshore wind energy in the 1980s and, in particular, 1990s.

There are some excellent pioneers in the IDA and Enterprise Ireland working on this area, but I do not believe that the organisations have been given a vision or a demanding goal of making Ireland a global player in the provision of parts, services and so forth – it does not have to be full-scale rigs – in floating wind energy and wave energy going forward.

I will speak to a point that the Chairman did not mention, although he used the word in a different context, that being, security. As an industry, we made strong representations to the Commission on the Defence Forces. They are published on our website as well as the commission's. Our offshore world has changed and we are going to become dependent on it for our domestic security and exports. We need proper security provision. The commission recommended the drawing up of a maritime security plan. We back that and want to be involved in it. There is ample scope for bad actors, not so much to damage particular turbines, given that we can remove and replace them, but to damage the big wire that goes ashore and the substation that pulls all of the wires together and steps up or steps down – I can never remember which it is – the voltage. A substation is as complex as an oil rig. It takes years to build and is not bought out of a box. In many instances, a substation costs hundreds of millions of euro. The cable that runs from the substation to the shore is extraordinarily expensive. There are back orders of approximately two years, it is complex to lay, etc. The Naval Service would not necessarily need to be significantly involved, but it needs to be given a clear mandate to make it responsible for pulling together the maritime security plan whenever that is drawn up, which I hope it will be urgently, and dealing with any contingency that might arise as regards the substations and the cables going ashore. This needs to be done urgently because we will have 5 GW in the sea in eight years' time.

I must be mindful of the time. Let us speak about Ireland's energy security opportunity to go big and go faster. Is there an industry perspective?

Mr. Peter Coyle

The industry perspective is that we have an extraordinary intellectual advantage in this area. We have major facilities that were bought with money that was scraped up from all over the place and built in 2015 during the height of the recession for €15 million or €20 million in Cork. They provide us with world-class test facilities for devices and help ports to test out their new facilities and arrangements. They are probably the leading facilities in Europe. We have expertise in underwater unmanned vehicles in Limerick. There is expertise in Galway and Maynooth and considerable expertise in Belfast. I happen to be fortunate enough to chair the Bryden Centre in Queen's University Belfast. The centre is a leading light, particularly on the wave energy side. There are facilities at Strangford Lough. We have a major intellectual advantage. We have many people who are good in this area, we have many facilities, we have resources and we have an opportunity. There is a great deal happening, but we need to pull it all together and match it with a large industrial development opportunity. There are indications that, if we can get beyond the installation, operations and maintenance and into the manufacturing and services area, there are significant job creation opportunities, particularly in terms of floating wind and wave energy. We have a large wave energy opportunity as well.

That is good to hear. I will now ask others to contribute. Deputy Whitmore is joining us from her office.

I thank Mr. Coyle for his contribution. I have a couple of questions. The wind energy industry frequently raises with me its concerns about grid connectivity and grid capacity. Does Mr. Coyle have concerns about our ambition, planning and progress in terms of developing our grid? Does he believe that we will have the grid infrastructure we require when we need it in order to fulfil our renewable energy potential?

Mr. Coyle mentioned marine protected areas and how it is important to get the balance right between preserving and enhancing our environment while promoting harmony with other stakeholders. Given that the planning legislation is progressing much more quickly than the legislation on marine protected areas, are there challenges in getting the balance right if marine protected area legislation is not in place? How will the industry ensure that the goal of protecting and enhancing the environment is undertaken at the appropriate time?

Mr. Peter Coyle

I will take the latter question first. As I understand the matter, there is marine protected area, MPA, legislation in the works. I do not know what it contains, but bear in mind that there is an extraordinary ambition as regards marine protected areas. At the moment, 2.5%, or a little less, of our huge maritime area is designated as an MPA in one fashion or another. The ambition is to increase that to 10% by 2025 and 30% by 2030. This is a huge issue.

There is a great deal of expertise and experience in this area. Generally speaking, the relationships between this industry and the various experts in the field, such as the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, BirdWatch Ireland and others, are good and open. They are experts and bearers of a great deal of scientific knowledge in this field. As long as we talk to one another and there are reasonable structures, legislation and so on in place on both sides of the picture, we will find ways and means of getting along. There will be individuals who object, of course.

There will be concerns in various areas but generally speaking, the MPA bodies, the NGOs and experts in this field, are positive and constructive and are trying to find solutions as we are. There is good experience. Let me give one instance. At our annual forum, which is a big get-together, held a couple of weeks ago we looked at scientific research in Scotland, which was looking at what happens to seals. The research was monitoring seals in an area in the Pentland Firth in the north of Scotland with underwater blades rotating under a tidal machine. We do not have a tidal resource in the Republic; there is one in Northern Ireland. There were no instances of collision between a seal and this underwater blade. Similar experiences are being shown in regard to birds for example with offshore wind farms. We are optimistic that wildlife has some sort of learning capability to stay away although there is still a road to be covered.

On the issue of grid, everything in this area is happening at warp speed by the standards of an extremely capital intensive and technically complex industry. I am not an engineer but it is truly complex stuff. Putting new grid in place takes time. We believe there is more grid available than the 5 GW available to the offshore industry identified by EirGrid. In various submissions we and other organisations advocate a fresh look at that situation. In the longer term, grid is one of the most challenging areas for us to exploit our resource. There are many ways forward in the 2030s, called non-grid off-takes, where you do not need grid. You do not necessarily need grid to make hydrogen to, for example, make ammonia. You could actually have a hydrogen plant offshore alongside a wind farm and just pump the hydrogen ashore. Overall we need much more grid. We are fortunate in having an excellent and responsive body in EirGrid. While we of course have our rows and arguments with EirGrid, it is a terrific body by and large. We are optimistic that we can find solutions but it is a challenge.

I offer my congratulations to Mr. Coyle, who has long been an advocate for this concept. People are perhaps slow learners, catching up with him in his vision for this sector. Given his experience in the IDA and Enterprise Ireland, to what extent is this concept on their agenda? He talks of a political direction but from my relatively long experience in that Department, the IDA and Enterprise Ireland are regarded as the most professional and well-informed in identifying sectors where Ireland can become very competitive in the long term. Political decisions did not lead to electronics, biopharma or some of these major sectors. To what extent have the IDA and Enterprise Ireland developed their internal familiarity and thinking about the sector in order that they could sustain the case that this is not only a key opportunity in energy terms but also in industrial policy terms?

In regard to the national development plan, NDP, as recently revised, which represents €140 billion investment over six or seven years, in Mr. Coyle's view, how would that need to change? There is intense competition for resources between the climate challenge, retrofit and all the other issues, as well as the existing ambitions on the wind and offshore front, compared with education and hospitals. On this issue of making room in the investment programme, in his view how much more room needs to be found to do the sort of things he has identified? The Danes have done these things by state-led investment. At what point does he see a floating wind segment in an auction? The State is right to proceed by way of auction in order that every technology gets a chance to compete. However it recognises that some sectors need a lead time. While segmented pieces for floating wind is an acceptable proposal, how soon does he think that ought to be considered?

Mr. Peter Coyle

To answer the last question first, there will be an auction of support because bottom-fixed wind even cannot compete with traditional forms of energy generation. It is normal to provide support, which ultimately is paid for by the consumer through the public service obligation. There will be one auction of support next year which will deal with the initial batch of projects which will be bottom fixed in the Irish Sea. Floating offshore wind will not feature in that. There will be a second auction, probably around 2025, and that conceivably is the last auction that will be held that can actually bring projects on board before 2030 which is vital. Our view is that floating has to be incorporated in that second option. Floating is vital to achieving the 5 GW target. Much of the available grid for example is off the Dublin and Wicklow coasts. It will be challenging to concentrate so much development there. Another driver in this is the EU state aids approval, which only extends until the end of 2025. Floating has to be involved in the second offshore renewable energy support scheme auction, ORESS 2, or it will not feature until well into the 2030s and we will not achieve our 5 GW by the 2030 target.

In regard to the question on the NDP, I am not particularly an expert on the NDP. I would suggest that we have gone off the boil in regard to providing support for early stage developers in wave and tidal, in the new technologies generally. There currently is not an appropriate grant scheme to help them along. It is worth bearing in mind that of the 250 or so small companies in wave and tidal in the world, more than half are in Europe. More than half the patents are held in Europe. The European Commission has now set a target of 100 MW to be wave and tidal by 2025 and 1 GW, which is huge in terms of a new technology, by 2030. We need to put money into supporting small Irish companies. There are some excellent small Irish companies in existence. A modest modification in respect of the NDP in that regard is called for, as is anything that can be done to gear up grid for domestic purposes. We have to bear in mind the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications forecast for an increase in local electricity demand of 50% by 2030. We have a huge growth envisaged in our domestic market but there are also opportunities for export and such things as hydrogen creation.

In regard to how the IDA and Enterprise Ireland are gearing up, I am more familiar in recent years with Enterprise Ireland. Enterprise Ireland has some excellent people now working on this, who have been working away for years. It has a new department that will involve this area but I do not think it is where it ought to be. I suspect the IDA is not either. What is missing is a conviction being communicated to those agencies by their political leaders - I am not particularly talking about the Tánaiste, I am not tying this into personalities - and by their Civil Service masters, particularly in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, communicating a vision or demand that we grow in this space. The agencies have the ability and the people. They can attract the resources but they need now to be given a remit to grow a big global supply chain particularly in floating wind, wave and tidal, and then they will get on with it. They are not getting that, I suspect, at present. Therefore their response is not at the optimal level.

I thank Mr. Coyle for his interesting presentation. It is good to see the scale of ambition being talked about again. Reminding ourselves of Ardnacrusha is a good way to start. Some of my questions build on Deputy Bruton's.

In Denmark, these new energy islands are a state-led project. They are approximately 51% state-owned. We know, for example, that facilities like Ardnacrusha were huge State-led initiatives. It seems we have a tendency in Ireland to wait or try to create market conditions in the hope the leap forward will emerge when, sometimes, the State perhaps needs to leave the leap forward and then industry will follow around that, which seems to be when we are making the level of change that is needed. That is certainly what happened with Ardnacrusha. It seems that countries like Denmark are now taking that same leap. I would be interested in Mr. Coyle's thoughts around that level of State leadership and ambition so that the State is not simply, for example, facilitating the auctions or market but is, in fact, leading.

With regard to 2025, one of the issues we discussed at our previous session was the idea of a reserved 1 GW for floating wind. Is there potential in that regard? Again, it is an option of support - it does not have to be deliverable - to bring that forward from 2025. We might look at that in the next round to consider a reservation and any way floating wind might be part of that earlier than 2025.

I would appreciate it if Mr. Coyle could also expand on the macroeconomic circumstances in that we may have more flexibility within the EU rules before 2025 than after 2025. I am also very conscious that more fiscal rules are being suspended at the moment within the wider area of investment, which may not be indefinite.

I want to ask about the circular economy part of the supply chain, which we have also looked at as a committee. I am aware of some innovation in UCC, which has been looking at perhaps 11,000 tonnes of waste from the earlier generation of wind turbines. In a past committee, we also heard from people who were looking at recycled plastic being part of wind blades. Can we get a sense of how we can engage with the supply chain around wind turbines and that industry? I have one final point.

I have stop Senator Higgins there. She might be very brief.

I will be brief. While we are waiting for that legislation on marine protected areas, MPAs, something we heard a call for is sensitivity mapping, which would allow for better sighting of offshore wind even as the MPA legislation is still moving through.

Mr. Peter Coyle

To take the Danish islands, I am not advocating lookalike islands in the wild waters of the Celtic Sea and Atlantic Ocean just yet. We have other fish to fry, if members will pardon the expression, between now and then and many things to get done. It is just an indication of what could happen and what we should be thinking about going forward into the 2030s.

I am happy the officials, who, obviously under general political direction, oversee the running of this area, are taking quite a visionary approach to all this. In my experience in recent years, they are people of considerable ability. The challenge is they are trying to create in detail a system of governance from nothing in a very short period over a territory that is nine or ten times the size of the terrestrial territory of the State. It is as if we took the land mass, which is only one tenth of the size of the total territory of the State, and created from scratch laws to do with everything from waste disposal, traffic management, building regulations, health and safety and so on. That is what they are doing at present. At the same time, they are trying to ensure we can get stuff in the water and working quickly. Much vision and drive is taking place at an official level. We need to start thinking about the 2030s and the 30 GW. We do not need to do it next week but we need to start thinking about it in the future.

On the supply chain and circular economy side of things, it was interesting to watch the dismantling of the Kinsale offshore gas platform recently. First of all, it was built and served its purpose. It is now being dismantled. I would guess it cost approximately €100 million to dismantle it. It is mostly steelwork and it has gone straight back into furnaces to become new steelwork. The good thing from the State's perspective is that the industry that built it paid the €100 million for its dismantling. As far as I am aware, the State did not incur any cost.

The same approach will apply to offshore wind turbines and wave and tidal turbines. The State will have to post a bond from the outset, which will ensure it pays for the recycling of a particular device when it runs out of life. Industry is moving in a recycling direction. At present, and this comes back to one of my earlier themes, we do not have the local industry that can contribute greatly to the various components etc. that go into an offshore turbine or wave device. One exception might be ÉireComposites in County Galway, which makes blades. It is a very advanced plastics company.

To give the Senator an impression of the scale that is achievable given recycling, Siemens is at present building a factory in Le Havre in north-west France just to serve the south North Sea. It is a half mile long and will employ 700 people. It has done more or less the same and rebuilt the port of Hull for the northern part of the North Sea. General Electric, GE, is building a huge plant, again with many jobs, in Teesside and another big one is going into Scotland. Recycling obviously has to play a part in all this but the economic opportunities are huge.

On the issue of marine protected areas, this legislation will be as complex as the Maritime Area Planning Act 2021. We have wonderful wildlife and an underwater environment and we have many people who are aware of what is out there. We need to preserve it and ensure it lives well and in harmony with economic development. I genuinely do not know a great deal beyond that. A very good piece of work was published by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage last year on every aspect of marine protected areas. There was a big consultation about it. Our response is up on our website, That will service as the basis for the marine protected area legislation.

On the 1 GW, I do not think it is possible to bring the second auction forward from approximately 2024 or 2025. A huge rigmarole has to be gone through to get there, necessarily and rightly so, under the new legislation. It is truly complex stuff. The system is going as far as it can but the requirement is that there is specific provision in that auction for floating wind and, indeed, a small amount of support for wave in particular in order that we can get pilot devices up and working away.

I thank Mr. Coyle for his presentation. I have a couple of quick questions. Sinn Féin tabled an Opposition Private Members' Bill that talked about the opportunity of offshore wind and the need for an industrial development authority for the sea. In Mr. Coyle's experience, is it more a case that the Industrial Development Authority, IDA, and Enterprise Ireland have the capacity but it is about refocusing , repurposing or redirecting them? Do we need a new agency? Do we already have the agencies to deliver this? Is it about directing them?

My second question is on the focus and co-ordination and the issue of capacity. In Mr. Coyle's experience of the agencies he has dealt with but also in terms of the Civil Service and Departments, is the capacity there at this stage? Is there a shortfall in that regard? Co-ordination came up at our previous hearing on Thursday in response to a question from the Chairman. I heard the Tánaiste in the Dáil reference a cross-government task force on offshore wind. Is Mr. Coyle aware of that? How would he like to see it take shape?

Should it just be for offshore wind or should it be expanded, and who should be involved?

Mr. Peter Coyle

An IDA for the sea is an attractive proposition on the face of it, but setting up public agencies is time-consuming and expensive. One has to go through extensive turf wars that go on forever and a good outcome cannot be guaranteed. The agencies we have, IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland, are superb. It is just a matter of handing them the vision and the demand to do big things and be imaginative in this area. By the way, a very important agency that is about to be created in the first quarter of 2023, preferably in January 2023, is the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority, MARA, in Wexford. Its smooth and effective functioning is going to be very important.

In terms of capacity, historically there were one and a half men and women, a dog and a blunt pencil assigned to this area. That has changed radically in the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications in recent times. It does not have enough people - we never have enough people in these areas - but I am satisfied that in that Department and in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, which also plays a key role in this area, there are probably adequate numbers of people involved.

There is a concern across the industry that An Bord Pleanála, which is going to be the planning authority for a significant portion of the European Union's waters, and the planning is going to be very complex, has the number of people and the expertise available to it into the future. There is real concern there. We want to ensure that MARA gets up and running with extensive resources from the outset. There was a good sign recently when I heard that the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage apparently has rented a new block which is being built as part of a larger development on the waterfront in Wexford. That is a good sign the Department is taking this seriously and putting resources into it. MARA must be resourced. Those are the two key issues - make sure MARA gets up and running quickly and that it is well resourced and make sure An Bord Pleanála is well resourced. Of course, there are people in the background we have to think about as well, such as the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, CRU, which plays a key role in this area.

On the Government task force, there was an effort in this area to get Departments to pull and work together in the past. It did not really work. However, the involvement of the Department of the Taoiseach in ensuring the legislation was put together quickly seems to have carried on. I have heard about the cross-government task force and I am fully in favour of it. It is important that people in the silos are pulled together and talk together. We should give it a chance and see what happens.

Mr. Coyle is very welcome. I am sorry I was delayed for the opening remarks. I note Mr. Coyle mentioned the Maritime Area Planning Act in his opening statement. I am from a coastal community in Dún Laoghaire-----

Mr. Peter Coyle

My constituency.

-----and obviously there is a lot of opportunity on the east coast. The east coast is the priority area for offshore wind. Given the events in Ukraine and the need for our energy independence, how does Mr. Coyle foresee the development application and subsequent permission for wind farms on the east coast? I apologise if Mr. Coyle has gone over this ground already, but I am interested to hear his thoughts on it. Our need for our own wind energy and how to utilise that have come into sharp focus now.

Mr. Peter Coyle

The east coast has two features. It is shallow and therefore lends itself to the technology that is available today, kind of from Amazon if the committee will excuse the expression, which is bottom-fixed wind. There is grid available off Dublin and Wicklow and there is a big market in the Dublin-Wicklow area. It is very important that we get the first offshore renewable energy support scheme auction away. It will focus on projects that are quite well-advanced in terms of their planning off the east coast. If that gets held up or hindered in any way, we will have problems achieving targets in the 2030s and we will lose credibility in the huge investment world that now surrounds offshore renewable energy. Bear in mind that while 5 GW is enormous for us, it is fairly Mickey Mouse for other people. Scotland has just approved 24 GW of offshore wind, of which 60% is floating. Wales has a 4 GW target of floating alone. This is business for big companies and big developers with big pockets and big credibility in the investment world.

The east coast is vital. I live in the Deputy's constituency. I can see a bit of the sea from my attic window. I am conscious of the types of issues and objections that may arise about visual impact. The developers who are candidates to build these farms off the east coast, particularly off Dublin and Wicklow, are putting a great deal of effort into community support. There are all sorts of protections under the Maritime Area Planning Act to ensure people have a real say. They might not think they have a real say, but they do. There are considerable benefits that will arise for the community. To take Dún Laoghaire alone, for argument's sake to illustrate the point, the community benefit provisions that are being made by the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications are such that just one wind farm off Dún Laoghaire would probably pour €4 million per year for approximately 25 years into that community for community projects. That is over and above normal Government expenditure, and there will be all sorts of safeguards to ensure that it is not a substitute. There are those aspects.

I throw the issue back to the Deputy. The challenge for him and other coastal Deputies, Senators and leaders around Dublin and Wicklow, because those are communities that will be particularly affected, although not exclusively, is that they must show leadership in this area. They have to try to get communities to understand that we need to do this or the lights will go off. We cannot continue depending on Russian gas and coal to keep our lights on. It is absurd. As a country which has the oil of the offshore wind and wave world - we are like Saudi Arabia or, as the late Brendan Halligan used to say, we are Europe's battery - we cannot mess it up. However, it will require not just people like me and others in industry but also political leaders to get out in front of this and deal with the objections and issues that will arise. That is not always going to be easy to do. I am the first to admit that.

Mr. Coyle mentioned the floating apparatus in Scotland and Wales. That has been mooted here. The technology has evolved over the last couple of years and, as Mr. Coyle correctly pointed out, the large-scale investment in this industry is coming on stream and improving all the time. Mr. Coyle also mentioned the shallowness of Dublin Bay and, I presume, the attractiveness of that section of the east coast.

Mr. Peter Coyle


The floating wind farms are slightly different in the sense that the visual amenity is always going to be an issue. We saw it in Arklow and anywhere that offshore energy has been mooted. For the Dublin area, the proximity to the coastline is the biggest issue. If it is too close to the shore, people will object.

Mr. Peter Coyle


It has to be towards the horizon.

I am going to cut across the Deputy and Mr. Coyle and invite Senator Boylan to ask a question because we are almost out of time.

I have a brief follow-up question. I welcome what Mr. Coyle said about An Bord Pleanála being properly resourced. He made reference to Scotland and seals and propellers. Is there similar evidence for cetaceans? One of the fears is not even the wind farm itself but the construction of the wind farm, the sonar and noise under the water for whales and dolphins. We heard from the Wind Energy Ireland, WEI, last week that the environmental NGOs need to be properly resourced so they can make the observations to the applications. Would Mr. Coyle support that also?

Mr. Peter Coyle


I ask you to be as brief as possible because it is approaching 11 o'clock.

Mr. Peter Coyle

I totally agree with the Senator and with my colleagues in Wind Energy Ireland. There is a lot of expertise in some of our NGOs, such as BirdWatch Ireland and the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, which are two I have dealt with.

They should be properly resourced and able to contribute to the debate in a meaningful way.

On the issue raised by Deputy Devlin, the waters of the Irish Sea are shallow. There is also the small fact that the line of the exclusive economic zone is quite close to the coast and there will be MPAs in the Irish Sea, so our capacity to get 5 GW out of the Irish Sea is relatively low. As such, we are going to need floating offshore wind energy generation immediately. We will need it in the Celtic Sea and in the Atlantic. We need to include it in this. Our big ask of the system at the moment is to have that in ORESS 2 because if it is not, our targets and everything else will be shot out of the water.

I thank Mr. Coyle for coming before the committee. It has been an interesting discussion and it will help us in our broader consideration of the challenges we face.

Sitting suspended at 11.01 a.m. and resumed at 11.04 a.m.

Unfortunately, we do not have much time for this session. We hope to have our guests back before for another meeting when we will have more time to interrogate them. We have approximately one hour and 15 minutes for this session. I welcome Ms Marie Bourke, principal officer in the climate action and economic infrastructure policy unit of the Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment. Joining us online is Dr. Alan Power, assistant principal officer in the labour market and skills unit of the Department. Mr. Liam Curran, senior technologist in marine, water and wastewater technologies, Enterprise Ireland is with us in the committee room, as is Mr. Mark Christal, divisional manager for food and sustainability, Enterprise Ireland. From the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, we are joined by Mr. Martin Finucane, principal officer, and Ms Martina Hennessy, principal officer. They are very welcome. Joining us online from the Department of Housing, Heritage and Local Government is Mr. Conor McCabe, principal officer. From the Department of Finance, we are joined by Mr. David Owens, principal officer, and Ms Fiona Ralph. They are very welcome.

Before we begin, I will read out the note on privilege. I remind our guests of the long-standing parliamentary practice that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of the person or entity. If their statements are potentially defamatory in respect of an identifiable person or entity, I will direct them to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative they comply with any such direction I give. For witnesses attending remotely from outside the Leinster House campus, there are some limitations to parliamentary privilege and, as such, they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a witness physically present on the Leinster House campus.

I invite Ms Bourke to make her opening statement.

Ms Marie T. Bourke

I welcome the opportunity to outline to members the actions and initiatives the Department and Enterprise Ireland are engaged in with businesses to support the development of Ireland’s offshore wind resource. I am joined by Mr. Christal and Mr. Curran of Enterprise Ireland, while Dr. Alan Power is joining the meeting online. Dr. Power is also part of the secretariat to the expert group on future skills needs.

Wind energy will be critical in enabling our transition to a low-carbon economy. Meeting our national climate targets will require a significant increase in the deployment rates of renewable electricity, including offshore wind, compared with those achieved in recent years. The development of offshore wind energy will bring significant economic and employment opportunities to Ireland. The Department and its development agencies are active in further developing these supply chain activities. I will briefly address three of these activities relevant to the deliberations of the committee. These are: Enterprise Ireland’s activities in developing SME capability in offshore wind supply chains; research by the expert group on future skills needs to identify the future skills requirements for the offshore wind sector; and regional developments, including the regional enterprise plans and the Shannon Estuary economic task force.

Enterprise Ireland has been working with SMEs to develop their capability in the offshore wind sector. It has developed an offshore wind supply chain cluster of 65 companies. These companies provide a range of products, services and skill sets appropriate to the offshore wind industry. As per its remit, Enterprise Ireland is primarily focused on helping Irish SMEs bring this capability to export markets. By far the largest and easiest to access market opportunity is the UK. The London office of Enterprise Ireland has been building connections between Irish SMEs and UK offshore wind project developers, original equipment manufacturers and tier 1 contractors to ensure the greatest possible penetration of the UK market. By facilitating Irish SMEs entering the UK offshore wind industry, Enterprise Ireland is helping these companies to build the appropriate capability and offerings to industry that not only operate in the UK and globally, but are also going to be major stakeholders in the Irish offshore wind sector. Securing reference sites in Ireland will be advantageous for these supply chains as these companies seek to win business internationally.

Enterprise Ireland has organised several sector events in the past three years in the UK, including a market study visit to Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth on the east coast of England, an event to showcase Irish capability to Dutch tier 1 contractors and a showcase of Irish capability to the Norwegian energy company Equinor. It also commissioned a scoping study for Irish SMEs, focusing on supply chain opportunities in the UK, Denmark and Norway. Enterprise Ireland is currently planning an industry forum to be held in Croke Park in June to focus on export market opportunities, particularly in the UK market, as well as opportunities for the supply chain domestically.

A further event in Manchester is planned in late June, where EI will take the Irish pavilion to Global Offshore Wind, an industry trade show.

From a skills policy and employment perspective, the Department is committed to identifying and driving the delivery of skills required to deliver on the ambitious wind energy targets. The expert group on future skills needs, the secretariat of which sits in our Department, has published its study on skills to enable the low-carbon economy to 2030. As part of this study, the expert group examined the skills needs arising from offshore wind energy generation targets in the 2019 climate action plan. It estimated the demand for labour associated with offshore wind development will increase from the low hundreds to 2,500 mid-decade and will fluctuate around this level to 2030. The group's modelling was based on the five phases of offshore wind energy, namely, planning, development, installation and operations through to decommissioning. Across these phases, the expert group identified a range of skills that are required in engineering, environmental science and humanities, construction and technical services, legal and professional services, transport and logistics, and emerging and niche occupations. As well as ongoing industry engagement with Ireland's skills development system, the report recommended the establishment of training partnerships or responses for projects between the Government, industry and education and training providers.

The offshore wind industry has significant regional employment and the Department is involved in the development and launch of nine new regional enterprise plans to 2024. In developing these, the steering committees in each region considered how to contribute to a carbon-neutral economy. Some of the regional enterprise plans contain specific strategic objectives of relevance to the offshore renewable wind and supply chain. For example, the mid-west regional enterprise plan aims to harness the potential for major offshore floating wind projects off the west coast and to bring users of renewable energy physically close to the energy source. The west regional enterprise plan specifically targets the region's potential for enterprise and job creation in the renewable energy sector. It includes a focus on the potential of green hydrogen in decarbonising industry. The region will work with large energy users to demonstrate the demand for this form of energy. The north-west plan targets the growth of the wind energy industry by diversifying its existing onshore wind industry into the offshore wind industry.

The Shannon Estuary task force is being established in response to a commitment in the programme for Government. Given the Shannon Estuary’s deepwater port and geographical position, it is expected to assess the potential for renewable energy projects. Existing infrastructure such as Shannon Foynes Port and the Tarbert and Moneypoint power stations will be key to harnessing that potential. Several renewable energy projects that either have been proposed or are in planning illustrate the region's potential to complete its transition to a renewable-based economy, and these are expected to inform the work of the task force.

Achieving the full potential of Ireland's offshore wind resource offers major opportunities for the development of offshore wind electricity and associated by-products such as hydrogen, ammonia, energy storage and transmission technologies and technology services. Large international investors are engaged with indigenous companies in a range of joint ventures to progress some of these business opportunities. The Department and its agencies are actively engaged in building capacity in the indigenous sector for these supply chain opportunities.

I thank members for their attention. My colleagues and I will be happy to answer any questions they may have.

I thank Ms Bourke. I now invite Ms Hennessy to make her opening statement.

Ms Martina Hennessy

The Climate Action Plan 2021 set a target of 5 GW of offshore wind to be connected to the grid by 2030. I will provide an overview of the significant progress being made to deliver on this objective.

The Maritime Area Planning Act 2021 has delivered the legislative basis to enable regulation of Ireland's maritime area outside the 12 nautical mile coastal zone limit for the first time. This was an important achievement and provides certainty for offshore wind energy projects, which involve substantial levels of upfront investment. The legislation provides the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications with powers to assess the first batch of maritime area consent, MAC, applications from a set of qualified offshore renewable energy, ORE, developers. The purpose of this assessment will be to ensure only developers with the necessary financial and technical capability can enter the planning system. A consultation on the proposed MAC assessment criteria was recently completed and the Minister will shortly announce the date in April when the MAC application window will open for this first batch of applications. This will be a milestone on the critical path towards delivery on our 2030 targets, boosting international confidence in the State's intent to deliver at pace.

These assessments and the awarding of MACs to suitably qualified developers will be completed in quarter 3 of this year. Developers can then apply to An Bord Pleanála for development permission, which will involve a full environmental assessment and public consultation in respect of their proposed projects. The granting of MACs will also enable the first offshore renewable electricity support scheme auction to open in quarter 4 of 2022, providing a route to market for these projects. As part of these offshore renewable energy support scheme, ORESS, contracts, significant contributions to community benefit funds, amounting to millions of euros annually, will be required from each project. The model for the management and distribution of these funds will shortly be finalised, following the completion of a public consultation exercise.

Given this first phase of projects alone will not deliver the full 5 GW, a second batch of projects will need to be progressed through the development pipeline. Again, the overriding objective must be to ensure only the most viable and realistic projects gain entry to the planning system. The Department currently has a consultation open, setting out a range of potential criteria to identify this pool of projects, including the possible inclusion of an innovation category for non-fixed wind technologies such as floating wind. In tandem with the work being led by the Department, a range of initiatives are under way in many other Departments and State agencies to support the development of this new sector, some of which members will hear from today.

It is also important that work under way in the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the marine environment units of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage be progressed at pace to ensure appropriate data are made available to inform the sustainable development of the offshore wind energy sector while also ensuring national objectives regarding marine biodiversity are attained. Recognising the range of initiatives under way, the Cabinet committee on the environment and climate change recently approved a proposal to establish a delivery task force for offshore wind. Matt Collins, assistant secretary in the Department, will chair this task force with the aim of ensuring the alignment and co-ordinated delivery of all activities under way among Departments, State agencies and related bodies.

Work is also being progressed to establish the building blocks required to enable the full potential of our offshore resource to be realised beyond 2030. The policy intent is to move to a plan-led regime whereby the State, in consultation with all maritime users, will identify the areas best suited for sustainable renewable energy development. Work on the second offshore renewable energy development plan is in progress and includes assessment of the opportunities for wind, wave and tidal technologies. In parallel, work to assess the economic opportunity is being progressed, examining how to connect potential sources of offshore energy with large demand centres in continental Europe. The planned Greenlink interconnector will provide a 500 MW connection between Ireland and Great Britain, while the Celtic interconnector will provide a 700 MW link between Ireland and the European internal energy market by connecting Ireland to France. Non-electricity grid-related opportunities, particularly the potential to use excess renewable electricity to generate synthetic e-fuels such as hydrogen or ammonia, are also being assessed. These fuels can be used to help decarbonise the heating and cooling sectors and the transport sector, especially in the case of heavy goods vehicles, maritime transport and potentially even the aviation sector.

In summary, significant work is under way in a range of Departments and State agencies to deliver on our 2030 offshore wind targets and this work remains firmly on track. My colleague Mr. Finucane and I will be happy to take any questions.

I thank Ms Hennessy. I now invite Mr. McCabe to make his opening remarks.

Mr. Conor McCabe

I thank the Chairman and members for the invitation. I am the principal officer responsible for the ongoing development and implementation of the new maritime planning system, brought about by the Maritime Area Planning Act and the national marine planning framework.

The State has undergone the most comprehensive review and overhaul of marine legislation and governance since its formation. The two primary pillars of this reform are the national marine planning framework, NMPF, which was launched by the Taoiseach on 1 July 2021, and the Maritime Area Planning Act, which was passed by these Houses and subsequently promulgated by the President on 23 December 2021.

The NMPF is the long-term forward plan for Ireland’s maritime area to ensure the effective management of marine activities and more sustainable use of our marine resources. It is also intended to support the introduction of offshore renewable energy into our maritime area. The Maritime Area Planning Act will be the cornerstone of the new marine planning system in Ireland and brings together and creates the legal foundation for forward planning, streamlined development management and enforcement. All future offshore renewable energy applications will be consented through this Act. The Act will also establish a new agency, the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority, MARA, the role of which will be to govern the occupation of the maritime area. With these initiatives, and guided by the NMPF, our maritime planning system will move towards being a plan-led process rather than the developer-led system it currently is.

The NMPF is a parallel document to the national planning framework, NPF. Both of these spatial plans are concerned with the long-term future of our land and sea area, identifying opportunities for protection, growth and development so that our land and marine areas can be managed in the best interests of the public. The NPF recognises the importance of integration and co-ordination with the land planning regime at national, regional and local levels. In future it will be equally important, in turn, that national, regional and local terrestrial plans are consistent with the NMPF, as will be required under the Maritime Area Planning Act. The Act also provides for designated maritime area plans, DMAPs, which are management plans for a localised area of our sea, to be developed. Any Minister or relevant public body will be able to bring forward a DMAP proposal for a geographic area or sector which will be subject to public participation, environmental assessment and Oireachtas decision. Once approved, these DMAPs become part of the NMPF. This ensures a joined-up approach to marine forward planning with binding considerations for decision-makers. I fully expect that the enduring offshore renewable energy system will be led and supported by DMAPs and will manoeuvre the system away from a developer-led model and towards a State-led model. I thank the committee members for their interest and am happy to answer their questions.

Mr. David Owens

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to the committee. I am accompanied by my colleague, Ms Fiona Ralph. I am a principal officer in the climate unit in the Department of Finance and I deal with national and international climate priorities as well as sustainable financial services.

The EU taxonomy for sustainable activities is an extremely important piece of work. In a nutshell it defines what is sustainable for almost 40% of economic activities that are themselves responsible for up to 80% of our total emissions. We know that Ireland and the rest of the EU needs to substantially increase sustainable investment over the next decade. This investment cannot come solely from governments - private investors must also crowd in. The taxonomy will encourage and guide investors to identify and channel money towards genuinely green investments. I will comment on the purpose of the taxonomy and its relevance to today’s topic before turning to the state of play in its development.

The taxonomy is a classification system developed at EU level. It aims to specify technical, science-based criteria for assessing whether specific economic activities make a substantial positive contribution to climate change while doing no significant harm to the environment and simultaneously meeting minimum safeguards. The taxonomy will evolve over time with more activities being added. It will also reflect technological advances. The Commission’s website offers a useful taxonomy compass tool, which can be used to check the requirements sector by sector. For example, the taxonomy sets out the conditions that a variety of activities related to the renewable energy sector must meet in order to be deemed sustainable, from electricity generation, storage, manufacture, transmission and distribution to solar, wind, geothermal, renewable non-fossil gaseous and liquid fuel and bioenergy. It is primarily aimed at large companies and the financial services sector to guide and mobilise investments in activities to achieve carbon neutrality.

Although it is voluntary for companies to spend or invest in taxonomy-aligned activities, certain companies in scope must report on the extent to which their business is aligned with the taxonomy’s standards. The EU and its member states are also working with other countries to agree a common set of standards that can be applied globally.

The taxonomy should be beneficial in a number of ways. Investors will be better able to identify opportunities and confidently invest in projects and companies that have a substantial positive impact on the climate. Corporates and financial services firms will improve transparency on sustainability impacts, risks and opportunities due to the taxonomy and other complementary transparency legislation. These factors should help to shift investments to where they are most needed for the transition to net zero, while helping citizens, corporates and governments to keep an eye on where the money is going.

I will now outline the state of play in its development. The overarching regulation came into force in 2020 and set out six environmental objectives: climate change mitigation; climate change adaptation; sustainable use and protection of water and marine resources; transition to a circular economy; pollution prevention and control; and the protection and restoration of biodiversity and ecosystems. To be considered sustainable, an activity must make a substantial contribution to one or more of those six objectives and do no significant harm to the other objectives. It must also meet minimum social safeguards and comply with technical screening criteria related to the objectives.

The detailed requirements for these objectives are set out in a series of delegated Acts, one of which came into force on 1 January 2022 and covers climate mitigation and adaptation. A complementary Act, covering the requirements for natural gas and nuclear power, was adopted by the Commission on 2 February and, unless rejected by the Council or the European Parliament, will come into force next year.

Reporting requirements for firms in scope of the taxonomy are also in force as of this year. These reporting requirements are complementary to those already existing and under development under some other notable EU legislation, such as the sustainable finance disclosures regulation and the non-financial reporting directive, which is currently being amended to become the corporate sustainability reporting directive.

The Commission has indicated that an additional delegated Act, covering the four remaining environmental objectives - water and marine, circular economy, pollution prevention, and biodiversity - is expected later this year. Consideration is also being given to expanding the taxonomy to cover intermediate, or transitional, environmental performance and social objectives.

In addition, under the European Commission’s 2018 action plan on sustainable finance, we are now negotiating a regulation for a European green bond standard that could come into operation in 2024 and aims to set a gold standard for green bonds to raise funds on capital markets.

As taxonomy alignment reporting beds in for corporates and becomes increasingly relevant for the public sector, it is reasonable to expect that Ireland’s public expenditure should increasingly demonstrate alignment with the taxonomy. I am happy to take questions.

I thank Mr. Owens. I might ask a few quick questions. I hope our guests can be succinct in their answers. My first question is for Mr. Owens and relates to the EU taxonomy. While it is not decided yet, the European Council and the European Parliament need to make their decision. The concern in this committee is that labelling nuclear and gas as green energy in Europe could send a signal that stifles development by diverting attention, opportunity and investment away from Ireland. We would think there is now an opportunity, especially considering the current security and energy crises, to seek to decarbonise the energy systems in Europe as quickly as possible. Ireland is well placed in that regard and the concern is that the taxonomy might pull against that opportunity.

I have a question for Mr. McCabe from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage relating to MARA and An Bord Pleanála. A guest who was before the committee prior to this session said that a concern for the industry is that both of those institutions may not have the necessary human resources to deal with the number of applications and the level of opportunity that exists. Are we confident that the resourcing plan is sufficient to realise as quickly as possible the opportunity that is there?

Does Mr. Owens want to take the first question?

Mr. David Owens

With regard to taxonomy, as was said, the second delegated Act on gas and nuclear has some distance to travel yet. It is a compromise. The Commission has worked through looking at how considerably more than 20% of electricity in the EU is generated using nuclear energy. Not all of the alternatives are in place. The timing of divestment from gas and nuclear technology will have to be carefully considered. The approach of the Government has been to seek to have a slightly higher standard applied on the gas side of taxonomy. However, we remained agnostic on the nuclear side, given that the Commission had worked hard on trying to find a compromise. Many member states had different views for different reasons. There are different stages of development and we judged that it was not unreasonable for the transition, at least, not to rule out any investment in gas or nuclear.

Does Mr. Owens think it might slow down the development of our own resource?

Mr. David Owens

My personal opinion is that it will not. Significant money is looking for renewable energy opportunities at present, both domestically and internationally. I know from previous experience working with some of the multinational development banks that they are extremely interested. The European Investment Bank, EIB, is Europe's climate bank in which there are considerable opportunities. There are also significant pent-up savings in Ireland that can be used to meet some of these goals. In short, I hope it will not slow down the development of our own resource.

Will Mr. McCabe answer the question on the resourcing of An Bord Pleanála and MARA?

Mr. Conor McCabe

I do not share the concern of the MRIA or Wind Energy Ireland in terms of resourcing for both those agencies. Proposals from An Bord Pleanála have been accepted and approved around the creation of a new marine unit within its organisational structure. We remain in ongoing discussions with An Bord Pleanála to ensure that new unit is appropriately staffed. We have to remain agile in that space because many of these are new skills for An Bord Pleanála and it needs access to those as well. We will work closely with An Bord Pleanála on this in the short, medium and long term.

We are on course to have the new agency, MARA, established in the first quarter of next year. An establishment unit has been created within the Department of Housing, Heritage and Local Government, the sole purpose of which is to get that agency up and running. Part of that will be to identify a proper workforce plan very shortly. I am confident that the right resources will be in the agency ahead of applications being accepted. There are statutory limits on those applications in terms of how long they take to process. These have been set out in the Maritime Area Planning Act 2021. The agency will have to react to that but I do not have a concern. I am quite confident we will be ahead of that situation.

I thank Mr. McCabe for being very clear in his answer. I will move on to Senator Boylan.

My questions are for the Department of Finance. I will pick up on the concerns the Chair raised on the EU taxonomy. What sort of risk analysis has been done on the provisions of the Energy Charter Treaty to which Ireland is a signatory? The Department of Finance officials said it was an evolving process and gas may change over time but once an investor comes and is set up, the investor will be protected for the duration of the investment. Has a risk analysis been done by the Department on the impact of the Energy Charter Treaty and investments that may come into the country on the back of the EU taxonomy?

Mr. David Owens

The short answer is "No".

I do not know how one follows up on that.

We appreciate succinct answers. We do not have too much time. It is good to have that on the record. We spoke with the Commission for Regulation of Utilities recently and encouraged it to do that risk analysis. It makes sense that every arm of the State looks at that.

This week there was a further round of negotiations to reform it which failed. We are on the hook in that any investment that comes in will have protection and access to the investor-state dispute settlement, ISDS, court system. If we change the EU taxonomy rules or anything like that for investors, once they have established here, they will be able to avail of those provisions under the Energy Charter Treaty. I will not take up any more time.

We probably will have time for a second round. I will move to the Senator's colleague, Deputy O'Rourke.

My questions are for the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications. The cost of renewables came up in our earlier session in terms of the delivery task force for offshore wind. Will that have a cost dimension? We are an outlier in terms of the cost of renewables. Are auctions and the potential of further auctions to deliver further high-cost electricity within the Department's mandate or area of focus? What is it doing about that?

Grid capacity is related to cost. EirGrid has outlined a schedule of works or areas of the grid that will be rated up or upgraded. However, it has given no indication of timelines or when those works will be completed. Will all of them be delivered? It could be June, July or August of 2029. Has EirGrid given the Department an indicative timeline for those projects in the shaping our energy future report? If it has, will the Department officials share that with the committee?

The questions are for the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications.

Ms Martina Hennessy

My colleague, Mr. Finucane, is probably best placed to answer those.

Mr. Martin Finucane

I will answer the first question on the delivery task force. The one thing about the long-term delivery of renewable energy is, especially as we look to develop the offshore sector, that it is a relatively new sector in Ireland. Many work streams are ongoing in different Departments, agencies and regulatory bodies.

The main job of the delivery task force will be to co-ordinate and pull together all of these aspects. A key part of that will be to ensure we are able to develop an enterprise and skill-development strategy alongside that and as the projects start to move from planning phases into construction phases and, in turn, into operation and management phases, we will have the skilled people ready to work with those projects and Irish companies available to take part in the construction and ongoing operation and management of the projects.

All of this is critical to ensure that projects have more certainty in terms of development. That is a key plank to enable them to bid in the auctions in a very competitive fashion. The support system that the project will come into is quite a competitive option scenario. They will bid against each other which will also be a good control on cost coming into the market for us.

We published an offshore grid policy last April which showed that would centralise the offshore grid in a single offshore transmission system operator. This operator is EirGrid which is working very closely with ESB networks to ensure that the development of an appropriate offshore grid strategy fits, in a timely and appropriate fashion, with the development and strengthening of the onshore grid.

Another of the Deputy's questions related to the grid capacity and the timing of works.

Shaping Our Electricity Future, which was published recently by EirGrid, looks at the development of the entire grid network up until 2030 so it takes on board not just the advent of onshore and offshore renewables and different technologies such as onshore wind, solar, biomass and offshore wind, it also looks at growth in demand and traditional gas and other generation units on the system. It does this because we need to take a holistic view of grid development. EirGrid and ESB Networks work very closely to ensure that new technologies can be taken on board; the grid is strengthened in the areas that require it, particularly around the greater Dublin area; and that ongoing replacement measures-----

I have a clear question about Shaping Our Electricity Future. There is a list of 48 grid reinforcement projects. Has EirGrid given the Department a timeline for when they will be completed with dates and, if so, can Mr. Finucane share them with us?

Mr. Martin Finucane

The timeline for the projects are put together by EirGrid and ESB Networks so they are published in the generation capacity statements by both those bodies. The early works would be scheduled and have timelines in place. Some of the later projects strengthening towards the mid to end of the decade probably do not have firm dates.

Mr. Finucane pointed towards the auction as a mechanism for driving down costs. Is the Department taking additional measures? Is it concerned about Ireland being an outlier in terms of the cost of renewables and are there specific initiatives it is taking to address that?

Mr. Martin Finucane

At the end of last year, we put out the draft terms and conditions for the auction as a full public and industry consultation. In that, we outlined several options we were considering for the final auction terms and conditions. We looked at whether or not we would index link part of the bid prices. All of these have impacts on how the companies will structure their bids ultimately for the auction. Together with our financial advisers, we are working through some of those options and the responses to the consultation. We are looking at the individual components companies put together when they are formulating their bid prices so we are looking at the different areas within that.

Does Ms Hennessy wish to come in?

Ms Martina Hennessy

EirGrid will be part of that delivery task force. Part of the work will be to address the Deputy's point to ensure there is clear alignment between what is happening in the planning system, the auctions and so on and the grid and to make sure all the timelines stack up.

Regarding cost, a work stream is underway to look at the longer-term economic model. While my colleague spoke about the auctions in the short term, we recognise that to develop offshore beyond 2030, an economic analysis needs to be undertaken given that we are not as readily connected to the European Continent as other countries so there needs to be a clear pathway for how we can build and make best use of our offshore capability so that analysis has been initiated as well.

I thank the witnesses for the presentation. It is impressive to see the amount of progress that is being made and the establishment of the plan-led approach, the task force, enterprise and skills and the cluster. My central question would be if the political system seeks to lift our efforts on offshore renewable opportunity to a higher level, what would the witnesses recommend should now be done because it seems they have put in a framework and it is hard to criticise what is in it? Given deteriorating energy security and increasing urgency, what would the witnesses recommend we think about to take it to another level?

What is the scale of the employment cluster and the witnesses' ambition in terms of its future? Are we talking about a very significant employment cluster within Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland or is this part of a comparatively middle-of-the-road opportunity from the perspective of the enterprise sector?

I have studied the taxonomy and think it is a very useful tool. My central question concerns the degree to which the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has taken this on board. We have a new national development plan and €140 billion. The impression I get from people who come before this committee is that public procurement is still running pretty much as it always did and if there is not a very strong demand from the procurer to a create the most sustainable path for procurement, nothing much happens. There has not been that decisive shift. Whoever is commissioning the work is the primary driver. A taxonomy is not being applied by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to force those commissioning work down a more sustainable path.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is the one Department that is not here today so I am not sure their colleagues across-----

Hopefully, as half-sisters, the Department of Finance will-----

If anyone wants to answer on behalf of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, he or she is very welcome to do so. I think the first two questions were probably for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment but if other officials wish to come in on those questions, they are welcome to do so.

I think they are on the wider picture of how we lift our ambition.

Okay. Everybody can have a go.

Dr. Marie Bourke

I will let my colleague Dr. Alan Power come in regarding skills and the potential that was identified there for offshore wind and then let Mr. Liam Curran come in on the specifics of the clusters and the potential for Enterprise Ireland growth in that area.

Dr. Alan Power

We analysed offshore and onshore wind and grid scale solar so across that, we estimate that the uplift will be from a baseline demand of about 3,500 in 2020 to 9,000 by the end of the decade. We estimate that the offshore component of that will increase from the low hundreds to about 2,500 by the middle of the decade and should remain there for the remainder of the decade. The construction component in terms of getting these developments off the ground will be a strong component of that. I am also conscious that that Mr. Curran may be able to speak to the supply chain elements of that and the employment potential in the Enterprise Ireland company base.

I think Deputy Bruton's overarching question was what could be done now that the framework is there to take things to an even more ambitious level - as terrifying as that might sound to the witnesses.

Mr. Liam Curran

We have been involved in the sector for about four years. We developed this scale offshore network with over 65 companies in it. They have a range of capabilities in the offshore wind industry. A group of the companies involved would be heavily involved in the industry and are currently working in the UK. They would be working in the North Sea, Taiwan, Vietnam, the east coast of the US and so on. We also have a group of companies in there that are involved in the on-shore piece - basically cable landing, substations on shore and grid engineering to bring that power on to the grid. The third group of companies are in the broader marine engineering space and would have capability to move into offshore wind.

We have a growing capability in the sector. Certainly all the companies that we have are tier 2 and that will be the case in the short to medium term. We see significant employment growth in those companies. We also see them buying new vessels for survey work for geotechnical and geophysical applications, for example. We see a number of companies also buying crew transfer vessels, which are effectively the buses of the industry. We see significant interest from overseas tier 1 companies and developers, particularly those in the UK. The developers and tier 1 companies in the UK are the ones that will come to Ireland to develop projects here. Our approach is to get as many of our companies in this cluster as possible into the UK industry with a view to them building their capability in that industry, making connections there, working with these tier 1 companies in the UK and then bringing that capability back home subsequently to maximise the local content in the supply chain for the Irish projects.

Mr. Mark Christal

As Mr. Curran said, we are at an early enough stage in the development of the sector and we have not put a cap on our potential capability. It is to be worked through. In respect of employment, the value added jobs that could come with this opportunity and the regional spread of the roles are very much at the forefront of our minds. That aspect further adds to the opportunity that may exist here.

Dr. Marie Bourke

IDA Ireland is focused on foreign direct investment and getting some of these contractors and developers to locate hub activities in Ireland and create employment here as well as linking them to the indigenous supply chains that are here.

The officials have been so good and effective and stimulating the data centre industry in Ireland. There are challenges with that, of course, but I am sure they can be as effective at inviting foreign direct investment and getting it set up. I appreciate Mr. Curran's points about piggy-backing off the UK's industrial heritage and economy. However, we need to look to the likes of Germany and Netherlands where there are significant players who do want to be active in the Irish market and are knocking on the door. We should keep them in mind as well.

Does Ms Hennessy wish to come in?

Ms Martina Hennessy

In response to Deputy Bruton's question about the scale of ambition and what can be done to accelerate it, there is an awful lot happening across Departments and agencies. Bringing them together under the delivery task force will enable that connectedness and alignment to ensure that we are progressing at pace across all different areas. From a whole-of-government perspective, it would be good to raise the profile of our need to attain our biodiversity targets in tandem with delivering on offshore renewable energy. The work has been initiated in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage on marine protected areas. We would like to see that accelerated so that we are de-risking the process for offshore energy projects as they move through the new planning system. That would be an important area. We certainly believe there is scope for both sets of targets and objectives to be met. It is an area that could have greater focus.

Mr. David Owens

I might just very quickly go back to Senator Boylan's question. We in the Department of Finance have not done a risk assessment on the Energy Charter Treaty. I cannot speak for others. It is a voluntary standard and I think the standard is higher for gas than anything that is in place at the moment.

In response to Deputy Bruton, I will not speak for my colleagues in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform except to say that I know in the national development plan it has been climate tagged. They have gone through the projects and done some work around that. Under the Recovery and Resilience Facility, from memory I think 37% must align with the "do no significant harm" elements of the taxonomy. It is not full compliance but it is in line with that.

We also have two other sources of green funds, namely the carbon tax, which is fully hypothecated for green purposes and underlies a great deal of the climate action plan, and the green bond. The National Treasure Management Agency, NTMA, has raised closed to €7 billion, all of which is allocated for green purposes. There is an annual allocation report, which is independently verified by a third-party company.

Mr. Martin Finucane

In response to Deputy Bruton's questions, there are two aspects to developing our offshore wind resources. The first is achieving our own national ambitions, which are aiming at 5 GW this side of 2030. We have outlined the different frameworks for that. Before we have even gone to the first auction and processed the first batch of projects ready to build, we have put out a consultation looking at the next batch of projects, which closes tomorrow. We are developing a flow of projects as we go forward to ensure that industry and all the different players have time to get their order correct so they are able to be operational by 2030. On the second part of it, we are looking at the potential opportunity beyond our own national requirements. In the programme for Government a figure of up to 30 GW was identified as potential for either the export markets or going beyond where we are. We are working very closely with the European Commission in respect of the Trans-European Networks for Energy, TEN-E, programme. The new programme has a new focus on cross-border connections and potential hybrid connections where generation can link in to traditional electricity interconnectors. Ireland this year is chairing the North Seas Energy Cooperation where with a group of North Sea countries we are looking at speeding up the process of infrastructure and market development to get offshore wind moving at a quicker pace than is possible at the moment.

The unfortunate events in Ukraine and the energy response to them have very much put a new focus on engaging with the UK at national and Commission level in co-operation talks and building on the post-Brexit trade and co-operation agreement discussions that are under way with the UK in respect of cross-border energy trading. That process will definitely be speeded up as a result of this.

We have three more members looking to come in and 20 minutes left. I will try to speed things along as best I can.

I am a little concerned by what I have heard about the taxonomy, which is about climate tagging. It is not about whether gas or nuclear power exist or are invested in, but whether we are tagging them as climate renewable and sustainable. On their attempted inclusion, the European Investment Bank has said it will not accept it. Many institutional investors of more than €50 trillion, I think, in investment funds, have said they will not recognise that. Ireland should not be agnostic on this issue. It is about the credibility of investment in this area and the rerouting of it. We should move from being agnostic to being believers in really pushing green hydrogen and renewable energies such as wind energy and wave energy, which we heard about from earlier witnesses. If Ireland is in a neutral position on this, we should champion this because there are tensions between continuation of gas and green hydrogen. Germany now has a green hydrogen strategy. If we could just come to where Ireland could get ahead of industry in this-----

I am going to push the Senator to finish.

I just had one more point.

I wanted to mention the demand side. On illustrating the demand for green hydrogen by partnering with big companies, it seems we need to have a State level push on green hydrogen. We hear about keeping the lights on, but I am a bit concerned that the strategy for the western seaboard seems to involve large energy users, which I imagine are data centres, being the drivers and in control of the agenda. I ask the witnesses to comment on the State-led approach in terms of energy security, green hydrogen and renewables.

On the issue of Designated Marine Area Plans, DMAPs, for marine protected areas, MPAs, I was concerned that the representative of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage spoke about DMAPs as an area, when every other witness that we have had from industry has talked about the MPAs as being core to the State-led approach. I ask the witnesses to comment on the MPAs as part of the core approach and indeed, increasing the State's capacity for environmental surveys and sensitivity mapping as part of how we interpret. There will need to be environmental assessment of projects, not just of areas.

Does Mr. Owens wish to respond to the Senator's first question on our ambition and not being agnostic, as it were?

Mr. David Owens

We would like to be ambitious on this. The delegated Act covers those conditions that investments in natural gas and nuclear energy have to meet. Ireland is not likely to object to this delegated Act, as it stands at the moment. Taxonomy is a voluntary standard. Strict emissions targets were put in around gas. Nuclear power generation is banned in Ireland. There is no intention to revisit that.

Just to be clear, we could object to it on the council.

Mr. David Owens

We could vote against it I think-----

The delegated Act, which just covers nuclear energy and natural gas.

Mr. David Owens

-----but we do not have a veto power. On the basis that the Commission worked hard to find an outcome that kept all 27 members in the room, we did not move against it. I do not think we will object to the delegated Act at this point in time. That is not to deny that investments in natural gas and nuclear energy are controversial. It is also not to deny that in the next number of years it will be impossible not to have investments in both those technologies.

The Minister has spoken against them. I do not understand why. It does not tie into any other areas of the taxonomy. It is specifically about natural gas and nuclear energy. I do not understand why Ireland's position is inconsistent.

I ask Mr. Owens to respond briefly. We need to move on.

Mr. David Owens

I do not recall the Minister of Finance speaking against them.

I was referring to the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications.

The Senator asked questions on the State's role and the MPAs. Doe Ms Hennessy wish to respond?

Ms Martina Hennessy

I thank the Senator for her questions. I might address some of the questions she asked around the State approach. As I said in my opening statement, the intention is that the work that we are doing on the offshore renewable energy development plan, OREDP, will inform how best we move forward with the State-led approach. We want to move from the current project or developer led approach to the State actually identifying the best areas for offshore energy in consultation and using an evidence-based approach and data from many other sectors, including data on the environmental sensitivities. National parks and wildlife and MPAs are all important, but they are not the only aspects that are being looked at. It is much broader than that. Once we complete that national assessment, the OREDP, the intention is that we then identify the best areas to move into the DMAPs that our colleague in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage referenced. Just to be clear, there are environmental assessments to be carried out at every level of the process. At a plan level, we are carrying out a strategic environmental assessment, an appropriate assessment. When we get down through the DMAP, similar exercises will be carried out. Further down, at a project level, there will be environmental impact assessments and so on. It is very much a holistic approach that we are taking. The framework and the legislation which the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has established is very much providing the overarching framework within which we are working. Moving to that State-led approach will offer a lot of advantages for the State, but also for other maritime users. It will enable the protection of biodiversity and also de-risk the process for developers. It really is the optimal route, long term. However, there is work to be done to get there. We are working through that transition at the moment.

If any other witnesses wish to respond to the Senator's questions, I ask them to raise their hand and I will bring them in. Ms Hennessy answered both the Senator's questions.

I also asked about the green hydrogen strategy.

I think the Minister is on the record as saying that there will be a strategy at the end of the year, as part of the climate action plan. Does Mr. Finucane want to comment?

Mr. Martin Finucane

Yes, the Minister has gone on the record to say that. I think it was hinted at in the existing Climate Action Plan, but I think he is going to firm it up in the next version of it, which is due at the end of the year. There will be work, including a potential public consultation on it in advance of that by the end of the year.

I am happy to get any other answers in writing. I also asked about the issue of partnering with large energy users. How do we ensure that there is local energy security for keeping the lights on if renewable energy is tied very closely to specific customers, such as large energy users? I know that I am out of time, so I am happy to receive a written answer to that question.

Mr. Martin Finucane

I will quickly provide a one-sentence answer to that. That was very much part of the reason why EirGrid produced the Shaping our Electricity Future report. It took on board all aspects of looking at how the system operates, including demand forecasts, and all customers were built into that. That is very clearly outlined in Shaping our Electricity Future.

I call on Deputy Whitmore, who is joining us online.

I know we are up against the clock, so I will ask some quick questions. Mr. Owens referred to the carbon tax and the fact it is fully ring-fenced for measures. Is it not that case that it is only the increase in the carbon tax that has been applied that has been ring-fenced? I am not sure of the exact percentage, but a significant proportion of carbon tax is not ring-fenced for carbon measures.

I have a question for the representatives from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. The seafood-offshore renewable energy working group was to be set up by 2021 to act as a stakeholder body. I am wondering whether there is a progress report on that. There are some concerns that there have been delays with it. It is fundamental that those discussions are happening between different stakeholders to ensure that we get the right response in answer to our renewable questions.

I am not sure if any of the witnesses can answer this question, but I am wondering if there are any plans to dial up Ireland's preparedness to harness our natural resources in light of the events in Ukraine. It has been a very quickly evolving situation. There is quite a high level of risk that energy security in Europe and Ireland over the short to medium, and perhaps long, term could be impacted. Are there any discussions within the Departments about speeding up our response to ensure that we have renewable energy in place to give us that resilience?

Mr. David Owens

The Deputy is correct. There is a baseline that goes to the Exchequer. All the increases then underpin the Climate Action Plan.

Perhaps Mr. McCabe will comment on the progress of the offshore renewable energy working group.

Mr. Conor McCabe

I absolutely recognise that we wanted to get this done in 2021. I hope that this week we will be advertising on our website for a chair of that group. I am delighted with that progress. We have met separately with stakeholders in fisheries and renewable energy around the formation of the group. We have not been inactive. It is important to note that the Bill took all of our resources. It was an incredibly complex and difficult piece of legislation to get through. To tie this back to Deputy Bruton's question around what can be done, I think the legislation and the framework really showed what the State can do when it puts it mind to something. Right across a number of Departments and the political apparatus, people really got behind the legislation and got it through. We spent 22 to 24 hours at Committee Stage alone, but everybody had a very similar vision and objective, even though there might have been disagreements around the contents of the Bill. That really showed that when we all focus, we can get things done. We need a similar focus now, going into the future. We will be bringing forward a marine planning policy statement over the coming months. We will be laying a draft before the Oireachtas.

Similarly we would like to focus on that as it could set a clear direction for all marine planning into the future. We want to lay down exactly what are our priorities in this respect. That covers the questions that may have come our way.

The final question is probably for the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications on Ukraine and the speeding up of our response with respect to renewable energy.

Mr. Martin Finucane

In this respect we are working very closely with our EU and International Energy Agency partners to look at the question of energy security right across the different aspects of energy. A key aspect is increasing the rate of deployment of energy efficiency measures every bit as much as demand and supply side measures. There was an emergency energy Council meeting in Brussels last week and the International Energy Agency met at ministerial level last week looking at these matters as well. The entire European energy system is really looking at how it can response by dialling up delivery of the Fit for 55 packages. I expect we will see measures put in place in the short term to speed this up as quickly as we can.

I thank the witnesses.

I thank everybody for coming along and giving their thoughts. In the submission from the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, it spoke about significant community gain but what exactly does that mean? What communities is the Department speaking about? There are licences for legacy projects that should be first to be allowed go ahead. Will that be the case or is the Department talking about other new projects in the submission rather than these legacy projects? I am very interested to hear what the Department has to say about moving to a more State-led approach. When might that happen? Will it happen on time or will we end up in a position where the developers will lead the development or renewable energy when they choose to invest in something? How will the State ensure something happens if a developer decides not to invest in it? Our aim for 2030 is very ambitious, given where we are coming from.

In the submission from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, it speaks about the Shannon Estuary economic task force and the role it will play in delivering renewables. We and the Government parties have a concern that liquefied natural gas planning permission might be awarded. Even the Chairman's party has put a Bill forward to stop this happening in the future. How would it affect plans for the Shannon Estuary economic task force if the Shannon liquefied natural gas planning application was approved by An Bord Pleanála.

My final question is on the EU taxonomy, as it flies in the face of everything we heard from the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that we would even consider relying on fossil fuels and nuclear power in future given how frightening the report was. What I really want to get at is the impact of the war on Ukraine and whether it will hurt our climate targets? Will it allow for massive importation of liquefied natural gas from the US? I read an article in The Washington Post about such gas flowing from the US when it previously could not export it. Most of that is coming to Europe. How does that look for us?

Mr. Martin Finucane

The first question relates to community gain, which is one of the areas we included in the terms and conditions when we went to public consultation just before Christmas. It is something we are looking at in respect of how the system will operate for the offshore wind projects. We are conscious any community benefit payments from offshore projects will be significantly bigger in volume and nature than any of the smaller onshore projects would be. We are looking to put a structure in place so we can ensure the relevant communities would benefit from the large-scale projects as they become operational.

Ms Martina Hennessy

I will take the questions regarding the licensing of projects. The first batch of projects that will be coming through the new regime have already significantly advanced works under the previous foreshore regime. They will have spent many years in several cases conducting surveys, including bird or environmental surveys and so on, to provide them with the detailed information they have in order to be able to move into the planning system. A protocol was agreed two years ago between the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications to enable those projects to transition over to the new regime. This provides many benefits for the State in that we have a much more streamlined and progressive regime that will be used to assess these applications.

Does that relate to legacy licences? There are some that are 20 years old.

Ms Martina Hennessy

There are seven projects. Some of them go back a number of years and some are more recent than that. The point to make clear is that these projects will be fully assessed under the new regime. What they have agreed is entry into the new system. When they come before the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications in order to apply for a maritime area consent, if they are deemed viable developers in that they have the financial and technical capability, they will give up any foreshore lease they already have in return for being granted a maritime area consent. That will then give a gateway to the planning system, allowing them go before An Bord Pleanála. The projects would have to be fully assessed from all environmental considerations along with planning. Public consultation would be part of that. Essentially, they are moving from the old regime to the new but will still be fully assessed.

As we mentioned, there is also an open consultation now on how we might best identify the second batch of projects. In order to meet the 2030 targets, the projects need a number of years to be developed - it is typically seven or more years - and we must get projects into the pipeline as soon as possible. That phase 2 consultation is currently open for everyone to contribute, thinking of how we identify the most appropriate projects to move into the new system. Again, the intention must be to ensure the most viable projects get into the planning system so we do not clog that system with projects that are not realistic.

On the question of a State-led approach, we must move forward in order to meet the 2030 targets and get these projects into the development pipeline at the same time as developing and figuring out the best approach to that State-led regime. We are doing work this year on the offshore renewable energy development plan, looking at opportunities and constraints, and we aim to have that completed by the end of this year or January 2023. That information will be available and used as part of that second batch of projects progressing through the development pipeline. To move a fully State-led approach will take a number of years and it is important to acknowledge we are trying to do both in tandem. We are trying to make the approach to assessing projects as they go through the system as robust as possible in the short term while the plan-led approach is being developed.

I thank the witnesses.

There is a question for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment around the Shannon Estuary task force and the liquefied natural gas project that has been mooted for there and is currently in planning with An Bord Pleanála.

Dr. Marie Bourke

The Shannon Estuary task force is being established now and its deliberations have yet to go ahead. It is an independent group so I am not really in a position to say what its plans will be at this stage for the liquefied natural gas terminal.

Mr. Liam Curran

I can comment on the potential of the Shannon Estuary for the offshore wind industry. On the west coast we will not be looking at bottom-fixed as we are in the Irish Sea. We will be looking at floating units. We could potentially use the Shannon Estuary as a fabrication base for that industry in fabricating units.

It has a number of key advantages. It is sheltered. There is deep water and a significant land bank. It is ideally placed to float those units out and subsequently tow them into place off the west coast. Shannon Estuary has a number of key advantages that would be relevant for the industry.

I will add to Deputy Bríd Smith's question. I know the question of the development of ports is a matter for the Department of Transport. To get our ports ready generally, whether Shannon Estuary or other ports, is an enormous infrastructural task. Does the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment see it as an urgent task or will we be into the next decade before we see delivery? The reason I ask is because I think it is something we can expedite. It would be important for the Department to seize the opportunity that could be delivered sooner rather than later. It would also be important for that Department to liaise with the Department of Transport to develop the infrastructure that will be necessary to realise the resource.

Dr. Marie Bourke

We absolutely see port infrastructure as critical to the development of the offshore wind industry. We have had a series of meetings with the Department of Transport in recent years. The ports are all privately owned and independent but we would see this as a key area where the delivery task force will need to zone in on to ensure we have all the different strands in place to expedite these developments.

Is Dr. Bourke saying that Shannon Estuary is privately owned and privately developed so we will have no say over it even though a task force has been created in the Department?

Dr. Marie Bourke

That is absolutely the case. That task force is to try to get all the strands and different players in place to deliver on the potential for that area. It is key to get the different stakeholders around the table for the port infrastructure, transport infrastructure and the land bank that is there, and ensure that the facilities are there when the developers are ready to move in.

The Government has no control over it. Even though it is policy not to support liquefied natural gas terminals, they may well come into Shannon Estuary. That could be another factor that would affect what the port or the task force does.

Dr. Marie Bourke

I do not know what the Deputy meant when she said "they may well come into Shannon Estuary"?

I meant liquefied natural gas terminals.

Dr. Marie Bourke

I will have to come back to the Deputy on that aspect of matters because I not familiar with it. I will have to talk to the people responsible.

That could have a significant impact on what this task force does, on what it can do and cannot do, if An Bord Pleanála grants planning permission. It is going to be a large project.

The Deputy asks a fair question. It would be useful for this committee to know more about the task force. Perhaps Dr. Bourke could supply us with a briefing note including details of the terms of reference. Did Dr. Bourke say a chair has been appointed?

Dr. Marie Bourke

The chair was appointed recently.

Can Dr. Bourke tell us who the chair is?

Dr. Marie Bourke

I cannot. I do not have that name. I will come back to the committee with the terms of reference, membership and details on what the task force is looking at.

Okay. It would be good to have as much detail as possible about the task force. If Dr. Bourke could supply that information, committee members would appreciate it.

My last question related to the EU taxonomy. Ireland could vote against it, and it would be a good thing if we did because it flies in the face of the warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change about our continued use of fossil fuels and nuclear power. Will our guests comment on the point I made about liquefied natural gas terminals and how the horrible situation in Ukraine is forcing US liquefied natural gas into Europe? Have our guests any knowledge on that issue?

That is probably a question for representatives of the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications. The EU taxonomy is a matter for the Department of Finance.

Mr. Martin Finucane

There is a security fear in Europe. Some 40% of European gas comes from Russia. Exercises are taking place, particularly in central and eastern European member states, to explore where alternative sources of gas could be found in the event of a physical interruption of the security of supply. In the very short term, one of the options to be examined is increasing the transport of liquefied natural gas that may otherwise have gone to the Asian market or other global markets to the European markets. That would be an immediate response to the Ukrainian crisis as opposed to a long-term plan.

I am going to end proceedings because we are way over time. I thank all the witnesses for coming in today. We appreciate their time and the answers they supplied.

The joint committee adjourned at 12.25 p.m. until 11 a.m. on Tuesday, 22 March 2022.