Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Questions (109)

Michael Colreavy


109. Deputy Michael Colreavy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the reasons the exporting of wind energy from Ireland to Britain was shelved; the financial arrangements that were under negotiation; his views on whether this project will be reactivated; the impact this will have on Ireland's commitment to maximising our renewable energy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19988/14]

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Oral answers (5 contributions) (Question to Communications)

Last year, the UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Mr. Ed Davey, MP, and I signed a memorandum of understanding on energy co-operation. The memorandum demonstrated our shared interest in developing the opportunity to export green electricity from Ireland to Britain. An agreed programme of work was put in place, with work-streams across several areas. A key objective was to realise the potential for investment, job creation and growth. The amount of energy to be procured by the United Kingdom and the mechanisms for sharing the resultant economic benefits, including an appropriate return to the Exchequer, were among the matters to be addressed ahead of signing any intergovernmental agreement.

Economic analysis conducted by my officials, with significant inputs from the ESRI and NewERA, indicates that under agreed policy and regulatory conditions, renewable energy trading can deliver significant economic benefits to Ireland and the United Kingdom and would also be attractive to commercial investors and developers. However, progressing to an intergovernmental agreement on renewable energy trading would require any agreement to be designed in a manner that would work for both countries. In that regard, the UK side is not yet in a position to take certain key decisions on the quantity of energy to be procured, the regulatory treatment of Irish assets, the structure of subsidies to Irish developers and the resultant financial flows.

Following further discussions since the summit between the Taoiseach and Prime Minister Cameron in early March, I am confirmed in the view that given the economic, policy and regulatory complexities involved and the outstanding decisions to be taken by the United Kingdom, delivery by 2020 of an intergovernmental agreement to facilitate energy export is not now a realistic proposition. While it has not been possible at this time to conclude an agreement, in the context of a European internal energy market, greater trade in energy between Britain and Ireland is inevitable in the post-2020 scenario. At national level, of course, the strong focus on our 2020 commitments is undiminished and consideration is being given to building on these commitments as we look towards 2030.

We introduced the Wind Turbine Regulation Bill to curtail the export of renewable energy while, as a nation, we are so reliant on fossil fuels. From reports, it seems the British Government was not willing to pay the price. People are uncertain, as the Dáil and I are uncertain, as to whether the negotiations are about securing our energy needs or making the economic part a little more attractive for the Irish Government. Does the Minister believe fresh negotiations are the objective and that they would produce a better price deal than the first one, whatever it was? Renewable energy generation has to be a driving force if we are to attain energy security, but this has to be done in conjunction with local communities, which clearly was not being done. It must also be done by looking at every available option open to the Government in terms of renewable energy, given that there are other energy sources such as wind energy, biomass, tidal energy and so on. Is the Minister looking at these alternative sources, as well as waiting for a resumption of negotiations on a memorandum of understanding?

The contemplated wind export project in the midlands was a discrete and ring-fenced project that had nothing at all to do with our capacity to meet our domestic needs. We are on track to have 40% of our electricity generated from renewables by 2020.

By any European standard, that is considered to be at the leading edge in terms of what any transmission system can accommodate. We remain satisfied that we will reach that target and all of the evidence shows that we will. It is not a case of being able to divert what might have happened in the midlands into an additional quantum of renewable energy generation on top of the 40%. A hugely complex technical study is under way to measure the capacity of the transmission system in terms of how much any transmission system can accommodate in terms of renewables. Therefore, that is not the concern. The projects were entirely separate.

An awful lot of work is ongoing in this area. It is also an area in which there is much uncertainty. Pending publication of the Government's Green Paper on renewable energy and the debate on the Wind Turbine Regulation Bill, would it not make sense to introduce certainty by having a moratorium on planning for major wind farms? The companies are still negotiating leases and people are still nervous and concerned. Until we are clear on what our strategy is and the financial arrangements are, would it not make sense for us to introduce a moratorium on planning applications for major wind farms?

At the outset the Deputy said reasonably that he was in favour of renewables to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and accelerate the departure from a reliance on fossil fuels to renewables. He cannot say this, on the one hand, and, on the other, say he wants a moratorium on development of renewables. The planning system is immensely rigorous. Everybody has known for a number of years about our 2020 mandatory targets and we are confident that we can deliver on them. I am not sure whether there is a great deal of uncertainty. There is, undoubtedly, genuine concern, but there is a good deal of deliberate misrepresentation. I am sorry about this because trade is the lifeblood of the economy. This is a small economy which depends on trade and selling things to other member states and countries to earn a living. We must continue to build trade links and open new markets for products and services from this economy. That is the way we generate wealth and create jobs.