Thursday, 4 July 2019

Questions (14)

Brian Stanley


14. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the renewable energy infrastructure he plans to develop or assist in developing by 2030. [28308/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Communications)

We are moving fast this morning and I am looking around to see where the rest of the left is: there are huge gaps on the benches.

What plans do the Minister and his Department have to assist in the development of renewable energy infrastructure plans by 2030, which is one of the big challenges we face?

In the climate action plan I have set a target of 70% for renewable electricity by 2030 to make Ireland a leader in responding to climate change. This will build on the progress made in the past ten years, in which the renewable energy sector has undergone a considerable transformation, with the share of renewable electricity generation more than doubling to 30% in 2017. However, we must step up the scale of our plans even further in order to meet our climate ambitions. Analysis and modelling to underpin the plan assessed a range of options to ensure that Ireland meets its 2030 climate and energy ambitions. The plan identifies a range of technical, regulatory, legislative and economic factors that arise. The impact on the cost of electricity, affordability for consumers and business competitiveness of setting higher renewable electricity targets must also be considered. To meet the 70% target, major capital investment will be needed in new generation capacity, system service infrastructure, and electricity transmission and distribution networks. A review of the policy and regulatory framework will be necessary to incentivise electricity storage infrastructure, which will be critical to absorbing higher levels of renewable generation on to the system. Progressing EirGrid's programme, Delivering a Secure, Sustainable Electricity System, known as DS3, and the efficient procurement of low-carbon generation through the single-market capacity auctions, will be critical to delivering the system changes required to meet our 70% target.

In addition, increased interconnection, including to France and further interconnection to the UK, will be required to facilitate the large upscaling in onshore and offshore wind so that we can balance the grid and ensure security of supply. In parallel, delivering an early and complete phase-out of coal- and peat-fired electricity generation will create space for the entry of new renewable energy assets into the market.

The new renewable electricity support scheme, RESS, is critical to meeting Ireland's contribution to the target and is being designed to achieve that in a cost-competitive way. Private sector funding through corporate contracting will be essential for meeting higher levels of ambition to increase renewable energy supply and deliver on long-term decarbonisation. The RESS will be characterised by a series of renewable electricity auctions, aligned with the ambition set out in the climate action plan and the final national energy and climate plan, NECP, which is due to be submitted to the European Commission by the end of the year.

I thank the Minister for that reply. He mentioned the Celtic interconnector, which is a very important and welcome development for this country. It is hoped that when we develop renewable sources, electricity will be exported by the interconnector and it will help guarantee our supply. Last week, I received a reply from the Minister's Department to a parliamentary question, which said that as part of the climate action plan the State intends that a total of €13.7 billion will be put into energy investment by 2027. That is good but that is all the information the Department gave me. How much of that investment is expected to come from the State? Will there be matching funding from the private sector? Will it be through PPPs? It will not, I hope, be done through a gap-funded model similar to the broadband plan.

The big question is this. We know that the private sector will not do this on its own and that we have very successful semi-State companies, such as the ESB, Bord na Móna and Coillte. Will those companies be big players in this?

The detail of the €13.7 billion investment has to be worked out, but it will be in the areas I mentioned, namely, the system service infrastructure, the transmission and distribution networks, the interconnectors and storage infrastructure. Those are predominantly State infrastructures to facilitate the system's capacity for more renewables.

The private sector contribution will predominantly involve companies bidding at auctions and State bidders will not be favoured over private bidders. The auctions will have to be run in such a fashion that all bidders are treated equally. However, there will be separate pots, as one might call them. For example, we envisage a community pot the bidders for which could not be large private sector players. It will be a confined pot. Similarly, there may in time be a confined pot for offshore wind. As the Deputy will appreciate, that is at an earlier stage and will need to be given an opportunity to gain a foothold over time. In summary, the participation of the private sector will take place predominantly within the auction system.

I accept that there will have to be a rules-based auction system. My question is whether, as the shareholder and representative of the public in the ESB, Bord na Móna and Coillte, the Minister sees those companies becoming major players here. A lot of that is a matter for the policy direction of Government notwithstanding that the boards of those companies will make their own decisions. In the case of Bord na Móna, it is very welcome that it is going ahead with plans for renewable energy. As the key player in the setting of the policy direction, does the Government envisage these three companies having the major role?

I refer to biogas. France has 1,000 biogas plants producing clean biogas energy while Germany has 6,000. England has 600 and we have one. We are playing catch-up there. I put the point to the Minister also that we need to start developing biomass supply chains again. I will keep pushing this with the Minister. We do not have those chains here and we must start to develop them. What plans does the Government have to do so?

I agree absolutely with the Deputy. We intend that the ESB, Coillte and Bord na Móna will be major players. Those companies have set out significant ambitions and put plans in train and will play a strategic role in the move to a decarbonised economy. We announced recently the renewable heat support scheme, which will allow biomass provision to replace existing heat systems. A generous support scheme has been published and is envisaged to remove 10 million tonnes of carbon equivalent over the period 2021 to 2030, which is a significant initiative. There was biogas participation in the climate action fund. A successful biogas project under the fund will be a very useful test base to determine its potential role, which I do not doubt will be very significant.

Question No. 15 replied to with Written Answers.