Wednesday, 10 March 2021

Questions (43)

Cathal Crowe


43. Deputy Cathal Crowe asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the way in which the existing Climate Action Plan 2019 can be enhanced in order to increase the speed at which renewable energy generation projects are brought online particularly in the context of the expedited downsizing of the Moneypoint power station. [13290/21]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Environment)

I thank the Minister, Deputy Ryan, for being in the Chamber. I wish to ask him, in his brief as Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, how the existing climate action plan can be enhanced to increase the speed at which renewable energy projects are brought online, particularly in the context of the expedited downsizing of the Moneypoint power station in west Clare.

Under the programme for Government and the Climate Action Plan 2019, Ireland had adopted a target of a 70% renewable share in electricity production by 2030. This will contribute to meeting the Government target of reducing Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions by 51% by 2030 and meeting the long-term target of climate neutrality by 2050.  

Electrifying large parts of our economy, including our heating and transport systems, means building a grid that can handle a high level of renewables which will be critical to our success.  The efficient connection of onshore wind, solar and offshore projects will be driven by regular competitive auctions under the renewable electricity support scheme, RESS, as well as enhanced regulatory rules for connecting projects to the grid.

Revised planning guidelines for onshore wind and a new consenting architecture for offshore renewable projects will facilitate a more rapid roll-out of renewables to replace retiring fossil fuel generation.  Furthermore, enhanced flexibility and system integration tools as well as new technologies and use of storage technologies and hybrid assets will enable a speedier roll-out of renewables to take the place of fossil plant.  EirGrid has this week launched a public consultation on shaping our electricity future. The aim is to make the electricity grid stronger and more flexible so that it can carry much more renewable electricity. EirGrid’s consultation will align with Ireland’s strategy to further reduce electricity emissions which will be set out in this year's revision to the climate action plan.

The climate action plan sets out that the burning of coal at Moneypoint will cease by 2025. That was the existing plan.

The major ramp up in the levels of renewables on our power grid and the move to a highly electrified economy means we also need to ensure security of supply. My Department is carrying out a review of the security of energy supply of Ireland’s electricity and natural gas systems. The review will include a detailed technical analysis and a public consultation. It is planned that the review will be completed by the end of 2021.

I thank the Minister. He said that Moneypoint will cease burning fossil fuels in 2025. There is a belief, and a worry, in Clare that that will happen much quicker because it is losing out in key energy options. It has colossal 400 kV power lines running from the coast of west Clare right across to Leinster. It is the best specification of power line in Ireland and that is where the future lies.

Ireland's maritime area is approximately seven times that of its land and the scope and potential for offshore wind energy is colossal. The cost of generating electricity offshore is rapidly becoming more competitive than fossil fuel generation. Time and again the Shannon Estuary has been identified as a key location for generating high-speed wind energy three times more efficient than onshore wind energy. It is where the future lies and, as the Government has committed to in the midlands where there is a just transition plan, we need a Government plan for Moneypoint that puts it at the centre of this nation's strive to move to greener, more renewable energy.

It has to be developed offshore, and Moneypoint is the perfect processing point to bring it onshore and across the whole island.

I absolutely agree with the Deputy on the development of renewables, offshore wind in particular, and particularly in the west, where our sea area is ten times our land area. The highest wind speeds are in the west, north west and south west, so that is where we have huge potential for economic development. I absolutely agree with the Deputy on the Shannon Estuary. It is not just Moneypoint; there is also potential in Foynes and even areas around Ballylongford and other areas. We expect and will plan for such areas becoming the centres of these new industries, not just in electricity generation. Going back to what I said earlier, the location of industries close to the power is what we need. That offers potential for huge long-term investment in the whole Shannon Estuary. It has incredible deep water and is safe and connected close to the power supply system out in the Atlantic.

As for the specific use of Moneypoint, I am conscious of the time. Perhaps I will come back in my final contribution with final points on Moneypoint.

A very delicate balance has to be struck. We want to see a shift and transition away from old fossil fuels and towards more renewable energy. The Government needs to speed up the issuing of new wind energy guidelines to all local authorities. We have had some absurd wind applications granted and other ones turned down. For example, in my county of Clare today we had the council determining - rightly so - that a 100 m high wind turbine in the middle of the village of Parteen was wrong and improper planning. It is to be taken down by 8 April. That is right. It is in a residential area. Wind turbines need to be taken away from communities and put in more obscure areas, where the wind is stronger, and offshore is the way to go. The guidelines need to be updated quickly. We do not want to see Carrownagowan, Meelick, Cahermurphy and Parteen repeated time and time again. We need updated guidelines and an embracing of our best asset of all: those high-speed wild Atlantic winds off the coast of Clare. That is the type of wind energy we need. It is three times more efficient, with all the infrastructure there to take it already. I implore the Minister to drive this on in his Department and to make it part of the realisation of our movement away from fossil fuels.

To go back to Moneypoint and to give an example of how things are changing, five years ago Moneypoint accounted for about 16% of our electricity generation; it is probably down to 2% or so in the past year or two. It will continue to decrease because if one considers the price of carbon on the emissions trading system markets, which is about €40 per tonne at the moment, at that price it is very hard for coal to come into the merit order among Irish power plants. However, what Moneypoint has is incredible sea jetty access and a very large platform where one could assemble, store or manage the deployment of offshore wind. Moneypoint also has that incredible grid connection. The ESB may look at it as a potential plant that would be used only as backup in an emergency. There is a whole variety of options. I very much trust the ESB and its expertise in this area as to what the best outcome will be not just for the workers and the future of Moneypoint but for this whole new energy system. It is absolutely committed to this new decarbonising system because it recognises that it is the way the world is going and that it is a better system. We will make sure in this transition that there is a just transition for the people of Clare, Kerry and Limerick who border the Shannon Estuary.