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Natural Gas Grid

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 14 December 2021

Tuesday, 14 December 2021

Questions (28)

Bríd Smith


28. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the way the addition of 2GW of gas-fired power will affect Ireland’s carbon emissions and reduction targets; if the policy is driven by the needs of energy intensive industry, such data centres as suggested by the CEO of EirGrid in recent comments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61539/21]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Environment)

I wish to ask the Minister of State about the addition of the 2 GW of gas-fired power that will affect Ireland's carbon emissions and reduction targets, and if the policy is driven by the needs of energy-intensive industries such as data centres, as suggested by the CEO of EirGrid in recent comments and if the Minister of State will make a statement on the matter.

The Government's policy statement on security of electricity supply sets out that the development of gas-fired generation is a national priority and should be permitted and supported in order to ensure security of electricity supply and support the growth of renewable electricity generation.

The policy statement supports the need to deliver about 2 GW of new gas-fired generation which is set out in the National Development Plan 2021-2030 and the Climate Action Plan 2021. The need for this level of new gas-fired generation capacity was identified by the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities, which has statutory responsibility for security of electricity supply, and EirGrid, the electricity transmission system operator.

As set out in EirGrid's Generation Capacity Statement 2021-2030, much of this new capacity is needed to replace older high-emitting power stations, such as those fuelled by oil and coal, which are due to close over the coming years. It is also needed to meet growing demand from large energy users, such as data centres, and the electrification of the transport sector and of heating in our homes and businesses. It is important to note that the development of flexible gas-fired generation is to provide security of supply and support high levels of renewable electricity generation. The new capacity will only run when needed and therefore the level of associated emissions will be minimised.

A number of actions are being taken to manage the impact of data centre growth on our electricity system and emission reduction targets. The Commission for the Regulation of Utilities has published a direction to EirGrid and ESB Networks that requires each of the system operators to prioritise data centre connections based on location, the availability of on-site generation and flexibility in reducing demand when required. In addition, the Climate Action Plan 2021 commits the Government to reviewing its strategy on data centres to ensure the growth of such users can only happen in alignment with our sectoral emissions ceilings and renewable energy targets.

I would argue that when we strip away all the rhetoric, the Green Party in government is presiding over the expansion of fossil fuels and our reliance on them in the State. The Government is tying us into another 30 years at least of dependence on gas and facilitating arguments that will be made by proponents of liquefied natural gas by deepening our reliance on gas. Gas is not a bridge to anything. It is a fossil fuel and the expansion of its use and infrastructure is a betrayal of the climate movement the Green Party is supposed to represent and the pledges made by the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, in Glasgow. There is really nothing short term about this. Building gas stations will tie us in for 30 years.

It is very clear from recent statements by Mr. Mark Foley of EirGrid - the Minister of State should familiarise himself with the meeting he had with the data industry - that this is to facilitate the growth and proliferation of that industry. It makes a complete nonsense of the claim that we can somehow magically continue to have unlimited data centres, reduce our emissions and reach our targets.

I thank the Deputy. The use of fossil fuels in Ireland is being reduced. We are now moving towards a target of having 80% of our electricity generated through renewable sources by 2030. That necessarily means a reduction in our fossil fuel use. Although we have more gas plants being built - I am sure the Deputy understands this point - an extra 2 GW of gas plant capacity does not mean we are burning gas in the plants all the time. It means we have the capacity in an emergency to bring up enough gas to continue to supply electricity to those who need it around the country. There will be a capacity option shortly to allow for the 2 GW. That is for people to have the ability to receive electricity from gas over the next ten years; it is not to allow it to be burned all the time. It is for use when it is absolutely needed. I agree that gas is not a transition fuel. This is not a policy of the Government but it is a policy of the Government that liquefied natural gas, LNG, stations are not to be built pending the review of energy security.

The next question concerns why we have an energy-security problem and why we may have blackouts this winter. Already, many have been reported around the country. Part of the answer is related to the dependency on the data industry. At present, it accounts for 11% of our national grid. I am aware that the Minister of State and the Minister would argue that we must move rapidly towards renewables and offshore wind energy, but why do we not have these yet? We do not because those who sat on licences for more than 20 years and did not develop the offshore wind capacity that they could have developed did so because of their profit margins, not because of the needs of the State, national grid or country. Therefore, the Minister of State is attempting to bulldoze in changes. It is absolutely shameful for the Green Party to sit in government and recommit to having gas infrastructure in the country. If we are to deliver wind energy at scale, the Minister of State's party should be advocating a national renewable energy company to do it for us, just as the ESB provided electricity in the past. Thus, we will not be reliant on the profit margins of the developers of renewable energy.

We have an energy challenge because there is a major transition in which we are moving away from fossil fuels towards a low-carbon economy and renewables. Obviously, that is difficult to do. I agree with Deputy Bríd Smith that we should have installed offshore wind infrastructure ten years ago. When I see the great offshore wind farms built by Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium, I think that we should have built them also. We have a windy area around our country. We cannot go back in time, however. We have been in government for a year and we are building offshore wind facilities as fast as we possibly can.

On the Deputy's question as to whether we should have a national body to develop renewable energy, there will be considerable involvement by the State. The ESB has for a long time been building renewable energy facilities. Bord na Móna, Coillte and all such large State bodies will be significantly involved, as will EirGrid.