Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Ceisteanna (5)

Thomas Pringle


5. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if the potential for indigenous job creation in the offshore wind energy sector in the supply of tender vessels and crew been assessed by his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11701/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Communications)

I would like to know whether the significant potential for people to be employed on boats and in crews during the construction and ongoing maintenance of offshore wind turbines has been examined. Steps need to be taken now to ensure Irish companies can avail of these opportunities when these projects are commenced.

The offshore renewable energy development plan, which I published last month, identifies an opportunity for Ireland to realise the potential of our offshore energy resources by increasing indigenous production of renewable energy, thereby contributing to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, improving the security of our energy supply and creating jobs in the green economy, especially in coastal communities where there are particular job creation challenges. The strategic environmental assessment that was carried out for the offshore renewable energy development plan found that it would be environmentally sustainable for 4,500 MW of offshore wind to be developed in Irish waters in the period to 2030. The development plan will provide the mechanism through which action across Government Departments and agencies to support the development of offshore renewable electricity generation can be fully co-ordinated in areas such as environmental monitoring, research and development, consenting procedures, infrastructure requirements and enterprise development. There will be potential for local job creation in construction, maintenance and the supply of materials and equipment, including offshore surveying, transportation and installation vessels and associated manpower. There will also be opportunities to develop new products across information technology, remote communications and software.

All relevant State agencies, particularly in the enterprise area, will have to co-ordinate their activities to ensure the employment potential of offshore projects is maximised. This opportunity has already been identified by IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland in their clean technology growth strategies. My Department and I will work with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to put in place an appropriately led and resourced programme to ensure domestic companies avail of local opportunities for a period and are well placed to explore opportunities to internationalise their operations. As highlighted in the offshore renewable energy development plan, the potential for the offshore wind energy sector to contribute to EU energy needs beyond 2020 and provide jobs has been recognised, notably in the European Commission’s blue growth study. Economic analysis carried out for the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland indicates that a level of three construction job years per MW of offshore wind deployed, along with 0.6 jobs per MW in ongoing operations and maintenance of offshore installations, can be achieved.

I thank the Minister for his response, the concluding part of which outlined the significant job potential that exists in this area. We need to gear up to be able to avail of those opportunities. I am thinking particularly of the supply of vessels during the construction phase. There is huge potential in the case of one of the projects proposed at the moment because it is estimated that up to 40 vessels will be required.

I know of a number of boatyards that would be in a position to construct those vessels if they were geared up for it and encouraged to go for that level of business, which is very significant. In terms of providing crew, we have many highly trained and skilled former and current fishermen working in the UK and Germany on these projects who would need minor upskilling to allow them to develop further and avail of these opportunities. Will the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources be co-ordinating this to ensure it happens or is this something that will sit in the ether and wait for somebody to pick it up and run with it?

If the Deputy gets an opportunity to study the OREDP, which I published last month, he will see there are many actions at my door that will have to be driven in the years ahead. Ocean energy encompasses much more than purely the offshore wind aspect. Wave and tidal sources of energy are still at the research stage, but we have uniquely propitious resources in that area. I am also interested to do anything we can to improve the rate of offshore exploration and appraisal activity. An area such as Killybegs would be well suited to accommodate that. I understand it has a deep port and, as the Deputy has said, it has local labour with skills in the broad area. One of the attractions of the OREDP is that it holds considerable prospects for coastal communities that would not otherwise have the prospect of employment.

I thank the Minister. Will the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources drive the delivery of the opportunities or who will be responsible for delivering the outcomes? Having somebody driving it is key to the creation of indigenous jobs.

We discussed that at Cabinet when I brought the memorandum on the OREDP. The Deputy's question is pertinent because the situation has always been somewhat disparate, to put it mildly. My Department has the role we know about. In addition, the Ministers for Agriculture, Food and Marine, Transport, Tourism and Sport, and Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation all have roles. In Cabinet there was emphasis for the Ministers concerned to come together to see what progress we might make. I am certainly determined that should be the case. I am and have been in discussion with my colleagues about the future in this area.