I propose to take Questions Nos. 48 and 51 together.
The Energy White Paper presents a long-term strategic vision that is intended to guide the direction of Irish energy policy from now until 2030. It identifies the long-term strategic importance of diversifying Ireland's energy generation portfolio and largely decarbonising the energy sector by 2050. It does not set out targets for specific renewable technologies; rather it provides a framework to guide policy between now and 2030.
Increasing renewable technology diversity is one of several policy objectives of my Department. To date, onshore wind has been the largest driver of growth in renewable energy electricity, primarily down to its cost effectiveness when compared to other renewable technologies. My Department is currently developing a proposed new Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS) which will be designed to assist Ireland in meeting its renewable energy contributions out to 2030.
The design of the new scheme included an extensive independent economic appraisal which compared the cost of supporting a range of commercial renewable technologies, at various scales to ensure that the new scheme delivers value for money for energy users whilst also delivering on the energy pillars of sustainability and security of supply. The assessment included analysis of the optimum financial support mechanisms for renewable technologies, in line with the 2014 EU State Aid Guidelines. The analysis indicates that a number of renewable technologies have converging and in some cases overlapping cost ranges, and I note with interest the continued falling costs of renewable technologies over the past year, such as offshore wind and solar PV.
My Department received 1,250 submissions to the final consultation on the RESS which closed in November and analysis of these is now complete. I am keen that this new Scheme encourages the diversification of renewable energy technologies in Ireland, while mindful of the need to minimise the costs on the consumers through the Public Service Obligation. At this stage no final decisions have been made as regards which technologies or scales will be supported under the new RESS.
A final design proposal will shortly be brought to Government for approval, including the overall costs and technologies to be supported. Subsequent to a Government decision, a formal application for State Aid clearance from the European Commission will commence. The new scheme is expected to open in 2019.