Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Alex White TD outlines his priorities and calls for a more informed, comprehensive and balanced debate on the future of Irish renewable energy.
Energy policy is a complex area, and one that is of central importance for Ireland. Every citizen and business expects to have a reliable supply of energy every day. Energy underpins activity in every aspect of the economy.
As I see it, the key challenges in the energy sector fall into three main areas:
• climate change and security of supply;
• economic growth and competitiveness;
• and citizen engagement.
Reconciling the differing, and even conflicting, demands across these three areas is not an easy task. This underscores the critical importance of the process currently under way to formulate a new White Paper on Energy Policy.
As things stand, the way energy is created and consumed around the world is not sustainable, as is made very clear in the Fifth Assessment Report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which concluded that the world is “ill prepared for risks from a changing climate”. Therefore aligning energy policy with demanding climate change objectives is a key priority for this government.
Ireland has made important progress in this regard, particularly in areas such as renewable electricity. Over 20 per cent of our total electricity demand is now met by power from renewable generation. Our target of 40 per cent by 2020 places Ireland at the international forefront in the integration of high levels of variable renewable generation.
However, the scale of the overall challenge becomes apparent in sectors such as renewable heat and transport. My department has now finalised a bioenergy plan which I will publish shortly in draft form, pending the completion of a strategic environmental assessment and appropriate assessment. The draft plan identifies measures to support progress on making our heat and transport sectors more sustainable.
Such action is critical, not only in terms of contributing to our binding EU obligation to meet 16 per cent of our total energy demand from renewable sources by 2020, but also to build capacity for the next milestone in energy policy: the EU 2030 Climate and Energy Framework. This proposal foresees a reduction of 40 per cent in greenhouse gas emissions relative to 1990, and a target of 27 per cent for renewable energy across the EU. While Ireland is supportive of a high level of ambition, our contribution must be based on an approach that is equitable, cost-efficient and technically feasible. This is all the more important given the fact that the 2030 framework will, in turn, set Europe’s trajectory to achieving a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 per cent by 2050.
Such a fundamental and long-term transition to a low carbon economy requires strategic direction that is robust and, as far as is possible, evidence-based. This is necessary to give as much certainty as possible to the market to deliver the measures on the ground that will actually bring about this transition, and to provide the leadership necessary to help all citizens understand the benefits for them of a more sustainable energy system. However, driving this evolution towards a more sustainable energy system should not be at the expense of the competitiveness of our economy and the affordability of energy supplies.
Transforming our economy from one that is heavily reliant on imported fossil fuel to one that is more self-sufficient in indigenous renewable energy resources offers huge scope for the development of sustainable employment in areas such as research, ICT, engineering, manufacturing, supply chain services, and demand management technologies.
How we create and consume energy is an issue that touches on the lives of everyone in this country. It is also a process that is set on an irrevocable course of change.
Therefore everyone has a right to participate in informed debate on how we shape our energy future.
I am keenly aware of the central role my department has to play in facilitating this debate and ensuring that the public interest is the guiding principle for policy decisions.
My department commenced the second phase of public consultation on the Renewable Electricity Plan this September, and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government is in the process of revising the wind energy guidelines following extensive public consultation.
More generally, the 2012 Government Policy Statement on the Strategic Importance of Transmission and Other Energy Infrastructure underlines the imperative for early and ongoing engagement and consultation with local communities and all stakeholders.
This is essential for building public confidence, ensuring a more balanced public debate and a more timely delivery of projects. Delivering long-lasting benefits to communities is essential to achieving public acceptability for infrastructure.