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Public support essential for future projects

Brian Carroll In his talk at Energy Ireland, DCENR’s Brian Carroll emphasised the crucial importance of community support in delivering renewable energy.

The presentation of Brian Carroll’s paper at the Energy Ireland Conference provided a unique opportunity for attending delegates to get a first-hand assessment of the energy green paper that had been launched by Minister Pat Rabbitte in May. The Head of Renewable and Sustainable Energy at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources made it clear from the outset that the Government’s clear intention is to use Ireland’s significant low carbon energy resources in ways that will benefit the economy, the environment and Irish society as a whole.

He added: “Key policy objectives remain security of supply, sustainability and competitiveness. There is also a need to harness the jobs and growth potential of renewable energy.” Six priorities had been identified for discussion within the context of the 10-week consultation period (ending on 31 July) that had been established for the green paper. These were:

1. empowering energy citizens;

2. markets, regulation and prices;

3. planning and implementing essential energy infrastructure;

4. ensuring a balanced and secure energy mix;

5. putting the energy system on a sustainable pathway; and

6. driving economic opportunity.

Mindful of societal resistance to the proposed establishment of a wind farm network in the Midlands, Brian Carroll made it clear that government is committed to ensuring that communities have a true sense of ownership when it comes to developing Ireland’s energy resources. “This will put a clear onus on everyone involved in specific energy projects to ensure that the public will be consulted at every stage of the development process and that their views are taken fully on board,” he commented.

“This is all about building community relationships across the country and is a process that will entail the full commitment of the public sector and individual developers. It is clear that private sector organisations seeking to develop future energy projects must work to secure the acceptance of those communities affected by the work undertaken.

“The importance of early consultation and engagement with local communities cannot be over-estimated. Building community gain considerations into energy infrastructure planning and budgeting is a key priority for government moving forward.”

He went on to point out that a new renewable electricity framework document for Ireland will be published in 2015. It will take account of the European Commission’s 2030 target for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which have been set at 40 per cent below 1990 levels with renewable energy supplies constituting at least 27 per cent of energy consumption within the same timeframe. These targets are at EU level.

Brian Carroll continued: “A key priority for Ireland is to secure a cost-efficient and equitable effort sharing in terms of the 2030 EU Climate and Energy Framework.”

Targets

Turning to Ireland’s 2020 renewable energy supply (RES) targets, he confirmed that the country should meet its commitment with regard to the securing of enhanced renewable electricity sources. However, significant challenges lay ahead where transport and heat are concerned.

Throughout his presentation, Brian Carroll stressed the important economic benefits to be accrued by Ireland in fully realising our alternative energy resources.

He remarked: “The current Strategy for Renewable Energy identifies green growth through deployment of renewable energy technologies, plus research and development and demonstration, as a strategic goal.

It has been estimated that a total of between 3,500 and 4,000MW of onshore renewable generation capacity will be required to allow Ireland to meet its 40 per cent renewable electricity target.

“Onshore wind generates two construction jobs and 0.5 ongoing jobs per MW. Offshore wind generates three construction jobs and 0.6 ongoing jobs per MW. In addition, the Economic Study for Ocean Energy Development in Ireland indicates that a fully developed ocean energy sector, serving both domestic and export markets, could produce a net present value of €9 billion and between 25,500 and 69,000 jobs to the island as a whole.”

Brian Carroll also believes that bioenergy sources will constitute 50 per cent of Ireland’s RES commitment by 2020. And of equal significance is the fact that these technologies will be applicable across the range of renewable electricity (RES-E), transport (RES-T) and heat (RES-H) targets.

He further explained: “A bioenergy plan is in preparation. Its central tenet is to lead with demand while creating and supporting the market for biomass. This will entail the introduction of enabling measures for supply chains. In essence, these measures will lead to new market outlets being created for biomass. There will also be a complementary set of ‘supply side’ policies that will facilitate Irish biomass producers to meet this demand.”

Growth

According to Brian Carroll, Ireland’s offshore renewable energy resource will contribute significantly to the country’s economic development and sustainable growth while, at the same time, generating jobs. The Offshore Renewable Energy Development Plan (OREDP) – published in February of this year – is to provide a policy framework for the assessment of applications for planning consents and the carrying out of environmental impact assessments (EIAs) for individual projects.

It also identifies key policy actions and enablers including robust governance structure and increased Exchequer support for ocean research, development and demonstration.

Carroll added: “The OREDP also identifies the introduction of an initial market support tariff for ocean energy, the development of renewable electricity export markets, the development of the supply chain for the offshore renewable energy industry in Ireland and the introduction of a new planning and consent architecture for development in the marine area as key policy actions.

“In addition, government will act to ensure that all infrastructure development is of an appropriate nature. This will include the putting in place of arrangements for environmental monitoring. We will also be exploring the potential for international collaboration but, above all else, the new OREDP is stating clearly that Ireland is open for business.”

Ireland’s sustainable energy debate will not be solely focussed of the issue of generation: the challenge of enhancing energy efficiency levels will also be addressed by government. Brian Carroll confirmed that energy efficiency has already had significant impact on the heat sector.

“To date, €277 million has been made available for energy efficiency upgrades in homes and in communities with a further €57 million in funding available this year,” he further explained. “The good news is that 1,867GWh of savings have been accrued. Moreover, energy efficiency reduces the quantum of renewable energy required within Ireland’s National Renewable Energy Action Plan which, in turn, will have a positive impact on our RES-H target moving forward.”

The Government recognises the “crucially important” role that renewable energy will play in the further development of Ireland’s economy but the policies developed must represent “a win-win scenario for everyone involved.” Carroll reaffirmed that this means having community involvement at all stages in the evolution of our development plans.

In conclusion, he stated: “Government is confident of this being achieved, the end result being more wealth creation opportunities, more job creation, an improved environment and the development of an international reputation for Ireland as being best in class when it comes to the harnessing of renewable energy sources. The resources are there. The real challenge confronting everyone involved with the energy sector is communicating the scale of this potential to the Irish public at large.”