The phrase ‘the ties that bind’ comes to mind in the context of energy policy and renewable energy in particular. The sentiment was used to foster Christian unity and forbearance; as a central theme in a ‘Star Wars’ sequel; by Bruce Springsteen in his 3 July 2009 concert in Frankfurt and as an identity source for the Irish in America. It has resonated with the grounded, and has promoted togetherness and looking forward to opportunity in the face of adversity.
In my opinion a heightened awareness of the ties that bind us to a rational energy policy could serve Ireland well now and into the future.
Since the first oil crisis there is a growing realisation by governments of the need for the effective contingency management. The International Energy Agency was created as a direct response to the first oil crisis. Initially it focussed on emergency response measures; over time it evolved to embrace technology development, energy market reform and climate change response policy. Renewables, the Cinderella of the agency, is now the subject of regular analyses and figures prominently in the IEA annual flagship publication ‘World Energy Outlook’.
The reconciliation of the inherent tensions of energy security, affordability and environmental impacts in the evolution of energy systems is the rationale for the Irish and other governments’ deep involvement in energy policy. The complexity of the issues is matched by the diversity of the arrangements for their management. For example, in Ireland, the State, aside from its primary duty as policy maker and regulator, has direct interests in Ireland’s coal, oil, gas and electricity markets. Thus the Irish state is in a comparatively powerful position to set and, through the semi state energy players, to ensure progress towards renewable energy goals. This is an onerous responsibility and merits scrutiny of the governance arrangements.
The German Greens were strident in their support for renewable energy, not alone on the evident energy security and environmental benefits but also on the primarily political grounds of the benign impact of renewable energy on politics and national security; in the recent history of the world no one has ever gone to war over renewable energy according to federal minister Jürgen Tritten. In so far as mankind has the ability to exploit a ubiquitous source of energy such as solar, research efforts can contribute to welfare, well-being and economic development and ultimately advance peace and security throughout the word. Thus it is incumbent on governments to have regard to and provide for these inter-generational ties. The work of the Chief Scientist and Science Foundation Ireland has been exemplary.
Energy policy must provide the initial driver and enabling conditions if the electricity sector is to realise its potential to accommodate renewable sources of electricity. Market reforms such as the opening of competition in generation and supply and the creation of the Single Electricity Market are some of the many achievements.
The first electrical interconnector is now on schedule while the British and Irish Governments are actively exploring the flexible mechanisms of the 2009 Renewable Energy Directive. The next wave of market reform with the physical and market coupling to the GB system will create risks to be managed in the public interest.
The process of physical connection to Northern Ireland and to Scotland and later this year to GB are all ‘ties that bind’, the full meaning of which will be revealed in time; for now, they are the continuing evidence of an outward and forward looking policy environment that recognises the value of shared risks and identities.
While the main tenets of Irish energy policy are thought-through and robust, issues of pace and practical implementation remain. Experienced professionals have Cassandra-like, drawn attention to the magnitude and depth of the current crisis and urged policies that place the management of debt as an overriding priority; on the other hand the IWEA has emphasised the benefits that flow from steady progress towards renewable energy targets. The IEA energy policy review will inform the Minister’s review of current policy.
The Energy Institute has affirmed the value of the current policy on wind, pointed to the continuing high dependence on imported oil and gas and has urged the Government to address the legacy of Corrib.
The Institute believes that because the goals of energy policy are so fundamental to the interests of society it will be important for the realisation of policy that the public have an understanding of the trade-offs involved. Ireland cannot now, if it ever could, contemplate a repeat of the ‘Corrib’ experience. The ties that bind the interests of an entire nation are not to be severed on the grounds of false apprehension or misinformation. Local communities are to be engaged as legitimate stakeholders in national projects.
Thus there is a duty to inform and in that sense a job to be done. The Institute has pointed to the success of the IDA in attracting inward investment, to the SEAI in marketing renewable energy. There is no conflict between the promotion of an environment for the development of our hydrocarbon resources and the achievement of our renewable energy targets. Indeed without the former the second may not be realisable.