Electricity Generation and Export: Discussion (Continued)

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht Debate

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Mr. Gabriel D'Arcy:] However, in the face of significant challenges from its agricultural and transport sectors, Ireland has adopted a target of 42% renewable energy penetration by 2020. This equates to approximately 0.3 kg of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour in its electricity generation. This is a continuum of very good progress that has been made over the past ten or 15 years. In 1990, we were producing approximately 1 kg of CO2 equivalent per kilowatt hour while by 2011, that had fallen to approximately 0.5 kg per kilowatt hour.

Consequently, given the clear policy objectives for the European region, achieving Ireland's targets regarding efficiency and low carbon will require a greater degree of interconnectivity. This is recognised in a European policy framework and will require greater integration of all the regional electricity networks. Moreover, rather than individual member states meeting individual targets in a much narrower mindset, there will be a requirement for greater energy co-operation. Having spoken about the global and regional markets, from a national perspective Ireland is recognised for its effective and secure management of a relatively isolated system. Instantaneous wind regularly meets 50% of the demand and the target is to push this even higher. However, this will come through enhanced integration. Ireland's wind resources have been well flagged and discussed at this and other committees. Those wind resources and the capacity factors for turbines for wind generation in Ireland are such that further interconnection capacity will provide a broader grid system across Ireland and the United Kingdom to balance the system and optimise the penetration of intermittent renewables with fewer constraints. In addition, it provides an opportunity to export Ireland's considerable excess renewable resources, thereby generating a new source of income, employment and strategic environmental and economic opportunity on the island of Ireland.

Bord na Móna is of the view that this opportunity should be explored fully. I will not go into the details of our proposals in this regard, which are contained in the submission. However, this is a unique leveragable strategic opportunity. It is not tactical and is not imitable in other markets and geographies but is highly strategic not unlike Ireland's water resources of which I have spoken to this committee previously. If we wish to capitalise on this opportunity, we must carefully site our turbines and clusters of turbines in those areas that are designated. For instance, isolated post-industrial cutaway peatlands are ideal for this purpose. There must be a proper and diligent planning process, because this is all about planning. I do not believe there is a major debate about the resources but the issue centres on where these turbines should be sited. Bord na Móna and I accept fully and endorse the need to have a proper planning process.

As for what are the benefits, they are massive sustainable investment on a scale that rarely if ever, has been seen before in Ireland. In addition, they include value-added sustainable job creation in both supply chain and maintenance - my colleague from Element Power has spoken a little bit about that - and huge import substitution. This morning, I heard the chief executive of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland point out that a relatively small amount of wind energy, namely, 2 GW, has caused import substitution of 20% on Ireland's imported fuel bill. This equates to approximately €1 billion.

Finally, this obviously provides the opportunity for a massive increase in export revenues. I revert to the point that a robust planning process is critical, encompassing clear spatial planning, objectives, targets and rules that are implemented. Wind farms, like one-off housing and ribbon development, cannot be inappropriately sited. As some of my colleagues like to quote celebrity economists, allow me to conclude by quoting one celebrity economist from whom the joint committee may hear, as I understand a submission already has been made to this particular committee hearing. In an article on 19 January 2014, Professor Richard Tol stated: "Climate policy, however, seems here to stay; and onshore wind power is still one of the cheaper options to reduce carbon dioxide emissions".

Chairman: Information on Michael McCarthy Zoom on Michael McCarthy I thank Mr. D'Arcy and invite Mr. Swords to make Turn 180's opening statement.

Mr. Patrick Swords: On behalf of Mr. Joseph Caulfield, Mr. Ultan Murphy and Ms Agnes Doolan, I thank the joint committee for the invitation to appear before it. My name is Pat Swords and I am a fellow of the Institution of Chemical Engineers and a chartered environmentalist. I have more than 25 years' experience in industrial design over a wide range of industrial projects encompassing food, drink, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and power stations. Moreover, I have spent ten years and more travelling to and from central and eastern Europe while helping to bring in the environmental legislation into the new and emerging member states. I have nothing to sell and do not have a dream. However, we seek one thing, and that is what Turn 180 is, namely, to turn around, go back and re-evaluate the situation, particularly within the legal framework in which we operate.

We have at present a recently appointed expert panel on pylons. Had the evaluation and assessments of that project been done three years ago in the legally required strategic environmental assessment process with the proper stages of public participation, we would not need that expert panel. It would have been done in accordance with the law and the obligation to have public participation and information. A strategic environmental assessment was never completed for the Irish renewable energy programme and no assessment has ever been done for it. It was on this basis, having documented it, that the United Nations Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee in Geneva took the communication in my name against the European Union as a party to the convention. At that stage, Ireland had not ratified the convention and consequently, I was obliged to take the matter against the European Union. The compliance committee ruled that the European Union had broken the terms of the convention with regard to the manner in which it was implementing the national renewable energy action plans. It failed to provide the necessary information to the public, it had failed to ensure the public participation was carried out when all options were open and effective public participation could take place and it had failed to take due account of the public participation in the final decision. Consequently, it has been told to go back and repeat and engage with the public and to do it again. As this is not happening at present, the compliance committee is engaged in compliance proceedings against the European Union at the forthcoming meeting of the parties' treaty convention in June 2014. There also are ongoing proceedings in the High Court in my name against the Irish State with regard to this matter.

The evidence given by the European Union to the compliance committee basically pointed out it is generally recognised that renewable energy - and wind energy in particular - is better from an environmental perspective than non-renewable sources. The point of it being "generally recognised" is what this comes down to, as no assessments have been carried out at European Union or national level to quantify what actually is going on. In fact, in its opening statement to the compliance committee in Geneva in 2011, the European Union made it clear the Irish public was not entitled to information, other than regarding what was a threat to its environment. In particular, the public most certainly was not entitled to information on cost-effectiveness related to renewable energy. Consequently, this matter led to a further communication, on which I assisted, with our near neighbours, the United Kingdom, which also ruled that its national renewable energy action plan had breached the terms of the convention, had not been assessed properly and had not gone through the stages of public participation with the public. Both countries in which this renewable export programme is being furthered have serious legal failings with regard to information and the public participation process.

As an experienced engineer who has worked on power generation projects and who has seen things work or not work, one keeps saying to oneself that when it comes to providing a reliable economic electricity system such as we have had for generations, all this talk about outstanding natural resources of wind energy is, I am afraid, bunk. It will not work. Experienced engineers are making this point all over the world. Even my own mother, who has no education beyond secondary school and is in her 80s, can figure this out. How is one expected to cook a turkey for Christmas when one is waiting around for the wind to blow in order to have electricity in the oven? That is the bottom line. Consequently, I refer to recent statements to the effect that the Irish renewable energy programme is a no-brainer and that Ireland will save huge amounts in respect of fossil fuels.

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