There is no need to classify nuclear and gas energy projects as "green" under controversial revisions to EU taxonomy guidelines for sustainable investment, according to the Minister for the Environment and Climate, Eamon Ryan.
While the Minister expected the European Commission would continue to push for their inclusion, he believed it will encounter major difficulty getting the proposal through the European Parliament.
He cited the provisional capacity T-3 auction results released on Friday, which includes more than 1,100 MW of new gas-fired generation in Ireland and over 120 MW of battery storage. While this allowed for power back-up to overcome intermittency issues with gas when the wind is not blowing, in reality there would be less use of gas, he insisted.
“We don’t need it in the taxonomy,” he told The Irish Times. On nuclear, Mr Ryan noted there was no one coming forward to finance investment under this heading.
"In my mind, I don't see the need for them to be included," he added, especially as Ireland's gas needs could be met without the taxonomy. He acknowledged discussions were ongoing at European Council level, within the Government and between it and the Commission.
The Irish position should be seen in the context of having set an ambitious target of up to 80 per cent of electricity consumption coming from renewable sources by 2030, Mr Ryan said.
“This is double the current share of renewable electricity and will require development of significant levels of wind and solar generation.
“It also requires flexible gas-fired generation and storage that can support the variable nature of renewable electricity production and ensure security of electricity supply as we phase out coal and oil for generation,” he noted.
Next two months
The taxonomy issue comes under the remit of the Minister for Finance, he confirmed, so he did not have direct responsibility for its ratification, but he expected the matter to come to a head within the next two months with most focus on the European Parliament.
Mr Ryan declined to say if Ireland would be supporting countries opposed to the move.
The EU Financial Services Commissioner with responsibility for the taxonomy file, Mairead McGuinness, repeated this week that the proposal was based on best scientific advice. Four member states have accused the Commission of departing from scientific evidence, and Austria and Luxembourg have threatened to sue, with the possible backing of Denmark.
The German government opposes classification of nuclear power as a climate-friendly energy source, but accepts power generation with natural gas as an environmentally sustainable transitional technology under certain conditions.
Critics say neither energy source should be included, so all efforts are put into new clean technologies. But member states where there is high dependence on these two technologies have supported their inclusion. Nine States use nuclear for more than 30 per cent of their electricity generation mix; 10 countries use gas for over 30 per cent.
Though inclusion in the taxonomy should make financing of a technology easier, each asset must comply with a range of strict sustainability rules on emissions reductions and environmental standards to qualify. These have been rejected as being insufficient by critics.
On gas power, it allows projects to be deemed “green investments” if they emit fewer than 270 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour, if they replace more polluting power plants such as coal and if they are equipped to run on alternative low-carbon gases in the future.