Ireland must consider without undue delay putting in place liquefied natural gas (LNG) infrastructure to ensure energy security for the State, according to Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (CRU) chairperson Aoife MacEvilly.
This did not mean the country would be locked into fossil fuel infrastructure for decades to come, as LNG facilities could be adapted to cater for green hydrogen and help transition Ireland to a low-carbon future, she told the Oireachtas Committee on Environment and Climate Action on Tuesday.
She agreed with committee chairman Brian Leddin it was not premature to be talking about green hydrogen production from offshore windfarms, especially in light of the current energy crisis and Ireland's lack of energy security at present.
“LNG should be considered in the context of energy security . . . There are insufficient safeguards at present,” she warned.
This was illustrated by power sources used that day, she pointed out. There was more than 5,000 megawatts (MW) of renewable electricity capacity including wind, but, due to it being a calm day, “this morning we were getting as little as 19MW from that capacity.” Gas and coal was providing the vast majority of power with interconnectors to the UK.
The critical need was having sufficient dispatchable generation capacity to ensure lights stay on. Decarbonising gas over time was critical but with gas generation back-up available for calm days, she said.
“Every investment should be future-proofed in line with our decarbonisation aspirations,” Ms MacEvilly accepted.
Having gas interconnection to Scotland did not provide the level of energy security required, she added – as concluded by the EU. The country would not be sufficiently secure if that was not available on a given day, while being increasingly reliant on that supply because of reduced Corrib gas.
The committee heard the key piece of infrastructure, which guaranteed energy security for decades at considerable expense, was the twinned gas pipeline system linking Ireland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man with the UK gas system at Moffat in Scotland. The UK also receives gas imports via LNG terminals and from the continent, giving it – and by extension Ireland – a diversity of gas sources. Moreover, only about 4 per cent of UK supplies come from Russia.
The CRU favoured commercial development of LNG infrastructure, while strategic gas storage to ensure the State had adequate supplies was a separate issue, she said. In both instances, it would mean increased costs for consumers.
There was a need to explain to communities in a better way why this was needed, Ms MacEvilly believed. “We will not decarbonise without this infrastructure.” In tandem with this, changes to the planning system to take on board the public’s view and to speed up projects were required, she said.
Fianna Fáil’s Christopher O’Sullivan said he was concerned CRU was advocating LNG infrastructure even more strongly compared to a previous appearance before the committee. This coincided with polar regions experiencing record temperatures caused by emissions and over-reliance on fossil fuels, he said.
It should be talking more about enhancing renewables and battery storage “when you can have the best offshore renewables in the world”.
Ms MacEvilly underlined “we need all of that”, delivered within a short time and with pace, while also getting rid of oil-fired generation and use of peat and coal.
In response to Independent Senator Alice Mary Higgins, who suggested fracked gas was likely to be part of LNG imports, Paul McGowan of CRU reiterated LNG infrastructure was to enable "a secure transition to a low-carbon future", but imported fracked gas was a different issue.
Jerry MacEvilly of Friends of the Earth said rapid decarbonisation of Irish society was a moral imperative. “It is important therefore that Ireland’s response avoids false solutions which would serve to increase long-term fossil fuel dependency, such as fossil fuel exploration and LNG,” he added.
“It is not acceptable to throw out the line that fossil methane gas ‘is needed for when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine’. This is 2022 not 2012,” Mr MacEvilly said.
“Equally, when it comes to descriptions of gas as a ‘transition fuel’, talk is cheap. Without verifiable time-bound measures to ensure gas does not crowd out energy efficiency, renewables, as well as clear accountability measures and obligations placed on public bodies to support this phase-out, no ‘transition’ is evident and the status quo prevails,” he insisted.
He backed calls for a timeline and plan for fossil-fuel phase-out to make sure net-zero emissions by 2050 was realisable. “This means any consideration of energy infrastructure must start with the question as to how it will support the decarbonisation of Ireland’s energy system, in accordance with the urgency and scale of the targets we have now enshrined in national law.”
More gas did not simply equate to more security, Mr MacEvilly said. “Our overreliance on fossil fuels, in particular gas, is itself a security risk and it is essential that Government addresses it as such.
“As long as Ireland remains reliant on global gas markets, we will be at the whim of gas-exporting countries . . . the sudden arrival of more fossil gas through an LNG terminal tomorrow would not miraculously alter current challenges with the electricity system.”