Planning protests may ‘derail strategies to cut emissions’

Objections to expand electricity grid seen as barrier to 2030 target

Planning protests could de-rail Government plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions unless the problem is tackled now, experts warned at the weekend.

The Government wants green energy to generate 70 per cent of the electricity used in the Republic by 2030, from about 40 per cent now.

A study by the Irish Academy of Engineering acknowledges that this will require huge spending on preparing the national electricity grid for the volume of renewable generators set to come on stream over the next decade.

However, the organisation warns that the renewables plan is “destined to fail” if the grid cannot carry the electricity to the places that need it most.

Dr Jim Browne, academy president, said that by "not overcoming this hurdle, Ireland will fail to reach its 2030 target, resulting in a hugely disappointing failure towards our obligations on climate change".

The report, the Future of Electricity Transmission in Ireland, highlights public objections to plans to expand the grid as a key barrier to the Republic meeting its target.

Big European energy players, including EDF, Innogy, Statkraft and others, plan to spend billions of euros building offshore wind farms in the Irish Sea.

They have already said the national grid will need investment to ensure the electricity they generate gets ashore.

However, grid expansion projects, including a link connecting counties Meath and Tyrone, and a plan to boost west-east connections, have run into stiff public opposition.

According to the engineers' report, governments in Denmark and Germany have taken a hands-on approach to convince the public of the need for investment in their national grids to boost renewable generation.

In Germany, plans to increase renewable power while phasing out nuclear generators required a new north-south link that face objections from individual states, Thuringia and Hesse, as well as farmers and landowners.

The government there has pledged to supervise individual north-south projects in an effort to see that the €14 billion development is completed on time.

Despite broad public support for Denmark’s switch to renewables, the academy’s report states that opposition to overhead transmission lines has forced the country to use more expensive underground technology.

Danish grid operator Energinet recently said there was a need for the industry to create a framework earlier and more widespread talks with citizens about the need for electricity infrastructure.

Strong lesson

The academy’s report notes there is a strong lesson for the Republic here: that social constraints are forcing European countries to adopt expensive underground electricity transmission systems. “Will the future be any different for Ireland?” it asks.

Eirgrid, the State company responsible for Ireland's electricity grids, north and south, plans to formally launch a public consultation on plans to meet the Government's 70 per cent target by 2030.

The company recently pointed out that it had made the best use of existing assets to ensure the system could carry as much renewable power as possible.

Last year, 36 per cent of electricity used here came from green sources, mainly onshore wind. Eirgrid and the industry generally expect that figure to be overtaken in 2020.

Dr Browne argued that the Danish and German governments did not leave the grid expansion problem to the operating company to resolve.

"International experience tells us that to speed up investment and overcome network bottlenecks, the Irish Government must intervene to address the social acceptability of new transmission infrastructure," he said.

The report poses 10 questions that the academy believes the Government should answer as it plans to boost renewable electricity generation in the Republic.

They include weighing whether to cut renewable targets in light of likely public opposition to grid expansion and what measures the Government should take to win over objections in order to ensure the targets are met.

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