Rabbitte tells agriculture to back energy infrastructure

Green paper on energy looks for submissions from the public about future policy

The Irish Wind Energy Association said everybody with an interest in Irish energy policy should contribute to the paper.

The energy sector will have to bear a disproportionate burden of Ireland's climate change obligations because of the expansion of agriculture, Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte has said.

Unveiling a Green Paper on energy, which will inform policy in the area until 2030, Mr Rabbitte said the Government backed the Harvest 2020 strategy for agriculture, which will see large increases in dairy and beef production, but the expansion means farming will bear less of the climate change obligations. Farmers are among the biggest opponents of the Eirgrid 25 strategy for the renewal of the transmission network, which might see pylons in areas of the south and west, and they are also opposed to the North-South interconnector from Tyrone to Meath.

Interconnector
Speaking at the launch yesterday in Croke Park, Mr Rabbitte gave strong backing to both projects. He also said the North-South interconnector should proceed "as soon as possible, following resubmission to the planning system".

Mr Rabbitte added: “We can’t continue to make progress towards the decarbonisation of the energy system without a grid that is fit for purpose. That means Government being able to win over support in the public interest from all sections of the community.”

Because of the recession and greater fuel efficiencies, energy consumption in Ireland has dropped by 20 per cent since 2007 but renewable still only account for 7.5 per cent of the energy mix. At the same time energy prices have increased by 31 per cent since 2007, a reflection of Ireland's dependence on imported gas and oil.

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The Government has presented the Green Paper against a backdrop of local opposition to pylons and wind farms, the need to cut emissions to comply with EU climate change regulation, and the rise of shale gas in the US which is having an effect on Europe’s energy pricing. Energy price structure, the energy mix, the grid infrastructure and the economic opportunities from energy development are among the issues which interested parties are asked to make submissions on.


Electricity
The paper speaks of the benefits of competition in the electricity market with some 1.3 million people making the switch since 2010 in their electricity provider.

Interested parties have been asked to consider if there are ways of reducing electricity prices further.

The Irish Wind Energy Association welcomed the paper and said everybody with an interest in Irish energy policy should contribute to it. However, Green Party leader and Dublin MEP candidate Eamon Ryan criticised the paper saying it asked questions, but provided no answers. "The Government is reacting to the controversy that has surrounded the development of wind power and the electricity grid by pulling back from any ambition to reduce our dependence on imported fossil fuels."

Irish Farmers' Association environment and rural affairs campaign chairman Harold Kingston said it was "no longer appropriate to have policies catching up with developers' plans". He criticised the State's "overreliance on statutory powers and engineering capacities as opposed to genuine engagement with farmers and rural communities".

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times