Consumers to benefit when wind, solar put ‘at heart’ of energy system

Wind farmers’ group meeting hears draconian planning system delaying projects

Wind and solar power will be at the heart of an imminent transformation of the Irish energy system where every consumer and community will have an opportunity to benefit, a conference has heard. File photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times.

Wind and solar power will be at the heart of an imminent transformation of the Irish energy system where every consumer and community will have an opportunity to benefit, a conference has heard. File photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times.

 

Wind and solar power will be at the heart of an imminent transformation of the Irish energy system where every consumer and community will have an opportunity to benefit, energy expert Marie Donnelly has said.

In the new energy world, which was already established in some EU countries, citizens would be every bit as important as big suppliers and utilities, she said.

“It will touch all of our lives, all of our communities,” Ms Donnelly, a former head of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Energy predicted.

Speaking at an Irish Wind Farmers’ Association (IWFA) conference in Killenard, Co Laois, she added: “We can be part of it, or wait for it to be done to us.”

Ireland, however, was unlikely to achieve its 2020 commitments on adopting renewables and reducing carbon emissions, she said, adding that this was “a tragedy” given the natural resources available.

A current 3 per cent gap on its commitments would translate into fines of €400 million to €600 million a year until the gap was closed, she warned.

Uncertainty on planning and energy availability had become an issue, Ms Donnelly said. She said she was aware of a major foreign direct investment project, other than the proposed Apple data centre in Athenry, that was cancelled due to lack of availability of 100 per cent renewable energy.

Soften up

IWFA chairman Grattan Healy questioned the Government’s commitment, saying that in current EU negotiations on the Clean Energy Package Ireland was the “most recalcitrant” member state in trying to soften up legislation and reduce possible fines.

Push back was also evident from fossil fuel and nuclear industries to the disadvantage of the renewable energy sector but with renewable costs reducing on a continuous basis, “we will win in the end,” he said.

“Over 70 per cent of our total energy still comes from fossil fuels and we are haemorrhaging a hard-won €4 billion to €5 billion per year to pay for these expensive and dirty fuels that contribute to climate change and pollute our air, making our people ill,” Mr Healy said.

“Instead of developing our own projects to meet renewables and emissions targets, the Government will end up wasting tens of millions of euros of taxpayers’ money on renewable energy and emissions credits and handing our hard-earned cash over to energy-compliant countries.”

He said planning laws were so draconian that it was impossible for private investors to build.

“We need the planning laws changed so that, unless you have a direct interest, you can’t object. We welcome moves in the National Development Plan to address this issue,” Mr Healy said.

‘Risky’

Projects which involved and encouraged buy-in from communities in their hinterland were the way forward. “But right now, renewable projects are so horrendously risky that there is only one community-led project in Ireland.”

Dr Tom Van Rensburg, of NUI Galway, outlined his research on attitudes to wind farms. “True NIMBYism is relatively rare,” he said.

Critical issues were genuine consultation and provision of accurate, non-biased information, he said. Respondents showed a strong preference for diversity of ownership over private industry, and were more likely to support energy for domestic use over export.

A new renewable electricity support scheme would facilitate increased community ownership in energy projects, said Minister of State Sean Kyne.

On the Apple decision, he accepted there were those with legitimate planning concerns, but there were also “professional objectors” operating in a very profitable business.

Energy analyst Arne Jungjohann said Germany had successfully introduced “energy democracy”, manifest in widespread presence of wind turbines and solar panels on houses.

“The government has made it easy and affordable to go solar. My country is not particularly sunny.” Ireland was in a better position to exploit solar energy, he added.

Germany was, however, going to miss its 2020 emissions targets because it had “too many cars; too much coal and too much power exported to other countries”.