Government indecision will impact climate change action, Seanad hears

FF Senator ‘frustrated’ at inability of ‘all arms of State’ to decide on infrastructure

Senator Pat Casey expressed his frustration that the State does ‘not seem to understand the implications of processes and applications that are not time-bound’. Photograph: iStock

Senator Pat Casey expressed his frustration that the State does ‘not seem to understand the implications of processes and applications that are not time-bound’. Photograph: iStock

 

The inability of Government departments to make decisions on major infrastructural projects will have a significant negative impact on the State’s ability to address the challenge of climate change, the Seanad has been warned.

Government Senator Pat Casey expressed his frustration that the “core” problem in all departments and arms of State is that “they just do not seem to understand the implications of processes and applications that are not time-bound”.

The Fianna Fáil Senator said that all decisions should from now on have a deadline.

He made the remarks as he told the House he was “annoyed and frustrated” at the unacceptable seven months’ delay by the Department of Environment, Communications and Climate Change in dealing with an application by SSE Renewables for the Arklow Bank wind farm project off the Wicklow coast, to “facilitate the extension of the long-stop dates within the lease”.

Mr Casey said a report was presented to the department in March for the project, to ensure its delivery “in line with the most up-to-date environmental standards”.

The Arklow Bank is the country’s first offshore wind farm of scale which aims to be generating power by 2025 and Mr Casey pointed out that the project could help mitigate the current electricity generation capacity crisis.

It would “reduce Ireland’s carbon emissions by approximately 1 per cent and will offset more than 500,000 tonnes of harmful CO2 annually.

“Wicklow currently has a housing stock of more than 56,000 homes. This project will generate eight times the electricity required for these homes. That is 520 MW of electricity, which is enough to power more than 450,000 homes with green energy, contributing to Ireland’s action plan target of 1 GW of offshore energy by 2025.”

But he said the department had delayed for seven months without “any apparent advancement”.

“I am annoyed and frustrated at the time being taken by the Department to progress this application, which would allow it to proceed to the next stage, namely, a transboundary environmental public consultation. If that is not achieved, we can throw our 2025 targets out the window.”

Replying for the Government, Minister of State Frankie Feighan said it was not appropriate to comment in detail on the application.

But he said “it is important to note that the application by SSE Renewables is unprecedented in the level of change from the existing lease arrangements”.

He added that it was therefore “necessary to review the application carefully so as to ensure that any decision made upon it is as robust as possible and will stand up to any challenge that may be brought forward”.

Mr Casey said he did not want to interfere in the process. “All I ask is when the decision will be made.”

But he said he had a problem with all Government departments when it came to timely decision making.

“How can a project progress if it does not know when it is going to get an answer or when it can move to the next phase?

“Realistically and honestly, we will not deliver on what the Government and we, as a people, want to deliver on climate change unless the Departments make the decisions. All decisions should be time-bound now and in the future to give certainty.”

The Minister said that “we want to meet our 2030 climate and energy targets. SSE Renewables has a lease in place for the Arklow wind project, which is, fortunately, under the Foreshore Act.”

Mr Feighan said he did not have the information on when a decision would be made “but I will bring the question back to the Minister to see if we can expedite te added thathe matter as quickly as possible”.

He added that there can sometimes be “blockages” and it was good that Mr Casey had chosen to raise the issue.