Ireland: Minister Rabbitte Addresses IWEA Conference

Ireland: Minister Rabbitte Addresses IWEA Conference

Pat Rabbitte, Irish Minister for Communications, Energy & Natural Resources this morning addressed the Irish Wind Energy Asssociation (IWEA) Conference with the following speech: 

Thank you for your invitation to deliver the keynote address at today’s Autumn Conference of the Irish Wind Energy Association on the occasion of your organisation being in operation for 20 years. I would like to congratulate you for the work throughout this time on building a domestic wind energy industry in Ireland.

It’s been a busy six months since we last met. When I spoke at your March conference, conscious of the need to meet our 2020 targets, and recognising the need for policy certainty on the part of developers, I announced a number of decisions on support scheme flexibility. These involved changes to the terms and conditions of REFIT 1 and 2, and an undertaking to seek state aid clearance from the EU Commission to extend the REFIT 1 backstop date for a two year period up to the end of 2027. All of this has now been achieved and full details have been published on my Department’s website. Developers who are due to build post 2015 now have the certainty they require on support scheme access.

Since March, Eirgrid has also issued constraint reports in respect of Gate 3. Developers have made or are making decisions on their Gate 3 offers. The response has been very positive. Information from EirGrid and ESB Networks indicates that sufficient wind farms have accepted offers to connect to the grid to facilitate meeting the target of 40 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2020. The latest figures show that the Gate 3 phase of group processing by EirGrid and ESB Networks has resulted in approximately 3,000 megawatts of wind generators accepting their offers to connect so far. Added to the current installed renewable generation and existing contracts for connection that is in line with Ireland’s requirements to meet European 2020 renewable energy targets.

While there is significant work ahead in delivering the required grid infrastructure, developing smart grid solutions and the major efforts and commitment required of wind farm developers to bring these projects to fruition, this is a very positive milestone. This level of accepted offers and contracts being signed shows the commitment among generators to proceed with their projects. In addition to the above figures, there are already just over 2,000 megawatts of renewable generation connected to the power system in Ireland, mainly onshore wind farms. In the electricity sector, it has been estimated that between 3,500 and 4,000 megawatts of installed wind generation will be required to meet Ireland’s renewable targets, in addition to hydro generation, bio-energy, and renewable combined heat and power (CHP) generators.

We have already begun to realise some of the economic benefits. A recent survey of IWEA member companies shows that some 3,400 people are in full time employment in this sector. I understand that this analysis will be supported by an academic review of the potential of the sector from Trinity College Dublin and the ESRI, supported by IWEA and Siemens, which will be completed in the next few weeks. These existing job numbers will grow as we progress towards our legally binding 2020 targets demonstrating the key role energy policy plays in creating the conditions for job creation and economic growth.

Ireland’s excellent renewable energy potential can also be developed for export. Expert advice and evidence shows that Ireland has the capability to achieve its national targets for renewable electricity from onshore renewable generation alone, with capacity to spare. This means that there is potential for projects of scale onshore that are aimed at export markets. It also means that our offshore wind resource can be developed as an export opportunity. Work is progressing very well on signing an Inter-Governmental Agreement between Ireland and the United Kingdom, If we don’t make the end of year deadline we won’t miss it by much.

I am aware, and so should this conference be aware, that there are concerns in parts of the midlands about the shape of the wind export project. Some of these concerns have been needlessly stoked by unthinking communication by some developers. Citizens and community groups are entitled to have their concerns properly addressed. It is undoubtedly the case that misinformation abounds. However, being dismissive of the questioners is not the way to deal with wrong information. It is not even the way to deal with gross distortion and mischievous exaggeration and there’s a fair amount of that around.

It is not true that there won’t be a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). It is not true that the skies over the midlands will be blighted by wind turbines. It is not true that communities will be excluded from inputting into the process. It is not true that we will be giving away a valuable indigenous resource. It is not true that we will be exporting green energy at the expense of meeting our own mandatory domestic targets. It is not true that there are no jobs for local people in developing an export sector in green energy. Nor is it right to exaggerate the number of jobs that will be created although none of us can forecast precisely the exciting potential.

There will be a Strategic Environmental Assessment. I have on several occasions announced that I am putting in place a clear national renewable energy export policy and planning framework which will guide An Bord Pleanála when considering any proposals of significant scale for wind energy projects. I’ll come back to this issue in a moment.

I have difficulty personally in envisaging such a project of scale being delivered on time that does not see the preponderance of wind turbines clustered on state lands far removed from people’s homes.

There are very clear and significant potential economic benefits arising from the export opportunity. Significant employment can be created. For example, employment creation arising from a 3 Gigawatt project would be expected to be in the order of 3,000 to 6,000 job years in the construction phase, with the actual number dependent on the construction schedule to 2020. NewEra advise me that there would be about €1 billion of construction spending on civil engineering works over 2 to 3 years. There would also be additional jobs created in the on-going maintenance of turbines over a 20-year operating life. Further employment opportunities would arise if turbines or components were manufactured in Ireland.

More generally, the shift towards renewable energy and related technologies promises to bring many benefits. There will be opportunities to develop new products across the information technology, remote communications and software sectors. In the near future, we may see Irish-designed products managing everything from control of energy in the home to management of wind farms and ensuring energy on the grid is optimised. With its natural energy resources and strong capabilities in areas such as engineering and ICT, Ireland is well positioned to profit from this opportunity.

All relevant State agencies, particularly in the enterprise area, will have to co-ordinate their activities early in the process to ensure we maximise the employment potential of export projects. This opportunity has already been identified by the IDA and Enterprise Ireland in their clean technology growth strategies.

There would be a flow of income to local economies in terms of rates, rent to land owners and local community funds. There are also potentially significant interconnection benefits, enhancing security of supply, allowing for increased intermittent wind generation and facilitating the operation of the single market.

It is important, however, that we recognise the concerns that are being expressed about potential amenity and environmental impacts. The views of local communities must be at the heart of the energy transition and this must begin with effective and timely communication from the start of projects right through to commissioning and operation. It is essential that local communities are engaged and consulted.

We can go a long way towards achieving public acceptance by the industry addressing and mitigating human, environmental and landscape impacts and delivering the best possible engineering solutions. We also need transparent planning, construction and licensing procedures.

It is important that you, as leaders in your industry, communicate fully and accurately the local as well as the national socio-economic benefits flowing from investment projects. A recent Government policy statement on the matter acknowledges the need for social acceptance and for project developers to examine appropriate means of building community gain considerations into project planning and budgeting.

Many energy project developers have already done this and industry as a whole should take the lead from best practice. Our strategic infrastructure legislation, which is now recognised as an exemplar internationally, allows planning authorities to require developers to build or finance local facilities and services that confer a substantial gain on the community.

Any new wind farms will of course be subject to the Planning Acts, including the requirements for public consultation. In July of this year, I announced that I am putting in place a clear national renewable energy export policy and planning framework, which will guide An Bord Pleanála when considering any proposals of a significant scale for wind energy export projects. The proposed large–scale wind farms intending to export must await the putting in place of this framework which will be underpinned by a Strategic Environmental Assessment. The framework will be prepared over the coming year or so and will provide an opportunity for all stakeholders including local authorities, potential project developers and local communities to be consulted and have an input into the national policy for wind export. The process will provide an opportunity to integrate SEA and Appropriate Assessment under the Habitats Directive in developing the new national framework. The initial phase of public and stakeholder consultation on the framework will begin in the next few weeks. A dedicated page on my Department’s website will provide up to date information about the process on an on-going basis.

On a related matter, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, in conjunction with my own Department and the SEAI, is undertaking a targeted review of certain aspects of the existing Wind Energy Planning Guidelines. The review is examining the manner in which the Guidelines address key issues such as noise and shadow flicker. It is expected that draft revised guidelines will be published this November with a view to their finalisation in the first half of 2014. It should go without saying that these guidelines will apply in their entirety to any projects for export. However, the export policy & planning framework may impose additional requirements on export projects.

To conclude, we have made very significant progress toward meeting our 40% 2020 target and are on the cusp of making export of renewable energy real with all its attendant economic benefits. However, this is only going to happen with community acceptance and involvement. You have a key role to ensure that this happens. From a Government perspective, I want to assure local communities that the proposed export projects must await the completion of an Inter-Governmental Agreement with the United Kingdom, the putting in place of a policy framework with clear planning ground rules to ensure only appropriate development takes place. It is in this way, and this way alone, that the real benefits I have outlined can be achieved.

Thank you.


Press release, October 3, 2013; Image: IWEA