Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 13 March 2013
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications
Forthcoming EUFORES Conference: Discussion with EUFORES
I welcome Dr. Jan Geiss, secretary general, EUFORES and his colleague. By way of background, EUFORES is a European parliamentary network with MEPs from all major political groups in the European Parliament, as well as the national parliaments of EU member states. It promotes the deployment of renewable energy sources and energy efficiency within Europe. It is a non-profit organisation and was founded in 1995 by Members of Parliament and other key sectors. I thank Dr. Geiss for his presentation and words of welcome. I found it interesting to hear about the role of EUFORES. I also take the opportunity to wish him the best at his conference and I call on him to make his opening statement.
Dr. Jan Geiss:
I thank the Chairman for his welcome and for giving our background. I shall explain further who we are and what is behind our story.
EUFORES stands for the European Forum for Renewable Energy Sources which is a network that promotes renewable energy and energy efficiency. It was founded by Members of the European Parliament and European Commission people in 1995. It has been the platform for renewable policies in Brussels. The key people in EUFORES are the presidents Claude Turmes, Fiona Hall and Anni Podimata, plus an extended board of members of the European Parliament from all of the political groups which promote renewables and efficiency in the European Parliament. They are the ones who compiled the renewables and efficiency directives and the EUFORES president has always acted as rapporteur. The directives are what the members of the committee must struggle with here regularly.
EUFORES is a network of Members of the European Parliament and of the EU 27 national parliaments. The idea is to give MEPs a platform, the information and a chance to exchange or improve their European and national policies in order to strengthen Europe's energy sector. EUFORES hosts many events in the European Parliament such as dinners and breakfasts with Mr. Günther H. Oettinger, European Commissioner for Energy, Ms Connie Hedegaard, European Commissioner for Climate Action, and others.
The main product of EUFORES is the interparliamentary meeting or gathering of members of European and national parliaments which takes place each year in another national parliamentary. The last one was held last November in Athens in the Greek Parliament. One can imagine how emotional that meeting was and we tried to find ways that renewables could create business in Greece, not just send money. It was a very interesting meeting. Last year we were in Stockholm. This year we will be in Dublin and we appreciate the help of the committee. I wish to also thank Senator Cáit Keane for helping and preparing the EUFORES event. I also thank the Chairman and the committee for hosting us and for the great co-operation shown.
The conference will be a two-day event which is usually in a parliament. Obviously there was an added dimension to this Parliament and that is why the Taoiseach ensured that we got Dublin Castle as a location. My delegation was at Dublin Castle an hour ago to check the facilities. The interparliamentary conference will take place at Dublin Castle and we are happy with the location. It is perfect. A one-day renewables conference will take place on Friday, 21 June and the next day, Saturday, will be a half-day meeting on energy efficiency.
I shall outline who will attend. It is a closed meeting of members of parliament plus some invited guests. We expect around 70 members of parliaments from all over Europe. On average 20 member states are represented, plus some invited experts. As I said, attendees will be from the European Commission, a few government representatives and some experts from industry associations and scientific institutes. The idea is to create an atmosphere of a closed and confidential meeting where members of parliament can discuss and exchange ideas and get some input from the experts. The meeting will be a pan-European event so there will be members of parliament from all of the countries in attendance.
We always focus on the specific issues of an area. We are in the north-western part of the EU and Ireland runs an incredible process comprising offshore and onshore wind and ocean energy availing of great interconnections. Ireland is about to connect to the UK and to create an interlink which has never been seen before in Europe. EUFORES wants, with Ireland's help, to teach other members of parliament from around Europe that such things can happen and not in 40 years' time. We want to convey that it is not a crazy vision of a future technology but what can happen now. Policy is about what is signed and decided in parliaments now. We are very happy to place a special focus on these topics and there will be a detailed programme for the event. Of course general topics are discussed with the European Commission such as the latest news on the renewable energy directive. We will discuss whether member states are on track, the tendencies at present and where we are going. During a time of crisis there are big questions. We shall discuss whether member states should slow down the development of renewables. It will be an interesting discussion on the first day.
On the second day we will discuss energy efficiency. We will focus mainly on the new energy efficiency directive which emanated from the circles of the members of parliament. We will take the opportunity to explain the contents of the directive and what will reach the national parliaments. We have also invited the European Commission to explain the details. The directive is complicated and the devil is in the detail so the European Commission should take to the stage to give answers.
The two-day conference will lead to intensive networking. If everything goes well then there will be even more intensive networking between the parliaments. The Irish Government already works closely with the House of Commons and a specific group has been established to discuss the interlinking of activities, future markets, exchange and so on. If the conference broadens and supports a debate that includes all of the countries located near the northern seas, such as Germany, Denmark and Norway, and improves the future of Europe then we will have done a good job. That is the idea behind the conference. We usually have intense negotiations with lots of speeches. There is always room for discussions in order that members of parliament can join forces, build relationships and have a nice chat over a coffee or good wine.
We have tried to make the events accompanying the conference sexy in order to encourage more members of parliament to travel to Dublin. On Friday evening we will host a large gala dinner in the Irish Parliament with the permission of the Government. On Saturday there will be a site trip where everyone will be transported by bus. We are arranging a nice tour with the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland that will show something new and interesting. Our first stop will be EirGrid because we want attendees to see how Ireland has balanced out the use of wind energy. People all over Europe think that it is not possible to balance wind energy but Ireland has done so without causing blackouts. We are very curious to see how that is done. We are also interested in energy efficiency measures.
We had thought as well to even go down to Wicklow to see the offshore wind parks and then take them to Glendalough but it is too far away and we have to be a bit more realistic in the planning. Whichever route we take and whatever we show them, we also want them to see some green Irish hills because we also want them to leave with an image of the countryside in their heads and we will all end up on Saturday evening in Johnny Fox's to give them a real impression of Ireland. That is the idea of the conference. People will arrive on Thursday afternoon, having left their parliaments all over Europe to travel to Dublin, and then the event will take place in Dublin Castle.
I welcome Dr. Geiss and I thank him for appearing before the committee. I wish him well with the conference. The debate on renewable energy has been ongoing for the past decade. We have witnessed major investments, including in the interconnector between the UK and Ireland and in the wind energy section into which we are tapping. I hope those attending the conference visit the wave energy site and so on. The issue of how these developments impact on local communities and how they can be managed in such a way that they are integrated into them is increasing in importance. There is a wind farm six miles from where I live and there is another one 12 miles from me on the other side of my home. One was developed with great sensitivity to the community and it was integrated easily but the other was developed with major controversy. A great deal needs to be discussed in this regard. There are major benefits from renewable energy for member states and for communities. However, the issue of the impact of these projects should be borne in mind during the conference and the deliberations in June. A workable solution to this issue is vitally important. The sensitivities of local communities should be raised during the conference because they have legitimate concerns, fears and anxieties over what is proposed.
Renewables have significant potential and it is disheartening at times to see people upset and communities divided. The conference is an opportunity for experts to give their views, which might resonate with many people in Ireland. It is a concern and national and local public representatives in this country have to deal with the same issue in their constituencies. If it was discussed, it would resonate with many people in the system and some of the fear surrounding issues relating to renewables could be taken away. It would be an idea if part of the programme for the conference dealt with these concerns and that attendees were conscious of that. I support Deputy Moynihan's comments.
I welcome Dr. Geiss. It is a great opportunity for Ireland and the issue is one of the main focuses of the committee. Renewables are rightly a hot topic because so much could change in our energy needs and in our economy. All the heavy hitters from Europe will attend the conference, including Marie Donnelly, head of renewables research innovation in the European Commission. Both energy providers and energy regulators will be in the same room and it will be up to MEPs and other parliamentarians to ask the right questions because the right people will be in the room. This is a great opportunity for consumers, providers, customers and regulators to come together, ask the right questions, and, hopefully, get some of the right answers.
I thank Mr. Geiss for attending. I am sorry more committee members are not present; they should be. We can learn a great deal from each other at a conference such as this. I agree with Deputy Moynihan that we need to examine the impact of renewable energy projects on communities not only in Ireland, but in every European nation. Sometimes a good project can be lost because the benefits are too distant and are not obvious to the host communities. Perhaps we need to consider something that may be even contrary to wider European principles and legislation. We need to examine the benefits for host nations and host communities of renewables. Renewable energy is important and we need to consider the investment in this as distinct from finite fossil fuels. I would like information to be available at this conference on such issues or there should at least be an exchange of views.
Dr. Jan Geiss:
I fully agree with what the Deputy said. In the past, I was a scientist and I always said that in renewables there is the natural potential - what we can harvest - the technical potential, the economic potential and the social potential and we should not forget this fourth dimension. I am from Germany and we had the same discussion. We called it the asparagus on the landscape - Verspargelung. If one goes for too much wind or for wind only, one will find these limits in social acceptance and this decentralised renewables revolution and energy transition cannot take place over the heads of the citizens. There are several ways. If it is done only with wind in the future, it will mean too much concentration on one solution. We promote the mix of renewables. There should be much more different technologies involved. Ocean technology is not in the market now but there is huge potential in ten or 20 years. The forces of nature are strong and it is difficult to harvest them but there will be solutions for sure. I do not know if photovoltaic power, PV, can also be a solution in Ireland. We are not Italy or Spain in Germany but we still have huge volumes of PV and it is getting cheaper. It works like flat screens. Twenty years ago, a flat screen cost €100,000 but now we can buy it in a supermarket almost for free. The technology market is getting cheaper. They are all in different stages of ripeness but in the next decade other renewables will come in and the mix will be much broader and more adapted to landscape protection and so on.
The second issue is whether the benefits are close enough to the citizen. There are examples in Germany where at the beginning wind park managers were ignorant and arrogant and did not respects the needs of a village, for example, until they understood that people from the village should also make a little money and be part of it. They were given shares or ownership and suddenly they did not see wind farms as a threat and looked on them as windmills with money coming straight into their pockets. Suddenly they loved them. It is an abstract concept for politicians to explain but in the end it will be shocking if we see money flowing out of Europe to buy oil, gas, nuclear resources and so on. We will send our billions of euro to Mr. Putin and some Arab families and they will buy our football clubs. Why can we not keep that money here and leave it with the citizens instead of burning it in the oven? It is complex because people want something in their pockets today and they want to protect their landscape and we have to respect that. Perhaps we need to explain to them what will happen if we do not go now for these solutions temporarily.
It takes one day to take down and disassemble a windmill onshore. That is no problem. However, climate change will run over the landscape and definitely destroy it within a few decades. I do not want to paint too negative an image but these would be the consequences. This may be an opinion on an abstract future but we should also respect what is close to the people and integrate them into the process. The energy transition must not go over the heads of people and we must respect what they need. There are different ways to give people something directly.