Thursday, 3 October 2019
Development of a Liquefied Natural Gas Facility in Ireland: Statements
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this issue. The climate action plan the Government has published sets out an ambition to have 70% of energy on our grid from renewable sources by 2030. The current figure is 30%. In practical terms that will require us to build five times the volume of renewable energy capacity we now have. In terms of operating the grid, it means that the peak load that can be taken from renewable sources, which now stands at 65%, must be increased to 95%. The implication is that for times when the wind does not blow and the sun does not shine, we must have quick and flexible systems of introducing supplementary capacity to ensure supply. That will become particularly important as we finally exit from coal and peat generation as set out in the plan.
Having requested advice from the Climate Change Advisory Council, I received advice that, while it was appropriate that Ireland should cease to have new exploration for oil, we should continue exploration for gas because gas provides that quick and flexible capacity to supplement our ambitions to build our grid based on renewable sources. It confirmed that in transition to a low-carbon economy it was appropriate to rely on gas as the most effective way to provide that supplement. It also pointed out that technology will change and that we need to keep a close eye on the opportunity for carbon capture and storage as a supplement to the use of gas.
The liquefied natural gas, LNG, proposal has arisen in the context of the need to provide security of supply for gas for this transition given that the Corrib field will run out or start to decline very significantly during the next decade. At that point, we will be solely reliant on interconnection with the UK, which will no longer be a member of the European Union, meaning that Ireland will be exposed to security of supply issues. The LNG project has been on the projects of common interest for six years because access to LNG provides additional security, as confirmed in studies by Gas Networks Ireland, EirGrid and the International Energy Agency. This the backdrop to why this project continues to be on the list of projects of common interest and of importance for security during the course of the transition to a network largely based on renewable sources.
Being on the EU list of projects of common interest does not dilute in any way the requirement for such a project to get regulatory approval under Irish and EU planning and environmental requirements. The issue here does not in any way undermine the obligation on the sponsor - in this case, a private sector sponsor - to obtain all the necessary regulatory compliance certificates to go with such applications. That is a very important context for this. We are not alone in needing or relying on the potential of LNG imports to provide security of supply. Thirteen EU member states have such import terminals. LNG represents 14% of Europe's energy supply and is an important source of security within a sector that is exposed to uncertainties.
That is why, in a European context, such facilities are of significance and it is also why there is a desire to see them included in a list of projects of common interest.
I am aware of the concerns that some sources of natural gas, such as fracked gas, can contain higher levels of fugitive gases which generate additional greenhouse gases in the form of methane than other sources of natural gas. This is based on certain research papers published by Cornell University. While there is debate about that research, we should be conscious of those in the use of projects of common interest. I have instructed my officials to ask the European Commission whether the implications of importing LNG, both conventionally or unconventionally extracted, into the European Union has been examined in terms of a sustainable, secure and competitive European energy policy and if not that should be undertaken. Being on a list of this nature does not confer any ability to override any of the planning and regulatory requirements, nor does it confer any automatic entitlement to support. In the event of an application being made for financial support for such a project, the Government would have a further role.
I have initiated within my Department a study of the position relating to the security of our energy supply in order to ensure that as we exit fossil fuels, we can be confident in the sources of other energy and their reliability and that these are consistent with the transition to a low-carbon economy. I hope the study will be completed early in the new year.
There is a tendency for people in this House to be very focused on where we source different fuels, particularly fossil fuels. The real challenge for Ireland lies in the fact that it is one of the most fossil-fuel dependent countries in Europe. The plan I have set out is a roadmap to dealing with that and to making the necessary changes. It involves taking cars run on fossil fuels off our roads by 2030. No coal or peat will be burnt in our power stations by that time. Fossil fuels will not be used in new homes. We will refit 500,000 homes in order to make them low-energy consumption dwellings. We will increase the supply of renewable energy on our grid to five times what it is today. Those are the real challenges we have to meet but we must not expose ourselves to potential interruptions of supply that could have significant effects on our economy and society. My approach is to be prudent and to make the correct decisions while being aware of evolving science and ensuring that it will be brought to bear on any decisions we make.