Tuesday, 18 September 2018
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
45. To ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if his attention has been drawn to proposals to build a liquefied natural gas, LNG, terminal here; his views on whether such facilities are compatible with the State's commitments to tackle climate change; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37591/18]
The question is on the proposal for a liquefied natural gas terminal in the Shannon Estuary. How is this proposal compatible with the State's commitment to tackle climate change, given that Ireland has banned fracking and given the likelihood, should the proposal proceed, that fracked gas from North America will be used off the Irish coast? This seems to fly in the face of the Minister's commitment to tackle climate change.
There have been a number of announcements of private sector commercial proposals to build liquefied natural gas, LNG, facilities in Ireland. These include the Shannon LNG project, which is designated as an EU project of common interest, and a number of other more recent proposals. These are commercial projects and the location, development and final investment decisions for these projects are ultimately the responsibility of the project promoters. In addition, it is the responsibility of the project promoters to comply with any legal and regulatory requirements, including requirements for planning permission, other consents or permits, and related environmental impact assessments.
Ireland’s energy policy is fully aligned with the EU’s climate and energy objectives on the transition to decarbonisation, which includes the continuous and ongoing review of policies to reduce harmful emissions, improve energy efficiency, incentivise efficient and sustainable infrastructure investment, integrate markets, and promote research and innovation while ensuring our energy security of supply is maintained and enhanced.
The development of an LNG facility would further enhance Ireland's security of gas supply by increasing import route diversity and would be compatible with the State's commitment to tackling climate change.
The 2015 energy White Paper, Ireland's Transition to a Low Carbon Energy Future 2015-2030, sets out a roadmap for Ireland to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by between 80% and 95% by 2050. The strategy is clear, in that non-renewable energy sources will make a significant, though progressively smaller, contribution to our energy mix over the course of that energy transition. The national mitigation plan, which I published in 2017, restates the Government's commitment to move from a fossil fuel-based electricity system to a low-carbon power system. The investment in further renewable generation is to be incentivised. The national development plan commits to a doubling of renewable electricity generation.
During the transition, gas has the potential to deliver significant and sustained benefits, particularly in terms of enhanced security of supply. Natural gas has the potential to play an important role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in our power generation, industrial and commercial, residential and transport sectors by replacing more CO2-intensive fossil fuels. In Ireland, gas-powered generation provides an important backup for intermittent renewable wind generation within our electricity system.
The planning permission for an LNG terminal at Ballylongford has been extended by An Bord Pleanála for five years. It was due to expire in 2018. Compared with when that planning permission was first given, we now know more about the dangers of LNG, the way that fracking is conducted in North America and the damage the latter does to the environment and the planet. As such, it is extraordinary that An Bord Pleanála would decide to extend the licence by five years without even undertaking an environmental impact assessment. I congratulate the Friends of the Irish Environment on successfully challenging this decision in the High Court and having an injunction placed on it.
Everything the Minister has said indicates not only that there is a problem with our climate change strategy, but that we actually lack such a strategy. We are nowhere near reaching our commitment to reduce our CO2 emissions by 40% by 2030. We are at 10%. We know for sure that we will not be able to do it.
Will the Minister please repeat what he said about energy security? The planet does not recognise borders when it comes to climate change and toxic pollution, but the Minister seems to believe that it is okay for us to import fracked gas when we have banned it in Ireland. That is a contradiction.
First of all, the figure is 40% of our renewable electricity by 2020. I am determined to try to achieve that target.
The production, sourcing, buying and selling of natural gas produced outside this jurisdiction is an operational matter for the undertakings involved. There are a number of supply sources, with North America potentially one of those. Qatar is the largest producer of natural gas in the world and provides a substantial amount of LNG to Wales.
A number of projects have been proposed. I visited a floating LNG facility when I was in Malta last year. It has provided security of supply to that country.
The reality as the Deputy knows - it would be disingenuous not to acknowledge the fact - is that we are reliant on gas coming in through the interconnectors with the UK. If for geopolitical reasons gas was turned off in eastern Europe, it would have significant implications for employment, individuals and families in this country. My priority has to be to ensure that people have heat and electricity in the morning when they get up and that they have jobs to go to. My No. 1 priority as energy Minister is to ensure security of supply and that same has as low a level of impact on our environment as possible.
I must contradict the Minister's statement that his priority is just to supply energy. It is also to ensure that we move away from overheating the planet. Liquefied natural gas is the dirtiest fossil fuel imaginable - scientists argue it is as dirty as coal. What we did not know in 2008 when permission was first granted for offshore LNG licences was that methane emissions from natural gas are lethal to the planet. Since we know it now, why would we extend the licences and why would a Minister say that we must shore up our dependence on fossil fuels rather than move away from them? If LNG terminals were to be built in Ireland, it would lock this country into a fossil-fueled economy for a further 50 years. That does nothing to address our commitment to tackling climate change. In fact, we would be supplying gas to other parts of Europe.
The Minister's argument is disingenuous. He is not just the Minister for energy. Energy security is meaningless on a planet where there is no security for the people or other species living on it. That concern needs to be first and foremost in his mind.
I am not just the Minister for energy. That is why I have told the Deputy in my response that not only is it important that we have power in this country, but that it be clean power as well. I am determined to ensure that we have the cleanest possible generation. In terms of renewables, we have significant opportunities off our east and, in particular, west coasts. We have approximately 50 GW of potential electricity in that regard. I have previously spoken about an interconnector between the west coast and France to allow for the export of that to the European grid. However, we must also consider the short-term issues. Security of supply is a short-term issue for us, and that is something of which I as energy Minister must be conscious.
Regarding the three projects whose promoters have been in contact with my Department, no decision has been made to invest in any of them. I do not know whether any of them will go ahead. That is a matter for the investors involved.