Tuesday, 1 June 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
77. To ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the potential benefits for coastal communities of having offshore electricity infrastructure located in close proximity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29374/21]
Referring to Deputy Leddin’s question, which is linked to mine, offshore electricity generation is an extraordinarily exciting development. I want to ask the Minister a question about marine protected areas, which have been mentioned to me. I know there was a report submitted in October 2020. Does the Minister have any concerns about the impact of offshore wind generation on marine protected areas or can they both work together? Could an offshore wind generation platform be the same? Will he also talk about the proximity issue?
Deputy Stanton is correct, it is a real opportunity for Cork as well as Limerick. They have similar characteristics There is a world-class deepwater harbour in Cork. There is a lot of energy infrastructure. It is the same in Shannon with the Moneypoint grid. In Cork, there is the plant in Aghada, all the energy assets and the pharmaceutical industries, so it has the same combination. It is close to offshore wind energy that can be brought ashore. It will only work if we get the planning right, particularly the environmental planning. Critical to that, the Government is developing a marine area planning Bill which will be published within the next few weeks, as I understand. We will have to manage this in a careful way to protect marine life and to be conscious of visual issues from the shore, but I believe it can be done. To answer the Deputy’s question, yes, I believe we can get that done. There is no direct result that means offshore wind must be excluded from marine protected areas. It can complement nature protection because there can be an area that is not trawled or is deliberately left idle because of the turbines, and that can see a potential return for marine life.
In the development of the projects, we must be careful about seabirds and their feeding. I believe this is achievable. We are already starting to see development. There was an announcement, as well as the advert in Cork I mentioned, for a firm based in Ballycotton, which is looking at a development in Aghada. I know it will take time, but this is the first of what I expect to be the industrial development of the future for our country. As it happens, if you look at the deepwater port areas we have, they have everything you would want in an international location, including very strong wind speeds. It will be a big part of Cork as well as Limerick.
Linked with that, I welcome the announcement today that the Cork commuter rail link will be electrified. It is to be hoped that if we get the turbines up, there will be plenty electricity to drive the trains, which would be fantastic.
As to infrastructure, and the Minister mentioned east Cork, the harbour in Cobh, and so on, the road infrastructure is an issue in Cobh, as he is aware. This could be a major hindrance to the development of offshore energy because the road infrastructure there is 18th century. It was designed for horses and carts, so that needs to be upgraded. I ask the Minister to support that when the report comes from the council.
Will the Minister comment on breathing life into local coastal communities and whether this technology, when it comes on stream, can do that? What are the benefits to local communities for employment, industry and servicing and maintaining the infrastructure?
Many of the jobs will come. Take the likes of Ballycotton or other areas along the west Cork or east Cork coast, for example. There are many small ship fishing vessel capabilities which would be perfectly involved in servicing and maintenance. The numbers are not huge but, at the same time, they would be significant for coastal communities.
I keep coming back to the point about the real potential in answer to questions from various Deputies. Increasingly, it seems what we see in this new energy system is that industries and jobs locate to points on the grid where the power supply is strong. You bring the industry to the power rather than shipping the power all the way. That will apply to either hydrogen or electricity. Again, to take the example of Cork and the oil refinery there, is it possible for us to switch that towards the likes of hydrogen production and return Cobh to its historical roots as a stop-off point for international shipping to power up? That is the potential we have.
I thank the Minister for his enthusiasm and ask that he put even more of his energy into these projects. I am concerned about possible brownouts and blackouts because of the huge demand for electricity in Ireland, and we have seen threats of that recently. The sooner we get the infrastructure up and running the better.
That threat is something that can trip us up. We must do everything to avoid that, which will involve a series of different measures. We will have short-term, interim, open cycle gas and reactive power to keep balancing our system. Part of the problem is we have lost two large gas plants, which are down due to prolonged repairs. That has put us into difficulty. I will be honest and say it is one of the highest risk and most important issues we must address over the next year, but I am confident we will be able to do that. If we get our planning correct, this will be an industry that will power our future as a country. I am convinced of that.