Thursday, 16 September 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Renewable Energy Generation
As the Minister may be aware, the north-west area of County Mayo has some of the best renewable energy resources in Europe, if not the world. There is a plentiful supply of wind resources, ocean wave, tidal and hydroelectric resources. I am conscious that various tests are under way to map and demonstrate proof of concept in addition to the existing infrastructure in place and currently being developed. However, I want to ensure the Government is doing as much as possible to ensure that these resources are being utilised in a sustainable and sensitive manner, especially for local communities.
Offshore wind energy will help Ireland get to at least 70% renewable electricity by 2030 and supports the drive to net zero emissions by 2050. We have a target of 5 GW of offshore wind power by 2030 in the programme for Government and a further 30 GW in the subsequent decade.
Ireland's climate ambitions will see investment of tens of billions of euro in offshore renewable electricity projects. The first offshore wind developments are expected to be along the east coast in the coming years, where shallower waters are suitable for fixed-bottom turbines and prospective projects are more advanced. Over time, the energy potential of our deeper waters in the Atlantic Ocean are likely to be harnessed via floating wind systems.
Advancements in wave energy are monitored by the SEAI. Currently, no wave energy technology is sufficiently developed to be commercially integrated into Ireland's energy generation mix. However, wave energy is supported at national policy level through the offshore renewable energy development plan, OREDP, which has provided the basis for my Department supporting technology advancement in recent years. Work on a revised OREDP II is currently under way in my Department, and will provide an evidence base for the assessment of areas suitable for deployment of wind, wave, and tidal technical systems.
The Atlantic marine energy test site, AMETS, in Belmullet, County Mayo is being developed by the SEAI to test full scale pre-commercial offshore energy technologies. The development of AMETS has progressed steadily over the past decade. The SEAI is currently undertaking a strategic review of AMETS, the outcome of which will feed into the OREDP II.
I recently took note of the contents of the draft Mayo county development plan for 2021 to 2027, which is currently being finalised. Unsurprisingly, renewable energy features heavily in it. Mayo has become a natural leader in the development of renewable energy, with Ireland's first commercial wind farm in Bellacorick, County Mayo nearly 30 years ago. That has expanded now into the Oweninny wind farm, spanning more than 2,400 ha.
I commend the council officials who put significant effort into the development plan regarding renewable energy. I wish them every success in finalising the plan. However, it draws attention to the one issue of which we must be aware, which is ensuring that local authorities must also be consistent with national plans, policies and strategies in considering proposals for renewable energy. I query what efforts are being made by the Department to ensure that not only the county development plan but others around the country are on the same page as national policies. There is a need to ensure a coherent and consistent alignment between national and local policies.
I agree with the Deputy. There is significant potential for Mayo in the development of renewable energy power systems. In the auction process we had last year for the first renewable energy support scheme, four projects were successful in the county - three wind farms and one solar farm as I recall. All four are now going to construction. I understand there is another stream of further potential solar and wind projects, which will likely get into the next auction system that will start this autumn.
I keep going back to the strength of the grid and the debates we had about data centres and so on here. Do we bring some of the industry to where the power is rather than vice versa? In that regard I understand last week EirGrid set out a potential underground route for the north Connacht grid reinforcement project, which is going to be vital. It is both grid and generation, getting the balance right and getting demand and use together. It will take time because it is new technology, in particular floating offshore wind. The big long-term prospect for Mayo is that offshore resource coming ashore and how to use it to develop jobs and industry in the county is one of the questions I am focused on.
I thank the Minister. Enterprise supports to maximise the abundance of renewable energy resources along the Atlantic economic corridor must be prioritised. As he stated, we must incentivise this to secure investment and to ramp up development in renewable energy infrastructure. An important feature of this would be to enable energy to be put back into the grid. It would be unfortunate if we did not prioritise the mapping and plotting of the abundance of renewable energy resources readily available in the west. I know that will take time but we must start the process now as we work towards our climate obligations. Often, we hear renewable energy becoming an entire new economy and it would have a significant benefit for local communities in the west and their funding and for balanced regional development, and in doing so would provide much positivity.
It will take time but I see it tapping into the resource we have, particularly in the north-west. This is inevitable because where we have the really heavy wind resources, off the north-west coast of Ireland, is probably one of the best places on the planet. We have real skill and capability in industrial engineering processing so we can bring it ashore and use it. The most critical development in that regard is the Maritime Area Planning Bill, which is coming into the Oireachtas this autumn. We need to get that through quickly. We have to set up the institutions that will come out of it in regard to planning. What we have found in this country is that we need to get the planning right, including environmental planning. As I said to Deputy Barry earlier, it has to be in tune with protection of our nature-based systems, not against that. Using this proper planning, thinking long-term and getting it right will take time. We will do the east coast first but, very quickly, in this decade, we will start moving into southern waters, likely feeding into areas like Cork, Waterford Port and Shannon-Foynes. The bigger project, that 30 GW project, is more likely in the next decade but the scale of it is beyond compare and we have to start planning now.