Dáil debates

Thursday, 14 July 2022

Green Hydrogen Strategy Bill 2022: Second Stage [Private Members]


5:45 pm

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
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I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the opportunity to move this Bill on Second Stage. I thank my co-sponsors, Deputies Quinlivan, Cronin and Guirke. I note the Government amendment which states that this Bill will be deemed to have been read a second time this day six months, that is, in January 2023. I understand the rationale for this amendment and hope the Government will have accelerated its planning in the area of green hydrogen by that time and that it will have produced a comprehensive strategy before the new year.

Tuesday of this week saw the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications open a public consultation on the development of a hydrogen strategy for Ireland. This was very welcome. It goes to the core of what we are debating here today. We brought this Bill forward with the intention of addressing a gap in Government policy with regard to green hydrogen. We sought to be constructive and we are glad to see the Government now moving ahead in line with the intention of our Bill. It is fair to say that the Government has come some way in its thinking on this issue and on the potential opportunity of green hydrogen. That is also welcome.

We believe green hydrogen can play a central role in the decarbonisation of our economy. It is emerging as a sustainable solution for the decarbonisation of many sectors including heavy transport, shipping, aviation and industry. Both Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus now have hydrogen buses, which is an exciting development. These buses are filled with hydrogen in a compressed gas state and water is the only by-product emitted through the vehicles' exhaust. I met with Bus Éireann earlier this week and it outlined a positive experience so far with its small hydrogen fleet. This fleet operates on the 105X route, which runs in my constituency of Meath East. Although this area is in its infancy, it highlights the potential applications and benefits of green hydrogen. In the North, Wrightbus is now building hydrogen buses. This highlights the need to plan our hydrogen strategy on an all-island basis, as we have consistently stated.

The hydrogen strategy consultation paper published two days ago further notes that hydrogen is also used in the energy, aerospace, electronics, pharmaceutical and medical industries here, albeit in a limited role. As the technology improves and advances are made, it is important that we are in a position to capitalise on the use of green hydrogen in as many areas as possible in order to help meet our climate targets. Ireland has some of the best offshore wind potential in the world, which affords us the opportunity to become a leader in green hydrogen production through the harnessing of just a portion of this wind energy. This hydrogen can be used domestically to reduce our carbon emissions in line with the national objective of achieving a carbon-neutral economy and society by 2050 or can be sold on international markets as energy, thereby raising revenue for investment in public services here. Ireland has a major opportunity to exploit our wind resource for the production of green hydrogen, which can then be exported to Europe to meet demand. The German-Irish Chamber of Industry and Commerce has already formed a German-Irish hydrogen council in response to the interest expressed in forming closer relationships with Germany in the field of green hydrogen.

Green hydrogen and renewable energy products hold significant potential to create jobs in rural and regional Ireland. This can be seen in the hydrogen-related projects already in the pipeline. Merck's renewable energy division is planning a €200 million green hydrogen plant in Mayo while Bord na Móna has a renewable hub with hydrogen production capabilities planned for the midlands. The ESB's multibillion euro Green Atlantic at Moneypoint plan would see the conversion of the existing coal-fired power station to a renewable energy hub that would include capacity for 1,400 MW of offshore wind, a wind turbine construction base and green hydrogen production and storage facilities.

It is great to see ambitious plans like this from semi-State companies. It is exactly the type of State-led investment we have been calling for to ensure we remain in control of vital energy production in the years ahead. Ireland's green hydrogen potential is contingent on the success of our offshore wind sector and there is a significant amount of work to be done in that area. I might come back to that in my closing remarks.

5:55 pm

Photo of Maurice QuinlivanMaurice Quinlivan (Limerick City, Sinn Fein)
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I am delighted to see this Bill, introduced in February along with my colleagues, Deputies O'Rourke, Guirke and Cronin, reaching Second Stage today. The amendment from the Government would delay the Bill for six months. I would rather it was not delayed but we will accept that amendment and move forward. It is positive that the Government is listening to what we have put forward. We are very fortunate on this island that we have an abundance of natural resources, in both the waters within the State and those that surround it. We are very well-positioned to harness the potential of green hydrogen.

Green hydrogen is made using only renewable power through a process known as electrolysis. For those who have an interest in the science, electrolysis is a process that involves passing an electrical current through water, causing the water to dissociate itself into its constituent chemicals, namely, hydrogen and oxygen. As it is created through 100% renewable power, it is the green alternative to other fields. Across the globe, it is emerging as a key renewable and, importantly, sustainable solution for industries looking to decarbonise. It has been considered for potential use in both maritime and aviation transport. In our State, hydrogen-powered buses have recently been introduced. While limited in numbers, they have had an impact and while currently expensive, they show the potential of hydrogen as a solution.

Despite its benefits and the abundant availability of necessary resources, we do not have a hydrogen strategy as of yet. That is quite bizarre. We are playing catch-up. The European Commission published its hydrogen strategy two years ago in July 2020 and Scotland published its strategy in 2015. We are in serious danger of being left behind. If we are serious about the use of renewable energy, we need to make the most of our resources and create a hydrogen network. Without such a strategy, our ability to attract funding will be hampered, as will our potential to become a world leader in green hydrogen, which I believe we can do. The green hydrogen we produce could be used to reduce our carbon emissions and support us in our ambition to be a carbon-neutral economy by 2050. Not only that, but the potential exists to sell this energy product on the international markets.

In an increasingly unstable world where we are still dealing with the shocks of the economic crash, Brexit, the Covid pandemic and the illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine, it has never been more important to build energy security in our own country. This will be good for businesses, consumers and the entire economy. Ireland has huge potential to develop offshore wind farming but we need to ensure ports and coastal communities are supported in these efforts. That support is seriously lacking at the moment. Unfortunately, Belfast's D1 harbour, which I hope to visit soon, remains the only facility on the island that can provide both staging and construction services for offshore wind farms. That said, there are a number of ports across the State that are at various stages of development. I am very proud to say that ports in the mid-west region, including Shannon Foynes and Moneypoint, are looking at investments to get them to the point where they can service the construction of offshore wind energy. Other ports such as Killybegs, the Cork docklands and Rosslare are further along in this development project. The ramping up of investment in these ports and the adoption of all-Ireland approach to issues of energy and climate action will be critical in our efforts to reach climate targets.

Let me be abundantly clear on this next point. If we do not provide the necessary investments for our ports, green hydrogen and offshore wind projects will be directed to countries that are willing to provide such investment. I have no doubt that if we do not build the infrastructure needed in Ireland, others will build ports on the west coast of Britain, in France and even in the Netherlands. In an ironic twist, they will possibly sell their energy to us. The country that should be a world leader in this area will become an importer of energy created by wind and hydrogen if we do not get our act together. Irish wind farms could create jobs in France and support businesses in Holland and across Europe if we get our act together. I understand from feedback from those involved in the industry that some of these foreign ports are already engaging with these projects. Strategic investment must be directed urgently to our ports to enable them to build the necessary infrastructure to support the construction of offshore wind energy. We need to ensure, as far as possible, that we build our own energy security and develop an ability to sell any excess.

This is not to suggest that we as a State have been entirely idle on the issue. The German-Irish Chamber of Industry and Commerce has formed a hydrogen council to forge closer relationships in the field of green energy. Plans for green hydrogen facilities are already in place for both Moneypoint in County Clare and the €200 million green hydrogen plant in Mayo. However, without an international green hydrogen strategy we are limited in our potential for success. Our Bill is simple but crucial. It seeks to ensure that this State is prepared and ready to realise our full potential in the field of green hydrogen. It would have the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications publish a strategy within six months, including provisions for consultation with relevant stakeholders. I welcome that the Government has initiated of the consultation stage of this process. I ask people to engage with that and I look forward to moving forward over the next six months.

Photo of Réada CroninRéada Cronin (Kildare North, Sinn Fein)
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I am also delighted to be co-presenting this Bill with my party comrades, given the urgency of the climate crisis we are in and the need to adapt to clean green technology as soon as possible. I have noted the Government's amendment. Normally I would be very disappointed with such an amendment but I acknowledge that we are having a public consultation with interested stakeholders. It is very important that we get this right so that is welcome.

I have a particular constituency interest in green hydrogen which I will address here. It is not only about its use as a fuel but the context of its wider impact on how we work, live and do business. It is a clean, green, renewable and sustainable fuel coming from the electrolysis of water. From source to use, it has huge potential to change transport and heating in north Kildare and all across the Thirty-two Counties. In north Kildare we have a highly aware and climate-conscious population, which is hugely concerned that the local biodiversity and ecosystem must be protected for this and future generations. This was evidenced in Leixlip recently by a huge outcry over pollution in the River Rye. People were extremely distressed about it. The lockdown also gave people a sense of awareness of the local area and the fragility of the ecosystems and habitats.

There is also a big business and economic component to the importance of this Bill for my constituency. Kildare has become a major logistics hub, with a lot of the big players having warehousing and logistical operations in Kildare. Due to that, there is major use of HGVs in the county, as well as all the work and jobs involved in meeting customer demand and expectations across the island. A company's reputation would only be as good as its ability to fulfil customer demand. The interconnectedness of community and nature is the same interconnectedness between logistics, warehousing, production and retail. Clean green hydrogen is crucial to our environment in north Kildare in every sense, be that natural, transport or economic.

This demonstrates the importance of joined-up thinking and big picture politics. In north Kildare we have suffered from a distinct lack of such thinking and our economies and communities are suffering due to this lack of big picture politics. Just this week I addressed the lack of connection between planning, housing and public transport. People are stranded in housing estates in rural communities. Despite our belief in the power of the bicycle, a lot of my constituents are so far away from education and work that cycling is not always an option for them and they do not have access to proper public transport. Hydrogen could be very important for fuelling public transport and as a clean way of fuelling cars. Hydrogen engines will be critical as public transport embraces this new green technology.

Green hydrogen also has huge potential in aviation. As an island nation, we should never have sold off our national airline and left all those talented workers to the mercy of the private market. A growing number of people are talking about not travelling by air or cutting it to a minimum for the sake of the planet. I hope the use of hydrogen in aviation will have a major impact environmentally, as well as on customer choice. We are an island nation. Unlike our European neighbours, we do not have the option of hopping on a train in our capital city and being taken to a capital city in another country.

That option simply is not available to us, so we have to be realistic. Climate action has to suit the citizen too. We have to make the best of it and this is an option. As a member of the Joint Committee on Climate Action, I am aware of the urgency of the issue. I accept the amendment. I am delighted that this is going ahead to consultation.

6:05 pm

Photo of Malcolm NoonanMalcolm Noonan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “That” and substitute the following: "Dáil Éireann resolves that, in light of the ongoing consultation of interested stakeholders on the preparation of a hydrogen strategy, the response period for which will close in eight weeks' time, the Green Hydrogen Strategy Bill 2022 be deemed to be read a second time this day six months, to allow for the development and implementation of the hydrogen strategy for Ireland, and for that then to be taken into account in the further consideration of this Bill.".

I fully agree with objectives of this Bill, which are that the State should realise the full potential of green hydrogen in decarbonising our economy and energy system, that there is a need for a national hydrogen strategy and that there should be a comprehensive consultation with stakeholders. I am also grateful for the engagement of Deputies on this issue. My Department and I have considered their suggestions with great care. Therefore, while I acknowledge the intention of this Bill, it is not required. The Government has already committed to prioritising the development of a hydrogen strategy in the national energy security framework.

I will now outline the important work that has been undertaken to fulfil this commitment. It is important to note that work on developing and delivering a hydrogen strategy for Ireland is already under way. I mentioned that the Government has committed to prioritising the development of a hydrogen strategy in the national energy security framework. This framework was developed to address the challenges of ensuring the ongoing and long-term security of affordable energy supply. It sets out a number of measures to accelerate the investment in renewables planned in the climate action plan. This includes a hydrogen strategy for Ireland as a key priority.

Green hydrogen, which is hydrogen produced from renewable sources, has been identified in the climate action plan as having the potential to support decarbonisation across several sectors including heavy goods transport, high-temperature heat for industry and electricity generation. It is intended that the hydrogen strategy will expand on the role of hydrogen in Ireland's energy system and the actions needed for its development. In addition, work is under way on the review of the security of supply of Ireland’s electricity and natural gas systems. It will be done in parallel with the development of the hydrogen strategy to ensure that long-term security needs take future hydrogen technologies into account.

As an essential part of the work of preparing the hydrogen strategy, the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications recently launched a consultation seeking the views of stakeholders and interested parties to inform the development of the strategy. A comprehensive consultation paper has been developed setting out various areas of interest to be considered in the development of the hydrogen strategy and inviting stakeholders' views on an extensive range of specific questions to be answered in this regard. There is an eight-week period for the consultation, which will mean that the detailed work on analysis of the various submissions will begin in early September. It is anticipated that the submissions received will be extensive, given the high degree of public interest in this topic and its importance both for Ireland's future energy security and its high export potential. The aim is to have the strategy in place later in the year.

While I fully agree with the objectives of this Bill, I must stress that it is seeking to address an issue, the hydrogen strategy, which the Government has already committed to prioritising in the national energy security framework, and that strong progress has already been made. Therefore, it is appropriate for further consideration to be deferred until such time as the consultation has been completed, analysis of the replies has been undertaken and the hydrogen strategy has been published.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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I apologise. I was at a Cabinet subcommittee. I will briefly add to what the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, has said. We are trained on developing this strategy. We agree with the Opposition that it is central to the development of our energy future. There is real potential for large-scale offshore wind energy and other renewable sources, which can use electrolysis to create green hydrogen as the centre of our industrial and energy strategy. It is at an early stage for every country. Even other countries in Europe which are talking a lot about hydrogen are the start of their development paths for large-scale green hydrogen. It is likely to be initially centred around large industrial users, power generation and transport users rather than being distributed widely. In the development of our offshore wind energy plan, which will be State-led, we can make sure that we incorporate the hydrogen plan. The two go together.

The public consultation, which was started as part of the development of our hydrogen strategy, is critical. We believe that the Government is doing what the Bill is proposing. We look forward to coming back in six months, having delivered the sort of strategy that is being proposed.

Photo of Matt CarthyMatt Carthy (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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I commend my colleague Deputy O'Rourke, along with Deputies Quinlivan and Cronin, on tabling this Bill. I thank the Minister for being here and for the response. I commend the fact that we are finally moving towards having a hydrogen strategy for the State. I would argue forcefully that it needs to be an all-Ireland strategy insofar as is possible. I am sure many will be surprised to hear that we do not actually have a hydrogen strategy. It is telling that we have all the debates about climate action, that we know that green hydrogen can become an invaluable mechanism to try to achieve our climate action targets, and that we have a consultation process in 2022 about targets to be reached in 2030. It is symptomatic of the challenges that we face to reach our climate targets.

I will make one point about what that strategy should look like once complete. I accept that we need to hear from stakeholders, experts, communities and industries about how we can have a fit-for-purpose green hydrogen strategy that delivers its full potential. We need to learn from the mistakes in other areas, particularly with respect to onshore wind energy, which never fully reached its potential and probably never will. That is largely due to the fact that it was completely outsourced and left to the private sector to deliver. The only consideration for the location of onshore wind farms became whether a private company could source land. Virtually nothing else was taken into account besides where land was available for purchase. We saw something that should have been a positive development for renewable energy become a source of conflict within communities and between individual landowners. It meant we never reached our full potential, because we never set out, at a Government level, a strategy that would ensure we had the best possible resources for onshore wind energy. We did not have a strategy about the optimum placement of turbines or how they would connect to the grid. I would argue strongly that the final strategy and roll-out must be Government-led. This cannot just become another mechanism whereby the State pays millions in taxpayers' money in subsidies but has no control of who benefits from it and how.

I want to comment on the ongoing debate on sectoral targets, which were due to be released this week. That has not happened.

7 o’clock

We are told it did not happen because there is a conflict between the respective Departments of the Ministers, Deputies Ryan and McConalogue. We have seen the outworking of what I consider a very silly debate. We hear some in this House saying climate action is the enemy of agriculture and we hear others on the so-called left trying to frame it the other way around, claiming agriculture is somehow the enemy of climate action.

We can have all the debates we want on whether the target should be 22% or 30%, but unless we have a strategy that will deliver whatever target is set, the figures are, in effect, meaningless. I deal on an ongoing basis with a very large number of areas within the agriculture sector in which there are targets being missed annually. Forestry is a perfect example. The programme for Government sets out a commitment that 8,000 ha of new afforestation will be planted. Since the Government came into office, it has hardly hit the 2,000 ha mark. I am told this year could be the worst ever in terms of new afforestation. I note this is the responsibility of a Green Party Minister of State. The failure to meet the targets annually has impacts because the Government's entire climate action strategy is based on the assumption we have been planting 8,000 ha for the past three years. Nobody has explained to me what happens when the Government fails to do what it set out to do. We must ask ourselves why the Government is failing in this regard. Why is it reaching only a quarter of its target? The answer is it has alienated the very people it needs to implement its strategy. In fact, there is no strategy, only a set of targets without a plan to achieve them.

It is the same in the case of organic farming. The EU has set a target of achieving 25% of agricultural land under organic production. One of the most shocking aspects of the programme for Government, especially considering the Green Party had just signed up to it and there was going to be a Green Party Minister of State with responsibility in this area, was its target of 7.5% organic production. That target was set, we were told, with the Green Party in government, because it is the current EU average. In fact, it is the average from 2018; the figure is now closer to 10%. We are chasing a target that is already three years old and failing miserably to meet it.

Across all areas of agriculture, farmers are willing and able to make a positive contribution on climate action objectives. The Government, rather than supporting them, is putting blockages in their way. At the same time, members of the Government are taking to the airwaves to talk about 30% cuts in emissions. Nobody has explained whether that means a 30% cut in food production, and what the consequences of that will be, or if it means different types of productions, in which case the question arises as to how we make the transitions. I have the same message for the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications and his Department as I have for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and his Department. If they want to set a target, they need to do so in conjunction with setting out a roadmap for how it will be achieved. Otherwise, we are just having another silly debate about numbers that mean nothing. I have a fear the Government is going to become the best in the world at setting climate action targets but the worst in the world at delivering climate action.

There needs to be a sea change in how we approach this task. If we do it in the way in which the Minister, Deputy Ryan, has developed a reputation for doing it, which is acting in conflict with communities, particularly rural communities, and working people and families in general, then we are on the road to nowhere. I appeal for a sea change. I welcome that the Government has accepted this Bill, albeit on a delayed basis. I welcome that we will have a hydrogen strategy. We need to do the same in respect of solar energy. I am currently writing a report on behalf of the agriculture committee on how our farms can be used as a source of solar energy generation. It is mind-boggling the hoops farmers have to jump through to contribute. Some of them have farm buildings with solar panels on the roof but they are forbidden by law to connect them to the grid because of the form of grant they receive. Nonsensical obstacles are being put in the road and they are turning people away from contributing positively, which, in my experience, the vast majority want to do.

Let us change tack on all of this. Rather than just citing numbers, let the Government set out how it plans to achieve those numbers. Rather than having silly debates about targets of 25%, 26% or 27%, let us set out for the world to see what a target of 22%, 25% or 30% would mean and what needs to be done to achieve it. We need to bring the public into a real, commonsensical, forward-looking and progressive debate rather than the silly rhetorical arguments that have been the hallmark of the Government's approach up to now.

6:15 pm

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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I commend Deputy O'Rourke and his colleagues on bringing forward this important Bill on the last sitting day of the Dáil term. I support it on behalf of the Labour Party and I am glad we are having such a constructive and collaborative debate on it. The Government's proposal to adjourn the Second Reading of the Bill for six months has been accepted by the proposers. This is sensible given that a public consultation is under way and it is such an important issue on which a good deal of preparatory work needs to be done.

I very much welcome the concept behind the Bill, which is the introduction of a statutory basis for a green hydrogen strategy. It is an issue I have raised on a number of occasions since I was elected to the House. I recently tabled a parliamentary question to the Minister, Deputy Ryan, on the topic. We are all conscious that green hydrogen has always been the energy future, but there is a good deal of work still to be done to ensure it can become a viable source at scale. As we know, most hydrogen is produced by fossil fuels and is, therefore, known as grey hydrogen, but it can also be produced using renewable sources such as wind and solar power. That is the basis for the green hydrogen that is the subject of this Bill. The World Energy Council recently highlighted the challenges to scaling up hydrogen in an energy system, the main one being the chicken-and-egg problem of supply and demand and another being the problem of cost. Green hydrogen costs more than $5 per kg in the West but just as solar energy has become affordable to produce over time, the same can be said of green hydrogen. It is vital this energy source is made economically viable.

We need a green hydrogen strategy. As the Minister said, it is both an industrial and an energy strategy. In Ireland, we have an opportunity to build out our renewable capacity to ensure the ability, also based on renewables, to provide much greater energy security for our country. This is a major priority as we see the brutal war on Ukraine continuing to unfold. Indeed, we can become a world leader in renewables and offshore wind production. Green hydrogen must be a part of that strategy. We welcome the idea of a statutory basis for the strategy, as well as the public consultation and the work the Government is doing in this area. If we can build out such a strategy, it will allow us to become a green hydrogen exporter in place of a fossil fuel and liquefied natural gas, LNG, importer. This will have substantial benefits for us and in terms of achieving climate targets internationally.

According to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, electricity accounts for only 20% of our energy system, with the majority still produced by fossil fuels. We will require more than electrification to reduce the amount of carbon emitted by our energy system. Already, our 2030 targets will require a reliance on other sources for days when there is little sun or wind. We saw that last year when there was a diminished wind supply during the summer months. During this transition, energy security must be to the fore of new policies. The increasingly alarming reports of energy shortages this winter, with potential rationing of fuel and energy, are focusing all our minds on the need to ramp up our capacity to produce energy through other sources such as wind, especially offshore wind, solar and green hydrogen. We must develop the infrastructure to produce hydrogen and to be able to store it.

We must produce hydrogen that is green and produced through renewable sources and that can then be used to power sectors including heavy transport, industry and indeed data centre power generation too. I listened to Deputy Cronin's remarks about cars and transport in her own area and the idea of hydrogen as the fuel to power transport. There have been low-emission bus trials here in Dublin with hydrogen-fuelled buses. There is real potential there for an absolute sea-change in how our public transport is fuelled. It is very exciting and a very positive development. While there is discussion as to the urgent need to phase out the use of energy intensive technologies we also need to build capacity while we are changing our habits.

I will not take any more time and I thank An Leas-Cheann Comhairle for letting me in. I very much welcome the Bill. It is time to develop and then implement a clear strategy both to build hydrogen capacity and to ensure that our hydrogen infrastructure is completely based on green hydrogen produced from renewable sources.

6:25 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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We will return to Sinn Féin. There is a ten minute slot.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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Anytime I have ever promised to hand time back I have made a liar of myself so I will not make that promise now. It is around this time that I make my apologies to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, the Ceann Comhairle and the wider staff of Leinster House and thank them very much for how much they enable me. I have added my apologies for the times when I do possibly test people but these things need to be done.

I commend Deputies O'Rourke, Quinlivan, Cronin and Guirke. This Bill is a fine piece of work. I am very glad that we are seeing action from the Government in relation to it. I thank the Minister, Deputy Ryan, for showing up. That shows intent and it is welcome.

I will not disagree with anything that has already been said. A green hydrogen strategy is an absolute necessity. It has to be part of the wider renewable framework and must be part of our getting the work around wind energy correct. It is almost trite to say but we have to recognise that wind energy is something that we can become a super power in. I had to listen to some of the Minister's Government colleagues - they may have all been from a certain political party - who spoke of their economic competence and inferred that we do not have any. They spoke of the wonderful economy they had put in play. They may have left out difficulties including the housing crisis, the cost of childcare and other issues that were impacting on people before this cost-of-living crisis. If the Government is to be real about dealing with the issues that we have, and the over-reliance of foreign direct investment - none of us are taking away from the huge benefit this State has derived from foreign direct investment and from its importance - we have a facility here with renewables, with green hydrogen in particular which is part of the wider solution with wind energy and we really need to make it happen. The public consultation process needs to happen as quickly as possible and we must ensure that there is a proper road map and strategy that can deliver.

There has been great evolution with electric vehicles. A great deal of work has been done on the technology. It may be a considerable time before it can apply to bigger vehicles, particularly buses or haulage, but we will get to that point eventually. Green energy may be a medium-term solution that will work in transport but it has a real part to play. Others have spoken earlier about the electrolysis process by which green hydrogen can be produced particularly using wind energy. It has a huge part to play in relation to storage which will be a vital part of us putting this infrastructure together.

We must make sure we have the grid infrastructure. Considerable work has been done to ensure that we have the framework around planning. There are still pieces of work to be done around some aspects of planning and there are also the wider issues. The Attorney General is still carrying out the review of planning. We all know the difficulties with planning up and down the State. Some of it relates to insufficient resourcing with An Bord Pleanála or the courts. There are things that need to be fixed along with the work that needs to be done specifically on wind energy. I am aware that there will be changes in the coming period. Some of the legislation that the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, also related to that. We need to make sure we dot every i and cross every t and that we can deliver something that works.

It was said earlier that we all know the issues around planning where there has not been sufficient interaction with communities. With better planning projects engagement happens with communities at a very early stage so that there is an element of community buy-in and community pay-back. You will not have the same level of antagonism but it also means the community is involved at a very early stage and we catch those mistakes. Deputy Carthy spoke about the difficulties we are all aware of around onshore wind and we need to make sure we do not have the same difficulty with offshore wind.

Deputy Carthy's comments were fair, particularly on microgeneration. Farmers consistently say that none of the grants for renewables, whether it is solar panels or microgeneration, has been fit for purpose. He is also correct about the false, lazy narrative about farming and farmers. Back when Deputy Carthy was an MEP and I was a councillor, we attended an IFA meeting at Monasterboice and I was taken aback at where a huge number of those farmers wanted to go. They all accepted that we are in a changed world and that things are moving. But as others have said, the only way that we can deliver decarbonisation and emission reductions and the percentage reductions at any time, is if they are provided with a road map. These farmers are people that need to be engaged with. They are only too willing to deliver on many projects and many of them have engaged with these grant processes and used them but they found that none of them was fit for purpose or able to deliver what the farmers wanted and what we and our society need in general. There is an onus on the Government and the Minister to engage at that stakeholder level and sometimes we will get further than it might seem in the public domain where people can get involved in a bit of game-play. Obviously, I myself would never lower myself to that type of politicking but others are not quite as sound as me, as I often tell my wife. She does not necessarily believe me.

This is vital work that is being done, particularly by the team in front of me. I welcome that the Government is running in this direction.

We have an opportunity to make this State, hopefully, eventually a country. Deputy O'Rourke said that if we are really serious from now on, we need to ensure we have an all-Ireland strategy in nearly everything we do. We all know the conversation that is taking place. The time will come when there will be a referendum and constitutional change. We need to ensure we have all the preparations done. Specifically for infrastructure that we will require for a considerable amount of time, we need to deliver the changes that are absolutely necessary. We need to make sure this public consultation happens and that there is Government commitment. I welcome what many have said.

During the pandemic we saw that when action needed to be taken, it was only when the State and states across the Europe took action that we were able to deliver. The State must do the heavy lifting to ensure we can produce a strategy. With green hydrogen or as it relates to the wider idea of renewables and specifically wind energy, we need to ensure that roadmap is put in place while also dealing with the other difficulties, particularly those that Deputy Carthy laid out much more eloquently than I have.

6:35 pm

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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Deputy Ó Murchú was true to his word and bang on the dot. I agree with Deputies O'Rourke and Ó Murchú that we need to take an all-island approach to this. We need to think bigger again and take a European approach. We will not make the decarbonisation to new energy system as an island alone. It will require co-operation with the United Kingdom and our continental European colleagues. It is a regional balancing system and a regional renewable system feeding into a hydrogen system. Electricity interconnection, gas interconnection and common gas strategies will be critical for security as we switch away from fossil fuel, particularly Russian gas, and develop the alternative.

In Ireland our ports will have a critical role. It will be Dublin, Belfast, Foyle and a range of the operation or maintenance ports, but also, in particular, Shannon, Cork and Rosslare ports. I could mention a range of ports. The centre of this new industrial revolution will be based on ports for a variety of reasons. Shannon and Cork are likely to be centre stage. Going back to what we said about this being an industrial strategy as well as an energy strategy, oil refinery, power generation, pharmaceutical and advanced manufacturing industries are all located around Cork Harbour. The ability to bring that offshore wind power ashore, convert it to hydrogen and-or ammonia or other fuels and then use it in the sort of industrial applications and the power generation sector we already have will be centre stage.

The same applies in the Shannon Estuary. Where are our emissions? Where is our industrial base? Where is our gas use? It is in facilities like Aughinish Alumina, Irish Cement and Moneypoint - not for gas but currently coal - where our power generation is. As the ESB has indicated, the real efficiencies will come where we bring offshore wind energy ashore. It is used in power generation and on those points of strong grid connection. Hydrogen is then used as a backup storage fuel so that when the wind is not blowing, we have a 100% zero-carbon backup power supply that uses the same hybrid grid connection providing efficient use of existing energy assets and of that offshore wind energy.

Similarly, with ports, it will be hydrogen to ammonia for transport, fuel and shipping. Even in Shannon Airport there is the potential to look at the use of hydrogen in synthetic fuels in the future, leading to zero-carbon flights. That is why much of the development will take place around the ports. That is where the offshore wind energy will come ashore. That is where we will have the capability and the industrial tradition to be able to do this. This is large scale. There is no point going small when converting to hydrogen or using hydrogen; we need to go big.

Our phase 1, 2 and 3 offshore wind plans are exactly the phasing to allow us to develop and use this. Phase 1 relates to the relevant projects on the east coast primarily feeding into Dublin Port and a new transmission system in Dublin used to power cars and heat our homes as well as run our data centres, our industry. We then move south and west in phase 2. It is not just those ports. We can look at Great Island and other locations.

It is possible to see that hybrid interconnection between offshore wind and onshore grid backed up by hydrogen power as a continual seamless indigenous secure energy system. It can also be exported through interconnectors, gas pipelines or the shipping of, for example, ammonia, as I mentioned. It is a balancing system because we will have a surplus with our wind power at the scale it is, our sea area being seven times our land area. Phase 3 is the 30 GW opportunity. That is why we need to transport it as part of a wider European energy security system. That is where we will go.

That strategy will not all be written in the next six months. It needs to be an iterative strategy. We need to learn by doing and learn from other countries. What the Portuguese and Dutch are doing at the moment is interesting. The British, Germans, Spanish and Swedes are all going in this direction. We can learn from our European colleagues. We must collaborate North-South and east-west. I agree with the Deputies on that.

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
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I thank Deputies Quinlivan, Cronin and Guirke for co-sponsoring the Bill. I thank all those who contributed to a good debate tonight. I thank the Minister for being here in person.

There are a number of things to take forward. There are key areas where climate action is clearly in the social and economic interest of people and, of course, in the environmental interest of people and the planet. We need to go after that low-hanging fruit rather than constantly framing climate action as the stick without providing people with alternatives. In key areas, many of them mentioned already, we can empower communities, the regions, rural areas and farmers. There is enormous opportunity in this if it is delivered in the right way. This is an example of that.

The challenge, of course, is that it is so all-encompassing and covers so many fronts that we need the capacity to deliver it. That is why it is essential for Government to prioritise those areas that will return the maximum social, economic and environmental benefit rather than getting into the weeds. There are a number of examples where whole communities and whole sectors locked horns. Invariably people's backs get up and positions become entrenched.

It is essential for Government to prioritise and provide the resources and support to deliver on key objectives because we have not had that experience to date. This area is an example of it more broadly in terms of the offshore wind potential that we have. Sinn Féin has repeatedly raised concerns about the slow pace of our offshore wind energy development and the capacity constraints at planning and other levels within the system. We are not on our own in that regard. As I have discussed with the Minister previously, agencies such as EirGrid, An Bord Pleanála, MARA and the CRU need to be resourced and financed to deliver on the potential that is there, at all times ensuring that systems are robust, comprehensive, biodiversity sensitive and environmentally sensitive.

Deputy Carthy spoke about shortcuts, fast-tracking and bypassing the considerations of communities, and in certain cases bypassing the considerations of the environment requiring us to go back and redo or undo what was done.

We need increased efficiency and responsiveness in the planning system, but we must ensure that it does not run roughshod over communities, the environment or biodiversity.

We know there are challenges in terms of the cost of renewables here. If we do not bring down the cost of renewables, green hydrogen will not be a viable commercial proposition. I have raised that issue with the Minister previously. If we are to realise the potential of green hydrogen, we need to look towards a ring-fenced floating offshore renewable electricity support scheme, and there needs to be clear indication in that regard. The industry is stating that there is only a 50-50 chance at this stage - in 2022 - that we will make our 2030 targets in terms of renewables. That is a deep concern. I say that not to score political points or anything like it, but the Government has a responsibility to ensure that the resources and capacity are there. It will have the support of the Opposition if it does that. This approach aligns perfectly with environmental, social and economic objectives. I encourage the Minister and the Government to take said approach rather than getting into the weeds or anywhere else in order to lock horns with individuals or sectors.

As stated, I welcome the Government's engagement on this issue. If the Minister is honest, he will acknowledge that there has been a step change in terms of the position in respect of hydrogen. Several factors have contributed to that, not least the criminal invasion of Ukraine by Russia. That conflict has changed the whole energy landscape and forced everyone to prioritise the opportunities that exist, including those relating to hydrogen. I look forward to engaging further with the Minister on this issue. I encourage people to engage with the public consultation process. There is an emerging sector that will be eager to engage.

This needs to be about more than strategies. We have lots of public consultation, plans and strategies - we need more - but what we need in respect of these is delivery. If the Minister begins to deliver, he will have the support of the Opposition and, I am sure, others.

Amendment put and declared carried.

Motion, as amended, agreed to.

Cuireadh an Dáil ar athló ar 7.34 p.m. go dtí 2 p.m., Dé Céadaoin, an 14 Meán Fómhair 2022.

The Dáil adjourned at at 7.34 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Wednesday, 14 September 2022.