Tuesday, 20 September 2022
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
55. To ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the position on the building of a liquefied natural gas, LNG, terminal; if it will be privately built or State-built; the way such a facility can be compatible with the climate objectives of the State; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45986/22]
The Deputy has 30 seconds to put the question, the Minister will have two minutes to respond, after which the Deputy will have one minute, the Minister another minute and the Deputy an additional minute.
Okay. We need some clarity on the issue I am raising. There is a jarring discrepancy between the media coverage of the energy review yesterday and the analysis from some NGOs and columnists today. Will the Minister clarify whether there will be an LNG terminal in this country, either privately built or State-owned? The substantial question I ask him to answer is how such a facility will be compatible with the climate objectives of the State.
The Deputy put climate at the centre of her question. I asked the consultants, CEPA, to look forward at the security situation of both our electricity grids and gas supplies and to look at options. In my mind, it benefits us to have a storage capability in gas and to look at that specific aspect of it. We wanted to rule out options that would not help us to meet our climate targets. That is why certain options are now proposed to go to public consultation, which we are doing. Following that, they will be implemented as part of the energy security strategy we are following. I believe that leads us towards not having a commercial LNG facility. It still opens the possibility of a storage facility, whether floating or onshore, but it will be a strategic storage, operated to give us security in times when the gas might not be available. That is a very unlikely scenario but we have to cover every eventuality. As we have discussed in regard to the previous question, one of the concerns I have about some of the alternative approaches is that they would see a significant increase in emissions.
Yes, climate change is at the centre of our approach as well as energy security policy needs in terms of the options that were considered in the consultant's report. We are now putting the report out to open public consultation in order to hear every view, including that of the Deputy's party. We will then act on the consultation by implementing the measures that we see as best fitting Irish needs. We must have something that is fit for an energy future in which we are likely to convert our renewable offshore wind power into hydrogen that can be stored and transmitted. Any new storage facility must be designed and built in a way that meets this need. It also goes back to the debate we have had in this House for many years. We do not want to be seen as a country or be part of a world in which there is a continued expansion of fracked gas in a way that is both bad for the countries in which it is initially produced and that risks the future health and security of everyone on this planet. The report was well received yesterday and I look forward to the public consultation on it.
Friends of the Earth has said the expert review "signals the death knell of Shannon LNG". Is the Minister confirming or denying that? There is a jarring discrepancy on this point and, apart from that, there is a discrepancy of views within the Government. The Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, recently said: "The time for discussion is over. We need to build an LNG as soon as possible." Either he has not read the review or the Minister and I are misinterpreting it. Like other Deputies, the Minister of State wants an end to what he calls the philosophical discussion around what he probably sees as silly things like the climate crisis. We do not have clarity on this. There has been and continues to be a significant campaign across this House by Deputies, including Independents, members of Fine Gael, etc., and even Ministers to push for a New Fortress Energy LNG terminal, get it over the line and to forget about climate chaos or the Paris treaty. It is part of a wider campaign launched by the fossil fuel industry to lock the planet into a fossil fuelled future. Will the Minister try again to clarify this matter?
The report is very clear that such a commercial LNG facility was not considered as an option to go to public consultation and be progressed. Friends of the Earth is correct in its reading - it is a very simple reading, in my mind - of the report. There is a range of strategic reasons behind that. From my perspective, first, there is real risk in following such an approach. It would be very good for the developer but it would not be good for our carbon budget. On that criterion alone, it should not be pursued. Second, what we were looking for in this report was to make sure we have a system that gives us energy security, which a commercial facility would not necessarily do. We would have to contract it separately. Third, we have shared the perspective that we could not guarantee the energy produced by such a facility would come from a non-fracked gas source.
For a variety of strategic reasons, therefore, including climate, energy security and the environment, it was not included as one of the options to be pursued.
New Fortress Energy has set up the Shannon LNG Limited company and paid Kerry County Council more than €4 million as a development contribution for widening the road to Tarbert, €2 million of which was paid even before the planning permission application was lodged. The question then is whether Kerry County Council now owes this money and whether it is liable to pay it back to New Fortress Energy or whether it has just been gifted to the council and those whom it contracts. I would like to share the optimistic interpretation that the Shannon LNG terminal is dead, but we cannot be sure this is the case and that this report and the Government's interpretation of the public consultation process will not leave the door open. We are also still awaiting the decision of An Bord Pleanála.
On the energy issue and how much we need, the Minister and this Government is allowing more and more data centres to connect to the national grid. We learned from the representatives of the CRU this morning that Ireland is an outlier in respect of the increase in its energy demand across the EU 27. That was conveyed to us in a letter. Our energy demand has jumped 9% in five years while that in the other EU countries has flattened out or decreased. Therefore, there is a problem with the way we approach the use of energy and the alternative of bringing in gas supplies, which would lock us into a fossil fuel future.
When reading the CEPA report, which is comprehensive, it is important to realise it recognises we need a range of different options for energy security. We need not just gas storage but also other technologies, such as pumped storage and battery storage. The report also recognises that further interconnection, especially in respect of our electricity markets, will give us greater stability and security in this regard. Equally, as Deputy Smith said, it also recognises that we must be clever in how we manage demand. Included in that facet is managing the demand for data centres. We will need new data centres. It makes sense for us to be good as a place where it is possible to store and manage data safely. This is one of the main industries that provides many of the jobs and much of the income and wealth for us. We need that. We must do it, however, in a way that supports the electricity grid and gives us energy security while not resulting in a rise in climate emissions. This is what the Government has set out. Last September, the CRU and, subsequently, the Government, with EirGrid support, detailed how it is possible to design a system that is more energy secure and low carbon rather than just devising a demand-led solution take would not take those factors into account. This is what we will do when it comes to the management of data centres.