Dáil debates

Wednesday, 24 May 2023

Government Commitments on Offshore Renewable Energy: Motion (Resumed)


Debate resumed on the following motion:

- Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications

2:47 pm

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
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I also welcome Senator Murkowski.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion.

Offshore renewables have the potential to decarbonise our energy system, the electricity, heat, transport and the residential sectors and those of large parts of Europe and have the potential to transform the Irish economy if we use our abundant natural resources to create national wealth and good jobs in every corner of Ireland supporting thriving communities. The risk, of course, and it is a real one with this Government, is that the opportunity will be missed because the Government cannot get its house in order and put the enabling infrastructure in place, planning system, grid, ports, regulation and collaboration. The other risk, again a very real one with this Government, is that we will be sold short, that the benefit of this huge opportunity will not accrue to fishing communities or young men and women starting out in their professional careers, or to local communities that live beside new and necessary infrastructure. We recognise the role of private industry and of international expertise but we must ensure that the return for the Irish State and its people is maximised. We need to get planning, ports and grid right, we need to get the supply chain right and we need to create new industries and jobs here, all while protecting a marine environment that is under threat. Ireland has the potential to be a world leader when it comes to renewables. However, due to decades of inaction by successive Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael-led Governments, Ireland has fallen way behind.

The time for planning is over. I note that the Government's motion talks about plan after plan. We know what needs to be done and we know how to do it. It is time for action and implementation.

We have a significant challenge ahead of us but there are steps we can take. While there is a logic in moving to a plan-led approach, there is deep concern that the planning system here is not fit for purpose. It is slow, adversarial and wracked with uncertainty. Therefore, fundamental reform of An Bord Pleanála is urgently needed. Sinn Féin called for this and provided for this in our alternative budget. The first offshore renewable electricity support scheme, ORESS - 1, was a significant milestone but there is some way to go in prices and in practicalities. These projects and all those that follow must still pass through the huge hurdle of the Irish planning system. The Government must urgently get to grips with the under resourcing and understaffing in the State bodies involved as well as the lack of relevant expertise to carry out mandated objectives. It is not only An Bord Pleanála; it is the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, CRU, EirGrid and the newly-formed Maritime Area Regulation Authority. It is also the full range of notifiable bodies and those environmental bodies that work to protect biodiversity and nature.

We need designated marine area plans and we need them in time and on time, and we need to address the high price of renewables here. I am calling again on the Government to adopt Sinn Féin's proposal to convene a cross-government high-level task force to work with industry and other stakeholders to bring forward recommendations within six months to address the high cost of renewables here.

We must ready our ports. Currently, there is only one port on the island which has the infrastructure needed. We have had the ports before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications and the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Environment and Climate Action in the past two weeks and their asks are clear. Without more offshore-ready ports, we will either completely miss our climate targets or these wind farms will be built elsewhere. We could be growing jobs in Wexford, Cork, Limerick and elsewhere but, instead, they will go to Britain or mainland Europe.

We need progress on green hydrogen and we need progress in so many other areas. This is a unique opportunity and I want to state the commitment of Sinn Féin to deliver on it. It can be transformational, it should be transformational but we need a step-change.

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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I will focus my comments on the need for partnership with fishing communities when the Minister is developing offshore wind. I want to report back to the Minister that I met with fishermen from Wicklow just before I came to speak in the Dáil and they are very clear. I speak to fishermen all around the coast. They do not feel that they have a partnership with the wind energy companies and that they are equals in terms of sharing the marine resource. The Minister will agree that there are three key stakeholders here: the wind energy companies, the people in the environmental NGOs which are looking at our marine ecosystem and there are fishing communities. This is a shared marine resource. We can get to the place that all co-exist. All of these responsibilities can be delivered, the full potential of our marine space can be realised but I am asking the Minister to make it clear in his engagements with the wind energy companies that they have to be serious about partnership, about dialogue, about listening to fishermen about the best location for turbines and about compensation where the fisheries are lost. There is a need for the Minister to lead the way and to state explicitly, I hope in his wrap-up comments today, that we can do all of these things, that we can achieve energy independence for our island, develop the capacity of offshore wind, protect the fisheries for our fishing communities and protect our marine ecosystem. It is important that the Minister makes a statement explicitly in that regard that instructs the wind energy companies to engage as equal partners and to meet their responsibilities in the time ahead.

2:57 pm

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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The single biggest barrier to developing offshore wind in places such as Mayo is the grid infrastructure. Successive Governments have failed Mayo on the western economic corridor on the issue of renewable energy. There has been much talk about wind potential, yet no meaningful planning or preparation has been done.

I heard the Minister refer earlier to our being in a race and I wondered whether he was referring to a slow bicycle race, given the Grid25 strategy was prepared in 2008, 15 years ago. It clearly identified the problem in the grid capacity for developing offshore wind and wave energy in Mayo, but Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and all their partners in government have utterly failed the people of Mayo and the western seaboard by not addressing this issue and increasing the capacity of the grid.

There is scarce ambition in EirGrid's Shaping our Electricity Future strategy. It provides very little in the way of grid development. Without a grid with proper capacity, we cannot realise the potential of the energy development of the western seaboard. That absolutely has to be addressed.

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Donnchadh Ó LaoghaireDonnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Cork South Central, Sinn Fein)
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The south coast and the area around Cork Harbour have a key role in Ireland’s offshore renewable energy future, a greener power grid and energy independence. To achieve that, however, we need to ensure we have people with the skills required. The Government's Climate Action Plan 2023 places offshore wind power at the centre of the State's commitment to producing up to 80% of our energy from renewable sources by 2030. To do that, we must ensure we are training enough people to meet the demand.

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment published Skills for Zero Carbon, produced by its expert group on future skills. It looked to assess in detail how many people, doing which kinds of jobs, we would need to deliver our renewable energy, retrofitting and electric vehicle targets by 2030. It estimated, for example, that by the end of 2030, we would need an additional 552 wind turbine technicians and more than 1,300 ship’s crew and officers for wind alone. It also estimated we needed more than 1,700 electrical engineers and more than 100 ecologists, as well as electrical fitters, plasterers and so on. We are simply not training anywhere near enough to meet the demand we hope to have by the end of 2030.

Furthermore, we have no guarantee we can hold on to the ones we have. These people will be in high demand. A skilled turbine technician, for example, has a skill set he or she can take almost anywhere. There is a huge shortage throughout Europe of these kinds of roles that are needed to develop offshore wind energy. If, therefore, wind farms in other European countries, for example, are moving ahead of us in their development pipeline, they are going to look to hire engineers and turbine technicians from Ireland to work on their wind farms. We need seriously to ramp up our skills pipeline both in the technological universities and through the apprenticeship model, given a whole range of roles will be needed.

I agree with the points made by Deputies Mac Lochlainn, O'Rourke and Conway-Walsh regarding the grid. Our ambition in that respect needs to be increased significantly. There is a considerable opportunity here. We can be a world leader. As I said, Cork can play an especially crucial role. While the offshore renewable electricity support scheme, ORESS 1, was a milestone, an awful lot more is needed to ensure the capacity is there to realise the enormous untapped potential. It is such a key part of our industrial and energy future, and we cannot leave any stone unturned. That is certainly the vision our party spokesperson, Deputy O'Rourke, has been putting forward but we need to see more ambition from the Government, not least when it relates to the grid.

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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I am sharing time with Deputies Kelly and Howlin.

I welcome the debate. I am from Cork and I recognise the Port of Cork as strategic infrastructure that could deliver for the island of Ireland in terms of phase 3 projects, in particular, for floating offshore wind. When I look at the maps for the broad areas of interest, three copies of which I have to hand, many of those waters are less than 80 m in depth. I worry that in phase 3, there may not be the ability to facilitate floating offshore in such waters. Will the Minister look again at the broad areas of interest? I fear that if this gives rise to the dedicated marine area plan and, subsequently, the maritime area consents, MACs, and so on, the potential will not be fully realised. Perhaps when the Minister or his colleague responds to the debate, he might speak to that.

I do not think we can set up the offshore wind energy task force without having industry representatives as part of it. I understand the logic of the Government saying we need to keep industry at arm's length on this process, but as an industrial policy, this is quite nascent. It is such an important aspect of policy that I do not think we can do it without having industry in the room. I am fearful that by keeping industry one step removed, we will end up procuring talent and expertise from the PwCs and the EYs of this world and buying it in on a consultancy basis anyway. The taxpayer will be paying a fortune and the consultants will end up going back to industry for advice in the first instance. I am flagging that at this stage. If we are starting on this road, especially in the case of phase 3, we should do it properly and bring industry into the room on that, not least in regard to planning, the grid and examining how the market will operate. Moreover, we should ensure An Bord Pleanála will be properly resourced.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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I will make four brief points. First, in regard to infrastructure, there is competition among those who are looking to develop wind in other countries, so we need to move quickly or we will not have access to those developers. Second, four Departments are involved in this, namely, those relating to the environment, transport, the marine, to an extent, and planning. I have a concern about that and raised it at a recent meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts. Third, we do not have the ports infrastructure, which needs rapidly to develop. Fourth, we need to have ancillary developments. For the millionth time, I promote the Silvermines hydroelectric plant, which the Government should support and which has been in gestation for eight years.

As far as I am concerned, we will be absolutely at a loss if we do not quickly develop Foynes as one of the key resorts here. The infrastructure that is required in what is the second-deepest water port in Europe is way behind. We should have been doing it years ago and we need to start now.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I strongly support the Minister's ambition in regard to offshore wind. I welcome the result of the offshore wind auctions of three weeks ago, which was very positive for us. Nevertheless, there are two issues. We need the maritime area regulatory authority, MARA, to be established. It was to be established in April and it is now going to be July. Will it definitely be established on 17 July and will it be properly resourced from the get-go? I would like a clear and unambiguous statement in respect of that.

Second, we do not have the ports infrastructure. I argued until I was blue in the face regarding our ports in advance of Brexit. I was not listened to but I was correct about the need for direct access. We do not have the ports infrastructure for the first, ambitious phase in the next few years. Rosslare Europort is available if we start investing now, but we need to invest now. I would like a firm commitment from the Government to championing this cause. Many ports will be required, including those in Foynes and Cork, but right now we need to have the investment in Rosslare to provide infrastructure. Otherwise, it will be Liverpool or Belfast that will serve the first generation of offshore wind.

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
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I welcome the move of the Government from a developer-led to a plan-led approach. That was a positive move to make. My preference would be for much more State involvement in these projects, but it was a positive step to take. Having said that, in line with my colleagues’ points, we need to make sure the planning process will be well resourced and that appropriate and sufficient expertise will be there to enable not just an efficient but also a thorough examination of these projects.

When I talk about expertise, it is not just engineers. It is also ecologists and specialisations such as that. What I want to talk about today, as it is biodiversity week and I do not like talking about climate action without talking about biodiversity because they are so intertwined, is the biodiversity aspects of this. When we are looking at wind farms, similar to those on land, we need to make sure that our wind farms are in the right places. They are very important pieces of infrastructure but they need to be in the right places which is why I prefer the plan-led approach. I offer caution due to the fact that we do not have our marine protected areas, MPAs, in place yet and those two processes need to be in parallel. We cannot have one process travelling ahead of the other because that will bring with it inherent risks. I ask for speedy finalisation of the MPAs to protect biodiversity but also to provide the clarity that wind farms will need and to ensure any projects that get approval are robust and do not end up in the courts for years on end. The plan-led approach should lead to this but it is also really important that we are not looking at wind farms in isolation but rather we are looking at the cumulative impact of these wind farms on environmental considerations and biodiversity.

I use my time today to talk about the opportunities. By having this infrastructure in place, not only should we be seeking that the developers mitigate any potential biodiversity impacts of these structures, but we should be looking for an enhancement of biodiversity from these structures. The whole concept of net gain needs to be incorporated into the Minister's consideration of this. I was concerned when I looked at the policy statement that out of 29 or 30 pages, only two pages mentioned the word "biodiversity" and I think the word was only used three times in the whole document. I would like a rebalancing of that focus. There are many things developers are not only interested in doing but which the Government needs to lead and direct them in doing. When developers are developing and putting the infrastructure in, there has to be a requirement that the infrastructure is nature-sensitive. It has to a fundamental that if developers are putting infrastructure into our marine, it needs to be designed with a positive biodiversity impact arising from it. One of the considerations should be that developers have to show demonstrable efforts to design and built wind farms in a way that not only mitigates the effects but actively enhances the ecosystem.

I will use the last minute to talk about a project in Wicklow of which I have been aware and whose representatives I have met a number of times, that ism the Native Oyster Reef Restoration Ireland, NORRI, project. As the Minister will be aware, we had huge native oyster beds off the Wicklow coast. They were so positive from a biodiversity perspective but also from an economic perspective. Unfortunately, we did what humans tend to do; we overfished them and they have been wiped out. However, there are opportunities to restore those native oyster beds. Steven Kavanagh in Arklow is really keen and he has worked for many years to try to get this project off the ground. He has been in contact with the wind farms and is hopeful that they will partner and get involved in this project. It is a really positive thing that could be done and I would really like the Government to take more of an active role and to try to push this project forward. Other countries are doing these projects all the time. There is no need for us to reinvent the wheel here. We need to look overseas, see where it has worked, learn from their lessons and mistakes and incorporate it into developments here. Not only then do we get a really positive climate action and emissions result from it, we also get a very positive biodiversity result as well.

3:07 pm

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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There was much trumpeting of the recent auction for the contracts for offshore renewable wind energy. I do not really know why there is any celebration whatsoever of the fact. What it is, in fact, is an auction to privatise our wind resources which is shameful and is a hostage to fortune. We know in many instances that the private consortiums and companies that are involved can just decide to pull out. They have us over a barrel when we give them these resources because our ability to deliver on our renewable energy targets and, therefore, to deliver on our climate targets are, in effect, in the hands of investors and private companies, which are often financed by hedge funds. That is who we are handing over our precious renewable energy resources to in an auction.

I do not know if there was a little bit of clever game playing going on, in that we have these dire warnings that the price will be shockingly high. It then does not end up quite as high as that but it still very considerably above the EU average and above what, for example, was achieved in Scotland. It makes it sound like it is good but in fact it is very costly. In any event, all the benefits are going to private companies which then have us over a barrel.

In the first instance, I am utterly opposed to the privatisation of our wind resources. It is absolutely wrong and it makes us very vulnerable to whatever those private companies and consortiums and their investors and so on want to do at some point in the future. What we need is the State driving this. When I say "the State", I mean insofar as the State is supposed to represent the interests of the people, so that the benefits would derive to us rather than to big, private companies. That is the first thing.

Second, the Government was put under enormous pressure to bring in a plan-led approach because it had not designated the marine protected areas, it had let the developers decide the sites, and under enormous pressure it then said it would bring in a plan-led approach from now on but not for the relevant projects. These companies are getting in under the wire and are going to go ahead. That is absolutely wrong because the scale of what those relevant projects are, which are developer-decided, not plan-based and not based on what protecting a marine environment and biodiversity is about, is what they wanted. They put pressure on the Government but all they are interested in, let us remember, is their own bottom line. That is not acceptable.

If we look at the area of sandbanks, for example, we are talking about massive turbines at very close proximity to and on sandbanks, which, as the EU has stated, need to be protected. I have talked to the fishermen who have said they will be effectively destroyed by this. They have said that the Kish and Codling sandbanks are the spawning grounds for shellfish and fish, that they are also a natural reef protecting the east coast and that this is going to destroy them.

This runs counter to the report produced by the European Parliament in 2021, for example, and there are probably a whole number of directives, which state that fishermen are supposed to be involved in the decision-making process and decisions are not supposed to be made that would negatively impact them. The fishermen have said that what is happening, even now at the surveying stage and so on, is that it is death by a thousand cuts. They are being ridden roughshod over.

This is not sustainable development and planning. It is still the developers dictating a massive development that could be very disruptive of biodiversity. If biodiversity is destroyed, any gains you claim to be making on climate change will be cutting off your nose to spite your face. The biodiversity emergency is absolutely critical, as is the health of our marine, to dealing with climate change.

Photo of Verona MurphyVerona Murphy (Wexford, Independent)
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I reiterate Deputy Howlin's calls in the House today to invest in Rosslare Europort.

This is the eighth time I have spoken on this topic in the Dáil since my election in 2020.

On the first of those occasions, during Topical Issues, I highlighted that Rosslare Europort was the most suitable of all our ports for a wind energy base to be established. I asked the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, to unlock the potential for Ireland to be the first to commit to developing Rosslare for the good of the country and our future.

On the second occasion, I asked the Minister, Deputy Ryan, where was the foresight that would see Rosslare as the country’s main offshore wind farm and construction port. I said, “We need leadership and decision making, to be followed by the money.” In March 2021, I asked the Minister about the level of financial support his Department would provide to Rosslare Europort to initiate the various studies needed to support an application for Rosslare to act as a service port for the wind energy sector and when that support would be forthcoming. Later in 2021 on a debate on the Maritime Area Planning Bill I said again that:

Rosslare Europort is the country's most strategic port and it is in urgent need of investment. Giving taxpayers a double bang for their buck would mean awarding the offshore construction wind base to Rosslare Europort which [would] provide the infrastructure required and repair the neglect of that port for the last 30 years [by the semi-State organisation Irish Rail].

In December 2021, I sponsored a motion calling on the Government to immediately draft an offshore renewable action plan. The motion was agreed by the House with the Minister of State, Deputy Smith, highlighting that Ireland has one of the best offshore renewable energy resources in the world. We have more offshore energy potential than most other EU member states.

In September 2022, in a debate on energy security, I highlighted that no port in this country is ready to construct offshore wind farms. Rosslare Europort has been deemed the most suitable but not one penny has gone from this Government’s coffers to justify it and join the dots. The Government has not committed one penny of taxpayers’ money to Rosslare Europort for the advancement of electricity. The €200 million investment from the Brexit fund is money from Europe.

Most recently, earlier this month, I mentioned offshore renewable energy when asking the Minister of State what urgent actions the Department was taking to address the huge infrastructural deficits in our ports, particularly Rosslare Europort, and what level of funding the Department would provide to ports to prepare for offshore renewable energy.

Given all my campaigning over the last few years, I welcome the fact a plan was laid before Dáil Éireann in the last week, albeit it has taken too long to happen. That plan states we will immediately accelerate to designating specific areas of our maritime area for renewable energy production. The resulting offshore renewable energy, designated areas and designated maritime area plans "will guide investment and decision-making and will complement the forthcoming network of Marine Protected Areas". Rosslare Europort must be central to these plans and has been neglected for years. It is the ideal strategic location for a centre of excellence when it comes to offshore renewable energy.

The plan also says we will prioritise the work of the new State agency, MARA, which will see priority given to energy-related developments in the first years of its existence. Given the plan states MARA will prioritise energy and energy-related developments, having the hub of offshore renewable energy a few miles down the road in Rosslare Europort makes perfect sense. I wish the Minister of State well.

3:17 pm

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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Much has been said of offshore wind and ports infrastructure today. I ask, as others are asking, what is our policy for wind development at ports. I too call for Rosslare Europort to be designated one of the wind-marshalling ports in the country. Waterford Port can assist that activity.

I highlight, as I have done in the House before, concerns I have regarding the future of proposed wind development around the south coast, particularly off the Copper Coast in Waterford. We have yet to see where that planning will go.

We have not yet developed or published our hydrogen strategy document. Can we get that done please? We know full well that Germany has indicated it will only be able to support 30% of its own hydrogen production. It will need hydrogen imports. Ireland is probably best placed, more so than Australia, Chile and South America, to supply that. Maybe we can get that letter of intent signed also to develop further bilateral discussions around that.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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No disrespect to the Minister of State, but I would like to think that the Minister, Deputy Ryan, would stay for a full debate in the Dáil. It is sad that every time he comes in he opens the debate, listens to the main parties and legs it before the real facts come before him. He does not like real facts. That is disappointing. I would appreciate if the Minister of State would pass on the message to him that it is important to listen to both sides of an argument.

I am not against offshore wind energy but have concerns for my fellow fishermen in Cork South-West who have asked me to relay the concerns there. Have they been properly consulted or will this be a diktat from the top telling them where they can and cannot fish in their own waters? The Government is talking about massive areas of water being designated and covered in concrete. I ask that that be addressed. We want to move forward together and make sure this works and there are no serious objections to it but if the Government railroads over a sector that depends on the water and on the Atlantic Ocean to provide food for our table and a living for themselves and does not consult that sector, there is something wrong somewhere. To date, they are not overjoyed about the consultation. There has been a little but not enough. The Government will have to improve in that area.

We have to look at the other side, which concerns the fuel resources we have, before this happens. I was listening to an expert two or three months ago. He was pushing hard for offshore renewables and wanted them. He felt he was right and maybe he is. There is no arguing about that. He was an expert. They asked him on the radio when he could guarantee a delivery. He tried to avoid answering and in the end said 2035 or 2040. If we are that far away, there are many issues that need to be resolved in the coming weeks in the Dáil. We do not want to discuss them but we want to talk about renewables. That is the Minister, Deputy Ryan, getting his tuppence ha’penny in as a Minister. Unfortunately, until then we will need some source of fuel and we are not looking at opportunities we could have. The Minister has shut the door.

There is no problem about importing it. There are many Deputies shouting and roaring against that but they are away in La-La land because most of them are driving diesel- and petrol-guzzling cars and vans. There will be no talk about that going home this evening. They do not want to walk home in case it rains or something. They are quite happy to use a vehicle but are shouting against fuels in here.

Last Friday the Minister refused a licence for drilling of oil and gas off the Cork coast. The result of that decision is Ireland will have to import energy from anywhere that will supply us, including dirty dictators. That is where we are importing it from. Instead of being able to stand on our own two feet and not have to look to dictators to provide us with fuel, we have turned off the tap once again and will be depending on dictators for decades to come. This will make our people poorer and make energy here more expensive. We will miss out on billions of euro in potential tax revenue and thousands of offshore jobs.

My mantra the whole time is that the least the Government could do is to make sure to bring these people on board so they would pay through taxes for renewable energies. Deputy Nolan is here, so I will give her the opportunity use the rest of the time.

Photo of Carol NolanCarol Nolan (Laois-Offaly, Independent)
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I welcome this debate which we need to have if only to bring a small bit of realism to the subject. The motion refers to the policy statement on the framework for phase 2 offshore wind, and this includes the objective that 5 GW of offshore wind will be installed by 2030. This target, we are told, will contribute to the wider Government objective of achieving 80% renewable electricity and a 51% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the end of this decade. That is all very well but as Kevin Collins of Pinsent Masons said:

Irish government’s new policy statement on the framework for ‘phase two’ offshore wind development in Ireland was “limited in terms of both capacity and geography”.

He also noted:

There are many projects at various stages of development that will fall outside the scope of the development earmarked under either phase one or two of the government’s plans and [that subsequently] there is a risk to the long-term pipeline of offshore wind development in Ireland if the government does not clarify how it intends to support those projects.

As I understand it from a report in The Irish Times, Mr. Ryan wrote a letter to the Minister, Deputy Éamon Ryan, expressing alarm at the potential impact of wind turbines on the Sceirde Rocks, which is a unique feature off the west coast, while MacDara’s Island, which is closest to the rocks, has one of Ireland’s finest examples of early Christian oratory. He said, “A project of [this] scale ... will desecrate such a wild and beautiful area.” It was also noted in The Irish Times that:

...he was alarmed by the lack of proposed marine life protection. The shallow reef between Sceirde Rocks and MacDara’s Island provides an excellent habitat for lobster and crab. Local fishermen have fished these waters sustainably for generations. “The drilling and associated disturbance proposed in the application [for offshore wind turbines] will have huge repercussions for this habitat”.

We need to have all these concerns robustly addressed before licences are granted.

3:27 pm

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
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I am thankful for the opportunity to speak today on Government commitments on offshore renewable energy referenced in the Policy Statement on the Framework for Phase Two Offshore Wind. After reading the policy statement, I have to say I am less than impressed. The statement lacks any real detail and its commitments are vague and unclear. The first line states, "In response to the unjustified Russian aggression against Ukraine and the resulting twin energy price and security of supply crises across Europe, the Government is accelerating the roll out of offshore renewable energy." This is absolutely ridiculous. Is the Government trying to suggest that it is only prioritising offshore renewable energy because of the war in Ukraine? It seems that everything these days is done in the name of the war and not for the good of our citizens or the environment. We should be investing in renewable energy because it is the right thing to do and because it will create a better environment for our children and the generations that will come after. This alone is reason enough to be doing it. While the war in Ukraine may be a contributing motivation to develop renewable infrastructure, it is important the Government expressly recognise the urgency in its own right, apart from the current war. When that war ends, will our need for renewable investment end too? No, I do not think so.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, it is overdue that the Government take back our services into State ownership. Should this proceed, this offers a fantastic opportunity to build a State-owned electricity service. We can use it as a vehicle to create more apprenticeships, skills and employment while we utilise our capacity to generate vast amounts of renewable energy. The time for privatisation of public services has ended.

Further to that point, I note the target of 2 GW of floating offshore wind for additional non-grid use. I am cautious of any potential moves to privatise the resource and take this opportunity to urge the Government to ensure all offshore wind is created for national use. I am also cautious of our offshore energy going directly to places like data centres in the future, as we continue to build more and more data centres which are putting significant pressure on the national grid. We need to ensure the points where it comes to shore are monitored by the State and not by private developers.

The grid must be upgraded. As it stands, it is not fit for purpose, and while we may proceed to create a policy that allows for the creation of greater amounts of power, it will mean very little if the grid is outdated and unfit for purpose. As well as this, the bureaucratic procedures must be as efficient as possible. Complaints from the relevant professional sectors following the implementation of the renewable electricity support scheme, RESS, a few years ago noted that while they were ready and able to go, the paperwork procedure in Ireland, in comparison with the UK and other EU counterparts, was cumbersome. Note that just last year Shell pulled out of a large offshore contract for this very reason. While I care little for the loss of large international corporations availing of Ireland’s resources, I do care that the relevant professionals and experts may be held back due to outdated bureaucratic protocols. While it is important we grow and develop our renewable energy sector, preferably as a State-owned enterprise, I am glad that it has been noted in the motion that any development must be in consultation with eco and habitat research to ensure as much as possible damage to habitats, flora, fauna and marine life are mitigated within the realm of proportionality.

This policy statement lacks any mention of households or domestic users, and so I ask what Irish households are getting and will get out of this. It seems Irish households are increasingly getting less while large energy consumers continue to get more. In the past five years, we have seen a massive increase in large energy users in the State, with a 285% increase in electricity usage by large energy users which was being subsidised by the State and, indeed, as we found out, by households, because we were giving huge amounts of money to the ESB to give cheap electricity to the multinationals.

I urge the Government to make sure the north west is not left behind. Killybegs is ideally positioned to help with the development of more offshore energy as the town has immediate access to the highest offshore wind speeds in Europe. Donegal should be given the opportunity to avail of the benefits of this energy. Before this can happen, however, we need to update the electricity network and the infrastructure in the north west.

I welcome the development of renewable infrastructure, but it must come with an improved grid and the creation of a State-owned and State-operated energy service. All the households in the country should benefit equally from this.

Photo of Ossian SmythOssian Smyth (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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I thank the Deputies. I first want to welcome members of the Naval Service, who are in the Public Gallery. All of us who are here, as well as all Irish people, owe them a debt of gratitude for their service. It is a difficult job to go to sea. It is strenuous, arduous and tiring and they are confined, and yet it is vitally important for a nation like ours. This debate is about our maritime economy, our future maritime economy, our clean renewable energy resources that will be in the sea, and the ships that go out and protect our fish stocks, our subsea cables and, in the future, our offshore renewable turbines.

There were questions from some Deputies about how we will marry the interface between our fishermen and the offshore wind industry. How will these things work together? I can tell Deputies that there is a fishing and seafood group for offshore renewable energy that was established to create a best practice model for communications. I understand the group has a draft agreement between the industry and representatives of fishermen which will be published soon.

Deputy Whitmore was absolutely right to point out that the effect on biodiversity does not have to be negative. We should study the effect of enhancement and net gain that is possible from wind turbines. Clearly, it will not be possible to fish right up to the base of a wind turbine. There is, of course, the possibility there for enhanced spawning and breeding grounds for fish and seafood.

There were questions from some Deputies about the availability of skills and education for people who will staff these offshore renewable wind resources. A task force was set up a couple of years ago by the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science. It has been building strategies around the jobs that will be required for the green economy as well as the future skills that will be required. There are publications coming from that Department all the time. We face the same challenge in the retrofit area. Training centres have been set up around the country for that.

There were also questions about broad areas of interest. The report on those broad areas of interest was meant to be indicative. The final broad areas will be changed and those changes will reflect the public consultation.

There were questions from some Deputies on the hydrogen strategy. The hydrogen strategy is due to be published next month, which is June.

We are increasingly aware of the crucial role of offshore renewables in our transition to a sustainable and secure energy future. This urgency of action was highlighted at the North Sea Summit, which was attended by the Taoiseach and the Minister, Deputy Ryan, last month. At that summit, a regional agreement was reached on accelerating the deployment of offshore renewables and grids. That summit also highlighted the delivery of key implementation milestones by this Government over the past three years.

Within this context, the preliminary results of Ireland’s first offshore wind auction, ORESS 1, mark a pivotal moment in our clean energy transition. With a combined capacity of more than 3,000 MW, this first auction has delivered sufficient offshore wind to power more than 2.5 million Irish homes. This is by far the largest volume of renewable energy Ireland has ever procured at auction. At a price of €86 per megawatt hour, the average auction clearing price is one of the lowest that has been seen in any global emerging offshore wind market. Of course, in future auctions, the price will be lower. There will be a price at the start when the infrastructure is not in place and when the industry is not developed. As countries develop and go through future rounds, the price will come down. That price of €86 per megawatt hour that was achieved compares with an average wholesale electricity price of more than €200 per megawatt hour during the past 12 months.

ORESS 1 is the clearest signal yet that offshore wind will deliver a cheap, sustainable and secure indigenous alternative to imported fossil fuels over the decade to come. At a local level the development of these first and future offshore projects will be overwhelmingly positive for rural coastal and local communities. They will create sustainable local jobs, tens of billions of euro of inward investment and wholesale societal gains. In the case of the ORESS 1 projects alone, the mandatory community benefits fund will deliver more than €24 million each year for the same local communities for up to 20 years, and over the past three years, the Government has successfully established a framework for offshore wind development in Ireland. That framework includes the publication of the national maritime planning framework, which is Ireland's first marine spatial plan, the creation of an entirely new marine planning system through the Maritime Area Planning Act, the establishment of the Government's offshore wind delivery task force, and advancing the delivery of two interconnector projects. In establishing the framework for offshore wind, this Government has delivered.

Recognising their crucial future, the Government will support the development of indigenous ports through a new national ports policy. To accelerate this and other initiatives, we are implementing a long-term whole-of-government offshore energy programme, mobilising all stakeholders towards a common objective. When it comes to offshore renewables, this Government will continue to deliver to the maximum.

Question put and agreed to.