Thursday, 21 October 2021
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I welcome the Minister of State who has responsibility for public health, well-being and the national drugs strategy but I had hoped a Minister from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage would take this matter.In recent months and even before that, we have both seen the following headlines: "Energy blackouts this winter 'can never be ruled out'"; "European energy crisis a wake-up call for Irish policymakers"; "EirGrid warns of electricity supply shortfalls over next five winters"; "Ireland could be facing energy blackouts this winter"; "Dark days lie ahead if we fail to tackle energy crisis"; "New report paints stark picture of climate change impact in Ireland"; "Global warming to hit 'critical zone' within 20 years".
I will outline to the Minister of State what the Arklow Bank project will deliver to address two of these critical interlocking international challenges, namely, the climate crisis and the need to decarbonise our electricity system and deal with the immediate, significant energy generation capacity shortage. This project will reduce Ireland's carbon emissions by approximately 1% and will offset more than 500,000 tonnes of harmful CO2 annually. Wicklow currently has a housing stock of more than 56,000 homes. This project will generate eight times the electricity required for these homes. That is 520 MW of electricity, which is enough to power more than 450,000 homes with green energy, contributing to Ireland's action plan target of 1 GW of offshore energy by 2025.
In March, a report was presented to the Department to facilitate the extension of the long-stop dates within the lease and ensure that the project is delivered in line with the most up-to-date environmental standards. This will allow the project to deliver the positive change in line with Ireland's ambitious climate action targets and mitigate the current electricity generation capacity crisis the country is now facing by 2025. While I appreciate that this application requires examination, I do not consider that a delay in excess of seven months without any apparent advancement is acceptable. This is the core of the problem, not just in the Department but with all Departments and arms of the State. They just do not seem to understand the implications of processes and applications that are not time-bound. The uncertainties caused by the lack of decision-making will have a significant effect on Ireland delivering solutions and addressing the challenges we face.
Arklow suffered from serious decline in the late 1990s and early 2000s when thousands of jobs were lost, including in the IFI plant, which at its peak employed more than 1,200. These industries left behind hundreds of acres of industrial wasteland. I have supported this project in Wicklow. I was delighted when SSE Renewables decided to locate the operation and maintenance facility in Arklow in 2020. This will mean 80 full-time jobs and thousands of indirect jobs in Arklow and Wicklow during the construction phase and over the project's lifetime. It will contribute millions of euro annually to benefit communities and commercial rates. It is a capital investment of up to €2 billion to power the green recovery. I am annoyed and frustrated at the time being taken by the Department to progress this application, which would allow it to proceed to the next stage, namely, a transboundary environmental public consultation. If that is not achieved, we can throw our 2025 targets out the window.
Thanks to the likes of SSE Renewables, and others showing confidence in Arklow and Wicklow, Arklow is now moving to a new era of green technology, embracing new industries and new technologies. Arklow is at a turning point in its history. Let us not risk losing these opportunities to revitalise Arklow due to a process that is not time-bound and that is not progressing.