Seanad debates

Tuesday, 5 March 2024

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Energy Policy

1:00 pm

Photo of Malcolm NoonanMalcolm Noonan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Senator for raising this issue. It certainly brings to light a whole range of challenges from extractive industries in the supply chains of materials. I am taking this Commencement matter on behalf of the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications.

While we are transitioning away from carbon intensive fuel sources at pace, coal is still a critical fuel source for electricity generation today. This dependence is expected to diminish significantly by next year when the ESB's Moneypoint power station transitions away from burning coal to generate only off heavy fuel oil, HFO. Operating on HFO will reduce the carbon intensity of Moneypoint compared to coal operation while also retaining fuel diversity on the island of Ireland. As I understand the figures, coal use is down by 50%, oil use is down by 80%, and Moneypoint will stop burning coal altogether at the end of 2025.

The ESB recently submitted a planning application to deliver this change in fuel source from coal to HFO. ESB is a commercial State company and Ministers do not have any statutory function in any of the day-to-day operations of the business. Since 2018 ESB's purchase of coal from the Cerrejón mine has been very limited, accounting to about 1% of the total produced by the mine. Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent imposition of EU and other sanctions the ESB stopped purchasing coal from Russia and secured replacement coal from Australia, Colombia and South Africa to support the security of Ireland's energy supply.

The Department of Foreign Affairs is aware of human rights and environmental issues that have been raised by the NGOs and others around the operation of the Cerrejón mine and has been following closely the developments on this complex topic. Officials have visited the mine and engaged with all stakeholders. Officials in Dublin have also met with civil society organisations and members of communities close to the mine's activity and continue to encourage all sides to engage in dialogue on the issues at play.

More broadly, Ireland takes a very active role in supporting the promotion and protection of fundamental rights and freedoms in Colombia, engaging with human rights defenders and the country's vibrant civil society organisations on a regular basis. The issues in the region of Colombia are complex and multifaceted with differing perspectives at play. The solution lies in continued dialogue and engagement between the affected communities and the mine itself. We will continue to monitor the human rights situation in the region of La Guajira and across Colombia, and remain actively engaged on these issues.

We recognise that addressing social, land-related and environmental issues is an essential component of Colombia's peace process and we remain committed to supporting Colombia in the comprehensive implementation of the 2016 peace agreement and other peace-building efforts. Nevertheless, the State has a role in how we power our country. Under this Government I am working with State bodies like the ESB. Ireland is transitioning at pace away from coal and fossil fuel use to renewables. As an indicator, the use of fossil fuels for electricity generation was markedly down in 2023 in comparison to 2022, with coal use down by 50% and oil use down by 80%. Importantly the Moneypoint power station will stop burning coal to generate electricity by the end of 2025 when it will be converted to run on oil as a backup to electricity generation only. This will be until 2029. Renewable energy and gas efficient gas-fired power stations will always be called upon first. For a number of years ESB has been working on the future redevelopment of Moneypoint as a clean renewables hub. We are transitioning and certainly we are very conscious of the human rights issues the Senator has raised. It is something in which the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Oireachtas generally are playing a very active role.As I said, it is important all sides engage on these issues as well.


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