Thursday, 19 May 2022
Carbon Policy: Motion
That Seanad Éireann:
acknowledges that: - to meet our demands for energy and the targets set out in carbon budgets, Ireland needs to generate more electricity while also reducing carbon emissions;
- while the Climate Action Plan 2021 does not list individual targets for each sector, it details emission reductions that are needed from each sector of the economy; emissions from electricity will have to be reduced by 62 to 81 per cent;
- Ireland is very heavily reliant on fossil fuels; approximately 85 per cent of Ireland's energy needs come from fossil fuels;
- Ireland’s import dependency for energy was 67 per cent in 2018, down from an average of 89 per cent between 2001 and 2015; this was largely due to the production of gas from the Corrib field, 52 per cent of Ireland's energy is generated from gas, while wind generated 28 per cent, electricity obtained from other renewables was 5 per cent;
- 70 per cent of Ireland’s electricity is supposed to come from renewables by 2030, it is expected that most of Ireland’s energy will come from onshore and offshore wind fields as well as solar energy;
- data centres currently consume up to 11 per cent of Ireland's electricity;
- the building of data centres will increase Ireland's demand for electricity by at least 40 per cent; some estimates suggest that data centres could consume up to 70 per cent of Ireland's electricity by 2030;
- following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and current sanctions, gas and other natural resources will be more expensive; while Ireland does not import much gas from Russia, the price will go up due to an increase demand from countries implementing sanctions against Russia;
- energy prices were increasing before Russia's invasion of Ukraine;
-according to the Consumer Price Index, since March 2021, the price of housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels has increased by +20.9 per cent;
- research conducted by the Economic and Social Research Institute found that 17.5% of households were in energy poverty in 2019;
- St. Vincent de Paul, in collaboration with RED C Research & Marketing Ltd, in March 2021, found that 19 per cent of people had cut back on heating and electricity due to cost, including 42 per cent of families of those with an illness or disability; 36 per cent of lone parents also found themselves in a similar situation;
- Ireland is pursing irreconcilable goals by increasing demand for electricity by up to 40 per cent while hoping it can be done with the current renewable energy capacity;
- nuclear power produces virtually zero carbon emissions; it is a more environmentally friendly source of energy that fossil fuels;
- while Ireland should continue investing in renewable sources of energy, electricity generated from nuclear power could help Ireland to meet its long-term energy needs; notes that: - carbon taxes exist as a disincentive, but they can only be effective if members of the public are using more energy than they need; many people across all sectors of the economy who are trying to reduce their energy use and are still struggling to pay the existing charges;
- the fuel allowance is only paid to a relatively small number of households, meaning that many people are not protected from increases;
- the production of electricity for EirGrid by nuclear fission is prohibited under section 18 of the Electricity Regulation Act 1999;
- despite this prohibition, Ireland is importing electricity generated from nuclear energy; at least 0.93 per cent of Ireland's electricity in 2020 was generated by nuclear power plants in Britain;
- Ireland currently imports electricity from the United Kingdom (UK) through the East West Interconnector and a lot of Ireland's gas is also imported directly from the UK; Brexit also threatens Ireland's energy security as its full effects are still not clear;
- if section 18 of the Electricity Regulation Act 1999 was amended, it would be easier for Ireland to import electricity generated from nuclear power even if it was not possible to build nuclear power stations immediately;
- Ireland could import electricity generated from nuclear power from France through the Celtic Interconnector cable after 2026, if section 18 of the Electricity Regulation Act 1999 was amended;
- Ireland was predicted to become more reliant on non-EU oil and gas as EU supplies decline; Russia is the world's largest exporter of gas and Ireland will be unable to import much gas from Russia due to sanctions following the invasion of Ukraine;
- there will also be higher importation costs associated with gas from non-EU countries; before the invasion of Ukraine, Ireland faced difficulties meeting its energy needs;
- developments in nuclear technology over the last three decades now mean that nuclear power produces virtually zero carbon emissions;
- according to the U.S. Department of Energy:- nuclear power plants had an average capacity factor of 92.3 per cent, meaning that they operated at full power on 336 out of 365 days a year;- compared with other sources of energy, nuclear power plants require less maintenance; renewable energy sources often require a back-up energy supply; it would be preferable if the energy for the growing number of winds fields came from a source that generated virtually zero carbon emissions such as nuclear power;
- wind turbines by contrast operated 34.5 per cent of the time;
- by comparison, coal and other fossil fuel power stations operate approximately 50 per cent of the time;
- the average nuclear reactor produces 1 gigawatt (GW) of electricity; based on the capacity factors listed above, 431 wind turbines are required to generate the same level of energy, the average small modular reaction has an output of 300 megawatts by comparison;
- there are not enough renewable sources of energy being developed in Ireland in order to meet our current demands for energy; it is unclear how the current plans are to be achieved as much of the planning around this is being left to the energy sector;
- it is also unclear how or where the extra electricity will come from to sustain the new data centres that will be built in Ireland;
- if Ireland is to adhere to the current targets, a very large amount of space will have to be allocated for wind farms and other renewable forms of energy; where these wind farms will be is unclear; calls on: - the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications to submit, within six months, a report to the Houses of the Oireachtas on the following options:- amending section 18 of the Energy Regulation 1999 in order that EirGrid could use electricity generated from nuclear fission;
- assessing the feasibility of building small modular nuclear reactors to address Ireland’s energy needs;
- the evaluation of revised targets set out in the Climate Action Plan and the Carbon Budgets to reflect these options;
- publishing a ten-year plan for a nuclear programme for energy which will aim to reflect targets set out in the Climate Action Plan;
-assessing the feasibility of freezing carbon tax on households for the next three years (this freeze would not apply to heavy industry, landfills, incineration of waste or similar industries);
- the Minister to make a clear statement regarding the turf cutting rights of homeowners;
- the Minister to make a clear statement about the role of gas in Ireland’s energy needs over the next 10 years and to reconsider plans to discontinue offshore gas exploration in Irish waters;
- the Minister to reconsider opposition to the establishment of any new liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in Ireland.
The Minister, Deputy Ryan, is very welcome. I was not expecting to see him here this afternoon. I thank him for coming in. It is often said that failing to plan is a plan to fail. What we have at the moment is not so much a plan to fail but a plan for disaster. The plan is to phase out our use of fossil fuels while simultaneously increasing our demand for energy by 2030. At the moment, the bulk of this decision-making is being left to the energy sector. The aim of this motion is to put a stop to this disaster now. After all, we cannot write legislation while sitting in the dark.
The main thrust of today's motion is to address the current hypocrisy regarding our approach to nuclear power. As outlined in the motion, EirGrid is not allowed to use energy generated from nuclear fission, but the reality is that Ireland is already using nuclear energy. Approximately 0.93% of Ireland's electricity in 2020 was generated by nuclear power plants in Britain. This was revealed by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI.
I am sure any response today will discuss the dangers of nuclear power, but it is important we establish some facts. The reluctance to embrace nuclear energy seems to be based on an outdated understanding of what nuclear power is currently. It is no longer the 1980s. Concerns which were once valid are now only dead dogma clung to by green activists. It would be remiss of me today to fail to highlight the leaps and bounds that clean nuclear energy has made since the disasters of Three Mile Island or Chernobyl. In part, Chernobyl occurred due to the use of graphite in the nuclear reactor. Today's reactors no longer use this material. At the time, there was also no provision for containment. This has since become the norm for nuclear power plants. Nuclear power produces less radiation than other sources of fuel. In fact, coal plants produce more radiation. Nuclear power produces virtually no carbon emissions. Small nuclear fission reactors such as this Bill advocates for are very efficient. Nuclear power also produces little waste. It is a safe and highly efficient form of energy. Nuclear power plants operate more than 90% of the time, while wind turbines only operate 35% of the time. By comparison, coal and other fossil fuel power stations operate approximately 50% of the time.
There is no doubt my speech today would be longer if we were to list all the reasons nuclear power is safe. Nuclear technology has come on a great deal over the past 30 years. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the attitude towards it by many members of the Green Party. If we do not adapt to nuclear power, data centres are due to consume at least 40% of Ireland's energy by 2030. Some estimates suggest that this could be as high as 70%. In 2018, our energy-import dependency was 70%. The Government has made promises it cannot keep to multinationals and other nations. We need to act sooner rather than later to find a solution.
Deriding nuclear energy at home while importing almost 1% of it from Britain and refusing to amend the current legislation is, as a great man once put it, an Irish solution to an Irish problem. However, it is a solution that plays dice with the well-being and livelihood of most of our citizens, especially those in the private sector who are working from home and whose livelihoods may be threatened by even occasional power cuts. The east-west interconnector is fantastic for Ireland, but Brexit threatens the UK's status as an exporter of energy to Ireland. All going according to plan, the Celtic interconnector cable could provide us with energy from France in 2026 if the Energy Regulation Act 1999 is amended. France might be able to provide us with energy generated from nuclear fission to help meet our needs. After all, France has relied on nuclear power as its main source of energy for years. Simultaneously weaning ourselves off gas while lacking sufficient plans to make up for the shortfall in the energy supply is unconscionable.
The current plan is both insufficient and unfeasible, a point that my colleague, Senator Mullen, will discuss in his contribution later. What is also unconscionable is the pain and suffering Ireland's current energy insecurity is causing and will continue to cause. If an abrupt change of direction in energy policy is beyond us, I ask the Minister at least to consider the human cost of the Government's current approach. Carbon taxes exist as a disincentive, but can only be effective if members of the public are using more energy than they need. Many people across all sectors of the economy are trying to reduce their energy use and they are still struggling to pay their existing charges.St. Vincent de Paul, in collaboration with RedC Research and Marketing, found in March 2021 that 19% of people cut back on heating and electricity due to cost. This included 42% of families of those with an illness or disability and 36% of lone parents also found themselves in a similar situation. It is as if the Government is trying to get blood from a stone by squeezing the most vulnerable in our society. Since March 2021, the price of housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels has increased by over 20.9%.
Granted, the Government has tried to address these problems by introducing fuel allowance but this only applies to a few households. The Minister, Deputy Ryan, has advised people to take shorter showers and to slow down their driving, quips which sound more like something out of a “Father Ted” quote than political oratory. Yet, while these statements might be funny in a different context, what is not funny is that every year elderly people die during the winter because they are unable to heat their homes. This is something we have known for years, even as the cost of energy has been ratcheting up and, yes, even as Dublin-based politicians sought to ban one of the most common fuel sources for tens of thousands of people in rural Ireland. When we know that approximately 100 companies are responsible for producing 70% of emissions, the approach by the Government in foisting the burden on ordinary citizens seems almost cruel, in order to achieve what will, on a global scale, be such a small outcome. Large multinationals and businesses almost never seem to be the focus. It is always normal people who are paying the price, perpetuating the myth that the issue of climate change can be solved by individualist consumer choices.
The Minister has already said that nuclear energy is part of our future. Despite my criticism of him today, I hope he does consider that to be part of our future. I agree with him. Whether we like it or not, our use of nuclear power is inevitable. Let us not kick the can down the road and leave a worsening situation for future generations but, instead, conduct the review outlined in today's motion and make this happen.
I second the motion and commend Senator Keogan for bringing it forward. Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. The Minister is welcome. We all want the same thing in the sense that we want to protect our environment and reduce our carbon emissions, and we want to do right by the world and by future generations and the less fortunate and more vulnerable people of our world. However, it is vital that, in doing this, we do not dismiss the dangers of Ireland's energy insecurity. That is why I am supporting this motion today. It has the aim of working towards ensuring energy security in order to stop people from suffering.
The motion asks the hard question of the Government in asking whether it is considering all of the options. Senator Keogan has argued in favour of nuclear power. I asked the Minister on a previous occasion in the Seanad whether we needed to consider this, and he said it is something we would have to talk about, to paraphrase him. That seems to me abundantly clear in the light of the situation in the world we are now living in, given the increased demand for electricity in our country, which is going to go up and up, with the demand coming from data centres and pressure on sources of energy internationally, not least caused by the war in Ukraine and the impact that is going to have on gas prices, the moral problem of importing gas from destructive regimes, and so on. We have to try to square the circle.
The question that will arise is whether we are being realistic in the way we talk about relying on wind as our main energy source, especially given what I have said about the capacity of data centres to consume up to 40% of our energy. Wind energy, let it be said, is an important source. Every bit of progress we hear about wind energy is good news and we are all emotionally and intellectually attracted to it. However, relying on it to meet most of our energy needs, or carrying on as though that is what we are doing, is not acceptable. At the moment, it seems Ireland is pursuing irreconcilable goals because we are increasing demand and we are facing into an increased demand for electricity, on the one hand, while hoping it can be done with the current energy supply, on the other. We are not in a position to guarantee an electricity supply from renewable sources.
The Irish Academy of Engineering, in its note entitled “Europe's Energy Crisis – Implications for Ireland”, states that Ireland is in a far more precarious situation regarding its reliance on gas as Europe is moving away from Russian imports. It points out that sometimes wind generates no electricity at all. It gives the example of 25 March 2022 at 10.15 a.m., when the demand for electricity on this island was 5,124 MW and wind generation for more than 5,000 MW of installed wind generation capacity came to 10 MW, or less than 0.2% of total electricity. During a 24-hour period on that same day, prior to 7 p.m., renewables provided less than 3% of Ireland's energy. Therefore, when we talk about expanding our wind generation by 5,000 MW, it does not matter from the point of view of system adequacy because, under any scenario, there will be times in 2030 when wind generation, regardless of installed wind generation capacity, will meet less than 1% of instantaneous electricity demand, and there will be days when it meets less than 5% of demand over a period of 24 hours.
Of course, the conclusion from all of this is not that we should scrap wind entirely. It is that we face full on the facts as they are, not as we would like them to be. How can the Government expect to generate 80% from renewable energy sources when the wind is not blowing? We will be subject to the whims of the weather. It is not just in Ireland, but this place is full of politicians who never express a view on anything until they find out what way the wind is blowing. On this occasion, it is a case of recognising that, very often, the wind is not blowing at all. That is what we have to take seriously and that is what has to drive our thinking at least some of the time.
The Irish Academy of Engineering points out that Government policy seeks the development of 5,000 MW of offshore wind generation by 2030 but the development of such wind generation is slow. Investors are being cautious. Building the wind fields offshore has a higher cost compared to building onshore, as we know. This high cost is another issue which will lead to escalating energy prices and is already doing so, squeezing the most vulnerable members of our population, as mentioned by Senator Keogan.
Let us focus for a moment on that suffering. St. Vincent de Paul, in collaboration with RedC, found that 19% of people had cut back on heating and electricity due to cost, including 42% of families of those with an illness or disability, and with 36% of lone parents finding themselves in a similar situation. I am not telling the Minister anything he does not know or anything with which he does not sympathise. However, it is important, as we look at and talk about our solutions to our energy crisis, that we take seriously the impact of the choices that we make.
I am aware the Minister may be thinking about the nuclear option and the possibility of nuclear power, at least from what he said previously in the Seanad. Yet, in its proposed amendment to the motion today, the Government's side states clearly: “nuclear powered electricity generation plants are prohibited in Ireland; the Government has no plans to revisit the prohibition on, or explore the development of, nuclear powered electricity generation in Ireland”. I sometimes wonder whether the Government afraid to show the public it is willing to think about controversial things or does it have to wait until there is an editorial from The Irish Timesbefore it dares to say the obvious to people, which is that we must talk about this. I am not suggesting automatically that the solution is nuclear. However, I am saying that we need to talk about the fact great progress has been made in terms of relative safety and we need to talk about the potential of small modular nuclear reactors, one of which is the equivalent of 100 wind turbines. We need to, by all means, talk about other options, such as hydrogen and so on, but to say we have no plans to revisit it suggests we are not even thinking of the subject.I do not think that is serious given the problems we face, and the increased problems we will face because of the war in Ukraine with instability in the world, the reality of energy shortages and consequences for the poor. Yes, let us work on renewables but let us face the reality, which is that we cannot get there on renewables in the short term. We need to rethink and hit the reset button on our opposition to liquified natural gas terminals. We need to press the reset button on our silence.
I will finish by saying that up to the time she retired, Angela Merkel had a fantastic reputation but in light of what has happened in Ukraine, her reputation is suffering. The knee-jerk way in which Germany turned its back on nuclear power will affect her reputation as a wise head into the future as well. Therefore, let us have courage about opening up the discussion that needs to be had.
I very much appreciate the opportunity to consider and think about controversial things or look at different options, particularly when it comes to meeting the energy challenge we have before us, which is to remove ourselves from our dependence on imported fossil fuels and create a sustainable, secure and competitive energy supply for our people.
Having considered and looked at that question over many years now, I have always said that we should consider a whole variety of different options. Following on fairly quickly from that, however, is the fact that any independent analysis of the potential for the nuclear option being used in Ireland to generate electricity would show that it is not going to be one to which we will turn. The reality behind that is the very well-understood and relatively easy to explain physics and economic issues or concerns regarding the technology.
Most new nuclear power plants being built, or those just recently concluded or commissioned in the likes of Finland, France or elsewhere, come of a size of about 1.5 GW, which makes it incredibly expensive should we use the Irish grid. On a grid in Ireland, we are currently probably using approximately 5 GW. We always have to have back-up power to complement the risk. Nuclear power plants have to be turned off on a very regular basis for safety, maintenance or other reasons. We must have an equivalent amount of power available at all times should a nuclear power plant have to be switched off instantaneously. We must be running a spinning reserve of 1.5 GW of running power as well. In a system the size of Ireland, that makes it totally uneconomic.
In any case, as we have seen, the UK is equivalent to us and has 60 or 70 years' experience of building nuclear plants. We do not have any experience or any waste issue problems with it but it does. It has much experience and history and a similar modern economy to us. Not only would we have to pay for the 1.5 GW of additional spinning reserve, the cost of that plant is likely to be equivalent to what the UK is currently paying, which is a multiple of the alternative power supplies we have available to us. We have no expertise. We would end up having a waste and disposal problem that we do not currently have.
Yes, nuclear power generates low-carbon electricity, but it is not always as secure as some people think. It is interesting; I have met my French counterpart a lot in the last six months. The French hold the Presidency of the European Council at present. She tells me that they have a really tight situation in France because many of their nuclear plants are out of action. They are finding that they have a series of issues around some of the boilers or other technical aspects and they are really close to not having enough power, as are we, for different reasons. It is not a magic easy-fix solution, however. We have to be upfront and honest about that. It is incredibly expensive and brings waste and other issues that would be long-term expensive. Had we built at Carnsore Point in the first place 40 years ago, we would be now decommissioning it. I also meet on a regular basis my Belgian counterpart, the Belgian energy minister, who is decommissioning some of its power plants because they have come to the end of their lifetime. It is phenomenally expensive, complex and difficult; it is not easy. We do not have that problem, and we have alternatives we can switch to.
Senator Keogan made the case for modular nuclear reactors, which would overcome some of those size difficulties. Again, however, when I talk to experts and others involved in the industry and elsewhere and ask whether they can show me these operating or ask where I could buy and put them, the answers are on a design table in a university or in some distant location where someone is thinking about how it might work. It is not deployable. In my sense, it will not be deployable for decades to come. I do not, therefore, believe it is a viable alternative solution.
We will be importing nuclear power; we already are. Some of the electrons that are being used to light this room at this moment are probably coming from the UK. I have not checked the grid system but it is likely that is imported from the UK. Some of those electrons will be generated by nuclear power. We are going to develop further interconnection, particularly with the UK in 2024 and France a couple of years later with the Celtic interconnector, which will be connecting a French nuclear system to an Irish renewable system. That can balance and work well for us, in my mind. That is a very economical way of distributing or selling our surplus, when we have it, and of importing power at times of shortfall. Therefore, there will be nuclear power in our system but it will not be generated here. The economics will work much better when it is done as part of an interconnected European system.
I will address some of the other elements of what is a very wide-ranging, which is appropriate, motion. We must consider so many different options and aspects in respect of energy. On the issue of gas exploration and further gas infrastructure into Ireland, in Ireland's case, I believe we have gone out more than 150 times. It is very expensive and costs up to €100 million per time to fund the drilling wells in a very harsh environment. We have only found gas three times at Kinsale, Seven Heads and Corrib. We have never found oil in commercial quantities. All the likely sites, and they are diminishing in number, are in very deep, distant waters. It is highly speculative with no real proven track record. We just do not have a lot of oil and gas reserves. I do not believe it would give us any gas security to think that if we just keep on exploring, we might find something. It is highly unlikely and incredibly expensive. Moreover, if the world keeps on exploring for oil and gas in that way, we are going to completely blow the climate targets that are vital for us to maintain a stable, habitable planet for our people. I do not believe oil or gas exploration have a future in Irish energy. I think it was absolutely appropriate for the previous Government to stop oil and then for this Government to stop gas. That was not a contentious point of debate in the programme for Government negotiations because everyone knows that is not really where the investment needs to go or where our energy future lies.
Things have changed; everything has changed. The world has changed even since this time two years ago when we were looking at this issue because of the war in Ukraine. Even leading up to the war, the turning off of the gas tap by the Russian Government and Gazprom in advance of the war was what put those energy prices up a year ago, which in turn also put gas prices up, in particular, which then put up the price of electricity. Since the war, we have seen gas prices rise from anything between three to five times what they would have been a year and a half or two years ago. That is an incredible shock to the entire economic system and to all the bills everyone is paying. It has led to a complete review of what Europe, Ireland and every country is doing in terms of energy security.
In that regard, Ireland is in different circumstances to the rest of Europe. One quarter of the gas we use comes from Corrib and three quarters comes from the UK and Norway. The vast majority of that gas interconnection comes directly from the Norwegian or North Sea fields into the UK system and into Ireland. There is a relatively thin gas pipeline from the UK into the Continent, so even if the demand for gas in Germany, Belgium and Holland increases, which it will because they switched away from Russian gas, we are still in a relatively secure place. We do not rely on Russian gas, which typically accounts for only 2% or 3% of needs historically. That Norwegian-UK gas is always going to be there for the UK-Ireland system because it does not have an easy alternative route back into the continental market.Many countries in Europe, particularly those who are looking at switching away from Russian gas, are looking at LNG. They are considering those options in doing contracts. This is understandable, because they have to switch away from Russian gas.
We are in a different position. There are planning applications in for the use of LNG in the likes of the Shannon Estuary. Everyone will know about this. I do not need to recite the history of Government commentary on that, but I would like to make a couple of points on it. First, if we were to introduce LNG, while at the same time introducing demand for the gas that it would it bring in, which is needed to make it an economically viable project, that too would burst our climate limits. This is because that huge level of demand emissions would come probably from north American or Canadian gas. It more likely could come from Qatar or from the west. It would be burnt here and all the emissions that would be accounted with it would send us over the limit.
There is also the question that we must consider of the best, most secure options for us. It is likely to be either Cork Harbour or the Shannon Estuary, because they are the two deep water ports that could cater for ships that are carrying any such material. It is interesting to look at what is happening and at the energy investment options that are being considered. In Shannon, the ESB, which has a long, proud and skilled record in energy delivery in this country, wants to go to hydrogen. It wants to connect to power generation at the Moneypoint site. This is because it sees the conversion of our offshore renewable capability into a storable energy source, such as hydrogen. This is where all of the investment, attention, development and interest is going in energy markets.
We have a comparative competitive advantage, particularly in the west of Ireland because we have that wind. We could convert that to hydrogen and use it in a back-up system. That grid connection into Moneypoint is either running on wind or, when wind is not blowing, it is running on stored hydrogen which backs it up. That would be a compelling, sensible, deliverable, achievable, secure, low-carbon, indigenous energy system.
The question we are asking, which we have to ask in our energy security review which we are doing at the moment, is the fundamental question as to whether Shannon Estuary will go to green hydrogen or if it will go to fossil fuels? The Shannon area task force should have the same question on its table in the same timeframes. It will have to consider this by the end of the autumn. It should ask the same question and listen to all the different views. Every time I go out of the country and meet people who have real experience in this, I ask them what they think we should do; should we go LNG, or should we go hydrogen. The vast majority of experts to whom I have spoken have said that in Ireland’s case, there will be a reliable gas supply for the next ten years and it should therefore go hydrogen. In ten years’ time, that is where the investment will be.
We will look at all the options and consider all the alternatives and not rule anything out. However, when I ask independent outside experts, that is what I hear a lot. The same is to be said for Cork. Cork has the same capability potential for offshore wind to connect to a deep-water harbour where it could be converted to hydrogen or ammonia. What is happening there? There are energy people, who are in the business and who are investing, such as those at the Whitegate oil refinery. They are very interested. When I meet them, they are talking about and are interested in hydrogen. They are asking if it could be the next investment. There are other indigenous companies that are already down there and are working with the power plants and with the big energy users. For example, in Cork, there is the biopharma and in Shannon there is the aluminium and smelting. When they come to me, they say that they are interested in hydrogen. This is because that is where they see the investment and new technology going. I am just sharing what I see of what is happening and what is going to come. We will have that hydrogen strategy by the end of the year. That will help us.
I wish I had the time to go into the full question around our renewables and energy efficiency future, which I see as the alternative. It is a matter of balancing between the two factors of variable demands and variable supplies. This is the new industrial revolution that is taking place. Storage will be a key component in this, in electric batteries, in hydrogen and in other interconnection and storage and transportation systems.
I read Senator McDowell regularly in The Irish Times. He says that this renewable energy efficiency revolution is a cod, that we are being fooled, that this is terrible and that the Association of Energy Engineers, AEE, thinks something different. It may well do. However, yesterday Europe presented its repower policy in response to the need to move away from Russian gas. It is saying that we must fast forward to a green transition. That is the headline of its press release. It is all about efficiency. It is all about promoting renewables. Yes, it says that for certain countries it is best to look at LNG. However, this is the European economic, energy and climate strategy. It is not doing it because of any ideology. It is doing it because this is the more secure way. This is where the jobs will come. This is where Europe has scale, capability and expertise.
Ireland is the same. We have this. Our sea area is seven times the size of our land area. We are good at renewable energy.We are good at integrating it. We are good at efficiency.We have to manage demand. We have not approved a new data centre in almost two years, because we realised that we have to be careful. We have to make sure that they are part of the climate solution and that they are not just operating separate to the limits that we have to live within. This is where the energy investment is going. This is where we have expertise and capability. While I appreciate the motion and I understand the sentiments behind it, I think the renewable, efficient, interconnected, storage and green hydrogen future is the one for us.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after “That” and substitute the following:
notes that: - the International Energy Agency defines energy security as the uninterrupted availability of energy sources at an affordable price;
- Ireland imports over 70 per cent of the energy we use, compared to a European Union total of almost 60 per cent;
- oil and gas represent around 80 per cent of Ireland’s primary energy requirement; - all of the oil used in Ireland is imported;
- approximately three quarters of the gas used in Ireland is imported via pipelines from the United Kingdom; the remainder of our gas needs are met from the Corrib gas field and the output from this field is declining;
- renewables currently account for 13 per cent of Ireland’s primary energy requirement;
- the recent ‘Sixth Assessment Report’ from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reemphasised the need to decarbonise our society and economy;
- responding to this need, the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021 set a national climate goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 and a 51 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030; the Climate Action Plan 2021 sets out a programme of actions to meet these targets, including:- in transport, increasing the use of public transport and active travel through the National Sustainable Mobility Policy and increased use of electric vehicles;- the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, 2022, is unprecedented in Europe in modern times; the resulting war has, and will continue to have, significant impacts for the world, for the European Union and for Ireland;
- in heating, retrofitting our stock of residential and commercial buildings with significantly increased exchequer support under the National Retrofit Plan;
- generating up to 80 per cent of our electricity from renewable generation by the end of the decade with a significant increase in onshore and offshore wind and solar power;
- the war has impacted Europe’s energy system; in particular, the invasion has triggered a decision by the European Union to phase out its dependency on Russian gas, oil and coal imports as soon as possible;
- the immediate impacts of the war include significant increases in the price that we pay for energy;
- in the longer-term, the war will also impact where and how we source that energy and will change how we design energy policy to ensure the system’s long-term resilience;
- the ‘National Energy Security Framework’, published in April 2022, outlines an integrated whole-of -Government response to this crisis;
- the Framework sets out a set of 31 responses to the crisis with clear timelines and accountability for their implementation;- these responses cover three themes:- nuclear powered electricity generation plants are prohibited in Ireland; the Government has no plans to revisit the prohibition on, or explore the development of, nuclear powered electricity generation in Ireland;
- managing the impact of the crisis on consumers and businesses;
- ensuring security of energy supply in the near-term;
- reducing our dependency on imported fossil fuels in the context of the phasing out of Russian energy imports across the EU;
- the Government has committed to increasing the amount that is charged per tonne of CO2 emissions from fuels to €100 by 2030; this is a key pillar underpinning the Government’s Climate Action Plan to halve emissions by 2030 and reach net zero no later than 2050;
- a significant portion of carbon tax revenue is allocated for expenditure on targeted welfare measures and energy efficiency measures, which not only support the most vulnerable households in society but also in the long term, provides support against fuel price impacts by reducing our reliance on fossil fuels;
- changes to carbon tax rates are having a relatively small impact on current energy prices; the Budget 2022 carbon tax increase, which came into effect in October last year, added approximately 2 cents per litre in tax to petrol and diesel;
- the increase in rates for home heating fuels such as kerosene, gas, and solid fuels was delayed until 1 May, 2022, to mitigate against impacts during the winter heating season; the May 2022 increase will add approximately 20 cents (VAT inclusive) to a 12.5kg bale of briquettes;
- a range of other steps have been taken to ameliorate the effect on consumers of higher energy prices and of planned increased in carbon tax:- the weekly rate of the fuel allowance was increased by €5 to €33 a week in Budget 2022 so that €914 was paid to eligible households over the course of the winter; an additional lump-sum payment of €125 was paid to the 370,000 households receiving the fuel allowance in mid-March 2022;- carbon tax is not the cause of current energy price inflation;
- all residential electricity customers are receiving an electricity costs emergency benefit payment of €200 (incl. VAT) at a total cost of circa €400 million;
- in March, a €320 million measure was agreed by Government, to temporarily reduce excise duties on petrol, diesel and marked gas oil, which cut excise by 20 cent per litre of petrol and 15 cent per litre of diesel until the end of August;
- in April, VAT was reduced from 13.5 per cent to 9 per cent on gas and electricity bills from the start of May until the end of October;
- each year, some 1,300 people die prematurely in Ireland due to air pollution from solid fuel burning; it is estimated that there are over 16,200 life years lost, while many people also experience a poor quality of life due to the associated short-term and long-term health impacts of this form of pollution;
- the Government is preparing regulations on turf harvesting that will ensure that while measures are introduced to enhance air quality, they will not impinge upon traditional local practices associated with sod peat; calls on the Government to: - respond to the current crisis in energy markets as set out in the National Energy Security Framework;
- manage, in particular, the impact of the crisis on consumers and businesses by implementing the responses set out in the Framework, by:
- continuing the excise duty reduction on petrol, diesel and marked gas oil until the Budget in October 2022;
- making an additional payment of €100 to all recipients of fuel allowance; - reducing the Public Service Obligation Levy to zero by October 2022;
- undertaking a programme of communications to inform consumers and businesses what actions they can take to reduce their energy demand, how they could lower energy bills and what supports are available to them;
- implementing a targeted package of measures to enhance protections for financially vulnerable customers and customers in debt;
- supporting existing customers to access a competitive rate for their energy; and
- introducing a scheme for installation of PV panels for vulnerable customers/households with a budget of €20m; - ensure security of energy supply in the near-term by implementing the responses in the Framework, by: - reviewing and testing oil, natural gas and electricity emergency plans and procedures against scenarios of escalating severity in the context of the war in Ukraine;
- working closely with the oil industry to monitor the supplies of oil in Ireland on an ongoing basis and keeping under review the need to release strategic oil stocks to the market;
- reviewing and updating the frameworks for cooperation on natural gas supplies to Ireland as required, in the context of the EU’s gas market and security of supply legislative proposals; and
- preparing the electricity system for potential disruptions to supplies of natural gas and managing potential impacts on final electricity consumers; - reduce our dependency on imported fossil fuels in the context of the phasing out of Russian energy imports across the EU by implementing the responses in the Framework, by: - aligning all elements of the planning system to fully support accelerated renewable energy development;
- reviewing grid connection arrangements for renewable electricity projects and the development of system services to accelerate the growth in renewable electricity;
- accelerating investment in the electricity grid and the development of storage technologies;
- expanding the rollout of renewable microgeneration including the implementation plan for the clean export premium;
- appraising the potential of biomethane; and
- prioritising the development of a hydrogen strategy; - accelerate the measures in the Climate Action Plan 2021 that will reduce dependence on fossil fuels and increase the use of renewable electricity as this will lead to a sustainable and secure energy future for Ireland; and
- complete the programme of actions proposed by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities to longer term security of electricity supply.”
I welcome the opportunity to have a debate about this important issue. While I welcome the debate and the tone of it, I have to say that Senator Keogan has put forward her views and ideas in a questioning and thoughtful way. That is good, because we often come into this Chamber and others and we have that bickering thing about who knows best about climate change, or whether it exists, or how we go about it. At least this is a good opening and a positive debate.
From my perspective and from my party’s perspective, we very much support the counter-motion.The picture presented today in the Private Members’ motion is not consistent with the development of the climate and communications policy that is already there. Earlier this month, the Government approved and published the national energy security framework. That framework examines and impacts on Ireland’s energy system. It sets out the structures that will be in place. It includes the over 30 specific responses that we are taking.
For me, the biggest issue around nuclear energy is that that boat has sailed. We do not have the know-how, the technology or the corporate knowledge that other countries do. It is not that we should be against it. Senator Keogan has talked about the science. I studied physics in school. I had a good interest in it. I think things have developed a lot since then. There is no doubt that it is probably a safer technology. However, others are more advanced than us. The fact that we are utilising energy that is generated through nuclear fusion is a good thing. However, the bit that is missing for me is the quality of the grid network that exists across Europe. We need to look from a combined European perspective at improving that grid network. If the Finns and the French have a corporate knowledge and have experience in generating electricity from nuclear, I wish them the best of luck. I encourage them to do it. In a liberated, open energy market let us buy that from them at the best rate. Energy is traded now on the half hour. Therefore, wherever it is, let us get it.
Senator Mullen makes a great point that the wind does not blow all the time, and for sure it does not. Even worse, it blows at the time when the demand is least, which is principally at night. This ties in with what the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, is talking about, which is seen in a project in the constituency that I live in, which is Clare. The ESB and others are developing a plan around hydrogen. They are taking the wind that will blow at night to generate electricity that will convert to the clean energy that is green hydrogen.It is not the conversion of a gas; it is the use of a process of electrolysis that will generate hydrogen and you store that. It is not entirely efficient either. There is a loss of 20% to 30% when you convert energy from electricity to hydrogen and the loss of energy is not what we want. It will play a significant part in our energy mix because it can be stored and electricity can be generated from it by burning it at a later stage and it can be used for the greening of heavy goods vehicles into the future, which is important. With the best will in the world, in bus technology or in heavy goods vehicles it is unlikely that we will be able to get battery technology to a point that will move our goods around Europe. Hopefully hydrogen will play a part in that, which is to be welcomed.
Ireland has become good at wind, although it is not entirely popular. I noticed in Senator Keogan's motion, which is well intended, that it was mentioned that we should be prepared to look at something we might not have looked at in the past and we should do so. We should also look at what would be acceptable to the people we represent. I come from a constituency where, in the minds of people, there is a proliferation of wind turbines. I would hate to be going to a public meeting and to have to suggest to them that we would put in a small nuclear reactor to generate electricity. It would be a tough one to have to suggest. Notwithstanding the science or the safety aspect of it, there are people who, for their own reasons, believe that shadow flicker or noise from a turbine have an impact on their health and I am not disputing that. The science does not back that up but there are people who feel it has an impact on their capacity to enjoy the surrounds of their homes. It would be a challenge to get through planning for a nuclear reactor and we would bogged down forever. While the science might be right, the propensity for objections and the way our planning laws are constructed means it would not solve our immediate problem, that has largely been caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
LNG may have to form part of the mix in the short term. I would not rule it out and I would not be against the principle of LNG, but only in certain places in a broader grid where you are pumping gas into the network. If there has to be floating storage, I am against LNG in the Shannon Estuary and I will remain against it. If you invest significantly in infrastructure the investors will want to see that amortised over a long period of time and you become captured by that technology. The principle of using it in the short term to deal with the crisis we have is fine and I would go along with the idea. There are a number of floating technologies around the world that may have to be drafted in during this emergency situation, but not in the long term. I welcome the debate and it is healthy to have it.
This is a good debate to have. A number of months ago I stood up in this House and said we should have a debate and discussion about the use of nuclear energy and in my political outlook, having a debate on what could be perceived as contentious issues is the best way to resolve them. It is only when you challenge arguments, have debates and have opposing views against one another that you can really test out your opinion to see if it is correct or not.
That is the logic I apply to all of my political outlook and to most of the decisions I make within politics and I did that with nuclear energy. I had a number of meetings with people who are pro-nuclear energy, I met the pro-nuclear energy people when I was at COP26 in Glasgow and then I brought it up in the Seanad. I listened to what the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, had to say on it and I listened to what the Minister had to say about it today. I have changed my view on it somewhat, based on being able to listen to the arguments of both sides. That is not to say that people who propose nuclear energy have a certain view or anything but as the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan said, it is not the magic bullet. It is not something that will be able to resolve the situation and it will not help us to get to 70% or 80% renewables by 2030 at the expense of wind or solar energy. When I look at the motion, one of the points that is made is that "the average nuclear reactor produces 1 gigawatt (GW) of electricity; based on the capacity factors listed above, 431 wind turbines are required to generate the same level of energy". I guarantee that you would be able to build 431 wind turbines quicker than a small nuclear reactor. Senator Dooley mentioned the difficulties that would be involved. Can Senator Keogan imagine if someone came along and said they wanted to build a nuclear reactor in Duleek? I do not mean that in a-----
That is a fair point. It is easy to come along and discuss an issue and it is great that we are doing this but it is different to then get up and champion that issue in front of a local community that may be completely against it. We have seen that with wind and solar energy and fair play to an individual if he or she is willing to stand up in the Seanad to say we need nuclear energy and then champion a nuclear reactor in their local community. I am being honest in saying I would not have the ability to do that.
Senator Keogan is right-----
Yes. I tried to think of a witty response to that but I have failed on this occasion. More power to you and fair play if you are willing to make the right decision, as Senator Keogan mentioned, to say that this is the right thing for us to do. It may be a good idea or the right thing to do but it will not get us there any quicker than renewable energy will. If this was a magic bullet that would get us there quicker I would be all for it. I would say let us go and do it, let us have the debate in those communities, let us champion this idea, let us sell it to the public and let us bring the public with us and say that nuclear energy is the way we need to go. The Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, has just said that it would take a long time to get something like that up and running in Ireland, even if the entire country was for it. It would take so long to build it, get it into the grid and get it working to be able to serve our system that it is not feasible at any stage because we are so far behind on the debate. I am using myself as an example, where six months ago I said we should be having the debate about it. What Senators Keogan and Mullen have said about it is legitimate and what the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, was good and that is the debate that should be had in public because the point is that we should have the debate. I have had the debate in this Chamber myself and I am willing to say that I have changed my views on it. I have tried to make some useful points on it.
The Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, made another point and I had a conversation about this earlier with a friend who used to work in these Houses and who now works in policy in the European Union. He mentioned REPowerEU, which is a plan to rapidly reduce dependence on Russian fossil fuels. That plan acknowledges the situation we have on the European Continent and it will dramatically fast forward and supercharge the transition, which we will do in a number of ways. The two things I want to focus on are what we will do with EU solar energy and the solar rooftop initiative. I think this is great and I will pick out a small thing. In the solar rooftop initiative, the EU will say that every public building must, by obligation, have a solar panel on its roof and this will be a requirement of the planning processes. This will not be an option or a decision when these buildings are being built. It is through small measures like that we will reduce our dependency on Russian oil and gas, it will increase our ability in renewable energy and it will help us to get to those targets by 2030 and further on.
This debate has been a good one to have, I appreciate Senators Mullen and Keogan for bringing it to the floor because the essence of this Chamber is when we are able to debate issues. Nuclear energy is not the silver bullet and it will not help us to get there any way quicker. We all want to get to the same place, whether we are on the political left, right or centre in this country. We all agree that climate change is an issue and that it is the biggest issue facing this generation and the world. We all agree on that and we all agree that we have to do something to stop it and to stop the temperature of the world rising. However, nuclear energy is not the magic bullet for that and it will not help us to reach our targets any quicker. For that reason I cannot support this motion but I can support the Government amendment.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Feighan. I commend my colleagues in the Independent Group for tabling this motion. All debate on this matter has to be good. I also commend them on their tenor and tone and the constructive way they are approaching this debate. They are bringing it into the heart of the democratic system and they have every right to be heard. It is a good day for the journey as we strive towards energy security and independence to have these debates and to highlight issues. We do not have to agree, and this is one on which I do not agree with them. However, they are clearly setting out on their journey with this motion in a genuine way, with their preparation done and with every best intent. Nobody has a monopoly on the truth of what is the best journey, but my humble opinion is that their route is not the best one. There are other alternative options, which I will outline, to the route they are putting forward with affirmation in tabling this motion. These time slots for Private Members' motions are precious so I commend them on prioritising their concern for energy security and the other related matters. They have given up their time on this and they should be commended on that.
With regard to the way they would like people to travel, there is a less dangerous way of getting there. I am thinking of both the disposal at the end, the decommissioning stage, and also of the war in Ukraine where Chernobyl came back into the picture. The way I propose to travel is not open to the cataclysmic atrocities which could visit us. I also believe, with the utmost respect, that their journey is extravagant. There is a more efficient way of arriving at the destination we all would like to reach. It is extravagant in both the expense of the construction, which would take a long time, and in the expense of the disposal and the decommissioning. The scale for Ireland does not represent good value, leaving aside other issues, for where the Senators wish to travel. Yes, if one wishes to travel from Ballina to Castlebar, one could do it theoretically on a Boeing 747. There are some advantages. It is faster and, in many respects, it is reliable. I say Ballina to Castlebar tongue in cheek and I am not suggesting we bring back-----
Well, Monsignor Horan started Knock, so anything is possible.
However, the scale of Ireland, as the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan said, does not suit what the Senators envisage for Ireland. As a member of the Green Party, I have attended many conferences over the years and I recall what Senator Mullen said, which is to keep all options open. Nobody has a monopoly on truth to dismiss disrespectfully other alternative options, but the motion, which the Senators put much thought into, is absent many of the other options.
I welcome the fact that it is not morally bankrupt by suggesting Ireland can take a holiday. That argument has long since been over. We have a moral duty to rise to the challenge. Our global emissions per capitaare bigger than those of China. As I have said in this Chamber on a number of occasions previously, Malawi, which has a population of 20 million, has emissions of 0.11 tonnes per person while Ireland's are 8.32 tonnes. Ireland's carbon emissions are equal to those of 400 million of the world's poorest population. It goes without saying that we should always put it on the record that we should never take the road of the morally bankrupt option and I am delighted that the Senators have not done that.
However, they have failed to mention the circular economy in the motion. I realise the motion is not an exhaustive list so I am not saying this in a judgmental or critical way, but offering it as an observation. One might ask what the circular economy has to do with climate change. It has a lot to do with it. It was best articulated in the words of Ms Angela Ruttledge recently, who is campaign lead for Sick of Plastic and co-owner of two Dublin restaurants. She said:
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates climate action efforts such as moving to renewables and greater efficiency [which this motion is all about] can only address 55 per cent of emissions. The remaining human-caused greenhouse gases come from "making stuff".
The Government has proposed legislation on the circular economy to go through the Houses, and I am delighted that it is being driven by the Green Party. Simply put, the circular economy is about making stuff last and not packaging stuff that can be used just once. I know I am out of time, but a quotation from Arthur Miller in Death of a Salesmancomes to mind. He lamented built-in obsolescence when he wrote Death of a Salesman. I am probably taking the quote slightly out of context, but I like it:
I've got to get some seeds, right away. Nothing's planted. I don't have a thing in the ground.
The motion, although it is well-intended, does not have a thing in the ground. I wish I had much more time to address it, but I genuinely commend the Senators on putting this centre stage in their Private Members' time. Although we agree to disagree, it is a good day when there is such prioritisation of the energy challenges we all face and the destination we want to reach together. I just disagree with the journey. I would like to be a passenger on the bus the Senators are driving because I believe there is a more efficient way of getting there. We will agree to disagree on that.
I also welcome this debate on energy. The Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, has eloquently outlined why nuclear energy is not appropriate to Ireland, even if one agrees with the technology as a runner. Ireland is not a suitable country for nuclear energy.
I support our ambition of reaching 80% renewable energy by 2030. It makes sense for Ireland. We have a huge resource, particularly in offshore wind and green hydrogen, and that is the route we should take. Today, I will outline some of my concerns about the intricacies of how we get to the 80% target by 2030, and things that have been highlighted to me through meeting with stakeholders and communities and also through the very good collective work the climate action committee has been doing on energy. I believe that if we can manage to achieve 80% renewable energy, we can have energy independence and energy security as well as tackle climate change.
The first issue of concern is the cost of renewables. We have to bring down the cost of renewables if we are to have a green hydrogen strategy that can compete on the international stage. Germany is currently looking for partners to enter with it into a green hydrogen strategy. It is looking at north Africa because it is producing solar power and producing it cheaper. Ireland has one of the highest costs for renewable energy in the EU so we have to be able to examine why that is the case. I have talked to stakeholders and they point to a number of issues that could be addressed, such as the delays in the planning system. It is not bypassing people engaging in the planning process because that is part of democracy but having set timelines, properly resourcing An Bord Pleanála and properly resourcing the environmental NGOs to make submissions on planning applications. They also point to grid connection costs and the fact that they pay higher commercial rates than fossil fuel power plants.
One of the calls from the stakeholders is eminently sensible.It is something Sinn Féin has repeatedly called for, which is a cross-departmental stakeholder forum that would identify the policy changes needed to reduce the cost of renewables. The renewable electricity support scheme, RESS, 2 results were supposed to be released earlier this week. I understand they are going to come out tomorrow. They will show that the cost of renewables has not decreased. In fact, it has increased. In March I asked Mr. Mark Foley of Eirgrid about this. I asked whether there was concern that RESS 2 would see an increase in renewable energy costs. He told me he has no doubt the market will ultimately deliver significant reductions in the cost of renewable energy. We will not see this. It is very concerning. I echo the calls to establish the cross-departmental stakeholder forum without delay to make sure we have the policy changes and that we have a green hydrogen strategy that will be able to compete on the international stage.
The next matter I will speak about is demand reduction. The Government's amendment does not make reference to data centres despite the fact they accounted for 73% of the increase in the consumption of electricity in the period from 2015 to 2020. We have to address this elephant in the room. We are an outlier in Europe and the world when it comes to the number of data centres we have. There are also other areas in demand reduction. The demand reduction strategy is due to lapse. It was designed in 2011. So far, the Department and the Minister have had no meetings with stakeholders on the new demand reduction strategy. This is very concerning because the climate action plan states demand flexibility will make up 30% of the reductions by 2030.
Another area of concern is the democratising of the energy system and smart meters. We are told they will play a critical part in reducing demand. The smart meters we got in Ireland seem to be just an update of previous meters. They are not doing what smart meters should be doing. We do not have dynamic tariffs. We do not have real-time information for households. Households are unable to actively participate in demand reduction and the decarbonisation of the grid.
It is the same with rooftop solar planning. Private Members' time has been used to discuss the guidelines and exemptions from planning permission for rooftop solar. We were told we would get interim guidelines and the concern was about glaring glint at airports. However, Dublin Airport has put in for its own solar farm, Schiphol Airport has a solar farm and, even more interestingly, Belfast City Airport has a solar farm. Not only does it have a solar farm beside the airport but because it is allowed to have direct lines, which we are not allowed to have because of the Electricity Regulation Act, Belfast City Airport gets 25% of its electricity from its own solar farm. I could go on discussing such issues.
I absolutely support the 80% target. I absolutely support the direction we are taking on renewables. We can have secure energy through renewables. However, there are concerns about how we will reach the target. This is where I would like the focus. I echo the call to make sure microgeneration addresses inequality. If the PSO levy will be used to fund people generating their own electricity, those who will not be able to participate should not be footing the bill. We need a redesign of the PSO levy. We also need the grid's software to be upgraded so that it recognises multi-hour and multi-day energy storage. In Britain, energy storage batteries are displacing gas-fired power generators whereas the grid in Ireland does not recognise them. We are introducing temporary gas-fired power generators to meet our demand.
These are my concerns. I support the direction we are going with renewables and I support the targets but I cannot support the amendment or the motion.
I welcome the Minister of State. I thank Senators Keogan and Mullen for the motion. As others have said, it is very timely. It is important that we talk through all of the options for our energy security. As others have also said, the existing energy crisis shines a light on our dependence on other countries. When we had fuel crises 1968 and 1973, nuclear energy was very much on the agenda for the Government of the day. Thankfully, it was taken off the agenda. This is the context in which we are having the debate again. I find it very difficult to support any proposal for nuclear energy particularly because of the waste storage issue. This is not an insignificant issue. In the United States, there are 90,000 tonnes of high-level nuclear waste with no long-term waste storage solution. We can take a short-term view that nuclear may be able to fill a gap or allow us to find an alternative source of energy supply but what will happen in the longer term? In this context, nuclear energy is not in any way acceptable.
The biggest objection to nuclear energy is not necessarily storage but the timing. An IPCC report in April stated we have less than ten years to make the changes necessary. Yesterday, the World Meteorological Organization published a report on the very dramatic changes that are already happening to our climate. How does nuclear energy fit in with that? Frankly, it does not. We are told there are no commercially available suitably-sized small nuclear reactors on the market and there is no chance of them being on the market until 2030. We know there is a big issue with the availability of uranium, which is necessary for nuclear reactors. Sufficient supplies will not come on stream until 2040. These are complicating factors. We have had various estimates that the earliest we could have a nuclear plant, however small in size, is 17 years away. This is simply too long a period of time. There is no conceivable scenario whereby nuclear energy could make a contribution towards reducing our carbon emissions in this country and become a realistic alternative to the energy supply we have or that we must import.
Attention must be on where our resources and our political and technical energies are already committed and how we accelerate this process. I very much share the concern expressed in the motion about the failure to meet targets, but it is not sufficient reason to change course. We need to look at the targets. We know Ireland has been extremely slow at building wind infrastructure. We know the planning system have been a source of difficulty. We need to look seriously at the wind energy proposals for Dublin Bay. We may not like them from an aesthetic perspective but in terms of our energy security we need to take the proposals very seriously.
Ireland is one of the few countries that does not have a green hydrogen strategy. The Minister stated that we will have one at the end of the year, It is worth saying that we have been extremely slow in developing it. Developing a strategy is one thing, implementing it is an entirely different matter. We need to get our skates on in this regard. Wind Energy Ireland estimates we have capacity to generate 70 GW around the island of Ireland, whereas the ambition to 2030 is for approximately 30 GW. There is a gap between what Ireland can produce through wind energy and the Government's targets.
We are very focused on energy supply today but I want to say something about energy consumption. There are two parts to the equation. The national retrofitting scheme is welcome but we need to look at the shortcomings to ensure people consume less energy, or consume less carbon-intensive type of energy in their households.I have a significant difficulty regarding how the national retrofitting scheme relies, effectively, so much on private households having to step up to the mark. The numbers entitled to the fuel allowance are small. It is also only that category of people who are entitled to avail of the better energy warmer homes scheme. We must do much better for that broader cohort of low- and middle-income households that simply cannot afford to reduce their energy consumption or to ensure they have a better mix of energy sources, whether that involves solar power or otherwise. I say that because, ultimately, this is a crisis. We must see climate action as a public good, like health or education, and the State’s resources must be applied on the same scale in undertaking this endeavour.
I welcome this debate initiated by Senator Keogan. It is thought-provoking and there is great detail in the text of the motion. There is enough material contained within it for three or four different motions, but the motion is certainly worthy of debate anyway. The Government has proposed an amendment to the motion that also highlights several other important and concerning points in this context, including that we import more than 70% of the energy we use. This compares to the EU figure of 60%. That in itself is rather high, considering the present situation and the uncertainty of energy imports. I refer to the impact, so far, of the illegal invasion of Ukraine and possible future implications. Oil and gas energy sources represent about 80% of Ireland’s primary energy requirement, while renewable energy sources currently account for 13% of that requirement. Self-evidently, all political parties have been advocating for that percentage of renewable energy sources to increase over time.
I always feel people say they are in favour of an increased use of renewable energy sources, but that the situation may be different when it comes down to applications that are made to locate such facilities in communities, whether for an onshore facility or an offshore installation. We have not had many of the latter projects initiated yet, but I hear rumblings already in areas about that aspect. Equally, I heard concerns expressed on local radio recently regarding a biomethane plant. We do not have solar farms here, but concerns were expressed on the "Countryfile" programme in a UK context regarding the type of land being used there for solar farms. These are genuine issues that exercise people when applications are made. This aspect should not be treated lightly, because it is going to become more common and prevalent. There is always a reason to be found regarding why something should not be done, why there should not be change, why the landscape should not change, why a risk should not be taken or why other locations would be better. This is a real concern and an aspect we must tackle. We must get real regarding the delivery of these renewable energy sources. I am not so sure about the use of nuclear energy. I am not qualified to speak on this topic. Several of my constituents have advocated for us to at least have a debate on this technology. I refer to small modular nuclear reactors. I am told they are the size of shipping containers, or something like that, and that they can be used in different locations. Again, I am not qualified to speak on this matter. Everything is worthy of debate, but the Government has decided there will be no change in the policy in this area.
Regarding the Government’s plans, I agree with the stance that the carbon tax is not the cause of the current energy price inflation. This is important. The issue has been conflated with the increase in wholesale oil prices because of uncertainty and the war. Obviously, we have listened. There is a high level of tax on the use of fuel, but those tax revenues are used to provide a range of public services in every constituency. This is also important. Therefore, the Government, if it was so minded, could reduce the level of tax on fuel. It would then, however, have to make up those lost revenues somewhere else to enable delivery of the same level of services as are currently provided.
Turning to the issue of turf, this subject has also raised concerns lately. Again, I agree with considering a ban on smoky coal. This was explored in the past, but such a measure was not implemented for reasons that are clear. The principal reason was that there was no easy or clear process regarding how it could be done. The current Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, is examining how smoky coal can be banned and how the sale of turf, or "sod peat" as they say in certain areas, can be looked at. The current proposals, however, which we have not seen written down, but that have been in the ether and in the mix, are causing concern. We thank the Minister for meeting us as a parliamentary party in this regard. There may be many untruths and mistruths regarding the proposals. I have tried to clarify the position as best I can, based not on having information in front of me but from what I know of this proposal.
However, concerns have been expressed about plans to limit sales on a population basis in the context of not having the requisite data on who exactly is burning turf, their age profile, their economic ability to consider alternatives and what those alternatives are. In regard to telling people burning turf now that they cannot burn it from 1 September 2022, what are the alternatives for people? One is to burn coal, which may not be suitable in other areas. Therefore, we must examine targeting people in that situation with retrofit schemes. A targeted scheme was established in 2012 for a specific cohort of people with lung and bronchitis issues. Therefore, options exist in respect of limiting the impact stemming from this proposal by providing alternatives for those who currently burn turf. I refer to providing deep retrofitting and all those kinds of measures. It will take time to do that, however, and I urge caution regarding whatever plans are being put in place. We must ensure they are fair and enforceable.
I thank Senators Keogan, Mullen and McDowell for bringing this motion forward. To be honest, having looked through the text of motion, it seems to be a collection of things and I am unsure why they have all been put together. I refer to aspects such as turf, data centres, LNG and nuclear power. I will discuss the issue of nuclear power specifically, but this seems to be a collection of controversial issues that have all been put into one motion. While I appreciate having a discussion on nuclear power, because I think it is of interest to people, I do not think it was helpful to join all these things together. I say that because this is a serious topic. No data centres have been connected to the grid for two years. The Minister has already outlined this aspect and representatives from EirGrid have been in to discuss this situation. It is a concern for people because a legacy exists in this regard. For two years now, however, we have not had a data centre connected to the grid, and we now have a strategy where companies have to bring with them some benefits for Ireland and to offset some of the energy used and to make it more sustainable. Therefore, it is extremely important to communicate the facts in this respect.
Some 18 months ago, no one would have thought that floating offshore wind facilities would have been a reality. It would have been seen as a pie-in-the-sky approach. That was what the representatives of the energy industry were saying then, because it was so untested. Now, though, this is the technology we are investing in. It is the same with green hydrogen. Not that long ago, people would have said this was a power source of concern only to academics, but it is now a genuine possibility. A solid group is working on this technology in Galway. It involves representatives from the Port of Galway, CIÉ, EirGrid and SSE Renewables and the National University of Ireland Galway, NUIG, working together on a hydrogen hub. It would allow one of the most successful wind farms in the country, the Galway wind farm, to use its excess energy by putting it into producing green hydrogen. We could then start to power our buses and our ferries in Galway and be innovative in how we use that green hydrogen power source.
There are many such innovations and this is why it is important to have conversations around the topic energy. I completely understand this perspective. There is also a point, though, at which governments must decide on things and what to invest in. In this context, the generation of nuclear energy is prohibited. I see from the Senators' motion that they wish to change this policy. The Government, however, does not have plans to revisit this ban and this is appropriate for all the reasons outlined by the Minister.It is far too expensive. It is wrong for Ireland's size. Huge planning implications have been outlined by others. It is hard enough to get something over the line when it comes to renewables which do not have that impact. People worry about nuclear power. It makes no sense. It is not only the building of the infrastructure but producing energy from it is four times more expensive. I do not buy the argument that it should be open-ended, indefinitely. We need to make decisions as a country and for the sake of the industry. We need to be really clear that Ireland wants to invest, and wants investors to invest in renewable energy. That is where our focus is. It is completely right and proper that we say that we have no plans to revisit the ban on nuclear power. We also introduced a ban on the exploration and extraction offshore oil and gas and there are no plans to revisit this ban, which is also mentioned in the motion.
In regard to liquefied natural gas, LNG, the programme for Government and the recent policy statement include a clear statement on LNG and the importation of fracked gas. Ireland does not support LNG or LNG infrastructure, and does not support the importation of fracked gas. This is not open for redebate.
The proposed regulations on solid fuel will prohibit the sale of smoky fuels throughout Ireland in response to the serious impacts on air quality and people’s health that arise from smoky fuel. There will be no change to turbary rights. Those who have turbary rights will not be impacted by these regulations. It is the responsibility of honest, decent politicians not to cause fear among people about this. There has been some fear, so I want to be really clear. We need to do whatever needs to be done to protect people. However, we also need to protect those who are dying. Literally thousands of people have died while governments and past Ministers have refused to take the necessary steps. I want to be clear about that. It is my obligation to say that and put that on record. That does not take away from the fact that a great deal of work has been put into this motion. However, I would argue that if we really want to be brave and think outside the box, we should look at all the other innovations. Let us look at all the things that are now possible but were not possible 18 months ago. Nuclear and many of the things mentioned in this motion are long in the past and they are almost prehistoric in terms of energy innovations we are seeing. I will support the Government's countermotion and vote in favour of it.
I want to touch on one area mentioned in the motion, which, naturally enough, is turbary rights and turf. I come from Longford where we had Lough Ree power station and Mount Dillon, which supplied the power station at Shannonbridge. Objections to planning permission for an extension of that caused both of those stations to close and, indeed, the turf production that was supplying them. As a locality, we bought into the just transition. This was due to close down in 2027 and that was accepted by the people. We were working towards that. However, the objections brought everything forward, namely, the closure of the two plants and the closure of Mount Dillon works.
I do not think the proposals recently put forward by the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, are acceptable. Approximately 4% of the population burn turf as fuel to heat their water and their homes but in the midlands that figure is more than 20%. Significant funding has been put aside by the Government, with more put forward by the Green Party, to retrofit homes. This is extremely welcome but the reality on the ground is – I know this from my own county of Longford – that there is at least a two-year waiting list for people in Longford for warmer homes scheme. They are the people who are in energy poverty and on the fuel allowance. It is my strong view that we cannot bring in changes that will stop people using turf as a fuel for heating their water and their houses.
One of the proposals put forward was to have a limit on the size of town in which turf could be purchased. For example, and the Minister will be well aware of this, Lanesborough has a population of approximately 1,000 people. Lanesborough is where the Mount Dillon works, which was closed down, is based. It is surrounded by bogland but it is a town in which people would not be able to buy turf while those in Ballyleague, which lies about 150 m across the River Shannon, would be able to do so. This needs to be revisited.
The people in my area of the midlands have bought into just transition. We have not seen jobs on the ground that were meant to come with the just transition because of it being brought forward by six years due to the closures. That should be considered in the context of any changes that are going to be made. I accept changes have to be made but they should not be made until 2027.
There is such a cocktail of things here it is hard to know which to choose. It is as though somebody had a lot of random thoughts about all things energy in Ireland and threw them down in a motion. I will go through a few of them. The motion states that to meet our demands for energy and the targets set out in the carbon budgets, Ireland needs to generate more electricity while also reducing carbon emissions. That is right. That leaves no room for debate, as nobody is saying otherwise. It states that while the Climate Action Plan 2021 does not list individual targets for each sector, it details emissions reductions that are needed for each sector of the economy. Sectorial targets are being worked on as we speak, so I am not sure why that is there. It states that Ireland is very heavily reliant on fossil fuels and that approximately 85% of Ireland's energy needs come from fossil fuels. I have no idea where that figure came from as about half of our energy needs come from sustainable and renewable energy sources. I wonder where some of these figures come from.
The motion states that 70% of Ireland's electricity is supposed to come from renewables by 2030 and it is expected that most of Ireland's energy will come from onshore and offshore wind fields as well as solar energy. That is a good thing. We also hope that 30% of that will be community-owned energy which would be really positive. It states that data centres currently consume up to 11% of Ireland’s electricity. I love this one. According to the EPA, if you look at our energy and carbon emissions, 37% is from agriculture, 20% is from transport, 12% is from buildings, 15% is from energy and of that 15%, 14% is from data centres which brings it down to 2.12%. On this freaking out about data centres being the cause of all the carbon emissions, somebody needs to have a maths class on the basics of percentages and how they work because it is not true. If it was true, I would be the first to object to data centres. I will argue with anybody on facts.
There is the whole nuclear thing. I thought that was a joke. I would invite Senator Keogan to Sellafield to meet the families who I met when I went over there. She should listen to their stories about children with Down's syndrome, one pregnancy in four ending in miscarriage, birth defects and mental health issues. She should visit Sellafield with me, meet the people who live there and look at the sea. All you will see there are dead animals. You will see nobody at the beach but in the local hall, you will see a historical gallery of how the beach used to be before the Sellafield plant was built.
She should visit the health board in County Louth and look at its statistics and figures. There are issues along the estuary there because of nuclear waste. I see the Senator is writing but I hope she is listening as well because this is too serious an issue to be messing around with.
I do not know if Senator Keogan remembers Carnsore Point. was not even born when it was an issue but to bring up nuclear energy again is just very dangerous. We have not figured out nuclear waste. It is being dumped into the Irish Sea. That last thing we need is to dump it into our sea ourselves. It is bad enough that it is happening in Sellafield and we cannot do anything about it.
My colleagues and I shut down Sellafield for a day because we did proper research and properly informed ourselves on nuclear waste management. It is not happening. It is still being dumped all over eastern Europe. If nuclear waste is not a bad thing, why are they not dumping it in their own country? Show me a nuclear power plant that is being dealt with properly and is dealing with nuclear waste and then we will have a proper discussion on nuclear energy. Until then, it is dangerous to be toying with the notion.
It is important we focus on real facts and issues so that, as a House, we can come together with solutions because we all agree that have a climate emergency and an energy emergency. Let us focus on getting things done as opposed to throwing random muck that should not even be there.
I mention the issue of turf.Nothing has been set in stone about how we will deal with turf, but we need to deal with it. It is officially a smoky fuel, unfortunately. We all want smoky coal to be banned. We cannot legally ban it without looking at the commercial selling of smoky turf as well. That is the only reason it is there. Do Senators think our thing is to sit around going "Let's mess with the old people of rural Ireland and make sure they can never burn turf again"? Nobody has that thought. The big thing is we have air pollution issues and huge public health issues around smoky coal. We saw over 350 lives saved per year in Dublin because they have the ban since the 1990s. We need it nationwide.
We need Senators to come to the table with the brilliant solutions they have to offer alternatives to turf and not to simplify it in a populist way to suggest we want to lock away all the poor grannies of rural Ireland and that everybody in rural Ireland is reliant on turf. I live in rural Ireland and we save a bit of turf but neither I nor any of my neighbours is completely reliant on turf. I do not believe that 20% of the population of the midlands is reliant on turf solely to heat their houses. It is an insult to the people of the midlands.
Most houses have immersions since the 1970s or 1980s so it paints a funny picture of midlands residents sitting around with turf as the only way of heating their homes. I do not believe it is 20% and, if it is, we need to find solutions because, unfortunately, we cannot continue burning turf forever. Those plants were closed down not by the Government but by Bord na Móna.
It chose to shut down those plants-----
Based on EU planning laws, it chose to shut them down. If we are to have a debate on energy, climate and fuels, which are important, let us look at solutions. We need to move away from burning turf in the long term. We are not against people cutting turf. I will be cutting turf this summer and next summer because I know the Green Party never said one could not do so. Let us talk truth and facts and have a proper debate in this House. I am sick of the twisting and the populist notion that the Greens want to ruin rural Ireland when I live in rural Ireland and am in the Green Party because it has the best policies for rural Ireland. However, it is hard to get the truth out with all the populist rhetoric that goes on here.
I thank the majority of my colleagues for engaging with my motion and the respectful debate we had until our last speaker. I did not consider my motion to be "muck", and no Senator who puts down a motion should have it so described. It is disrespectful. We have to think past this Government because there is no doubt we are here to legislate for the now. There are people who will not be in government next time, and that may be because of their policies.
This motion was about securing our energy and our future. It takes great leadership to effect change. It is not easy to get up and talk about the possibility of nuclear energy in the future but we must be prepared to have those conversations. Our ask today was to amend section 18 of the Electricity Regulation Act 1999 in order that EirGrid could use electricity generated from nuclear fission. Will we have to wait another 23 years to look at it again? Is that the way things will be? We do not ask the Government to construct a nuclear power plant starting tomorrow. We ask it to look into it and for legislation to be put in place to allow flexibility in tackling the issue of our energy security.
I am not against hydrogen. The Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, spoke today about the hydrogen future. That will be the cool kid on the block for the next number of years but nuclear will progress in that time too. Let us not rubbish the idea of nuclear energy going forward. Interconnectors are good but in the event of an Irish shortfall, they make us reliant on the grids of other countries, which we have no control over. If something happens in the UK, France or Norway, we are goosed. The supplies we have are under significant strain following the war in Ukraine. Brexit also threatens Ireland's energy security and ability to provide energy. I believe the Government has overpromised on green policies. I do not believe we will be able to guarantee Ireland's energy security based on the plans it has.
Wind energy, on which Ireland depends, requires back-up of energy supply. The difference between nuclear and wind is that the former would produce far more energy. Nuclear is not the stuff of the past. It has been developing alongside the likes of green hydrogen and turbines. It would not make sense for that not to be the case. There is investment and progress in all areas, and that is to be welcomed. That is particularly so in the area of waste. Nuclear waste is not glowing green barrels. It is spent fuel and cooling rods which can be disposed of in fast-burning reactors.
There are many reasons for which we wanted to put this discussion on the table for the future. We should not rule anything out. Our citizens demand that. Energy costs are rising. Nuclear is much less expensive than the forms of energy we are producing and plan to produce.
I thank my colleagues and the Chair, and I thank the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and the Minister of State, Deputy Feighan, for coming in. I will pass on to Senator Mullen to finish up.