Seanad debates

Tuesday, 21 November 2023

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Renewable Energy Generation

1:00 pm

Photo of Niall BlaneyNiall Blaney (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I raise this matter and call on the Government and European Union to act swiftly to deal with the dumping of electricity generated by renewable sources, particularly in rural areas. I can speak only in real terms of County Donegal. The situation there, as I know it, is that most of the energy produced by the wind farms and hydro station is currently dumped and wasted. In the current climate, with the price people are paying for electricity, it is not good enough. I have with me the EirGrid implementation plan for 2023 to 2028. It is not fit for purpose for the western seaboard or places like County Donegal. The north, north west and west are the points with the greatest ability to create that energy into the future but we are not planning for it. Our network is not fit for purpose.

What plans are there, over and above what is in the plan, to move this issue on and to ensure that when we develop offshore wind, the network is fit for purpose? Someone needs to drive this at European level. The European Union should be driving on, considering what we have gone through since the war in Ukraine. Current technology should be used to join up all member states to ensure we can buy and sell electricity to each country as needed. What I see in front of me does not give any answers or conclusions as to when County Donegal will have the network required. Currently, we dump between 21 and 22 hours of our resources out of 24 hours per day. That is an awful indictment and an awful waste. Donegal is one of the biggest contributors in renewable energy yet we are dumping it. It is not good enough. I want to hear solutions and the plan for what will be done. There must be some way of putting it into the network because we cannot afford to let what is happening go on.

Photo of Ossian SmythOssian Smyth (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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I thank Senator Blaney for asking this question. The Climate Action Plan 2023 sets out a roadmap for taking decisive action to halve our greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and to reach net zero not later than 2050.To halve our emissions and set ourselves on the road to net zero, we have to deliver, and accelerate where possible, the renewable electricity targets set in the Climate Action Plan 2023. These targets include 80% of electricity demand being met from renewable energy by 2030. Accelerating the delivery of actions in the electricity sector will be key to meeting the climate targets and staying within our sectoral emissions ceiling.

Meeting projected demand by 2030 will require enabling various forms of renewable electricity. As such, we have set targets to be met. These include 9 GW of onshore wind, 8 GW of solar and at least 5 GW of offshore wind. To deliver the generation assets required and the ability to meet the expected increase in demand, we must also deliver a heretofore unprecedented amount of national electricity grid infrastructure.

The Commission for Regulation of Utilities, CRU, is the independent regulator. It is accountable to a committee of the Oireachtas and not to me as Minister of State. It has been assigned responsibility for the regulation of the electricity market and this includes supervision of electricity system operators. System operators Eirgrid and ESB Networks are tasked with building, safely operating and maintaining an electricity system that is fit for purpose.

As Minister of State, I do not have a role in the delivery of electricity grid infrastructure. This is in line with the 2012 Government policy statement on the strategic importance of transmission and other energy infrastructure. This states the Government does not seek to direct EirGrid and ESB Networks or other energy infrastructure developers to particular sites, routes or technologies.

My officials continue to engage with system operators on the future of the electricity system. EirGrid, as transmission system operator, must operate and develop our high voltage transmission network. This network carries wholesale electricity around the country powering some large energy consumers and the distribution network, which, in turn, powers every electricity customer in the country.

Plan-led approaches will play a key role in the future electricity system. In July, EirGrid published version 1.1 of Shaping Our Electricity Future. This provides its updated road map to 2030 for the transmission grid necessary to deliver on the renewable energy targets as set in the Climate Action Plan 2023. To develop a grid that is fit for purpose and can utilise all envisaged types of renewable generation, both onshore and offshore, we must ensure that our future grid has appropriate access to neighbouring electricity markets. This is achieved through interconnection.

The North-South interconnector, which will link the grids North and South, will form part of the backbone of a fit-for-purpose electricity system, helping to ensure energy security and reduce electricity costs. EirGrid is engaging with local affected communities as part of advancing this key project. Separately, the Celtic interconnector will provide a 700 MW link between Ireland and the European internal energy market by connecting Ireland to France. Earlier this month, a delegation from the French Government visited Ireland to mark the start of construction of this key project.

I want to address some of the points Senator Blaney made about Donegal. There was no reference to Donegal the Senator put down, but I am happy to speak about it. Senator Blaney said he believes the vast majority of renewable energy generated in Donegal is being dumped. I am not aware of this. I am happy to look into it. If this is what is happening, it is not right and it should not be the case.

The North-South interconnector in very important. We have had years and years of debate, process and planning but it has now got to the stage where everything is fully consented and construction and development are under way. We are in the construction phase. Senator Blaney knows how important it is that if we have a surplus of electricity available in the North and not available in the South that we can balance between the two grids and have good interconnection between them. We have electricity interconnection to the UK but nowhere else. France is next, and we have plans for three further countries. We have approximately 0.5 GW of interconnection outside of Ireland. We expect that we will have 5 GW, in other words ten times more, by 2033.

Photo of Niall BlaneyNiall Blaney (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State. I get that Donegal was not part of the question but the Minister of State can examine it and check it out. The reason that between 21 and 22 hours of energy is being dumped every day is because we do not have a network to carry it out of the county. One connector with Northern Ireland will not be sufficient for our future needs. The plans in place by various organisations are completely insufficient if we are to develop the capacity that is not only in the Government's current plans but also those for the future.Moreover, there is an opportunity for the country, as part of the EU, to develop an asset for the State using our offshore wind.

As someone from the north west, it is sickening to see that the first offshore wind energy development will be on the east coast, with the west coast treated as an afterthought. That does not matter to some people and all they really care about is reaching our targets, but that is not good enough. Neither is it good enough that we do not have a network.

Will the Minister of State examine the case of Donegal? The Government needs to consider the network nationally. We need a network that is fit for purpose and can look after all of our people across all of the island in future.

Photo of Ossian SmythOssian Smyth (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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I would like to work with the Senator to find out what is happening in terms of renewable electricity generated in Donegal and what quantity is being generated there.

The reason offshore wind is being developed on the east coast before the west coast is twofold: there is a larger population on the east coast and, more importantly, it is easier to put turbines off the east coast because the waters there are shallower. The west coast is windier than the east coast, so there is more potential for generating electricity. It is also more beautiful and has deeper waters. We believe that the technology that will suit the west coast will be floating wind turbines. It is not a commercialised technology yet, although there are pilot projects in Portugal and Scotland. It will be developed in the 2030s. Offshore wind will be developed on the east coast before the west coast.

The Senator is right that we need better internal connections as well as connections to other countries. The North-South interconnector does not cross Donegal. It crosses the Border north-south rather than east-west. We will need increases in the grid. The Senator should read EirGrid’s strategy, Shaping Our Electricity Future, which was published in July, where it relates to Donegal and see whether he is happy with what is included. If he is not, he can revert to me, as I am a Minister of State in the relevant Department.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for his time. It is appreciated. I know how busy he is.