Through a lack of ambition, “the government has created real obstacles to the development of our wind energy infrastructure,” according to Sinn Féin CEO Mary Lou McDonald.
“This is most evident in frustrating bottlenecks in planning applications, under-provisioning of the planning system and sky-high auction prices,” she said at the annual Wind Energy Ireland (WEI) conference in Dublin.
The question needs to be asked why the prices for renewable electricity are so high in Ireland when it has such plentiful wind resources, she said.
At European market auctions, Ireland achieved the highest price at €74 per megawatt hour in both 2020 and 2021, Ms McDonald said. “In no other country has the price exceeded the 70 euro mark. As we speak of being bound by 15-year contracts, this warrants immediate and close government scrutiny.”
If prices stayed high, Ireland would struggle to compete internationally in exports of green hydrogen produced from offshore wind, “as we will essentially have priced ourselves out of the market. That doesn’t make any sense,” she said.
Wind energy could spearhead Ireland’s energy revolution and create energy independence while revitalizing coastal communities and decarbonising the economy. Ireland’s natural wind resource “can and will be a game changer; one that can fuel our country’s rise as one of the world’s leading clean energy centers.”
But the current energy crisis is a warning of what lies ahead for ordinary people if Ireland’s energy production and supply is not secure, she said.
“We cannot hope to fully exploit our wind energy sector or ramp up domestic renewable energy production if planning applications take more than a year to process. The legal standard is 18 weeks; That’s where we need to be,” Ms. McDonald said – while the wind energy planning guidelines promised since 2013 were yet to be finalized.
Sinn Féin was more than willing to work constructively with government, industry and stakeholders to make progress. “A consensus on ambitious goals in wind energy is not an agreement to forego a critical perspective. We will continue to hold this government accountable in a fair and robust manner.”
Within the renewable energy industry and international supply chains, there have been concerns about “the slow pace of policy change in Ireland and the lack of available resources for key government departments, government agencies and other key players in renewable energy development,” said WEI chief executive Noël Cunniffe.
“The technical debate is over. We have the energy, technology and investment to build a fully decarbonized power system by 2035,” he added, although hitting critical 2030 targets, including 5 gigawatts of offshore wind, was key.
He called on Housing Secretary Darragh O’Brien to “direct An Bord Pleanála to give priority to planning applications from renewable energy projects and associated grid infrastructure”. The government also needs to ensure that ABP, the National Parks & Wildlife Service and other key environmental stakeholders have the resources they need to properly process planning applications, he said. All politicians would need to work with EirGrid, ESB Networks and industry to ensure an electricity grid “is strong enough to accommodate the onshore, offshore and floating wind power we need to be net zero by 2035”.
The energy analyst Dr. Hannah Daly of MaREI in UCC said the current energy ‘trilemma’ means energy needed for a sustainable environment; safe and cheap. The related crises were caused by energy-intensive societies and over-reliance on fossil fuels and brought into focus by the Ukraine war.
Wind and power are critical to meeting climate targets, but power demand is likely to increase by 50 to 100 percent as power is the only large-scale way to decarbonize heat and transport, she added.
Meanwhile, German energy giant RWE said on Wednesday it plans to spend up to €1.5 billion in Ireland on major renewable energy projects by 2030.
The company said it is making long-term investments in onshore wind, offshore wind and battery storage projects across Ireland with the aim of growing a renewable energy business across a portfolio of technologies.
The Irish spending is part of a wider €50 billion investment to expand green generation capacity to 50 gigawatts by 2030.
RWE’s largest development project in Ireland at present is the Dublin Array offshore wind project, which is being developed jointly with Saorgus Energy.