Tuesday, 18 February 2014
Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht Debate
In attendance: Deputy Michael Colreavy.
DEPUTY MICHAEL MCCARTHY IN THE CHAIR.
(Please go to Link at top for the complete debate).
We will now consider with our witnesses the generation and use of electricity in Ireland and the potential export of surplus electricity to the United Kingdom. I welcome Mr. Tim Cowhig, chief executive officer, Mr. Kevin O’Donovan, chief development officer, Mr. Peter Harte, chief technology officer, and Mr. Tim Ryan, all of whom are from Element Power. I welcome Mr. Gabriel D’Arcy, chief executive, Mr. John Reilly, Mr. Michael Barry and Mr. Gerry Ryan, head of land and property and group secretary, all of whom represent Bord na Móna, and also Mr. Patrick Swords, Mr. Joseph Caulfield, Mr. Ultan Murphy and Ms Agnes Doolan, who are representing Turn 180. I thank them all for attending. I propose that we hear the opening statements of the witnesses in the order I announced them. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. Patrick Swords: On behalf of Mr. Joseph Caulfield, Mr. Ultan Murphy and Ms Agnes Doolan, I thank the joint committee for the invitation to appear before it. My name is Pat Swords and I am a fellow of the Institution of Chemical Engineers and a chartered environmentalist. I have more than 25 years’ experience in industrial design over a wide range of industrial projects encompassing food, drink, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and power stations. Moreover, I have spent ten years and more travelling to and from central and eastern Europe while helping to bring in the environmental legislation into the new and emerging member states. I have nothing to sell and do not have a dream. However, we seek one thing, and that is what Turn 180 is, namely, to turn around, go back and re-evaluate the situation, particularly within the legal framework in which we operate.
We have at present a recently-appointed expert panel on pylons. Had the evaluation and assessments of that project been done three years ago in the legally required strategic environmental assessment process with the proper stages of public participation, we would not need that expert panel. It would have been done in accordance with the law and the obligation to have public participation and information. A strategic environmental assessment was never completed for the Irish renewable energy programme and no assessment has ever been done for it. It was on this basis, having documented it, that the United Nations Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee in Geneva took the communication in my name against the European Union as a party to the convention. At that stage, Ireland had not ratified the convention and consequently, I was obliged to take the matter against the European Union. The compliance committee ruled that the European Union had broken the terms of the convention with regard to the manner in which it was implementing the national renewable energy action plans. It failed to provide the necessary information to the public, it had failed to ensure the public participation was carried out when all options were open and effective public participation could take place and it had failed to take due account of the public participation in the final decision. Consequently, it has been told to go back and repeat and engage with the public and to do it again. As this is not happening at present, the compliance committee is engaged in compliance proceedings against the European Union at the forthcoming meeting of the parties’ treaty convention in June 2014. There also are ongoing proceedings in the High Court in my name against the Irish State with regard to this matter.
The evidence given by the European Union to the compliance committee basically pointed out it is generally recognised that renewable energy – and wind energy in particular – is better from an environmental perspective than non-renewable sources. The point of it being “generally recognised” is what this comes down to, as no assessments have been carried out at European Union or national level to quantify what actually is going on. In fact, in its opening statement to the compliance committee in Geneva in 2011, the European Union made it clear the Irish public was not entitled to information, other than regarding what was a threat to its environment. In particular, the public most certainly was not entitled to information on cost-effectiveness related to renewable energy. Consequently, this matter led to a further communication, on which I assisted, with our near neighbours, the United Kingdom, which also ruled that its national renewable energy action plan had breached the terms of the convention, had not been assessed properly and had not gone through the stages of public participation with the public. Both countries in which this renewable export programme is being furthered have serious legal failings with regard to information and the public participation process.
As an experienced engineer who has worked on power generation projects and who has seen things work or not work, one keeps saying to oneself that when it comes to providing a reliable economic electricity system such as we have had for generations, all this talk about outstanding natural resources of wind energy is, I am afraid, bunk. It will not work. Experienced engineers are making this point all over the world. Even my own mother, who has no education beyond secondary school and is in her 80s, can figure this out. How is one expected to cook a turkey for Christmas when one is waiting around for the wind to blow in order to have electricity in the oven? That is the bottom line. Consequently, I refer to recent statements to the effect that the Irish renewable energy programme is a no-brainer and that Ireland will save huge amounts in respect of fossil fuels.
[Mr. Patrick Swords:] Let me put it to the committee this way. I do not dispute that €6 billion worth of fossil fuels are imported into this country each year, but less than 20% of that goes on electricity generation. By the time we have invested all that money, which when one clocks it up is rapidly approaching €20 billion, we would be lucky given the massive inefficiencies in our power stations to save €200 million a year. That is a one in 100 year payback. A conventional power station will last 35 years but a wind turbine would be lucky to last half of that.
To return to the unfortunate and recurring theme of lack of accurate information, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland published a report that said there was €300 million of fossil fuel savings. Again and again in its reports it ignores the massive inefficiencies which are occurring in our power generation plants as they opt, like cars stuck in traffic, trying to compensate for the inefficient generation coming on and off the grid instead of running nice and smoothly on the motorways. We have a serious problem with transparency of information. We have no basis for the information. I do not refer to press releases but there is nothing from the scientists and technical people in terms of what is supporting such claims. That is why we must take a 180° turn and go back, develop the information and get it right. There is no panic or rush.
My first question is for Element Power. Reference was made to a lot of land lease options that have already been made in regard to its proposals. One is with the semi-State agency, Coillte. Could someone expand on the extent of the land lease options? It was also stated that 1,000 options exist with farming families. Could some information be provided in that regard? Are the arrangements ready to go, subject to planning applications being made?
Element Power also referred to local community dividend. I hear opposing views on the matter. There is much controversy in the public domain and opposition has been voiced at public meetings. How successful is the company in promoting local community dividends? Does the company have the support of any community groups?
Element Power also mentioned that no overhead lines are associated with its projects. I find that hard to believe. Is it proposed to underground all the lines from generation, transmission, distribution and for the connection with the grid? I would like some clarification in that regard.
Mr. Kevin O’Donovan: Typically, when a wind farm development is being considered the first stage is to look at suitable areas and identify them for wind development. That process involved looking at areas that are environmentally designated and carrying out a detailed analysis to identify regions that could be suitable for development. As part of that one has to meet landowners and see if they are interested in considering wind development projects. Agreements would be made with landlords to investigate the development of wind farms on their lands. We have option agreements in place with private landowners and with Coillte as well. Coillte lands have been used quite a lot for wind development already in other parts of the country. We are at the stage now of assessing those lands where we have agreements with the landowners to determine if the sites are suitable.
In terms of the local community dividend and community groups supporting the project, we have an office set up in Tullamore with a team which specialises in going out and meeting local community groups. We have published thousands of newsletters. We have a website and a lo-call phone number. The idea is to get feedback from the community in terms of reaction to the project. A range of reactions have been received to date. We found engaging directly with community groups to be very successful. We try to explain what is involved in the project, the stage it is at and at the fact that there is still a long process prior to the development of the project. The groups range from local voluntary groups, development groups, sporting organisations, local societies and anyone who wants to talk to our team in Tullamore. etc etc.
Deputy Paudie Coffey: Turn 180 clearly stated it is not selling anything. I note it has a very sceptical stance on the development of renewables and I would like a better understanding of this. Given what we have heard other witnesses state, does Turn 180 believe climate change is having a negative impact on the environment, particularly when one considers the Irish environment and the weather systems we have experienced in recent years? Does Turn 180 believe there is a need to address this particular problem with regard to climate change?
Mr. Patrick Swords: The actual figures show that in the past 16 years global temperatures have been static with no real increase. It is not that everybody thinks the same way we do. There are many parts of the world which do not think the way we do. The Chinese are very analytical. The Chinese Academy of Sciences, which I fully support, correctly pointed out the flaws in the scientific process which has led the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Many technical people do not support the position we are in now. A one in 50 year flood will occur once every 50 years; one must just wait around.
The renewable programme was first initiated 16 years ago by the European Union. No real assessment was done for it. Under the 2001 directive the European Union was required to conduct an assessment by 2005 of the external impact of non-renewable sources. External impacts are the environmental damage costs associated with non-renewable sources. The report was to be repeated every five years. I looked for it but it was never done. It then launched into a massive 20% renewable programme. At no stage was it worked out what was to be built, where it was to be built, what was the impact and what was the cost. People were not allowed to participate in the decision, which was taken at higher levels.
With regard to climate change, a figure of €25 per tonne was pulled out of the sky because they did not know what carbon dioxide was doing. They also had a computer model in the National Technical University of Athens which stated we would save X tonnes of carbon dioxide. Nobody has been able to access this programme. It is the confidential property of the university. It is clear from reading some of the side notes to it that it completely fails to take account of the massive inefficiencies we carry on the grid in existing thermal power plants as more and more renewables are put on.
The 20% target was shared among the member states based on their existing renewable capacity and a factor based on gross domestic product. The European Union did not know what was to be built in Ireland, what good it was to do, and when we would achieve the 16% target. All of the member states had to implement in a rush a national renewable energy action plan. Such plans should have been subject to strategic environmental assessment but this was bypassed. Section 5.3 of the template for these plans asked for the expected greenhouse gas reductions, the expected costs and the expected to job creation. The Irish national renewable energy action plan goes from section 5.2 to section 5.4. The table was never filled out. It was not filled out in 19 member states. Other countries such as the UK fudged it. The UK referred to another document which did not assess it either. We need to go back and look at this from square one.
Deputy Paudie Coffey: Mr. Swords is aware the heads of the climate change Bill have been published, and the Government and some political parties are pushing for it to set targets. We all know the three main contributors to carbon emissions in this country are agriculture, transport and the energy sector. Given our economic dependence on agriculture and transport it would seem obvious the energy sector is the place to look to making the savings. Does Mr. Swords not agree with this? All political parties are pushing to set targets. I do not believe we should set targets. We should assess the situation. However I believe we do need to address it before it is too late. Mr. Swords believes we should not publish the legislation and that we need to do impact assessments beforehand.
With regard to energy security, Mr. Swords dismissed wind energy altogether in his statement. Does he not agree efficiencies are being made in power stations as we speak? I know the Great Island station in the south-east is being converted from an oil station to a gas station and it is doubling its capacity. These measures are being taken but we need to do more than this. Wind energy can be part of the solution. I certainly would not state it can be the complete solution, but given the natural resources we have available to us does Mr. Swords agree wind energy can be part of the overall energy security solution?
Mr. Patrick Swords: What is the rush? As I stated, the planet has not increased in temperature in the past 16 years. I spent ten years going over and back to Eastern Europe. I sat for many months at the end of Bulevardul Unirii in Bucharest in the ministry of the environment looking at Ceausescu’s palace. Something I learned there is the environment does not belong to the state but to the people. The people must be given robust procedural rights. As Deputy Coffey rightly pointed out, adopting climate change targets has a huge impact on agriculture and other issues.
[Mr. Patrick Swords:] People do not know this. They have not been informed. One of the issues is that such a programme is required to have a regulatory impact assessment with a cost-benefit analysis, but when I request the cost-benefit analysis it does not exist. If we examine the Climate Change Act which the last Government brought through, the regulatory impact assessment was less than four pages and the cost-benefit had words such as “improved feeling of well-being” and “better quality of life”. We need to get this right before we rush into massive infrastructural developments.
Since 1999, power stations in Ireland have been upgraded. I have been involved with it. Our modern generation fleet of thermal plants is one of the best in Europe. We could keep operating our system for a number of years without any additional investment. I do not have to prove a negative. The Government has to prove a positive. What is this renewable development doing? We do not know.
Mr. Joseph Caulfield: What Deputy Coffey does not seem to understand is what wind energy is doing to fossil fuel generation in this country. There is a company called Kilpaddoge Energy, and one of the owners of that company is in this committee room now. Kilpaddoge Energy has applied to Kerry County Council to install 52 diesel generators in a plant in Kilpaddoge, County Kerry. On its website it clearly states that the purpose of this plant is to back up wind energy. We used to have a peat burner in Lumcloon, Ferbane, in west County Offaly. That will become a gas burner and the website of Lumcloon Energy states that the purpose of that gas burner will be to back up wind energy. Wind energy is adding more fossil fuel generation to the grid, not subtracting it, because it is not capable of displacement. Displacement means when one adds 1,000 MW of wind generation one takes 1,000 MW of fossil fuel off. It is not doing that. It is doing the opposite. It is adding, because of intermittency. On a calm day in this country we produce 95% of our electricity from fossil fuels. I will give Deputy Coffey a hint, and I hope he can read between the lines. Every day, France produces 5% of its electricity from fossil fuel generation, while we produce 95% from fossil fuel on a calm day.
Deputy Barry Cowen: I thank the troika of speakers for their presentations, pardon the pun. We import 88% of our energy, mainly gas and oil. In 2009 we set renewable energy targets of 16% for gross final consumption by 2020 and 42% for renewable energy penetration, as Mr. D’Arcy said. Wind can be part of the mix. As Deputy Coffey said, this source of generation can only be included through a suite of measures including wave, biomass and wind. etc etc.
Mr. John Reilly: Deputy Cowen spoke about the revision of guidelines. It is necessary to revise guidelines for anything as time moves on. The interesting thing here is that we are currently erecting 28 3 MW turbines on cutaway peat land in County Offaly. That project was brought through the planning process in 2010. We conducted a very significant public consultation exercise as part of that. We got tremendous support from the local community. Of course the community had questions. These were the first large-scale wind projects to be developed in the midlands. The communities had questions and probed us in that regard. However, those wind farms received planning permission under the current guidelines. etc etc.
Deputy Cowen asked about having an independent economic review of wind energy. In a way it is a pity this does not happen because some of the facts relating to the economics of wind energy are clear to see. For example, in the wholesale electricity market today, the average wholesale price of electricity coming from the mix of fuels we have, gas, peat, coal and renewables, last year was €90 per MWh – €90 per unit of production. Today, the new wind farms under the REFIT support scheme are receiving €70 per MWh. In our view the economics of wind energy are clear to be seen. If somebody wanted to conduct an independent analysis, it might put to bed the debate on pricing.
On CO2 emissions reductions, in 2006 the electricity sector was responsible for the production of 15 million tonnes of CO2 emissions to meet a demand of 27 TWh. Unfortunately, owing to the economic recession in 2012, demand fell back to the 2006 levels. The provisional figures for CO2 emissions recently published by the EPA indicate that emissions in the electricity sector fell to 12.1 million tonnes. Wind energy has had a major contribution to make to the abatement of significant CO2 emissions in a cost-effective manner.
Mr. Patrick Swords: As regards our planning system here, in the UN proceedings at Geneva the written documentation from the European Union pointed out a number of issues in Ireland. In particular as regards planning of all medium and large-scale projects such as wind turbines and electricity generation systems, the environmental impact assessment directive dates back to 1985. It is also part of Article 6, the main component of the Aarhus Convention on citizens’ procedural rights. The EU pointed out that it knew of no other member state that had been involved in so many compliance issues and actions at the European Court over failures to comply with one single directive as Ireland had with that directive. That is not a good endorsement.
It also pointed out our failure to transpose properly the strategic environmental assessment directive. That failure led to EirGrid bypassing the necessary Grid 25 SEA and did not engage in proper public participation process. It only received 22 submissions, of which only three, including one from me, could be identified as having come from the public.
There is a massive problem with regard to access to justice. Dissent protects democracy. Ireland has had major problems with groupthink which led to our economic collapse. It is right that people should have the right to challenge when they see substantive and procedural breaches. That is part of the convention and part of people’s human rights. However, we do not have arrangements for proper access to the courts that is not prohibitively expensive. Last week, the UK, where the cost of access to courts is lower, was ruled to be in breach of the European directive and the convention with regard to being not prohibitively expensive. Its legal system did not comply. The Irish Academy of Engineering has pointed out that the regulatory system in Ireland is dysfunctional and unfit for purpose. It leads to enormous frustrations for developers and citizens.
As with any development, with wind farms the purpose of environmental impact assessment is to weigh it up and identify the negative effects, which are considerable, and the positives. There is only one positive – an alleged environmental benefit. When that is summed up, all An Bord Pleanála can do, because it is the obligation of it or the local authority, is to make pub-talk statements such as “makes a valuable contribution to climate change”. It has no figures or data.
The national renewable energy action plan proposed to develop 7,145 MW of wind energy. How will we fit that in with a distributed rural population and ensure they will be protected? We never carried out a strategic environmental assessment before we adopted it to work out the impact on human beings and develop the necessary mitigation measures as required by law. We put the cart before the horse.
Pillar 1 of the convention is about access to information, not just press releases. People want more detailed information and are entitled to it. When we seek that information from public authorities we are denied it. When we appeal to the Commissioner for Environmental Information and pay €150, we are told it takes one and a half to two years if it gets addressed at all. Bord na Móna refused to comply with a request in January 2012. It finally went to appeal, which it lost in September 2013. It is required by law to comply within three weeks and is still refusing to provide access to information when citizens submit AIE requests. Citizens cannot access information to which they are entitled, such as the cost-benefit analysis for this programme.
[Mr. Patrick Swords:] The swoosh that comes with wind turbine noise is highly different from standard plant noise. We must address this issue, but we are not doing so. The noise guidelines fail to address the issue of health and the contributions submitted. Ms Doolan lives in the countryside which will be industrialised by this development.
Ms Agnes Doolan: I thank the committee for inviting me. I speak as a community member as I live in Banagher. No turbine will be built on its main street, but Taylor’s Cross and Garbally are 2 km from the edge of the town. In October I happened to spot a map which Mr. Caulfield had put on the Offaly Facebook page showing a shaded area near Banagher which was marked as a proposed area of study. This is a euphemism for a wind farm and I was horrified. I must take issue with Mr. O’Donovan who portrayed—–
Ms Agnes Doolan: I take issue with his portrayal of good communication. The communities of Taylor’s cross and Garbally were not informed by Element Power that it planned to build a wind farm there; they were told by me. After seeing the map I telephoned a few people in the area and then decided I had better tell all of them. I made out an information sheet and headed into the area, which is quiet and rural. I went door-to-door and braved a vicious dog or two. Most of the people in the area had never heard of the export project.
I also take issue with the Government. In January I noticed the agreed memorandum of understanding signed by the Minister, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, but many people in the population had not noticed it. Many people do not read newspapers or press statements issued from the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. When I told the people of Garbally that they were to get a wind farm, most of them knew very little about it. That is how the communities of Garbally and Taylor’s Cross learned about the wind farm.
Mr. John Reilly: Senator Landy asked how many turbines we proposed to build in Mayo. We have a planning application in with An Bord Pleanála to build 112 turbines on our cutaway peatlands in Mayo, which is representative of a project of approximately 350 MW, which will be a direct connection to the national grid in support of our 40% 2020 targets. Senator Landy also made reference to our having already hit our 40% target, which I did not fully understand. We have not hit our 40% target. The latest indication is that we hit the 20% target for renewable electricity in 2012. We still have a way to go to hit the domestic targets. Beyond that, there are sufficient projects in the pipeline between various players, including private developers and some of the commercial semi-state companies, to achieve that. I do not think anybody expects all of those projects to go ahead. There are various elements of projects that need to be assigned grid connections and, crucially, planning permission. Bord na Móna tries to ensure that it invests in the development of projects that have the best possibility of seeing the light of day. Thankfully, it has not failed yet. I cannot say, however, that we would never fail from a planning perspective.
In regard to the EU abandoning its targets beyond 2030, that is not the case. The recent EU announcement indicates that the European Union will move from a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 to a proposed 40% reduction by 2030 and from a proposed 20% renewable energy target to a 27% target, which would not, as current targets are, be binding at member state level but at a European level. This will bring into play the spectre of energy co-operation between EU member states, which is vital to the achievement of future decarbonisation targets across Europe in a cost-effective manner.
Mr. Patrick Swords: In our opening statement we provided details on the projects of common interest, which are a series of massive projects interlinking Ireland with its European neighbours, including not only the UK but France. There was a failure under the public participation conducted on this in 2012 to provide any information other than the names of the projects. We requested the information from the Commission’s Director-General for Energy, Mr. Philip Lowe, and the secretary general of the European Commission, Ms Catherine Day, and then took the matter to the Ombudsman, following which copies of the project questionnaires were released to us.
[Mr. Patrick Swords:] There is much concern about Grid Link, which is the massive pylon project running from Cork through Waterford and up the Wexford coast in some of the most beautiful areas of Ireland. These are obvious concerns. When we consider the information on the project questionnaire for Grid Link, it is clear it is part of an overall process to connect to France and Great Britain, and that is why it is put in the project as a common interest. It is admitted that if €500 million is spent on building Grid Link, it would reduce generation costs in Ireland by €11 million per annum because of more efficient power station operation. In other words the money is spent to reduce costs by €11 million per annum. If interconnection is facilitated to Great Britain or France, the saving could go to €40 million or €110 million, but an interconnector to the United Kingdom would cost an extra €700 million or €800 million, and one to France would cost even more. We would then be at a figure of approximately €1.5 billion.
It is stated that the investment is planned primarily to facilitate the integration of 1,283 MW of wind generation in the south of the country. That is what Grid Link is about. However, they also point out that the connection of such capacity can only be facilitated if further interconnection is installed to provide access for this generation to the British and continental European markets. We know already that the grid is operating in an unstable manner and we are dumping wind but Grid Link is connected to the building of interconnectors. If interconnectors are not built, there is no reason for Grid Link other than to save €11 million per annum from inefficient power station operation. There is much inaccurate information in the public domain and the committee is welcome to have this information.
Deputy Brian Stanley: The group called Turn180 raised some valid concerns. Does it completely oppose wind farms? What is the alternative? Is nuclear power an alternative? What is the alternative if fossil fuel becomes more expensive? There is a new debate on nuclear power and some people have suggested it may be an option. What is the organisation’s view of nuclear power? What is an alternative energy?
I have a few questions on climate change. Does Turn180 not see climate change happening and think we do not need to replace or stop generating electricity using fossil fuels? Mr. Swords made the point that global temperatures had not risen in the past 16 years. Is the delegation saying that global temperatures have not increased in the past 50 years?
Deputy Brian Stanley: That is fine, but I am asking Mr. Swords whether he is saying that global temperatures have not increased in the past 50 years. I hope that they have not increased but everyone else is telling me that they have, and there is all of the information that has come to us. What is the source of Mr. Swords’ information? I believe we are experiencing and will experience serious changes in weather patterns in my lifetime.
I wish to recap on Turn180′s position on wind farms. Does it oppose them per se? Does it favour nuclear energy? What are the options? I would like to know because we need to examine all the options. I do not favour nuclear power.
With regards global warming, Mr. Swords referred to the past 16 years. We could say there has not been an increase in the past six years. I am asking if he is saying there has not been an increase in global warming in the past 50 years. If there has been an increase in temperature, what has been the cause?
Mr. Patrick Swords: There has been a pause and that has been recognised by the scientific community, even by the scientists on the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Unfortunately, the models that are used to predict a catastrophic global warming scenario have been wrong. There has not been a rise in temperatures in the past 16 years. We need to look at all this. There is huge disquiet that there is a catastrophic scenario and that scenario is deeply controversial. We can deal with the issue offline at some other time and I do not want to go into the matter.
As regards alternatives, I have already stated that we have a good generation system. We invested heavily in it between 1999 and 2012 so we are good to go for 20 to 30 years in advance and we do not have to rush into anything. We do not need to throw out the good power station that we have and build a nuclear power station but we should look at all of the options and find the right one. My approach is that the process should be done correctly and that is what the convention is about. The convention is not against nuclear energy and I am not against nuclear energy. The convention, as was said, is not against wind energy. There may be circumstances in which wind is suitable. Wind energy does not make sense when one looks at it from an engineering perspective and from the perspective of the large-scale roll-out of a scheme.
One reason it does not make sense is because it causes inefficiencies in other power stations. We have some of the most modern gas-fired stations. They are the most efficient stations in the world because they are 55% efficient at full load. That means that when we put in 2 units of gas we get more than 1 unit of electricity. If we ramp them back to less then 50%, they fall off a cliff and by the time we are down to 40%, we are down to percentages in the 30s in terms of efficiencies and are burning 3 units of gas to get 1 unit of electricity. The combustion gases – the pollutants – increase by a factor of three when we throttle them back. Therefore, when one operates at one third of the load, one puts out the same amount of carbon monoxide and nitric oxide pollutants as one would if the station had a full load. That is not a sensible way of doing things so we must look at it from an engineering perspective and analyse the whole thing properly.
The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland’s report has ignored the fact that these inefficiencies occur on the grid. Despite this, the REFIT for financing wind farms gives the wind operator €67 and gives the company €10. They take it because of the extra balancing costs and the extra inefficiencies they incur. At the same time we ignore the inefficiencies in our emissions calculations. We need to look very carefully. As we put in more renewables, the inefficiencies increase on the grid so it is a diminishing return with wind energy.
There were 11 sources of renewables identified in the directive. There has never been any consideration of technology alternatives in Ireland, and that is a legal binding from the Commissioner for Environmental Information. We just ended up with 90% wind. I spent 180 days working in Croatia between 2008 and 2009 getting the country ready for membership. Croatia joined in July and brought in its national renewable energy action plan in October. It has the same size of a population and relatively the same land mass as Ireland but it ruled out the large-scale deployment of wind because it was too expensive and too much of it would be imported. Instead, it went looking at agricultural sources such as biogas, etc.
For hydro power to work in a country, nature must do one a favour. If one was located between Serbia and Romania, where the River Danube is massive and bursts through the mountains, one could barely just generate enough electricity for Ireland. We only have the River Shannon from which we get 80 MW on full flow but we need between 2,000 and 5,000 MW so hydro power is not going to work.
[Mr. Patrick Swords:] We have too much slurry going into our waters. It is correct that biogas is not cheap, but it provides a steady electricity load. A rough rule of thumb calculation is that we have enough slurry – agricultural waste – to probably squeeze out 100 MW – 400 MW is the figure for 200 wind turbines – but it would give a steady load. We have waste to energy plants into which we have not tapped. We only have one working. Some 50% use renewables into which we could tap. We have options for heating systems with ground source pumps for heating communities which are not on the natural gas grid. We have biomass we could use to generate. However, the key aspect is that we have three modern ready-to-go peat fired stations which would use biomass, wood chips or whatever else. They will need no modifications. We also have the Moneypoint plant, our coal fired station, which could easily be converted, as has been done in the United Kingdom, to using wood chips. We are going to import massive quantities of cables, turbines, steel and plastic to build all of this. If we were to import wood chips for our existing power stations, we would achieve the same renewables target at less cost and not blight the countryside with this investment. There are plenty of alternatives; we just have to go back and follow the procedure, as the United Nations has told us, and assess them.
I refer to the statutory guidelines. I am a German speaker and have worked in Germany where I dealt with planners. The statutory German noise regulations are very stringent. They date back to 1998 and everything hangs off them. The Germans recognise that they are insufficient to deal with the swish from wind turbines. When I compare the turbines which are being approved in planning here with the existing German noise guidelines and how they are assessed, there are many places where there are 20 to 30 houses within the zone of influence of a wind turbine which would rule out that planning development in Germany as not being compliant with the existing noise regulations which the Germans know are inadequate.
[Mr. John Reilly:] It is an issue that some wind companies in other parts of the island are dealing with in terms of developments. We are looking at all of that. The community groups tend to want the money to move into capital projects that would upgrade local facilities which they claim would benefit wider swathes of the population. There is quite a strong argument in that area. One of the issues that did not raise its head during the consultation – we were quite surprised – was the concept of community involvement or shareholdings in wind farm developments. My personal view is that we should examine this strongly in Ireland and give people the opportunity to get involved in investment in this type of wind farm. We are looking at a model being used in Denmark. We were surprised it did not come through in the recent consultations. We will be looking at all of those issues.
With regard to imported fuels, as one who has operated in the energy industry for 20 years I do not think the general public is aware of the enormous challenges this country faces in keeping the lights on every day. Last year we imported gas that generated 50% of the electricity to meet our needs, all of which comes through a single pipeline in Scotland. This country is in a very tenuous position and, therefore, focusing on security of supply and enhancing the use of cost-effective indigenous resources has to be looked at. I just about remember the 1970s oil crisis. etc etc
Mr. Patrick Swords: I will start off by talking about CO2 levels in the atmosphere, which is a controversial aspect. It boils down to whether there will be catastrophic or a mild warming. The actual catastrophic outcome exists in the models and nowhere else. As an engineer who works with heat transfer and other things, the idea that we can actually model the earth with any accuracy is appalling – we just cannot do it. We are failing to do so. These models have predicted a temperature rise of 0.2 of a degree in the past ten years and we had a flat. We need to go back and look at these models because if we are facing a mild warming instead of a catastrophic warming, everything is different. Also, we need to know what is the cost. If we are spending €180 to negate a tonne of carbon dioxide whose economic damage is worth less than a euro, that does not make much sense. We have adaptation policies also.
With regard to fuel importing, I would point out that in Saudi Arabia, where I worked, where there are 27 million people, all food is imported apart from a tiny amount. For as long as Saudi Arabia can afford to buy food, there is not really a problem. We export of the order of €150 million worth of farm and life science products and export approximately €150 million worth of other goods, including food and related products; therefore, we have €300 million worth of exports. If we are exporting, can we afford €6 billion worth of fossil fuel? Yes, but we have to look, first, at the competitiveness of that industry. With soaring electricity prices, the American Chamber of Commerce is constantly telling us in budget submissions that its industries are no longer sustainable here. Let us not kill the goose that lays the golden egg. We have ended up with an unhealthy situation involving a single gas pipeline going to Moffat in Scotland and running down to Ireland. There are other gas sources on the market. Great quantities of LNG are coming on stream. The US is looking to be an exporter and Shannon LNG is seeking to go ahead and put gas into the network, so there are other options out there.
Ocean energy is now working out at 22 cent by kW hour. We can generate electricity in conventional plants at about four to five cents per kW hour. Ocean energy is erratic. Wind and wave varies in the same way as on land, and tidal energy does not follow the curve demanded by the consumer; it follows the curve of the moon. It is a huge amount of money to force on people when one does not really know the benefit. What are we actually doing and what are we saving?
On the issue of fracking, whether we do it or not, other people will do it. They have already done it. There are approximately 50,000 wells in the US and it has been a roaring success story for the US. The way I look at it is quite logical, in the sense that I have worked in pollution control for more than 20 years. If significant pollution occurs which is unacceptable then we do not allow it to happen; we shut down that particular industry. If no pollution occurs and if the industry is of benefit to society then, obviously, we let it go. That applies straight across the board for everything.
Mr. Patrick Swords: The Deputy has raised a number of issues. I speak from an engineering perspective. The figure of 20% of €6 billion is correct. We have left ourselves in a very precarious situation. I must mention the Corrib development, which has been stalled because of the problems with the planning process. For example, an unnecessary tunnel was forced upon the developer and it is unacceptable that someone died in that tunnel. We also could have built the Shannon LNG and it would not have cost us very much. Instead, the arrangement with the State was unfavourable and the development did not proceed. We have options.
On the question of expansion of the electricity grid, I do not share the Deputy’s optimism. If we do not keep the cost of electricity competitive, usage will not increase. We are in a very serious position because the cost of electricity in Ireland is highly uncompetitive, at 1.7 times the cost of electricity in France and 1.65 times what Finnish industry pays. The cost of gas in the United States is between three and eight times the cost in Europe; the cost of electricity is two to three times lower than in Europe. As a German speaker I am familiar with German industries, and they are walking out of Europe and moving elsewhere. The population of the state of Texas grew by 425,000 over a year ago because of a significant construction boom, much of which was funded by European money invested in production and chemical processing plants, in which I have had an involvement.
One of the most effective ways to use electricity is through what is termed a heat source pump, a ground source pump. This is a renewable device which provides three units of heat out of one unit of electricity. This is a renewable technology but it will not work if the cost of electricity increases. If we do not keep the cost of electricity competitive, the market will not grow.
Mr. Patrick Swords: The guidelines are part of a legal due process. The current guidelines are being used in a compulsory manner by An Bord Pleanála for deciding planning permissions. They are legally binding norms. They fall under Article 8 of the convention in that there must be a public participation process. Once the public submissions were received there was only a two-week window in February last year. This is inadequate as a preparation timeframe and was not compliant. We requested and received more than 900 records, and more than 500 public submissions were received. The public submissions referred to concerns about health and annoyance issues, yet the Department decided to exclude health considerations from its guidelines. What is the point in the legal basis for these guidelines, considering they have failed to take due account of the public participation process, which they have ignored? We have requested the record but it has not been provided. Guidelines are put in place to protect residential amenity, which means that people should not suffer annoyance or adverse health effects. What is the point of these guidelines? They have absolved themselves from having any legal validity with regard to health.
Deputy Michelle Mulherin: I welcome the witnesses. I will be brief as it has been a lengthy meeting. Some interesting questions have been asked. This is a very important debate. The witnesses are representing energy companies who are responding to Government and EU policy on appropriate investment for the future. I note that Turn 180 challenges the renewable energy policy, but Ms Doolan described it best. I agree that the group should have the right to challenge the proposals. I am from County Mayo and we have a lot of history with regard to energy. The first wind farm was at Bellacorick in 1992 and the Corrib gas project is in County Mayo. The county has the highest wind speeds and probably the best ocean energy off the coast. This is becoming an issue of national discussion, but it has already been discussed in County Mayo. These policies have been evolving and the debate is only now getting attention from the media. If we are all being honest, until something immediately affects us, we are not so concerned about it. Discussions about carbon emissions and proposed infrastructure might evince a passing interest in these matters, but that is all. Renewable energy technology has evolved and advanced, which means we should take a second look, because we are asking people in some areas to come to terms with wind farms. The 350 MW wind farm in County Mayo will be the biggest wind farm in the country and it will be built not far from where I live and near the existing small wind farm. This will have significant implications for the people in my area. If we had discovered oil in the midlands people would have concerns about the oil wells, because people regard the visual amenity of their environment as being very important. As we try to navigate the future, there will be objections from every source. Some people campaign against fracking and others campaign against wind farms; I know of objections to bioenergy projects and also to ocean energy projects. It is reasonable to envisage that some fishermen may not be happy with ocean energy projects. Green energy and clean technology is the way to go. All the comforts of modern living require more appliances and it is a certainty that energy consumption will rise. The need to reduce energy usage will leave some people in poverty and disadvantaged. These are very tough decisions, which require a debate about energy security. I agree with Mr. Swords.
I refer to the REFIT tariff and preferential payment for wind energy. It is more expensive to set up a wind farm, but the wind is free and the farms require only maintenance. It is agreed that energy security is a problem. We have been dependent on technologies for the past 60 years which are based on fossil fuels and on oil in particular. Wind turbines were invented many years ago but it was decided to use oil to provide energy.