A third of electricity used in Ireland will come from renewable sources by 2020, the government said on Monday as it unveiled plans to reduce dependence on imported fuels and protect itself against supply disruptions.
“By 2020 one third of electricity consumed in this economy will come from renewable sources,” natural resources minister Noel Dempsey said in a speech following publication of a policy document on sustainable energy.
Official figures for 2006 are not yet available but a ministry spokesman said about 8 percent of electricity consumed last year came from green sources, versus 6.8 percent in 2005.
With nuclear power generation banned in Ireland and limited potential for hydroelectricity, the country would have to rely on natural gas for 70 percent of fuel needs in 13 years time if steps were not taken to encourage more diverse energy supplies.
“Wind energy will provide the pivotal contribution to achieving this target,” the government said in its policy paper.
Ireland, which in World War Two used peat to keep trains running and bread ovens alight after coal imports dried up, still imports over 70 percent of its energy needs and relies on two pipelines from the United Kingdom for 90 percent of its gas.
A spat last year between Russia and Ukraine that disrupted gas deliveries to Europe highlighted Ireland’s dependence on fuel imports and its strategic vulnerability, given that geography puts it at the end of Europe’s pipelines.
Other potential green energy sources include biomass such as plant and animal waste which the government hopes to be able to burn soon in three state-owned, peat-fired power stations.
The government said it would also invest in ocean energy with a view to having working technology in place producing electricity from waves or marine currents within a decade.
Coal had a “renewed attraction” given large supplies still available and the fact that it does not have the same price and supply sensitivities as oil or gas. Potential “clean coal technologies” may allow it to make a long-term contribution.
Ireland’s Green Party said the plans fell-short, however, pointing to a lack of firm goals for heating and transport.
“It is impossible to see how the government would meet the 20 percent commitment it gave in Brussels last week,” party energy spokesman Eamon Ryan said of a European Union pledge that renewables will account for a fifth of all energy use by 2020.
To foster supply competition in an area dominated by the state’s Electricity Supply Board (ESB), Ireland will transfer transmission assets to a separate state body known as EirGrid.
The move should attract new suppliers to the Irish market by ensuring a “level playing field,” Dempsey said, adding that land would also be set aside for those looking to enter the market.
Under Ireland’s National Development Plan unveiled earlier this year, state companies such as ESB and EirGrid will invest about 4.9 billion euros ($6.4 billion) in electricity and gas distribution and transmission networks between 2007 and 2013.
The government stressed, however, that such bodies held key strategic assets and would “never be privatized.”
Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said at the launch of the country’s energy policy that moving toward greener energy supply need not harm Ireland’s thriving economy.
“Meeting the needs of our growing population means that we must provide modern infrastructure, sustain our economic progress and support meaningful employment opportunities.”
By Paul Hoskins
12 March 2007
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