Doubling the amount of wind energy on the national grid is key to preventing higher electricity bills in the future, Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte has said.
Increasing the amount of renewable energy would provide a “hedge”against future oil and gas hikes and ensure Ireland had an indigenous source of secure and cheaper energy, said the minister in an interview with the Irish Independent.
In comments that are sure to prove divisive, Mr Rabbitte also claimed that he personally found turbines “attractive on the skyline”.
But stressing that he would not impose that view on others, he said there had not been any “serious distress” about wind farms constructed to date.
However, Mr Rabbitte believes the debate on wind energy is “haunted by a good deal of misfact”, with opponents claiming that the power would not be used here, but transmitted to the UK.
Mr Rabbitte said plans to upgrade the national grid had “nothing” to do with large-scale export projects involving hundreds of turbines planned for the midlands and accused some campaigners of being “devious”.
His comments come as the Irish Independent today publishes the first part of a two-day special report into wind-farm development across the country.
The amount of generating capacity is expected to double by 2020, resulting in more than 100 new wind farms being constructed across the country.
The targets are both to combat climate change and to provide a new source of energy for homes and businesses. Use of renewable energy has resulted in savings of €1bn on fossil fuel imports over the past five years.
Mr Rabbitte said: “I take the ESRI view to an extent, that it’s a hedge against rising prices.
“We import 96pc of our oil and gas and the import bill is in excess of €6bn (a year). Nobody sitting in my seat can afford to ignore the context in which we’re discussing this issue.
“Some of the more devious campaigners conflate the necessity to strengthen the grid for domestic purposes (with export projects). It has nothing to do with that and doesn’t impact on our necessity to have a domestic grid fit for purpose.
“A row has now emerged about whether we have the midlands export projects but that’s an entirely separate issue.”
The International Energy Agency has warned that oil prices have averaged $110 (€80) per barrel in real terms since 2011, a “sustained period of high oil prices that is without parallel in oil market history”.
Prices are expected to continue to climb over the coming years, resulting in higher electricity prices.
The Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) said that if fossil fuel prices remained high, wind power would help consumers avoid the worst of the price increases.
“It (wind) lowers the wholesale price of electricity,” a spokesman said. “When fossil fuel prices are high, wind has a particular benefit and tends to reduce costs. When fossil fuel prices are low, wind tends to add to bills.”
Experts believe that increased production of shale gas in the US, using the controversial “fracking” method, could result in lower gas prices if it could be exported.
Mr Rabbitte said that changes to how we produce electricity could develop in tandem with new technology.
“It is a hedge,” he said. “Who knows how the price of gas is going to go in the future? I would not seek to tell you what the view of the minister in 2025 will be, but the short-term view in energy is that projects have a long span between conception and delivery.
“In the 10 years we seem to have got a pretty balanced approach to the energy mix. I’m not saying that we go after 10 years and accelerate wind. There have been dramatic changes in the last five or six years and there will be more.
“I wouldn’t confess to an ideological conviction about which way to go into the future, but as of now it is a balanced approach.”