Through lack of ambition, “the Government has created real barriers to the development of our wind energy infrastructure”, according to Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald.
"This is seen most acutely in frustrating planning application bottlenecks, under-resourcing of the planning system and sky-high auction prices," she told the annual Wind Energy Ireland (WEI) conference in Dublin.
The question had to asked, why were Ireland’s renewable electricity prices so high when it had such an abundant wind resource, she said.
In the European market auctions, Ireland, at €74 per megawatt-hour, came in at the highest price in both 2020 and 2021, Ms McDonald said. “In no other country did the price break €70. Given we are talking about being locked into 15 year contracts, this warrants an immediate and precise examination by government.”
If prices remained high, Ireland would struggle to compete internationally in exportation of green hydrogen generated from offshore wind, “as we will have essentially priced ourselves out of the market. This makes no sense”, she pointed out.
Wind energy could spearhead Ireland’s energy revolution and deliver energy independence while revitalising coastal communities and decarbonising the economy. Ireland’s natural wind resource “can and will be a game changer; one that can drive our country’s emergence as one the world’s foremost clean energy centres”.
But the current energy crisis was a warning of what was ahead for ordinary people, if energy generation and supply was not secured for Ireland, she said.
“We cannot hope to develop our wind energy sector to its fullest potential, or ramp up domestic production of renewables, when planning applications are taking more than a year to process. The standard laid down in law is 18 weeks; that is where we need to be,” Ms McDonald said – while wind energy planning guidelines promised since 2013 had yet to be finalised.
Sinn Féin was more than willing to work constructively with government, industry and stakeholders to achieve progress. “A consensus of ambition for delivery on wind energy is not an arrangement to forgo a critical lens, we will continue to hold this government to account in a fair and robust way.”
There were concerns in renewables industry and international supply chains, about "the slow pace of policy change in Ireland and lack of resources available to key Government departments, State agencies and other critical players in renewable energy development", WEI chief executive Noel Cunniffe said.
“The technical debate is over. We have the energy, the technology and the investment to build a fully decarbonised electricity system by 2035,” he added, though achieving critical 2030 targets including 5 gigawatts of offshore wind was essential.
He called on Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien "to instruct An Bord Pleanála to prioritise planning applications from renewable energy projects and related grid infrastructure". The Government must also ensure ABP, the National Parks & Wildlife Service and other key environmental stakeholders had resources needed to properly process planning applications, he said. All politicians needed to work with EirGrid, ESB Networks and industry to ensure an electricity grid "strong enough to accommodate the onshore, offshore and floating wind energy we will need to be net-zero by 2035".
Energy analyst Dr Hannah Daly of MaREI in UCC said the current energy "trilemma" meant energy needed to environmental sustainable; secure and affordable. The related crises were caused by energy-intense societies and over reliance on fossil fuels and brought in sharp focus by the Ukraine war.
Wind and electricity would be critical to achieving climate targets but electricity demand was likely to increase by 50-100 per cent as electricity was the only large-scale way to decarbonise 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 large-scale renewable energy projects between now and 2030.
The company said it was undertaking long-term investments in onshore wind, offshore wind and battery storage projects across Ireland with an objective to grow a renewables business across a portfolio of technologies.
The Irish spend is part of wider €50 billion investment to expand its green generation capacity to 50 gigawatts by 2030.
RWE’s largest development project in Ireland is currently the Dublin Array offshore wind project, which it is developing in partnership with Saorgus Energy.