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Ireland sets new renewable energy targets

ANALYSIS: New onshore and potential offshore wind projects will be central to Ireland meeting its new renewable energy targets and addressing its label as a "laggard" on climate change action.

The Irish government's aim is for at least 70% of Ireland's electricity supply to be generated from renewables by 2030. This was confirmed by communications, climate action and environment minister Richard Bruton at the Sustainable Dublin 2050 event late last month.

The target represents a step-change in drive from a country ranked as the second worst in the EU last year for its ambition and progress towards fighting climate change.

Ireland behind the curve

Ireland is subject to an EU target to supply 40% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. It is broadly accepted that that target will not be met, and that Ireland will face EU fines as a result.

This has led to criticism over the approach Ireland has taken to tackling carbon emissions.

In January 2018, Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar was challenged in the European Parliament over Ireland's commitment to addressing climate change. In response, he conceded that Ireland is "a laggard" and admitted he was "not proud of Ireland’s performance on climate change". Varadkar reiterated those concerns late last year.

Last summer Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe ranked Ireland second last of all EU member states in terms of their ambition and progress towards fighting climate change. CAN Europe is a non-governmental organisation whose members consist of other climate change lobby groups from across Europe.

In its report CAN Europe said Ireland is "set to miss its 2020 climate and renewable energy targets and is also off-course for its unambitious 2030 emissions target", blaming the "increasingly significant" emissions stemming from the transport and agriculture sectors in the country.

"Ireland has failed to prepare effective policies to align near-term climate action with EU and Paris Agreement commitments," CAN Europe said. "Without new, immediate and substantive efforts to cut emissions, Ireland faces annual non-compliance costs of around €500 million. At EU level, Ireland failed to join the group of progressive EU member states calling for increased EU climate ambition and played a negative role in the negotiations of the EU 2030 climate and energy legislation, pushing for loopholes to dilute the laws."

The government has also faced criticism over opposition to the Climate Emergency Measures Bill currently before the Irish parliament. The Bill seeks to reduce Ireland's reliance on fossil fuels, but it has been held up from passing through a committee in parliament.

Ambition within industry

In its draft national energy and climate plan (NECP) for 2021-2030, published in December last year, the Irish government set a target for renewables to generate 55% of the country's electricity supply by 2030. However, this target was seen as unambitious by some, and the government faced calls to revise this target upwards.

The Irish wind industry is keen to meet the challenge.

The Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA) said late last year that that it had "developed a roadmap that would see 70% of Ireland’s electricity coming from renewables by 2030".

A survey carried the IWEA carried out last November found that 83% of people in Ireland "support the use of wind power", 80% would "choose renewables over fossil fuels to power their homes" and that 87% believe Ireland "should promote an indigenous source of energy and not rely on imported fossil fuels".

The IWEA's calls for the Irish government to revise up its 2030 renewables target from 55% to 70% of electricity supply have been listened to.

Minister for communications, climate action and environment, Richard Bruton, a consistent voice within government in calling for a step up in ambition, confirmed at Dublin Chambers' Sustainable Dublin 2050 event on 28 March 2019 that the government would set itself the 70% target. The minister conceded that only a profound shift in policy will help break the link between carbon and prosperity.

The central role of offshore wind

No single policy, project or measure will be sufficient to reduce Ireland's emissions and see a shift away from an energy system heavily reliant on fossil fuels to one powered by renewables.

This is why Ireland's government is looking at the electrification of transport, including ways to boost the use of electric vehicles, incentivising new energy storage technologies, and supporting the growth of solar, biomass and other renewable solutions, as well as associated innovative business models and services.

A central factor, though, in determining whether Ireland will be successful in reaching the 70% target will be how quickly the fine detail of the Irish government's Renewable Energy Support Scheme can be finalised to allow onshore wind, which has been the main driver of the growth of renewable electricity generation in Ireland to-date, to continue to gain momentum.

Indeed, the market needs the correct regulatory framework to be put in place to allow for the technical diversity that could see offshore wind projects on the east coast of Ireland, such as those at Oriel, the North Irish Sea Array, Dublin Array, Codling and phase 2 of Arklow Bank, to be harnessed. Given the shallow water, grid connection opportunities and demand for electricity on the east coast, offshore wind could have a significant part to play in Ireland's future energy renewables mix.

In his speech at Dublin Chambers' Sustainable Dublin 2050 event, Richard Bruton said Ireland will need to exploit offshore resources as well as onshore renewables to achieve the 70% target.

Further measures to boost renewables

Bruton confirmed the government's move to the new target on the same day the Joint Committee on Climate Action set out a series of other recommendations to tackle global warming. The Committee said: "This report should be seen as the beginning of an extensive and sustained series of climate actions that are required for Ireland to meet its commitments and play its part in the global response to climate change".

In its report, the Committee proposed, among other things, increasing the current levels of tax on carbon intensive activities, stating that "a rising price trajectory to 2030 should form a component of [Ireland's] climate action policy moving forward", and said the Department of Finance should look into the introduction of a carbon tax on the profits of corporations and firms directly linked to the production and sale of gas, oil, coal and other fossil fuels.

Bruton appeared to reject calls from some circles for a delay on such a tax.

The minister said climate action can only be delivered with the buy in from business leaders. He said he is aiming to put in place an annual programme with an annual review and said the government will look at measures that are of least burden and deliver the most benefit.

The cost of carbon is expected to rise over the coming decades, and the minister identified the opportunities for early movers that embrace change.

Oisín McLoughlin is a Dublin-based expert in energy contracts at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com.

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