A more secure, sustainable and affordable energy mix?

31 July 2018 - by Gráinne Walsh

Sinn Féin has published its new all-island energy paper, Powering Ireland 2030.

Speaking in Dublin, at the launch of the document, energy, environment and climate change spokesperson Cathal Boylan MLA called for an “ambitious, sustained and coordinated action to accelerate the transition away” from fossil fuels, drawing instead on a future driven by various renewable sources.

Government,” said Boylan, “must work with business to lead the way, be ambitious and proactive in transitioning to renewable energy generation and developing on advanced energy storage systems for everyone on this island.” 

How Sinn Féin policy in this area fits into a landscape dominated by Brexit – the UK Government’s white paper has already signalled a determination to maintain Ireland's cross-border integrated electricity market – constitutes a matter of significant debate. So, what tone is being set?  

The party sets out three priorities: secure, sustainable and affordable energy for all. Present supplies are, it says, ‘unsustainable’ and ‘insecure’, advocating an increase in the level of dependence on renewable generation from 25 per cent to 80 per cent by 2030.

Sinn Féin takes a 12-step approach to accomplishing this “accelerated transition to secure and sustainable electricity generation”:  

1. Divest from fossil fuels for example by obliging public bodies such as the Strategic Ireland Investment Fund to move its money out of fossil fuel companies and prohibiting such future investment in the industry or removing the investment capital of pension schemes such as the Local Government Pension Scheme in the North which currently invests over £300 million in fossil fuel companies with redirection where possible into green bonds.

2. Introduce a moratorium on any further new exploration for fossil fuels in Ireland – our dependence on fossil fuels must be phased-out and directly replaced by renewable capacity which should be increased year on year.

3. Recognising that the EU Emissions Trading System has failed to act as an effective economic instrument in terms of incentivising energy producers to move away from fossil fuels due to the low price of carbon that has prevailed - Direct energy producers away from using fossil fuels by introducing a legal obligation on energy generators to produce a minimum and annually rising percentage of their energy from renewable sources.

4. Oppose the construction of new energy infrastructure whose primary purpose is to use fracked gas or nuclear fission power which are especially environmentally destructive fossil fuels.

5. Conduct a comprehensive spatial mapping exercise of the entire island of Ireland and its surrounding waters to identify the optimal locations and potential output for the many different energy technologies in a joined-up manner and having regard to the simultaneous need to prioritise carbon sinks and food security when it comes to land use.

6. Reform planning processes, to provide greater certainty for security of supply and potential investors including the establishment of a single planning body for the approval of offshore applications similar to that introduced in Scotland. And introduce planning conditions that could require prospective very high energy users, such as data centres for example, to produce or contribute financially to the production of additional renewable electricity at least equal to their needs.

7. Re-direct investment towards R&D in new technologies, deployment of available sustainable energy technologies and installation of the infrastructure that is necessary to feed these into the grid including the €104 million of the PSO which currently supports the use of peat.

8. Ensure the investment in excess of €13 billion by State Owned Enterprises in the South on infrastructure, renewables and interconnection anticipated by Project Ireland 2040 and equivalent investment in the North works together to the objective of delivering an energy mix like that depicted in Figure 2.

9. Increase annual Capital Budgets from the Exchequer, recognising that our public capital investment currently falls far short of such investment levels in comparable European countries, prioritising the delivery of the new sustainable energy mix and provide for state construction and ownership of key infrastructure.

10. Increase expenditure on and expand existing schemes North and South that support energy efficiency, such as for example the Affordable Warmth Grant Scheme and the various schemes and pilots operated by the Sustainable Energy Authority (SEAI) for householders, communities and businesses to both increase eligibility and extend the technologies supported.

11. Build on and expedite existing grant schemes and pilots in order to support the purchase of a wide range of microgeneration technologies by householders, farmers, communities and businesses than currently provided for and also enable energy generated from these to feed into the grid as provided for in Sinn Féin’s Microgeneration Support Scheme Bill.

12. Establish an equivalent to the SEAI for the North to work with the SEAI in the South and a new North-South Implementation Body to further bolster co-operation in the wider field of Energy. Vest in this key roles and responsibilities to help drive forward this transition to a low carbon energy system including through:

» advising government,

» administering funding programmes and schemes,

» promotion of research including partnerships between Universities, Industry and the State sector,

» serving as a one-stop-shop offering ’start to finish’ advice to individual households, businesses, the public and community sector organisations around what they can do from the start , and

» generally promoting culture change across the island.

Emphasising the need to develop a diverse portfolio of energy sources, both intermittent and dispatchable, the paper concludes that the accelerated transition to low-carbon, climate-friendly electricity generation will be achieved by redirecting public, semi-state and private investment into developing and deploying a new energy mix.