A fair wind for renewable energy sector?

The Green Party seems to have snatched an unlikely victory at the weekend – they somehow maneuvered themselves from being pinned between the proverbial rock and a hard place and wriggled free with party unity intact and a hatful of new concessions wrung from their senior government partners. Harry Houdini would have been impressed.

Certainly, Eamon Ryan sounded uber-chipper on RTÉ radio yesterday morning, including giving Sunday Times editor Frank Fitzgibbon as good as he got in some fairly heated exchanges. Meanwhile, the Sunday Indo yesterday decried the revised programme for government as a cynical deal. Given that newspaper’s deeply cynical campaign to repeal stamp duty at the height of the property bubble, and their even more cynical support for B. Ahern & Friends in the lead-in to the 2007 General Election, this is clearly an area of expertise for them. The opening 2 paras of yesterday’s lead story are worth reproducing:

“In one of the most cynical exercises in government to date, Fianna Fail has agreed to the demands of the Green Party in a manner which makes nonsense of promises made to cut public spending to secure national recovery. In a breathtaking contradiction, in order to stay in power at all costs, Fianna Fail has simultaneously promised to cut public spending while increasing the number of jobs in the public sector.”

Don’t know about you, but I expect to find opinion pieces – including my own – on the Op-Ed pages, where they are clearly identified as such, but this dressing up of the reporters’ (or their boss’s) opinions as “news” is an ominous development. Back in DCU in the 1980s, John Horgan would have thrown any of us cub reporters out on our ear had we attempted to hand in the above rant and try to pass it off as a news report. The Sindo may be right or they may be wrong; my point is simply that news and commentary, like oil and water, were never meant to mix – and for very good reason.

Saturday is already old news; Ryan had much bigger fish to fry today with the arrival in Dublin of EU Energy Commissioner, Andris Piebalgs (click here for his blog) to address the annual conference of NOW, the National Offshore Wind association. To meet our own renewables targets, Ireland will need 4000 MW onshore and 2000 MW offshore. More to the point, we should be selling green energy back into Europe via enhanced interconnectors.

NOW pointed to an Indecon report on offshore wind energy as offering an economic benefit to Ireland of up to 3.8bn euro from developing a 1000 MW project in Irish waters.  This is in a combination of job creation, reduced import of fossil fuels, reduced exposure to oil and gas price fluctuation, avoidance of carbon fines and a long term reduction in energy prices.

Brendan Halligan, Chairman of Sustainable Energy Ireland, argued that the offshore industry was critical to the future development of what was now a failed economy. “Ireland needs a new Whitaker.We need to look for our competitive advantage. Ireland is a small open economy we must export to survive and thrive.   If you are looking for a job creation and stimulus project, here it is ready made, offshore is the smart economy.  We already export 80% of GDP, applying this thinking to green energy is the logical step.  But people are not thinking this way yet. Onshore will be the mechanism by which we meet our domestic energy targets, let offshore be the basis for a new export economy. “

But instead of getting ahead, Ireland Inc. is actually slipping behind. When the Arklow offshore wind array was commissioned, it represented 5 per cent of the world’s offshore wind power, now it’s a small fraction of one per cent. “At the current rate of progress developers will lose interest in this country and go elsewhere”, said Ian Marchant of Scottish and Southern Energy, the developers of Arklow Bank Wind farm.

“Ireland will lose out on an employment opportunity of approximately 650 jobs per thousand megawatts if this happens.  Ports like Dublin and Belfast will lose their opportunity to be part of a major new industry and a chance for future growth”, added Marchant.

There are now around 2,500MW of offshore wind in planning, with around 8,000MW of onshore projects in the pipeline. Ireland’s typical daily electricity requirement is in the range of 2,000–5,000MW, so clearly the above is, at peak, well in excess of that, and we urgently need to seriously ramp up our interconnector capacity in order to be able to sell on this excess electricity (if ever a country was primed for a rapid move to private and public electric vehicles, mainly powered via this massive resource of overnight “free” electricity, it’s Ireland).

Waffle about the Green Economy and the New Green Deal is all around. Right here, right now, a massive and sustained investment in wind energy, supported by an enhanced grid and an array of new interconnectors is available, assuming we can get EU assistance to finance the heavy upfront costs. Considering the EU is itself committed to rapid decarbonisation in the near term, there is simply no substitute for getting in and investing in the new clean energy grid that Europe and Ireland desperately needs.

For us, imagine the impact on our national wealth if, by 2020, instead of spending several billion every year on imported fuels, we had swung it around and were net energy exporters? Why the hell not? We have hundreds upon hundreds of kilometres of jagged coastline battered almost constantly by the prevailing Atlantic winds. We have the massive European energy markets quite near by, not only are they willing to buy our green energy, there will be a queue for the stuff.

Anyone in politics, public administration, policy making or the media who can’t see this should seriously consider an alternate career. Whatever else you might say about those cynical Greens, Eamon Ryan absolutely understands and passionately support our quest towards achieving energy independence as an urgent national priority.

There will be plenty of time to skewer Fianna Fail for Nama, John O’Donohue, Bertie Ahern, Martin Cullen…etc. etc. But for now, there’s work to be done.

ThinkOrSwim is a blog by journalist John Gibbons focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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6 Responses to A fair wind for renewable energy sector?

  1. Ian says:

    No John, there is not plenty of time to “skewer” NAMA. That filthy bailout will probably do significant damage to the efforts to roll out renewable energy.

    Imagine the impact on our national wealth if, by 2020, instead of spending several billion every year the past mistakes of bankers, we were net energy exporters? Why the hell not? The answer: John, Eamon and the other “Greens”.

    There is indeed work to be done and I believe that Eamonn Ryan understands that. But he is not making the radical policy needed to do it.

  2. RE
    ” with the arrival in Dublin of EU Energy Commissioner, Andris Piebalgs”
    — ha ha, didn’t see this (see comment to previous post) I am his most active critic, as seen on his blog that you link

    wind energy and interconnections
    Clearly important are the twin aspects of grid interconnections and energy storage to make full use of an intermittent power resource(either export or store for peak usage times, or of course both)
    storage for grid electricity use does stil present the problems mentioned

    In fact, Mr Piebalgs blog takes up these matters too
    “Putting sun and wind in a bottle”
    I go into those issues a bit more there.

    I find myself at a cross-roads between both libertarians
    and environmentalists
    – I don’t see energy efficiency regulations as necessary
    (and if they were, taxation is better)
    – but think emissions can and should be dealt with directly,
    not just for CO2 content.

    The common argument that “direct emission reduction whether by energy substitution or emission processing is too slow or expensive and that therefore inefficient products (ordinary light bulbs etc) need to be banned”
    doesn’t hold up, in my view, and for the several reasons given on the site

  3. John Gibbons says:


    I’m not a Nama T-shirt wearer either, but it looks like we’re gonna have to bite down and take this. Hope you’re wrong regarding us being knackered as a result and unable to deliver a GND, wind energy etc. All to play for? JG

  4. Coilin MacLochlainn says:

    I agree, the Greens deserve huge praise for their achievements of the weekend: securing party unity and their members’ acceptance of the new programme for government. Who woulda thunk it? They’ve provided the essential stability needed right now. Now, that’s leadership.

    Your description of Ireland’s wind energy potential and targets is very encouraging, and the news that Eamon Ryan is already rolling up his sleeves. But the onshore target of 4000MW could be very difficult to achieve, because of Nimbyism. I think targets could be achieved more quickly by putting all the turbines offshore.

    Will wind turbines really meet all of Ireland’s electricity needs, and more? Prof James Lovelock thinks not, as offshore turbines only work at 40% capacity because of low-wind periods. But I suppose if enough are built, and we build a few onshore pumped storage reservoirs (as per Prof Richard Tol) to ensure continuity of supply, it’ll work. I hope your optimism, and that of the National Offshore Wind Association’s, is not unfounded.

    I’d like to believe Ireland Inc will invest billions in these renewables, with EU assistance and perhaps some of the diaspora. It must happen. If it doesn’t, we’ll end up having to buy in power, at enormous cost, from the Saharan solar energy farms of the future (which might be vulnerable to sabotage). Without the Greens, we’d be staring into the abyss, otherwise known as ‘business as usual’.

  5. Cornelius says:

    I enjoyed your article about the follie that is the bottled water industry, but you fail to mention the bigger picture here which is our dwindling fresh water supplies and the privatization of those supplies, putting what was once a communal resource into the hands of private corporations like Suez, Vivendi (Veola) and Thames Water. “FLOW (For Love of Water),” Irena Salina’s award winning documentary (Sundance, United Nations) does a tremendous job of exposing this global water cartel.
    The trailer can be seen here:


  6. actually it is not that hard to setup wind farms, the only problem is that it requires lots of capital investment.:~`

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