Ireland, it appears, is at last starting to get serious about tackling our huge energy requirements, and the dagger that our massive dependence on imports of oil and gas in particular holds to our collective throat.
We are reckoned in the energy stakes to be among the OECD’s most import-dependent countries. This, with Peak Oil somewhere on the horizon and with ultra-volatile supply chains putting us totally at the mercy of the Middle East for oil and Russia for gas, is not where a modern economy or society wants to be.
Thankfully, unlike Eircom, (which was sold off to the private sector and is now a shambles, having being stripped of cash by its various new owners) we do still control the ESB. That allows for strategic planning and long-term thinking. Just as well too.
The ESB earlier today announced that it’s setting out on an unprecedented capital investment programme of €22 billion. The ESB has put in place a Strategic Framework for the next 12 years.
This will see massive and long overdue investment in renewable energy, the halving of its carbon emissions by 2020, and the goal of carbon net-zero by 2035. Fifty percent of the overall investment package is geared towards investments in renewables.
€4bn will be directly invested in renewable energy projects and a further €6.5bn will be spent facilitating renewables, including – at long, long last, smart metering and smart networks.
The plan, they say, “will establish ESB as a world class renewables company, makes emissions reduction and energy efficiency central to its ambitious targets”. Energy Minister, Eamon Ryan certainly sounded chuffed on radio today.
While the media want to bang on about Bertie and the Tribunal, for the Greens, days like today have to be why they sit silently and say nothing as the brickbats fly from the Opposition benches over the Taoiseach. This really is huge. It’s about changing the way we do business, and re-wiring our country for the long and bumpy road ahead. In its own way, today’s announcement is the most exciting thing to emanate from the ESB since the rural electrification scheme in the 1950s.
By 2020, ESB will be delivering one-third of its electricity from renewable generation. This will include over 1,400 megawatts of wind generation, in addition to wave, tidal and biomass. To promote this, the company will invest in emerging green technologies.
The €11 billion to be invested by ESB in its Networks “will ensure continued efficient delivery of the vital infrastructure needed to support the Irish economy”. It will also facilitate the development of up to 6,000 megawatts of wind power on the island.
ESB says it will maintain its market share of power generation at well below 40%, “to facilitate continuing competition in the energy market”. Completion of the present closure/divestment of 1,500 megawatts of its stations and sites will assist this process. ESB says it will continue to enhance plant availability and performance in line with EU norms.
Preparing for competition in the retail market, ESB will focus on delivering energy conservation and new initiatives on energy efficiencies. There will be a single British-Irish electricity market by 2020, so the ESB’s move puts it in a good position to benefit from this. The company will invest in more generation plants and renewables in Britain and further plants in Europe.
ESB Chairman, Lochlann Quinn, said the Strategic Framework to 2020 is the ESB’s response to those major imperatives now demanding action. “ESB is operating in a dramatically changing environment. Three key concerns now exist – the consequences of climate change, energy security and competitiveness of energy supply”, said Quinn.
The Board’s statement today made no explicit reference to the future of its peat-burning plants, but basic ecological common sense says they must be shut down or converted as soon as possible. Ditto the coal-burning monstrosity at Moneypoint in Clare, which alone currently contributes 5 million tons of CO2 per annum – that’s over a ton for every man, woman and child in the country.
Still, it’s not a day to be churlish. This is seriously good news for Ireland Inc., since without energy security, all other bets are off.