Unwieldy planning processes are blocking Ireland’s transition to cleaner energy with unnecessary delays putting our energy security and economy under grave threat, the Government has been warned.
John Mullins, executive chairman of Amarenco, a solar photovoltaic energy company, and former chief executive of Bord Gáis, said Ireland is the most difficult out of 15 countries the company operates in to get permission for a solar energy project.
“We’re active in 15 countries and we’re based out of Cork, and the Irish planning system gives us the most difficulties,” Mr Mullins said.
“In other European countries, as a response to the Russian gas crisis, they’re actually accelerating and bypassing previous legislation, putting in new legislation because they’re very much afraid this winter that Putin is going to turn off the gas and there’ll be rolling blackouts.
“We need to look and see how we can fast-forward the consenting process in planning exactly the same way as we have done it for strategic housing for example.
“The minister for energy in Portugal has told all the municipalities that they must allow up to 2% of their land to be covered in solar PVs [photovoltaic panels] and they can’t object to it. Other countries are doing similar things.
“Here, anybody can object and there are no repercussions.”
1.27% of electricity generated in Ireland was renewable on Wednesday, while gas generated almost 70% of output according to Eirgrid. On Thursday, the share of renewables increased to 4.91% and gas grew to 72.85%. Coal generated 14.8%.
Mr Mullins said that increasing Ireland’s energy generation from renewables was important, but so was securing a sufficient gas supply now while more renewables are built.
Without increasing domestic gas production, Ireland was too reliant on imports from or through Britain which could cripple the country if it was rationed or cut off.
“Rolling blackouts would have enormous confidence impacts in Ireland in terms of an economic place to set up shop,” Mr Mullins said.
“This is a real threat and the Government needs to take it seriously.”
Fine Gael Senator Tim Lombard said Ireland must generate its own gas as a transition fuel.
“In Ireland, we are in an energy emergency and we need to be prepared for the worst-case scenario — the lights going out,” Mr Lombard said.
“Just this week we have seen two amber warnings from Eirgrid. Those amber alerts are in summer when the sun is shining and when the demand on electricity to heat freezing homes is not there.
“Over two-thirds of our gas supplies comes from one place in Britain — Moffat. This over-reliance on Brexit Britain is akin to Europe’s reliance on Russian gas. One strike and that location and Ireland is in the dark.
“Renewable developments are welcome but right now a supply of gas is paramount. We have Inishkea gas field next to Corrib in Mayo and Barryroe off West Cork.
“It is urgent that we focus on supply of homegrown energy rather than continuing to focus on imported fuels from all parts of the world.”
Richard Jacob, former co-owner of Idaho café in Cork city, said that micro-generation in homes and businesses can play a part in the overall energy solution.
Soaring energy bills are currently of no personal concern to Mr Jacob, who has been feeding energy back into the grid from the 3ft x 5ft solar panel fitted to the roof of his house since January.
Falling costs of solar photovoltaic technology, rising energy costs and increased efficiency of the technology makes the pay-back period for the initial investment in the PV panels very short.
They have paid no energy bills for the past three months, other than the monthly standing charge, and have been making some money from selling their energy back into the grid.
They paid €3,400 for the solar panels.
“We’re saving €180 over two months,” Mr Jacob said. “The solar panels are unbelievably efficient. But larger solar panels require planning permission which is stalling the technology’s rollout across roofs of farm buildings and barns across the country.
“If the Government could make it easier, you could have solar panels on every farm building and barn roof.
“Dairy farmers need huge amounts of electricity to keep the milk cool, solar panels could really help with that.
“Solar panels could help reduce agriculture’s carbon footprint.”