Beset by Brexit, there is a national impulse now to self-inflict the most damage at the worst moment.
Last week, Ireland only narrowly escaped legislation that would have permanently ended further exploration for fossil fuels.
Fossil fuels being bad and for global warming, what could be wrong? Everything, frankly. Yesterday’s Brexit plan from the Government promised that energy contingency plans have been prepared by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities in Ireland (CRU). I hope so.
In a best-case scenario, and based on past form that isoptimistic, Ireland will need fossil fuel for decades. Enacting the bill proposed by People before Profit’s Bríd Smyth and supported by Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, and the Greens would have endangered our energy security.
Over the decades, while reducing dependency on fossil fuels, we would have been at the mercy of events elsewhere.
The standoffbetween the US and Iran is onecurrent example. Another is the stability of the Saudi regime. In 2009, the Russia-Ukraine gas dispute cut off supplies to South-eastern Europe for 13 days.
Simply put, one hard-left party with a straight-up agenda of discombobulating our economic system by all means available saw an opportunity and took it. They are true to themselves. In a replay of the game of dominoes on water charges, Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil fell into line. With others, they have a majority in the Dáil on the issue. As a case history in the worst sort of politics, it is extraordinary. Rational consideration wassubjected to the calculus of political opportunity.
In the most cynical reckoning, the biggest loser would have been the environment. Transporting fossil fuel around the world doesn’t help polar bears.
The degree of doublethink on the environment and a lack of any sense of imminent danger to our energy supplies on the brink of Brexit are astonishing. Yesterday I saw alarmist signs on Dublin’s Baggot St warning against “butchering” trees to allow Bus Connects.
There was no sense of irony, just illiterate alarmism.
And it’s endemic in inner leafy suburbs.
Essentially those in an inner ring with relatively convenient access to the city, are demanding the right — regardless of the cost to the environment or economy — to effectively block faster, environmentally better bus corridors which give access to a far greater number of people who live further out.
In a Dublin where air pollution is, we were told this week, above allowed limits and a danger to health, powerful local lobbies want the worst of all worlds for others, the better that they can remainundisturbed. It is a toxic marriage between snobbery and a good cause.
It is a replay of how small numbers of relatively privileged people, with drugged words disadvantaging others with less.
The exact metric is access to the place of work and services, and greater numbers of people on the urban periphery need to live and survive.
To put Brexit in context, Ireland imports 137,000 barrels of oil every day.
Regrettably, that need is not going to disappear soon, and certainly won’t in the immediate future. One third of crude for Whitegate refinery, which supplies up to 40% of the Irish retail market, comes from Britain.
Because of Corrib, our gas imports have reduced below 50%, from a high of 95% in 2015.
But that’s domestic exploration for you, not to mention the obvious saving to the environment. But because problems come in clusters, shortly after Brexit, Corrib will peak and our dependency onimports will rise again, in the worst of all worlds.
It’s a salient fact that all our gas imports come through interconnectors from Scotland.
We have no pipeline to the continent, or indeed an electricity interconnector either. We are handcuffed to a Brexit Britain that itself is increasingly dependent on imported energy.
By 2030, 30% of its energy will be imported. During the 2020s, as Corrib declines, as our domestic dependency on imported fossil fuel remains dangerously high, even in the best scenario we are tethered to and dependent on an increasingly energy-importing Britain for our own essential supplies. Outside the architecture of the EU, that is double jeopardy. And on energy policy generally, the EU after Brexit will see Ireland lose a reliable ally at the table in Brussels.
What can and will serve Ireland well is renewable energy. On wind, we are a Middle Eastern emirate. Solar has a real contribution to make also. What is lacking in-scale is connectivity between an all-island grid and renewable energy. On that, the North-South Interconnector is essential.
There, as on Baggot St, in an arc north through Meath and beyond, people who availed of electricity from overhead cables from Moneypoint across the Midlands to Dublin for decades without concern now strenuously object to the same technology in their area.
What was once completely acceptable to have the benefit of is now an end-of-civilisation threat.
While wind has an enormous contribution to make, last Sunday it only provided a meagre 0.6% of our electricity. So on days when the wind won’t blow, we need fossil fuel for now. Far better to have it here, than not be able to get it elsewhere, or at prices that disadvantage Irish jobs.
You will never lose your money betting on jaundiced cynicism on the environment. Concern is genuine. But it’s usually trumped by self-interest. Special interests are hardly in the running by comparison. Soon, connected only to Scotland, our energy bridge to Europe will be severed.
Even if the most ambitious targets are met to reduce CO2 emissions by 95% by 2050, which is Government policy, more than a quarter of our energy will still come from gas and oil. And that is a whopping what-“if”.
THE Government yesterday pointed out that the CRU published a notice to industry in March, stating that in a no-deal Brexit, trade with Britain in gas and electricity will continue. The Single Electricity Market (SEM) will continue to operate. Prisma (the software for cross-border trade in gas) will continue to be used, and gas will continue to flow. So there won’t be an immediate crisis, and that is both good and essential.
What there are, however, are endemic problems of supply of a scarce resource, over decades, in circumstances we can’t predict. If we are lucky, there will be an Irish find; another Corrib. But regardless, to withstand Brexit, to decarbonise and develop renewables in-scale, will be challenging.
The greatest challenge to energy security and the Irish environment isn’t in the Middle East or the Kremlin.
It is on Baggot St where they want to stop effective public transport in Ranelagh where the metro project was already scandalously halted. It is across Meath where some would ensure the wind won’t power a renewable all-island energy grid.
That’s where the politicsof banning exploration is rooted. It’s a quagmire of self-interest and self-regard.