Elaine Loughlin: Greens get bogged down in turf and fail to seize the moment

With Europe moving away from Russian oil and gas, the Green Party could have seized the moment and framed renewable energy as being about cold hard cash, job creation, and economics
Elaine Loughlin: Greens get bogged down in turf and fail to seize the moment

Elaine Loughlin: 'The problem with climate change is it just seems like a headache for tomorrow.'

If Eamon Ryan hadn't got himself so bogged down in turf, his party could have taken advantage of a unique opportunity.

As Europe turns its back on dirty Russian oil and gas, Ireland has the potential to become a leader in the production of green energy, but it appears that level of will or ambition simply isn't there.

Having seen a gap in the energy market, the Greens could have seized the moment to create hundreds of jobs, bring in more money for the exchequer, drastically reduce household costs, and on the environmental side of things fast-track Europe's move away from fossil fuels.

Yes, this country is moving to significantly ramp up renewable energy to meet the 80% target by 2030, but this was a goal that was set before the invasion of Ukraine and before the potential for a massive new energy market opened up to us.

Ireland has the potential to produce enough renewable electricity to power 64.4m homes across the EU if the Government developed the offshore energy sector in a strategic manner, Independent TD Denis Naughten recently told the Dáil.

'Politically lazy'

But leading experts say the Government remains "politically lazy" when it comes to the potential of renewable energy such as offshore wind which could reinvigorate regional economies.

Despite the abundance of opportunity and willingness of businesses and communities to engage, DCU assistant professor of sustainable energy Dr James Carton said for many years there was "nothing happening".

Dr Carton said: "The problem isn’t that someone doesn’t have the money, the problem is that the risk for investing in Ireland today is too high, and they prefer to go to Scotland. The example in Scotland is that they opened up an auction with 5GW of offshore wind, and 25GW, five times more, actually won the auction.

"Ireland is effectively aiming for 5GW on the east coast, and potentially 1Gw on the west coast by 2030," he said.

I would suggest with Ukraine, with energy security, with opportunity, investment banks, pensions from all over the world would flood into the west coast of Ireland to put in 10s of GW."

Ireland has one of the largest maritime areas in the EU, seven times larger than our land mass, this asset has up to now remained largely untapped.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has stressed our reliance on fossil fuels must end. Picture: Conor Healy
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has stressed our reliance on fossil fuels must end. Picture: Conor Healy

But the problem with climate change is it just seems like a headache for tomorrow, the level of action required always appears more akin to the attention you might give a leaky tap rather than a collapsed roof with water spilling in.

Asked about it last week, Mr Ryan stressed our reliance on fossil fuels must end.

"We are spending money out of the country to import fossil fuels when we have our own energy supplies here," he said.

"We will be at the centre of a new offshore energy revolution because we have a huge resource capability there, in the next-two-and-a-half years, the lifetime of this Government, we will launch the first auction of those offshore projects. We will get them through planning and into contract and starting to be built and that's a dramatic acceleration of ambition," he said.

Delivery of projects is still spoken about in years rather than months.

If the country could temporarily take over private hospitals, close pubs, schools and shops overnight, why can't it act with the same urgency when it comes to our environment?

Call for emergency climate response team

For some time now, Wind Energy Ireland has been calling for an Nphet-style emergency climate response team.

"There is an absolute lack of coordination, and I don't think the same level of energy and drive to decarbonise the energy system is there," Justin Moran, director of external affairs with Wind Energy Ireland said.

I think climate change has now become an issue like, you know, like housing or education, it's a serious issue, people take it seriously, but it still hasn't crossed into that crisis mode."

He said climate activists were hesitant of calling for an increase in the targets as they know there are still significant roadblocks preventing this.

"Until we fix the planning system achieving that target is very, very difficult," he said, adding it can take three or four years to get planning permission for an individual wind farm.

'If we're struggling now today to process planning applications for onshore wind farms, how are we going to deal with offshore wind farms which are much, much bigger, much more technically complicated projects?' 
'If we're struggling now today to process planning applications for onshore wind farms, how are we going to deal with offshore wind farms which are much, much bigger, much more technically complicated projects?' 

"An Bord Pleanála is supposed to make a decision on a planning application for an onshore wind farm in 18 weeks, but our research shows that since the start of 2020 they haven't hit that target for any wind farm and in fact, their average is between 50 and 60 weeks and some of them are over 100 weeks. 

"So, if we're struggling now today to process planning applications for onshore wind farms, how are we going to deal with offshore wind farms which are much, much bigger, much more technically complicated projects?"

The job creation and economic element to developing green energy has been somewhat downplayed, as Mr Moran pointed out every off-shore wind farm will employ between 70 and 90 people at on-shore maintenance bases.

With global warming predicted to exceed 1.5°C within the coming decades, experts are now calling for a more radical approach.

Pascal Lamy, president of the Paris Peace Forum and former director-general of the World Trade Organization, last week wrote that in order to reduce global CO2 levels, we must now go as far as examining “sunlight reflection methods,” an intervention designed to reflect a small portion of incoming solar radiation back into space.

The days of a cautious approach to climate change are behind us and we cannot now put a limit on our ambitions.

If the Greens could only be a little less green (in the other sense of the word) and more politically astute, they might see that renewable energy could be easily framed as being about cold hard cash, job creation and economics. Saving the planet in the process would be a mere positive side-effect.

Did you know?

Article 8 of the Irish Constitution states the Irish language, as the national language, is the first official language. English is recognised as a second official language.
However, the 2016 census found 73,803 people speak Irish daily. This equates to 1.7% of the population.
Just over 1.7m people, representing 39.8% of the population, said they could speak Irish.
Galway county had the highest percentage of Irish speakers, with 49% of the population indicating they could speak Irish.

The week in years gone by

1921

May 25: The Custom House in Dublin was set on fire. The Cork Examiner reported that "very sensational events occurred" when "armed men entered the precinct of the Custom House between 1pm and 2pm, and held up officials". They then sprinkled petrol through sections of the building before setting it alight.

1964

May 29: President Éamon de Valera addressed a joint session of the US Senate and House of Representatives stating he looked forward to the day when he could announce a United Ireland. The Cork Examiner reported: "His address was punctuated by outbursts of applause and, at one point his voice became choked with emotion when he referred to the occasion as 'my outstanding day'."

1981

May 30: Under the headline 'Charlie who?' it was reported that a journalist had been mistaken for then taoiseach Charles Haughey during an election campaign event in Belturbet, Co Cavan. "It happened when the Bell Jet Ranger helicopter carrying pressmen touched down in the local GAA pitch. A woman ran forward and when the pressmen stepped out she grabbed one by the hand and asked: 'Are you the Taoiseach?'."

1993

May 27: President Mary Robinson signalled a new era in Anglo-Irish relations when she became the first Irish head of state to meet with a British monarch. The mechanics of the historic meeting with Queen Elizabeth in Buckingham Palace were well planned, with the president and her husband Nick arriving at 4.55pm sharp before leaving again at 5.29pm.

2018

May 28: A special edition of the Irish Examiner marked the historic vote which repealed the Eighth Amendment, paving the way for the provision of abortion services in this country.

What to look out for this week

Tuesday

The political week begins with Cabinet, before the Taoiseach takes Leaders' Questions in the Dáil at 2pm.

The Government business slot will see statements on the 'Role of Journalists in Conflicts across the World', before the Dáil debates a Sinn Féin bill which would crack down on estate agents and platforms such as Airbnb if they advertise short-term rentals which don't have the necessary planning permission. In the evening, Justice Minister Helen McEntee will answer questions.

Congressman Richard Neal will address the Seanad on Tuesday. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Congressman Richard Neal will address the Seanad on Tuesday. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire

In the Seanad at 4.45pm, Richard Neal, a member of the US House of Representatives, chairman of it ways and means committee, and co-chair of the Congressional Friends of Ireland will address the chamber, after an invitation by Cathaoirleach Mark Daly, who said Mr Neal "is the embodiment of the strong links between Ireland and the United States of America".

A busy committee slate will see Higher Education Minister Simon Harris discuss the future of funding in his sector with the Joint Committee on Education and his Justice colleague Helen McEntee in front of the Justice Committee to discuss the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, while the Housing Committee will launch a report on urban regeneration.

The Joint Committee on Children will have two sessions discussing the General Scheme of the Mother and Baby Institutions Payments Scheme Bill.

Wednesday

Wednesday in the Dáil will kick off with Topical Issues before People Before Profit-Solidarity put down a motion regarding strike action by the Medical Laboratory Scientists Association. Leaders' Questions will follow at midday before statements on the Northern Protocol and discussion of four pieces of legislation — the Civil Law Act 2021, Finance (Covid-19 and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2022, Consumer Credit (Amendment) Bill 2022 and the Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2022.

The Seanad will meanwhile debate a Labour bill aimed at ensuring interns are entitled to the minimum wage.

Ukrainian ambassador Larysa Gerasko will appear at the Joint EU Affairs Committee. Picture: Gareth Chaney/ Collins Photos
Ukrainian ambassador Larysa Gerasko will appear at the Joint EU Affairs Committee. Picture: Gareth Chaney/ Collins Photos

Ukrainian ambassador Larysa Gerasko will appear at the Joint EU Affairs Committee, while publican representative bodies will discuss skills shortages with the Joint Committee on Tourism.

Thursday

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly and his Agriculture colleague Charlie McConalogue will answer oral questions in the Dáil early on Thursday before the third Leaders' Questions of the week. In the afternoon, there will be statements on an issue vexing most TDs — passports.

The Seanad will resume discussion of the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill and the Public Petitions Committee will discuss a petition calling for a ban on herbicides in public areas.

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