Renewable energy plan ‘must be revised urgently’ to avoid price rises

Electricity prices will rise and climate action targets will be missed under the State’s renewable energy strategy, wind and solar companies have warned.

Their warnings are in strongly worded letters to EirGrid, the national electricity grid operator, and to Energy and Climate Action Minister Eamon Ryan.

The Irish Solar Energy Association (ISEA) said it was “extremely alarmed” at the strategy. Wind Energy Ireland (WEI) said it “bears no relationship to reality”.

One major wind energy company, Statkraft, said it “must be revised as a matter of urgency”.

They reacted following publication of EirGrid’s 10-year strategy for making Ireland 70pc self-sufficient in renewable electricity by 2030.

The ‘Shaping Our Electricity Future’ strategy, which sets out grid upgrade plans requiring extensive new cables, pylons and substations, was unveiled amid much fanfare at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November.

But correspondence released under Freedom of Information shows the industries expected to deliver on the strategy were immediately concerned by its contents.

The 70pc renewable electricity target was already out of date as the Government’s Climate Action Plan published five days earlier had increased the goal to 80pc.

EirGrid said it planned to connect just 1,000 megawatts (MW) of large solar power projects to the national power grid by 2030.

The ISEA said 3,000-4,000MW worth of projects were in the pipeline, some ready to build with grid connection offers in place and others at advanced stages of planning.

“We view this document as an existential threat to the industry;  it gambles with  the future of both the solar industry and our ability to deliver the 2030 targets,” Conall Bolger, ISEA chief executive, wrote.

EirGrid said it would connect just 1,300MW of onshore wind turbines to the grid by 2030.

WEI said 2,700MW worth of onshore wind projects were under construction, had planning permission and grid connection offers, or were at advanced stages of planning.

If EirGrid only accepted half the energy they could produce, they would have to be paid to stand still.

“These wind farms will face significant levels of dispatch down which will need to be accommodated in auction bid prices,” Noel Cunniffe, WEI chief executive wrote.

“It will sharply drive up the cost of delivering the cheapest form of renewable electricity available in Ireland and, consequently, likewise drive up prices for domestic and business electricity customers.”

The strategy is focused instead on connecting large amounts of offshore wind energy – 5,000MW in total – and much of the new grid infrastructure planned is in coastal areas to facilitate this.

No offshore wind project is under construction yet and Mr Cunniffe wrote: “We would like to be clear so there is no risk of misunderstanding – Government policy is not on track to enable our industry to achieve this target.”

He said none was expected to be ready to supply electricity until 2028. “This means there will be no significant reduction in our electricity emissions for a substantial part of the decade,” he added.

The electricity sector is the only one where Ireland has made any significant progress in cutting carbon emissions. Just under 40pc of electricity was provided from renewable sources last year.

Emission reduction targets for 2030 rely heavily on doubling that proportion to 80pc, and this will be reflected in new carbon budgets which will come into effect later this year.

“ We are also very concerned at the implications of the strategy for our legally binding carbon budgets  in terms of cumulative CO2 emissions over the decade,” Mr Cunniffe wrote.

The letters sparked comment within the Department of Environment and Climate Action, which is also in charge of energy policy.

In emails between officials, one reminds others: “We only provide a watching brief on what the system operators are doing.

“Therefore it’s very difficult for us to direct the system operators to do anything that we might like to see happen to deliver CAP [Climate Action Plan] and similar commitments and targets.”

This point is made in a reply to ISEA, but it also says: “Consultation with EirGrid as to the details of their recently published roadmap will continue to ensure that it reflects national policies and targets for our renewable ambitions.”

The reply also acknowledges the potential impact on electricity prices.

“The Department is aware of the challenges that potential grid constraints could have on bid pricing for some projects and thus that could potentially feed through to consumer bills,” it says.

“These costs are important as locational indicators to ensure that projects are developed in the areas of the network that have the most capacity to take additional connections.”

Consumers would either have to pay grid constraint costs, or pay to upgrade the grid infrastructure, the reply explains. Since the letters were exchanged, some discussions have taken place between the energy companies, the Department and EirGrid.

Mr Bolger of the ISEA said: “EirGrid also participated in a webinar on the document with ISEA members.

“We have received no firm assurances that our concerns will be addressed in any future updates.”

Mr Cunniffe of WEI said he still maintained the EirGrid strategy needed revised.

“The current version will not deliver the cuts in carbon emissions required by the Climate Change Advisory Council and needs to be updated to reflect the new Government target of 80pc renewable electricity by 2030.

“We are keen to work with EirGrid as their strategy evolves to meet those targets.”

The Department said future versions of the report “will take account of the most up-to-date Government targets”.

EirGrid said it had focused on offshore wind in the strategy because it could provide power close to Dublin, the area of greatest demand and to “minimise the impact on communities” from onshore wind and solar.

“In the next iteration of Shaping Our Electricity Future, we will consider the most recent policy developments. This will take account of latest iteration of the Climate Action Plan.”

Source: Irish Independent – https://www.independent.ie/news/environment/renewable-energy-plan-must-be-revised-urgently-to-avoid-price-rises-and-missed-targets-41245992.html