We consider the extent to which energy-related goals feature in the policy programme that has been published by the new Irish government.

Irish political context

Following the Irish general election in February 2016 and the formation, some 70 days later, of a new minority government, Denis Naughten - an independent member of the Irish parliament - has been appointed as the minister with responsibility for energy matters.

The Irish government department charged with the administration of energy matters, headed by Mr Naughten, is to change its name from the “Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources” to the “Department of Communications, Climate Change and Natural Resources”. Despite the removal of “energy” from the departmental name, we are not aware of any proposal to de-prioritise energy matters within the business of the Department.

Energy in the programme

As recently as December 2015, the Department published an Energy White Paper entitled “Ireland’s Transition to a Low Carbon Energy Future”, which is instead intended to provide “a framework to guide [energy] policy between now and 2030”.

Accordingly, the energy measures that are listed in the new programme for government are largely pre-existing measures, including:

  • a commitment to publish a National Low Carbon Transition and Mitigation Plan: this was already required as stated in the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015;
  • a commitment to review price supports for renewable energy: this was flagged in the White Paper as being required in conjunction with the closure of applications to the REFIT 2 and 3 schemes, as scheduled, at the end of 2015;
  • a commitment to establishing a “National Dialogue on Climate Change”: the White Paper proposed a “national energy forum”, and it appears (subject to confirmation) that this has been rebranded as a climate change, rather than energy, forum; and
  • a commitment to developing a framework by which local communities can share in the benefits of “substantial new energy infrastructure”: this was flagged in the White Paper in very similar language.

The programme does appear to be intended to accelerate the updating of regional planning guidelines for wind farms. Whereas this initiative had previously been mentioned in the White Paper without any detail around timing, the programme sets out an explicit “3-6 months” aspiration for the completion of this process.

The programme also introduces a proposal – absent from the White Paper – for the Department of Agriculture to facilitate the development of solar energy projects with a view to providing a “community dividend”.

Still on the desk – Energy Bill and Planning Regulations

An item of business for the new government is a decision as to the fate of the Energy Bill 2016, which was introduced in the Irish Seanad (Upper House) in January 2016.

This legislation features more name changes in the energy landscape, with the Commission for Energy Regulation becoming the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (“CRU”). One of the novel concepts introduced by the Bill is that it confers substantial investigative powers on the CRU. It also contains provisions to facilitate the development and implementation of the Integrated Single Electricity Market (“I-SEM”), a major on-going project to align the existing all-island wholesale electricity market with the European Target Model. We understand that the government intends to revive the passage of this legislation in the coming days.

Finally, a draft statutory instrument, entitled the Planning and Development (Amendment) Regulations 2016, has also awaited enactment since prior to the election. Among other things, the regulation proposes to legislate for the 2014 O’Grianna decision and thereby provide clarity to the relationship between planning approval requirements for the grid connection, and for the balance of a project. In this case, however, the wording of the regulation is still under negotiation between the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, the Department of Communications, Climate Change and Natural Resources and the Attorney General.

Ireland’s energy priorities, including continued support for the development of renewable generation, appear largely unchanged following the Irish general election of February 2016.