The Irish Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment has launched a public consultation on the draft National Mitigation Plan. The consultation calls for submissions from renewable energy sector stakeholders before 26 April 2017 with a view to reducing Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions. We examine the scope of the Plan and the importance of a robust response from industry participants.
In a previous article, we referred to Ireland’s Climate Change Bill as representing “More Aspiration than Perspiration” and we observed that for new substantive policy measures, those involved in the energy sector would need to wait and see what the Government planned.
The Irish Government is now asking the market to help it plan towards the reduction of Ireland’s level of greenhouse gas emissions. The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act (the “Act”), which was enacted in late 2015, requires the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment (the "Minister") to submit to the Government a National Mitigation Plan (the “Plan”). The Plan must be submitted by 10 June 2017.
In March 2017, the Minister launched the statutory public consultation on the Plan. Submissions on the draft National Mitigation Plan can be made up to 26 April 2017.
The Plan is intended as a roadmap for the policy measures that will be employed in order to manage and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Once implemented, the Plan will be subject to a review every five years. According to the Act, “relevant bodies” such as the Electricity Supply Board (ESB), the Commission for Energy Regulation and EirGrid must "have regard to" the Plan in the performance of their functions.
Implications for Wind Energy
The draft Plan includes four chapters, addressing the “Electricity Generation”, “Built Environment”, “Transport and Agriculture”, and “Forest and Land Use” sectors. These chapters provide the relevant sectoral policy context, the greenhouse gas emissions trends for each sector, the opportunities and challenges, the measures which are currently in place and those which are under consideration.
The draft Plan recognises wind energy as having been the main driver of growth in Irish renewable electricity generation, although it acknowledges that the installation of a further 880MW of on-shore wind is required by 2020 in order to achieve Ireland’s 2020 RES-E target.
When looking forward to the period from 2020 to 2030, the draft Plan indicates an intention to diversify the portfolio of renewable electricity generation to include more offshore wind, solar, bioenergy and wave and tidal generation means. This is to be welcomed, however, the Government should not lose sight of the critical importance of on-shore wind to Ireland’s decarbonisation transition in an achieveable and cost-effective manner. Ireland’s success to date of achieving high levels of wind energy integration into the energy mix at a low cost should not be ignored.
Surprisingly, the draft Plan blames the deceleration of the build-out of new onshore wind generation on a failure by industry to engage with local communities, resulting in protracted planning processes. Those familiar with the industry, and the delays to projects achieving financial close, will know that this is not correct.
Community engagement is critical to the successful consenting of a project. However, the principles underlying Ireland’s planning system and recent decisions in the Irish courts mean that no amount of community engagement can prevent objections to a project, or the associated delays to the consenting process. Instead, it could be argued that the slowed build rate has been caused by (i) an absence of a strong Government policy on renewable energy (and supported by appropriate legislation) that provides clear guidance to the planning process; and (ii) the impact of the Aarhus Convention on the Irish legal system.
The draft Plan includes a number of questions to guide responses and submissions – although these are not prescriptive. Questions relevant to the energy sector include:
- What further contribution should renewable electricity make towards progressing the transition to a low-carbon society and economy? How should this be facilitated?
- In conjunction with the need to improve the energy efficiency of the built environment through deeper levels of renovation, how do we realise the opportunities that decarbonisation of large scale electric power generation provides to decarbonise the heating and transport sectors through electrification?
- How can we enhance community engagement with decarbonisation of the electricity system, including achieving greater social and community acceptance of necessary associated electricity infrastructure?
- How can spatial planning for renewable electricity infrastructure be made more efficient and effective?
- What other renewable technologies should be considered in order to diversify the power generation mix?
Submissions on the draft National Mitigation Plan can be made up to 26 April 2017 and, in our view, it is important that the renewables sector responds robustly, so that objections can be registered against some of the more contentious aspects of the Plan. The submissions provide an opportunity for the renewable energy industry to help set the agenda for policy decisions into the future and to suggest innovative solutions to issues like community engagement. For example, other EU jurisdictions are in the process of implementing special support mechanisms for community wind farms in a post feed in tariff environment. These mechanisms would result in clearer benefits for all interested stakeholders and create development opportunities. This is just one of the potential submissions that could be made and we would recommend that stakeholders make their voices heard.