SUSTAINABLE AGENDA: THE 2020 target for renewable energy has been increased to 40 per cent as part of the new strategy by Government to make the "green economy" a core component of its recovery plan.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen said the Government's aim was to deliver a "New Green Deal" that focused on energy efficiency and the investment in clean and renewable technologies.
"As one of the most fossil fuel dependent countries in the world, we must prepare for a future when the prices and volatility we have recently witnessed become the norm," he said.
Improving the environment and energy security is one of the five "action areas" in the plan to rejuvenate the economy and attain sustainable growth.
Minster for Energy Eamon Ryan, who also spoke at the launch of the plan, said it represented a fundamental sea-change in Government thinking and direction.
"The economy is moving in a greener direction," he said. "The smart economy will be a green economy."
Later, Mr Ryan, who is a Green Party TD, said it was reasonable to make comparisons between the plan and ground-breaking events in the past: such as Ireland's decision to join the EEC in 1973 and the collective consensus on building the economy in 1987.
"I have not seen anything like it back in terms of an economic plan. We now own the sustainable economic agenda and it's been put at the heart of Government thinking.
"Our green advantage is real and puts us ahead of other countries.
"The benefits across the board will be real and we can generate wealth in our sustainability agenda, using digital technology, and in agriculture and tourism," he said.
Other key elements in the energy area includes a long-term investment of €30 billion in renewable energy, new supports to allow large companies generate their own renewable electricity on site; and the roll-out of smart meters for every household in the country at a cost of €1 billion. The meters will allow users to monitor their usage, automatically switch off appliances, as well as feed renewable energy into the national grid.
Mr Ryan also pledged yesterday that if more than 25,000 households improved insulation in their homes next year, he would immediately seek to secure extra funds.
The Government will also put a greater emphasis on green enterprise and the development of green technology, both identified as key areas of growth in future years.
Planning for such renewable projects as wind turbines will also be fast-tracked.
The chief executive of the ESB, Padraig McManus, said that the biggest challenge in the plan was to have 40 per cent renewables by 2020, some 20 per cent above the EU target.
"That is going to be a stretch, there's no doubt about that. I know the Minister is committed to it," he said. "If you look at the level of wind connections that people are seeking, by next year, 2009, we will have offers out to people to connect 6,000 megawatts of wind. If that happens, then it's possible." (The current peak demand is circa 5,500 megawatts).