Tuesday 13 March 2007

Government may be tilting at windmills with ambitious energy plan

If you drive east out of Los Angeles towards Palm Springs, you cross a vast desert. It is arid. It is monotonous.
But the monotony does not come as much from the dusty wastes as from the thousands of windmills that fill the landscape for mile after mile.
By 2020, if the Government’s blueprint on energy achieves its targets, Ireland will have more windmills than Don Quixote could hope to tilt at in a lifetime.
Yesterday’s White Paper on the energy policy framework confirmed that the Government wants 33% of our energy needs to be supplied by renewable forms by 2020. Communications Minister Noel Dempsey accepted it would be a big ask. “Everybody agrees that they are ambitious,” he said, before stressing he thought they were achievable.
How big an ask it is is borne out by the figures. Renewables comprised only 5% of the market in 2005 and so this source will need to be multiplied six-fold over the next 13 years.
But when you look for detail as to how that will be achieved, there are not enough specifics to indicate whether it will be achievable or not.
Yes, €150 million has been allotted in the National Development Plan to develop alternative energy sources and Mr Dempsey said that he has got signals from his Cabinet colleagues that “if more is needed, it will be made
available”. The White Paper states that “wind energy will provide the pivotal contribution to achieving this target”.
Lots of windmills then. There is also a commitment to develop ocean energy technologies, as well as biomass technologies.
But as Eamon Ryan of the Green Party pointed out, there are lots of plans that will be finalised over the next year, but not enough in terms of concrete proposals.
This is partly explained by the fact that Mr Dempsey’s energy policy framework is one piece of a larger jigsaw. One of the key factors will be reduction in dependence on fossil fuels and better conservation. To that end, we will not have a grasp of the full energy/climate change/reduction in carbon emissions picture until the publication of Environment Minister Dick Roche’s climate change strategy (due out at Easter); and the separate policy papers on transport (Minister Martin Cullen) and agriculture (Minister Mary Coughlan).
Parties have muscled up on their energy policies and Mr Dempsey’s claim that the white paper is comprehensive, coherent and detailed is generally correct. Elsewhere there are over 200 separate actions set out to ensure security of supply, better conservation and sustainability.
Very ambitious, certainly. But until we see all the details spelling out how it can be done, it will remain a target more utopian than real.
Harry McGee
© Irish Examiner

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