New renewables target for Ireland -- Nuclear ruled out

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The Irish government has set a new national target for renewable energy to meet 15% of electricity supply by 2010. Ireland has made rapid progress with development of renewables, mostly wind, doubling its renewable capacity in the past two years and is on course to exceed its current 13.2% renewables target, points out natural resources minister Noel Dempsey. "The new EUR 119 million renewable energy feed in tariff (REFIT) program will ensure that developers can deliver [the 15%] target," he says.

A green paper on future energy policy will outline even higher renewables targets for 2020, says Dempsey. "Our more ambitious targets will only be achieved by developing a broad range of renewable technologies, which is why REFIT is a banded system to assist the more expensive hydro and biomass technologies."

The green paper will be the precursor to a white paper, due later this year. As with a number of other countries in Europe, Ireland is reconsidering its policies against the background of uncertain future energy supplies -- particularly gas -- and the drive towards environmental sustainability. Dempsey points out that the Irish energy market is small and geographically peripheral, located on the edge of Europe and with only limited interconnection with the UK. It has strong growth in energy demand of some 4% annually and is dependent on imported fossil fuels. If its energy policy remains unchanged, gas dependency is set to grow to over 70% of power generation by 2020. "That is not sustainable from a security point of view," Dempsey says.

In a swipe at its nearest neighbour, he stated that Ireland, unlike the UK, has ruled out nuclear. "Ireland has one of the richest potential renewable energy resources in Europe. I intend to maximise renewable energy as a mainstream component of a diverse energy mix into the future." But meeting the new target depends on strengthening the electricity network. An All-island Grid Study, a collaboration with Northern Ireland, is underway to deal with the technical and economic issues. In addition, improved interconnection with Northern Ireland and a new subsea interconnector with Wales are due to be completed by 2012 at the latest, Dempsey says.

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