Ireland agrees on goals but not on policy

Representatives from all political parties in Ireland agreed that the pace of wind development should be rapidly increased with government help, but they were put off by wind lobby arguments for fixed prices, inspired by a visitor representing the interests of German wind turbine owners. This and other news reported from 1999 conference of the Irish Wind Energy Association.

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With a line-up of energy spokesmen from the four main political parties, Ireland's annual wind energy event proved to be more politically charged than usual. Although no meeting of rival politicians can entirely escape some inevitable point scoring, the 1999 gathering of the Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA), from April 16-17 in Waterford, achieved a rare degree of consensus over the need to increase wind's share of Ireland's energy mix.

Picking up the theme of IWEC '99, "Wind Energy After Kyoto," many speakers underlined the gloomy prospect of Ireland's inability to meet its Kyoto commitments on greenhouse gases. Public enterprise minister Joe Jacob said greenhouse gases have already passed the growth limit of 13% from 1990 levels the country was allocated under the Kyoto protocol, and by 2010 are expected to grow by at least 28%. "Radical steps are necessary," he added.

IWEA's chairman, Eddie O'Connor, renewed the association's call for a target of 110 MW of wind capacity to be installed each year. This would save 3.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide if it replaced coal fired plant, he said. Moreover, it would bring Ireland in line with the EU's aim for 12% of electricity to come from renewables by 2010-and it would create jobs for around 10,000 people.

Support for the IWEA target was forthcoming from all the politicians, except for Jacob. The minister's forerunner, Emmet Stagg, from Labour, said 100 MW of wind a year was needed if the resource potential was to be fully realised and a domestic wind industry developed. Opposition spokesman Ivan Yates from Fine Gael argued that a minimum goal of 10% of renewables power must be reached by 2010, requiring a capacity of over 1000 MW.

Jacob, however, with his long awaited Green Paper on Sustainable Energy still some weeks away, would not be drawn into pronouncing on targets for wind, beyond saying the Green Paper would increase them. "These targets will include a limit on the amount of wind energy which electricity consumers will be required to subsidise by means of a Public Service Obligation. However, I want to stress that they will not represent a limit on the overall development of wind energy," he said. Jacob pointed out that Ireland's forthcoming electricity regulation bill will enshrine in law the right of renewable energy generators to sell direct to consumers, opening up a much larger potential market.

No consensus

But while all were unanimous on the need for higher targets, the means of promoting wind energy proved more contentious. Opinion was polarised between those in favour of competitive and market oriented mechanisms-including most of the politicians-and the IWEA leadership, which argued for fixed tariffs. Jacob defended Ireland's support for renewables, the competitive Alternative Energy Requirement (AER), warning that fixed price schemes have a limited life: "It is only a matter of time before it will be found to be incompatible with EU Treaty rules on state aid." The AER on the other hand achieved a balance between providing incentives for investment, and minimising costs, Jacob said.

O'Connor countered that Ireland's "nonsensical" system based on competition should be replaced by fixed price feed-in laws, as in Germany. This is a key demand of IWEA's submission on the government's green paper. "Wind energy has become the property of the large company under the competitive systems used in Ireland and England," he said. "In Germany, Denmark and Spain, policy dictates that wind energy is the property of local communities." Giving more people a vested interest in wind energy would overcome fear of change-a major barrier to wind development. "It is very hard to fear the unknown, if that unknown brings you a pay cheque every month."

IWEA had allies both in Andreas Wagner from the German wind turbine owners lobby group, who said Ireland should follow Germany's lead on fixed price subsidies, and in Trevor Sargent from the Green Party, the only politician to favour fixed prices above competition. A mechanism based on a fixed price for wind energy would give communities and companies the certainty they need to plan their investments in wind, he said.

Utility attacked

Labour's Emmet Stagg defended the AER, which he introduced as energy minister in the previous coalition government. The first AER was introduced before the Irish wind industry existed, he said. Stagg lambasted Ireland's Electricity Supply Board (ESB) for its failure over years to facilitate third party grid access for renewables. This was "stonewalling at its worst," he accused. "The ESB deliberately frustrated government policy by placing impossible difficulties in the path of green electricity producers." Only with the force of legislative sanction will the ESB co-operate, said Stagg. He urged Jacob to consider "small but important amendments" to the Electricity Regulation Bill, which will establish an independent regulator.

From Fine Gael, Ivan Yates echoed Stagg's concerns. The ESB should be obliged to ensure a fair and accessible system of wheeling charges so that customers can be given a real choice to use renewables, he said. The party also proposes that the new regulator's brief should include setting targets for renewables in five year tranches. Fine Gael suggests two policy initiatives: tax relief for private individual investors in wind plant, and IR£0.5 million annual investment into research and development.

Market forces alone are not enough to bring down barriers to the growth of a thriving wind industry, said Martin Hally of peat company and wind farm developer Bord Na Mona. He summarised the findings of an IWEA study into the reasons for wind's slow progress in Ireland, despite the excellent resource. The study, by economic consultants KHSK, finds that more government intervention is needed to kick-start a market. With this in mind, IWEA is calling for a "rolling competition for sustainable wind energy" for at least 100 MW on land each year until 2010. The term "competition" appears to be used rather loosely, however, since the association is recommending fixed tariffs known to the developer in advance. But it suggests these should be based on the latest AER prices, arrived at competitively. The tariffs could be reviewed annually or biennially, and should reflect the real value of wind, including the benefits of embedded generation and greenhouse gas reduction, said Hally. IWEA also recommends that planning permission is obtained before the 20 year contracts are awarded. The main thrust of the program is to make "buildability" a key requirement, said Hally.

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