Renewable energy is just one plank in the overall strategy for reducing CO2 emissions outlined by Joe Jacob, Minister of State at the Department of Public Enterprise (DPE). The 250 page Green Paper also considers economic instruments such as emissions trading and energy taxes to reduce energy consumption, focussed energy efficiency programs, more research and development, more combined heat and power, and a strengthening of the Irish Energy Centre, establishing it as a statutory body.
Early action to control CO2 is imperative. The document shows that the country's emissions of greenhouse gases are set to grow in excess of 25% between 1990 and 2010. This is double Ireland's Kyoto target of a 13% growth allowance from 1990 levels allocated under the EU's burden sharing agreement for reducing greenhouse gases. That limit will be reached in 2000.
The Green Paper sets a target of 500 MW of additional electricity capacity from renewable sources by 2005, with the bulk coming from wind energy. This threefold increase from the present target will be met through Alternative Energy Requirement (AER) competitions, direct sales to final customers and EU sponsored projects under its Fifth Framework Program. Further targets will be set later for the period beyond 2005.
The AER remains the chief mechanism of renewables support, but it is to be modified and put on an annual footing. Yearly competitions will include targets for named technologies. The next competition (AERV) will take account of the hard lessons learned in previous rounds -- in particular the difficulty in completing projects in the tight timescales allotted. The DPE sees the AER's role diminishing in time, as the market develops for direct sales to final customers.
Under July 1999's Electricity Regulation Act, renewable generators will be able to sell green electricity direct to customers from February 2000. However, the Green Paper recognises that the newly created Commission for Electricity Regulation will have to take account of the needs of the wind energy sector, particularly relating to grid charges and appropriate "top-up and spill" arrangements.
To overcome these and other bottlenecks, such as planning, Jacob is to set up a renewable energy strategy group. It will examine a range of constraints preventing fast deployment of renewables, and will concentrate first on wind energy before moving on to other technologies. Its membership will include planners, government officials and representatives from the Electricity Supply Board and the Irish Energy Centre. Although the group is to work closely with the renewable energy sector, the IWEA is lobbying to gain direct representation. The group is to report back to Jacob within six months of setting up.
In addition to this initiative, Jacob announced more than I£20 million of funding for grid improvements to facilitate connection from renewable plants. A further I£17 million is to be shared between combined heat and power and small scale renewable energy. Jacob is understood to be keen to encourage local involvement in small scale development, but IWEA's Larry Staudt points out that at the moment, not a single farmer owns a grid-connected wind turbine. Nonetheless, the association welcomes the minister's proposal to consider "net metering" of electricity. This will allow people to generate their own power instead of paying for it from the grid.
Also under consideration, are further tax relief measures for renewable energy. These will be in addition to existing tax relief on corporate equity investment in wind, hydro, solar and biomass projects.
Jacob proposes a refocusing of the role of the Irish Energy Centre and its Renewable Energy Information Office so that it supports his renewable energy strategy. It will also be responsible for a public awareness campaign and initiating and leading renewable energy related research.
According to Jacob, the Green Paper paves the way for the National Abatement Strategy, out later this year, which is to provide the definitive statement on how the country is to deal with its greenhouse gases.