Ireland is being left behind in the development of offshore wind and marine generation, said Gregor Alexander, finance director of renewable energy company Airtricity.
Airtricity is an international wind farm developer which was founded in 1997 in the Republic of Ireland, and is owned by Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE).
Addressing more than 400 delegates at the annual conference of the Irish Wind Energy Association at the Four Seasons Hotel, Dublin, Alexander said Ireland was not maximising its potential in the development of offshore wind and marine generation.
"Returns on our Irish onshore wind farms are marginal. More attractive returns are available in the UK. Of even more concern is that Ireland is being left behind in the development of offshore wind and marine generation. These technologies offer considerable export and job opportunities but Ireland is not maximising them," he said.
Alexander believes that in order to optimise the renewable energy sector in Ireland, we must widen the interconnection plans to include not only the UK, but France, as well.
"As a very small market in European terms, Ireland, at a minimum, needs profound interconnection and market coupling with the UK. Coupling would bring economies of scale, a more diverse generation portfolio, the opportunity to export renewable electricity and ensure customers benefit from increased competitive energy supply.
"We would also encourage Ireland to go further, seeking interconnection further afield. In Scotland, for example, we are looking to Norway and Iceland to tap into hydro and geothermal resources respectfully.
"An interconnector from Ireland to France would not only access French power in winter but it would provide an export opportunity in summer for Ireland’s generation fleet to supply France’s air-conditioning load," he said.
How to approach planning issues
Alexander also said a more realistic approach to planning issues is needed in Ireland to bring an end to the ongoing conflict between Irish energy and planning.
"There continues to be a significant dichotomy between energy and planning policy. If Ireland is to deliver 2020 renewable targets and decarbonise our energy portfolio, policy makers must ensure alignment between planning, climate and energy policy. After all, the purpose of decarbonising through renewables is to avoid the impacts of long-term climate change and ensure the sustainability of existing habitats," he said.
Alexander said SSE Renewables, for example, was recently denied planning permission on the basis of "the negligible probability" that the proposed wind farm could pollute a water body that was located 25km away, regardless of having recently completed a wind farm close to a water body.
"We understand the pressures on local government officials from EU and national environment legislation, regulation and direction. It is for this very reason that we need political leadership and close working partnerships, with pragmatic focused actions, between the Department of Environment, the Department of Energy and also local government and to avoid basic conflicts like that which arose in this planning issue," Alexander concluded.