I recently spoke on the threats of Energy Security in Ireland, the importance of the Celtic interconnected and the opportunities for offshore wind in the medium term

I welcome the Minister. It is important to see senior Ministers in the House and I acknowledge his attendance.

My life experience suggests that power outages are much less common now compared with the 1980s and 1990s. That is testament to the investment and expertise of EirGrid and ESB Networks in terms of their maintenance of the lines. From my recollection, blackouts were much more common back then.

As the Minister of State with responsibility for natural resources in 2016 and 2017, I would have said at the time that oil and gas would remain significant elements of Ireland’s energy supply into the future, that Ireland would have to walk a fine line to balance the competing aspects of competitiveness, security of supply and sustainability, and that Ireland was committed to the transformation required to achieve a low-carbon and climate resilient future but that it would not take place over night, with natural gas remaining a significant element of Ireland’s energy supply into the transition period as we moved towards an increased use of renewables, including wind and solar. I would also have spoken about the Celtic interconnector, which I hope will be operational by the middle of this decade. It will improve our energy security with another European country, giving us the capacity to power more than 450,000 homes. Subject to planning and so on, it will be built from 2022 onwards. The energy it carries will include some nuclear-generated power coming from France. A number of colleagues mentioned nuclear power. I am not here to advocate for it, but I have received correspondence about small, compact or minor nuclear reactors, depending on what one calls them.

I had received correspondence regarding small nuclear reactors – compact or minor ones, depending on what you call them. Perhaps the Minister, Deputy Ryan, could comment on that.

In regard to the future of wind energy, I spoke about this in 2016, which is half a decade ago. You do not feel time going. I was delighted to see Fuinneamh Scéirde Teoranta awarded relevant status by the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications in May 2020. This has since been acquired by the Macquarie Green Investment Group to build a 400 MW offshore windfarm off the Connemara coast. What are the timelines for such projects? I am not here to advocate on behalf of this new company, but obviously there is a need for this capacity. In regard to timelines on projects, what sort of consent process will it have to go through? Will there be the same issues that arise in all planning in this country at the moment? There is an absolute need in regard to energy security. Renewable energies are to be encouraged and are part of where we are at, particularly in relation to COP26 and all that has gone before it.

The strategic reliance on gas when required is prudent. It should not be seen as a failure that we still need gas. It could be argued it is a failure if we have a high number of blackouts. If that happens, we can blame previous Governments but it is always prudent to have that store and that capacity and to have a gas connection through the Moffat terminal in Scotland, which the Minister mentioned in his opening contribution, to ensure that as we transition and as we see more offshore windfarms coming on stream, that security is provided and the threat of blackouts would recede. That is important. The potential in regard to becoming a net exporter of energy is something we aspire to and hopefully will be achieved, whether within a decade or two decades. As I said, it is half a decade since I spoke in regard to these matters as Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment with responsibility for natural resources. I talked about the Celtic interconnector and offshore energy but we still do not have offshore energy. It could be argued it will be another five years. Will some of these windfarms be on stream, besides the Arklow one? Will some of the western high potential generating windfarms be on stream and part of the national grid? Will we be exporting from them?

I thank the Minister, Deputy Ryan, for his attendance and look forward to his reply.

Deputy Eamon Ryan

Senator Kyne is right that natural gas still has a role. The backup gas fleet we will need to complement renewable power will be key to having secure supplies in the next two decades. As I said, it will not operate most of the time. If we develop 5 GW of offshore wind, which tends to be more stable, 2.5 GW of solar and further interconnection with France and the UK, we will have more choices. However, we will need backup for that period, as well as for calm periods in the middle of winter. This summer, we saw slow periods of very little wind. We will need that gas, particularly for those periods.

The Senator mentioned the Sceirde Rocks offshore wind farm, one of seven projects we are dealing with because they have legacy consent, foreshore licensing consent and so on. They are in the first phase of offshore rounds. We expect them next year in an auction process. We do not know who will get through that process because it will depend on the auction. They will then have to get through planning and secure all the other consents. That will be first phase. The second phase will follow two or three years later with the next auction and there will then be a third phase.