Wednesday, 12 March 2008
Dáil Eireann Debate
83. Deputy Simon Coveney asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the criteria for prioritising successful applications in view of the large number of wind energy projects hoping to get connection to the grid under the gate 3 connection process; if he will confirm the combined amount of megawatts that will be granted connection under this process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10902/08]
Deputy Eamon Ryan: Responsibility for connection offers under the gate 3 process is a matter for the Commission for Energy Regulation. My responsibilities relates to the allocation of support under the renewable energy feed in tariff programme, REFIT. The selection and allocation criteria for compliant projects under REFIT are set out in the competition notes.
All compliant applications received on the same day are ranked ahead of applications received on succeeding days. If the capacity of all compliant applications received on the same day exceeds the remaining capacity, I can decide to prioritise by the earliest forecast delivery date for a connection by technology, category or by lot. Alternatively, I have the discretion to increase the support capacity available.
The competition notes, as published, proposed support for 400 MW. It is the case that all compliant applications submitted to date have been accepted and the cumulative support allocated is in excess of 1,000 MW. The REFIT conditions also provide for a reserve list of applicants ranked using the same allocation criteria as applied in the initial selection process.
The REFIT programme is subject to EU State-aid clearance. We have already obtained State-aid clearance to allocate support up to 1,450 MW in the onshore categories announced in the initial launch. Any allocation above 1,450 MW and allocations in the categories of biomass anaerobic digestion, offshore wind and wave and tidal will require EU State-aid clearance before support can be confirmed in a binding manner. I have asked my Department to progress the State-aid submission with the European Commission as a matter of urgency.
Deputy Simon Coveney: I thank the Minister for his reply, but it is a different answer to the one I expected. The Commission for Energy Regulation informed the Joint Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources that, under gate 3 in the next two months, new connections to the national grid will be made for wind energy projects. My understanding is that 8,258 MW of wind application proposals are currently being developed. What policy direction has the Minister given the CER in terms of how it should choose successful applications for connection? Consortiums, business people and farmers across the country have spent fortunes in planning permission applications and connection cost consultations in order to develop wind energy projects. Clearly, we will not be able to connect over 8,000 MW onto a grid that only uses 5,000 MW at full capacity. Will acceptance of the projects be on the basis of the date on which they were applied for, date order and system optimisation, which is the second potential criterion, or grid development strategy? Both EirGrid and ESB feel strongly that they should be assessed on the basis of grid capacity. What is happening here? Are we misleading potential developers hoping to get a grid connection who in reality may never be able to get a connection?
Deputy Eamon Ryan: The broad outline of our intent is set out in the all-island grid study, which shows that our electricity supply system could include 42% renewable energy by 2020. We will then progress from there. The long-term objective is to move towards a zero-carbon energy system. If we consider the figures on where we expect this power to come from, we can see it will include some 4,000 MW of onshore wind. There are existing hydroelectric projects, but the remainder will consist of offshore wind. We will also start to see new technologies such as anaerobic digestion and wave and tidal energy.
Deputy Eamon Ryan: The selection process, by nature, involves a grouping of projects, and this must take into account grid development and connection ability. It cannot be decided simply on the basis of date of application. The selection process is to allow for the CER to take the current large number of applications and create a system that is easier to manage and makes sense within our grid development system.
Deputy Simon Coveney: The Minister correctly said that it is the plan of the Government to obtain approximately 4,000 MW from onshore wind farms. We currently have the capacity for more than 1,000 MW on the grid, but there are more than 8,000 MW worth of applications. We need to be honest with people and tell them that at least half of the consortia that plan to produce power from wind will not actually get a connection. That is the issue. It is a potential financial crisis for the people who have invested.
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