Minister Rabbitte addressed the Irish Wind Energy Association Autumn Conference outlining that projects of a significant scale and specifically for export can only proceed in compliance with a national policy framework. The Minister deplored the misinformation and misrepresentation of the export project in the public domain noting:
“I am aware, and so should this conference be aware, that there are concerns in parts of the midlands about the shape of the wind export project. Some of these concerns have been needlessly stoked by unthinking communication by some developers. Citizens and community groups are entitled to have their concerns properly addressed. It is undoubtedly the case that misinformation abounds. However, being dismissive of the questioners is not the way to deal with wrong information.”
The Minster addressed a number of gross distortions and mischievous exaggerations currently in the public domain. He said “It is not true that there won’t be a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). It is not true that the skies over the midlands will be blighted by wind turbines. It is not true that communities will be excluded from inputting into the process. It is not true that we will be giving away a valuable indigenous resource. It is not true that we will be exporting green energy at the expense of meeting our own mandatory domestic targets. It is not true that there are no jobs for local people in developing an export sector in green energy. Nor is it right to exaggerate the number of jobs that will be created although none of us can forecast precisely the exciting potential.”
The Minister reinforced that he was putting in place a national renewable energy export policy and planning framework, which will guide An Bord Pleanála when considering any proposals of a significant scale for wind energy export projects. The proposed large–scale wind farms intending to export must await the putting in place of this framework which will be underpinned by a Strategic Environmental Assessment.
Transparency of this process is crucial over the next 12 months and the Minister announced that a special section on renewable exports on his Department’s website and the initial phase of public and stakeholder consultation on the framework would go live in the next few weeks.
Commenting on progress with domestic development of wind energy, Minister Pat Rabbitte noted that a recent survey of Irish Wind Energy Association member companies shows that some 3,400 people are in full time employment in this sector. The Minister confirmed that the changes to the REFIT schemes, announced by him at the IWEA conference in March of this year, have now been brought into effect. These changes, introduced in response to the need for policy certainty by developers, and the imperative of meeting Ireland’s 2020 renewable electricity target, include the extension – following the approval of the European Commission – of the backstop date for REFIT 1 to end 2027, and allowing REFIT 2 to remain open for applications until end 2015, while requiring such projects are connected end December 2017. In follow up to this approximately 3,000MW of wind generators have accepted their Gate 3 offers so far. EirGrid and ESB Networks have indicated that sufficient wind farms have accepted offers to connect to the grid to facilitate meeting the target of 40% of electricity from renewable sources by 2020.