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Minister Alex White - Ireland strongly committed to EU energy co-operation

Dublin, 31st March 2015

Energy Minister Alex White today (Tuesday) made a robust defence of the Government’s energy policy and said he was fully committed to European Union measures to enhance cooperation in the development of energy infrastructure.

Speaking at a meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications, where he reported on the outcome of the EU Council of Energy Ministers meeting of 5th March, Minister White said the Government strongly supported the EU ‘Energy Union’ framework strategy, which he said would strengthen security of energy supply, sustainability and competitiveness.

“Following the Council, I read press reports of some very ill-informed criticism of Ireland’s energy policy, and of our contribution to European measures to tackle climate change. My report to this Committee underlines our active engagement in regional cooperation in this area, including in the North Seas Countries Offshore Grid Initiative.

“I can also assure the Committee that Ireland is fully committed to making its contribution to the overall EU 2030 targets for carbon emission reductions, energy efficiency, and the share of energy from renewable resources. Measures to help deliver our transformation to a low-carbon society will be at the centre of the Energy Policy Paper, which I will publish later this year.”

“Completing the internal energy market is the key to the Energy Union. However, we need to avoid imposing one-size-fits-all decisions on all Member States. Instead we should provide safeguards and flexibilities, particularly for peripheral Member States with poorly interconnected markets. I reiterated this message at Council.

“I also stressed that enhancing Europe’s energy security is of particular importance to Ireland. It is vital that diversity of routes and sources of energy, together with the appropriate infrastructure, are put in place.

“From Ireland’s standpoint as a small Member State that has developed one of the first cross-border electricity markets in the EU, I said that poorly interconnected peripheral regions must have additional interconnection for our energy consumers to reap the benefits of the Internal Energy Market. Our approach to the Energy Union and collective funding decisions needs to reflect this goal. Otherwise, the Internal Energy Market project runs the risk of being seen as irrelevant, or worse, detrimental to the needs and interests of European consumers in poorly connected markets.

“Funding is a key challenge to the development of energy infrastructure. Having low electricity interconnection levels puts a high cost burden on a small energy-using population and provides a challenge to private investment. I welcomed the establishment of the European Fund for Strategic Investments to support and enhance existing funds such as the Connecting Europe Facility. Hopefully this Fund will stimulate investors to develop the infrastructure necessary to complete a fully integrated European energy market.

“I also welcomed an enhanced regional approach as a stepping stone to delivering full European Energy Market integration. Ireland has witnessed the benefits of regional cooperation since the establishment of the Single Electricity Market (SEM) in November 2007. This combined two separate wholesale markets into a single cross-jurisdictional and jointly governed and regulated, wholesale market on the island of Ireland. “

Minister White said that the Taoiseach has succeeded in introducing language into the conclusions of the 19th March European Council, which recognise the position of peripheral regions in the context of interconnections. “Positive language was also introduced on ensuring affordability for households and businesses,” he said.

Minster White told the Committee that Ireland is participating in the North Seas Countries Offshore Grid Initiative, which was formed in 2009 by nine EU Member States plus Norway. This is a regional cooperation initiative to facilitate the coordinated development of a possible offshore electricity grid in the North Seas. “The Commission intends to add to the momentum by bringing forward an Action Plan for the Northern Seas Regional Group. It will also convene an Energy Infrastructure Forum to facilitate progress,” he said.

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