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Alex White TD at Irish Bioenergy Association’s National Bioenergy Conference

alex white bioenergy conference

​good morning. i would like to thank the irish bioenergy association for inviting me to open the 14th national bioenergy conference. events like this are important opportunities to exchange views and learn from the experiences within the bioenergy sector, here and abroad.

· we are all aware that ireland is still far too reliant on imported fossil fuels for our energy needs. the sustainable energy authority has reported that, in 2013, imports accounted for around 89% of our energy use. this cost us approximately €6.7 billion.

· the recent fall in oil prices has given some short-term respite from the cost of imports. but there is no certainty that prices will remain low or stable and itremains imperative, from both an economic and an environmental perspective, that we reduce our reliance on these imports.

· this is why renewable energy is playing a key role in shaping ireland’s long term energy future. it is critical to delivering secure, environmentally clean and affordable energy supplies sourced indigenously. allied to delivering improvements in national energy efficiency, it will help wean us off our dependency on carbon intensive fossil fuels, while maintaining and supporting competitiveness and enterprise development opportunities.

· this was one of the many important messages that emerged in the written submissions and the stakeholder seminars that formed the consultation on the energy green paper, which was published by my predecessor pat rabbitte last year.

· i know that many people in this room were involved in making submissions, or participating in the seminars, and i want to take this opportunity to thank you for your important contributions.

· having listened carefully to all views, i am working with colleagues in my department to refine an approach to the separate – but very much related – components of an energy policy that will serve ireland for a generation or more. i intend to publish the final policy paper by september 2015.

· meanwhile, we are making good progress towards our renewable energy goals. at the end of 2013, the amount of ireland’s overall energy demand met by renewables increased to 7.8%.

· energy from biomass has a critical role to play in meeting our ambitions for 2020 and beyond. it is expected that sustainable bioenergy will account for approximately half of ireland’s 16% renewable energy target.

· in 2013 it accounted for over 3% of the 7.8% delivered by renewables. bioenergy is also helping position us to meet the emerging – and more ambitious – longer term challenges expressed in international emissions and renewables targets for 2030 and 2050.

· critically, it is a resource we can develop indigenously. a vibrant bioenergy sector can, in an irish context, contribute to the three pillars of european energy policy: security of supply, competitiveness and sustainability. a successful sector can also generate jobs and contribute to rural development. the seai estimates that it could be worth up to €200 million to our local economies each year.

· however, bringing about the development of an environmentally, economically sustainable, and viable bioenergy sector in ireland will not be an easy task. many challenges will have to be overcome.

draft bioenergy plan

· recognising the potential to significantly develop the sector, and to address the challenges involved in doing this, i published a draft bioenergy plan last october.

· the draft plan sets out the broad context for the development of the sector, and outlines the current status with regard to the range of policy areas that must be coordinated to create the conditions to support its development.

· the draft plan also proposes a number of policy and enabling actions, which fall into five broad categories:

o demand-side measures that contribute directly to delivering renewable energy;

o enabling policies that address the supply-chain challenges faced by domestic producers of biomass;

o measures to support research, demonstration and development;

o further market support and sustainability measures; and

o the governance of the plan.

· continued support for the significant bioenergy policies already in place – which include refit and the biofuels obligation scheme in the electricity and transport sectors respectively – is central to the draft plan.

· analysis underpinning the plan demonstrates that an additional bioenergy-focussed measure in the heat sector would represent the most cost effective means of meeting a number of our policy goals. you will all know by now that it is my intention to introduce a renewable heat incentive for larger heat users to change to heating solutions that produce heat from renewable sources.

· the design of the renewable heat incentive scheme will be completed during 2015 and i intend to introduce it next year. once designed, it will require state aid approval from the european commission and, indeed it will require government approval. my department will soon be issuing consultation documents in relation to the rhi, and possible support schemes to succeed refit.

· the draft plan also contains measures to stimulate and support the supply of irish biomass. in this regard the key recommendations include:

o the continued support for the afforestation programme

o the continuation of the bioenergy scheme for energy crops

o and the establishment of bioenergy ireland, a joint venture between bord na móna and coillte.

· in terms of developing new sources of biomass, the draft plan provides that the department of environment, community and local government will endeavour to optimise the availability of waste for energy, and that the department of agriculture, food and the marine will continue its support for innovative energy uses for animal by-products.

bioenergy steering group

· the draft plan was developed with significant stakeholder contribution and its completion will require further detailed engagement with stakeholders.

· a high-level bioenergy steering group has now been established to oversee the finalisation and implementation of the plan. this group is made up of representatives from a number of government departments and agencies. it met twice with stakeholders last month.

· four working groups, which will report to the steering group, have also been established to progress the measures and recommendations set out in the draft plan and these working groups offer the opportunity for further stakeholder engagement in the process.

· the first working group will progress the measures that relate to the electricity and heating sector, including the design of the proposed rhi scheme.

· the second working group will have responsibility for bioenergy measures in the transport sector. as part of its work, it will conduct an economic assessment of the costs and benefits of biogas and biomethane, which i’m aware will be of interest to many people here.

· the next group will look at measures to support the various biomass supply chains, and the final group will have responsibility for the measures relating to bioenergy research, development and demonstration.

· the contact details for each of the groups are available on my department’s website and i would encourage anyone who’s interested in participating to make contact .

· the draft plan will also undergo strategic environmental and appropriate assessments, which will inform the content of the final plan. these assessment processes, which will be overseen by the steering group, will also be subject to public consultation. my department will very shortly be issuing a request for tenders to undertake these assessments.

· i want to finish by placing the renewable energy sector in a broader context. the move to renewables and better energy efficiency is contributing to our economic recovery and to sustainable job creation. the ida and enterprise ireland clean technologies strategies recognise the significant economic potential of moving towards a low carbon energy system.

· reducing our heavy dependence on imported fossil fuels is already creating jobs through innovation in grid, ict, engineering and energy efficient technologies.

· the development of renewables will see this industry and this country – which is blessed with huge potential in biomass and other renewables – replace expensive fossil fuel imports with jobs at home.

· as we develop the technological know-how to manage the energy system of the future, we are creating opportunities for irish-based companies to be world leaders we have many strengths, and i believe we can develop ireland’s reputation as a place of r&d excellence in renewables, energy efficiency and related technologies.

· earlier this month, the cabinet held a special meeting on jobs and agreed a range of measures to deliver three key employment targets ahead of schedule:

· ensuring 40,000 additional jobs in 2015 which, combined with the 80,000 new jobs already created in recent years, will see us exceed the government’s original target of 100,000 new jobs by 2016.

· ensuring unemployment falls below 10% this year – down from a peak of over 15% and, again, ahead of forecasts when the government took office.

· delivering full employment in 2018 - two years earlier than anticipated.

· the renewable energy sector will make a very significant contribution to this success. it will do that by leading the transformation to an indigenous, smart, low carbon and energy-efficient economy.

· this lies at the heart of this government’s energy policy. it will be achieved through a collective effort involving industry, government, the regulator, consumers and, increasingly, communities themselves.

· i want to thank you and your organisations for the important contribution bioenergy is making to this. and i want to thank you again for the opportunity to speak to you this morning.

Speech Documents