Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen. I would like to echo the words of Gillian Nelis from the Sunday Business Post and welcome you all to Croke Park and the waste summit being held here today.
As Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, I am keenly interested in the waste sector. Many of the objectives and ambitions that I have in terms of Ireland’s energy policies depend on a strong and vibrant waste industry and the full implementation of Government waste policy. So I’m delighted to have the opportunity to speak to you today.
Government waste policy is set out in “A Resource Opportunity – Waste Management Policy in Ireland”. The title reflects the potential and opportunity that exists within the waste sector to contribute, not only to our key environmental goals, but also to our economic recovery and sustainability - including in the area of energy supply.
The policy challenges us to consider waste as a resource, to be managed in a way that allows its true economic value to be exploited. It also challenges us to move towards the virtual elimination of landfill.
Thankfully, the old approach of burying materials that can be repaired, reused, recycled or converted to heat, energy or power is becoming a thing of the past.
Notwithstanding changing attitudes towards managing the waste we produce, the old adage of “waste not want not” remains at the forefront of national policy. Preventing waste of materials, energy and water – the focus of this week’s political debate - makes sense in business and in the home.
Resource efficiency – achieving more with less – is one of the first principles of economics and it’s now a well-established environmental philosophy and policy. Of course, prevention is not always possible and so resource efficiency must also be about exploiting the maximum beneficial use from the waste that we do produce.
Irish energy policy is based on the objectives of security of supply, affordability and sustainability. We remain heavily reliant on imported fossil fuels. We must reduce this reliance if we want to enhance energy security, reduce price volatility and ensure energy sustainability at competitive and affordable prices for both individuals and businesses.
Ironically, just as we are reliant on imports for our energy needs, we depend heavily on export for the treatment of our waste. If we can square this circle, we can achieve significant dividends in terms of energy generation, indigenous waste treatment capacity, economic growth, and jobs.
The first milestone towards achieving a low carbon economy by 2050 is the delivery of the 2020 targets set by the EU – and the corresponding national targets. In this regard, Ireland must achieve a binding target of meeting 16% of energy demand from renewable sources.
The period between 2020 and 2030 is the next critical phase in the evolution of EU climate and energy policies. The October European Council agreed headline targets for further emissions reductions, renewable energy use and energy efficiency. The outcome was a good one for Ireland, but it left us with plenty of work – both here and at the EU level – to ensure that Ireland’s 2030 targets represent technically feasible and cost efficient contributions to dealing effectively with global warming and its potentially catastrophic impact on our planet.
Renewable energy, including bioenergy, will play an important role, and this is being reflected in the consultation currently being conducted by my Department as we prepare a definitive energy policy, which I intend to publish in the middle of next year.
Recognising the potential to significantly develop the sector, I also recently published a Draft Bioenergy Plan which will undergo Strategic Environmental and Appropriate Assessments, including public consultation.
The assessment process will start shortly and will inform the content of the finalised Plan, for the development of Ireland’s bioenergy sector and the coordination of policy to underpin its development.
The Plan was developed with significant stakeholder contribution, and it recognises the cross-sectoral nature of bioenergy. It also addresses the sector’s potential to contribute to the achievement of a number of policy objectives, including greater synergy between energy policy and waste management.
Continued support for the significant bioenergy policies already in place is central to the plan. These policies already accommodate the use of waste materials as feedstock. They also include the REFIT schemes, which support the generation of electricity and Combined Heat and Power from a number of technologies including waste-to-energy, anaerobic digestion and landfill gas.
Furthermore, the Biofuels Obligation Scheme will continue to be the key mechanism through which we increase the share of renewable energy in the transport sector. A major component of the Biofuel Obligation Scheme is the in-built incentive for biofuel producers to use wastes like used cooking oil and meat industry by-products in the production of biofuel. Last year virtually all – over 99% - of the biodiesel on the Irish market was produced from these kinds of waste materials.
The plan also recommends the introduction of a Renewable Heat Incentive to encourage larger heat users to adopt renewable heat sources. The terms and conditions of the RHI, including those relating to support tariffs and eligible technologies, will be established as the scheme is designed. This is due to commence shortly and it is proposed to have the scheme in place in 2016. Once designed, the RHI scheme will require State Aid approval from the European Commission, as well as further Government approval.
Meeting the energy sector’s demand for biomass through indigenous sources could deliver significant economic benefits and support jobs. Consequently, the Plan also contains measures to further stimulate and support the supply of Irish biomass.
In this regard, waste recovery – the use of waste as an energy resource – will be very important. The sustainable use of organic wastes to produce heat and electricity, or for conversion to biofuels or biogas, can render them as valuable commodities rather than just ‘waste’ products. It can also deliver significant environmental benefits by diverting biodegradable wastes away from landfill and into energy, helping to avoid harmful methane emissions and landfill-related water contamination.
But diverting the 800,000 tonnes or more of green and food waste produced in this country each year is not without challenges. Consequently, the plan emphasises the need for all stakeholders to ensure the full implementation of the actions set out in our Waste Management Policy.
Furthermore, the draft Plan commits all relevant Departments and agencies to work together in cooperation with industry to continue to encourage the innovative use of animal by-products as fuel.
The Draft Bioenergy Plan also recommends the continued support for bioenergy research, development and demonstration on a cross-Government basis. It envisages a robust economic assessment of the costs and benefits of further biogas and biomethane development, which will put forward recommendations appropriate to the Irish context.
In conclusion, I’ll summarise by saying that:
· Waste is an important energy source
· Ireland imports most of its energy, and exports a significant quantity of its waste. We need to change this.
Government policy is now centred on bringing together energy and waste objectives in order to secure the future of this industry and the achievement of secure, affordable and sustainable energy supply for the citizens, communities and businesses of Ireland.