IWEA Annual Health and Safety Conference
The Heritage, Killenard, Co. Laois.
30 May 2018
Energy security, energy equity and environmental sustainability are the three pillars of the so-called energy trilemma. Safety and security are therefore at the heart of the energy transformation as we embrace new technologies and seek to decarbonise our economy.
Renewable energy, including wind, can go a long way in helping to deliver on our climate ambitions and realising our low carbon energy future.
At end March 2018 we had an installed wind generation capacity of over 3,325MW. Last month EirGrid announced that it can successfully manage a record-breaking 65% of renewable power on the all-island grid at any one time. This is a remarkable achievement; Ireland is now a world leader in integrating renewables onto the electricity grid.
Looking forward to 2030, we want a renewable electricity support scheme that works for consumers, for industry and for investors. We want a plan-led rather than developer driven approach to the further build out of renewable energy infrastructure. This is a key pillar of the Government's Ireland 2040 National Planning Framework and National Development Plan.
The new National Development Plan envisages cross-sectoral climate action investment of €22bn, which will ensure a step change in strategic climate action investments across transport, renewable energy, grid development and interconnection, the built environment, and flood risk management. The National Development Plan has identified that Ireland will need to deliver an additional 4,500MW of renewable electricity generation by 2030. This is both a great challenge and a great opportunity.
The Government's 2015 Energy White Paper places citizens at the centre of the future energy transition in Ireland. This will mean providing a range of mechanisms through which citizens and community groups can meaningfully contribute to the transition to a low carbon economy.
My colleagues are currently preparing to go to Government with a new Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS) which is being designed to assist Ireland in meeting its renewable energy contribution to EU-wide targets out to 2030.
A cornerstone of the new scheme will be the provision of pathways for increased community based ownership and participation in and benefit from renewable electricity projects in line with the 2015 Energy White Paper.
It is encouraging to see the almost unilateral support for the measures and policies proposed that will enable community-led schemes. The industry has listened, and has provided ambitious ideas.
Communities and citizens are effectively being designed into the fabric of the new scheme and the SEAI in conjunction with my Department have recently completed a comprehensive assessment of polices and support measures to underpin and deliver this ambition.
One of the highest ranking community measures proposes a separate 'community-led' category for projects that are initiated or majority owned by individuals or groups within the local community.
An approach that engages openly and honestly with communities and that in the right conditions can partner with communities to provide them with a dividend in terms of the transition. Everyone in society has a role and it will only be through partnership that we will deliver on our wider climate and energy ambitions.
It is important to acknowledge the work done by industry in this regard. I am pleased to see IWEA's new, updated community engagement strategy which I hope will make a positive contribution to the industry and will facilitate development that is in harmony with communities.
Wind is an important natural resource and the challenge is to harness it safely and for the good of our people. As an industry it is incumbent upon you to deliver highly skilled, safe jobs to rural Ireland.
The recent example in my own constituency of the Apple project in Athenry illustrates the challenges in progressing large scale development in this country. It is essential that real economic benefits are delivered to the rural communities where infrastructure is located. Benefit schemes, community engagement and community ownership all need to be championed by the renewable energy sector. Progress without community is no progress at all.
Health and Safety
Government policy is very much to put people and community centre stage in developing our renewable energy resources. This chimes with the role of the renewable energy industry as a responsible employer that protects the health and welfare of its workforce as well as the community at large. I am encouraged to see the IWEA taking a proactive approach to the safety of the many people employed across the wind energy sector.
As you know, wind turbines are considered to be machinery under European law and it is essential that manufacturers comply with the relevant provisions of EU and national law in this regard.
Generally wind turbines are built in isolated, often mountainous areas and the construction phase of a wind farm often involves the transport of heavy equipment and specialised electrical installation and commissioning. Operating windfarms are considered workplaces and operators must ensure that risks to those working there are minimised.
I am encouraged to see leadership from key players in the industry supporting today's event and senior managers from these organisations speaking and attending. I am also impressed with the broad range of speakers from right across the project lifecycle.
I can see by the day's agenda that there is focus on the workers in the industry (including wellbeing, emergency response & lifting) and also those affected by the work of the industry. I am pleased to see that the wind industry takes its responsibilities seriously and its record in terms of safety is to be commended.
As I'm sure you are aware, other rural industries such agriculture, forestry and fishing are facing serious safety risks and there have been a number of recent fatalities across these sectors. Thankfully there have been relatively few recent fatalities in the electricity sector in Ireland but it is crucial that standards remain high. Fatalities have occurred at wind farms in other jurisdictions (e.g. in 2013, two service personnel died after a fire broke out in a wind turbine in the Netherlands). So we must remain ever vigilant.
In the future there will be increased challenges from a health and safety perspective as turbine sizes increase and as we move from a focus solely on onshore wind to harnessing Ireland's potential for offshore wind. I am confident that the wind industry will rise to meet these challenges.
To conclude, in my view the renewable energy sector in Ireland has a bright future ahead of it. Decarbonisation and the leap forward to new technology solutions will bring great benefits to this country as we reshape our economy to a low carbon energy future. It is crucial that we match this global and national progress with local and community support. It is critical that the wind industry and its member organisations engage constructively with communities from the get-go and throughout the lifecycle of projects.
Ensuring the wind industry is a safe place to work and that it can provide safe secure jobs in rural Ireland will be big step to delivering on our shared goal of a low carbon energy future for all.