Minister Eamon Ryan, you’d imagine, wanted the energy portfolio because, as a long-standing environmentalist and Green activist, he wanted everyone to love windmills as much as he did, meaning we’d replace fossil fuels with renewable energy in jig time.
So the first indigenous source of energy to be slapped down was peat harvesting, with extra Green points for losing everyone who worked in the sector their jobs ahead of time, and then there was lots of talk about cycle lanes and good happy-clappy green stuff until everything suddenly got very real when the electricity bills starting coming in.
The Green party leader has a goofy kind of air about him, which the party likely thinks adds to his appeal. The hyper speeches about lettuce in window boxes, the nap-taking in the Dáil, the nonsense about the village sharing a car, and us all taking shorter showers. You’d have to laugh. Some people found it endearing.
But as winter starts to bite and small businesses are quietly closing down because of rocketing energy bills, few of us are finding Eamon Ryan’s goofiness funny any more.
It’s not just Eamon Ryan, of course, it’s the entire ineptness of this government who are relying entirely on the good will of a small number of multinationals to keep our corporation tax intake up, but who seem wholly incapable of managing anything themselves such as housing or health.
Or, as we have seen in recent months to our cost, energy – what we need not just to keep warm and stay alive, but to grow food, manufacture goods, build businesses, and have some prospect of having a real economy.
The latest fiasco can be laid squarely at Minister Ryan’s feet however. When it comes to this one, the buck stops with him.
Maybe it’s just the weariness, but it didn’t even feel surprising to learn that Ireland was one of just two countries that failed to apply for funding from the European Union in order to secure energy continuity.
We’re not talking about small change here: we could have applied for billions from this key funding initiative. In fact, the Irish Examiner reports, that from an enormous pot of €210 billion to be spent by 2027, “the biomethane section of REPowerEU has a budget of €35bn alone. Ireland’s potential funding from that budget is estimated at €800m in capital funding and a further €1.3bn in future supports.”
So we missed out on billions in funding – and for the purposes of energy security, something we sorely lack in this country. We learned last week from the operator of Ireland’s national electricity grid that we are facing a “stark and serious” situation because our electricity system will face a shortfall of supply over demand for the next decade.
We are not producing or sourcing enough power to meet our needs. Eirgrid says that some of our existing plants perform poorly and some are closed due to technical issues. There wasn’t much media discussion of the fact that the peat-fired power plant at Lanesborough and the West Offaly Power Station in Shannonbridge were shut down to suit the Green agenda, and are not being put to use even as the domestic economy and ordinary households creak under the strain of electricity charges.
Ireland has no strategic reserves of natural gas, and so are reliant on supply from the UK’s pipelines – and only 90 days of oil storage in reserve. Yet Eamon Ryan and others, by which I mean almost everyone in the Dáil save for some Independents, have no interest in exploring for gas off Ireland’s shores.
If their haplessness only extended to bad policies and a deluded belief in renewables, that would be bad enough. But how can it be tolerated that a Green Minister for Energy and a government that is insisting we can go broke paying for energy rather than explore for fuel, miss the boat in terms of billions in funding for renewable fuel. And apparently the missed opportunity means the door is now closed.
Energy consultant and former MEP Kieran Hartley told the Irish Examiner that it is “not just the case that Ireland can reapply” and described the ‘failure to apply” by missing the early April deadline as a “costly missed opportunity”.
“It would have given Ireland the opportunity to guarantee security of supply and guarantee a fixed price of energy from indigenous sources,” Mr Hartley said.
What’s even more grating is that the funding was based on boosting the production of biomethane – a natural gas alternative made from agricultural and food waste. We’re an agricultural nation. The Renewable Gas Forum Ireland (RGFI) previously said that “report after report has identified Ireland as having the best potential for growth for biogas production in the EU.”The whole saga is not just frustrating, it’s inexplicable. Why did the Department of the Environment not apply? Who will be held responsible?
What sort of gross inefficiencies are in the system when we miss billions in funding?
Is it that Eamon Ryan and the Cabinet haven’t felt the pinch in the same way as ordinary people who are dreading a winter of being afraid to turn the heating on? Or is it just a tolerance of inefficiency that would never be accepted in the private sector. Either way, the goofiness of Eamon Ryan, and his department, isn’t funny any more.