Column 'We are haemorrhaging €5-6bn per year to pay for expensive and dirty fuels'

Our government itself is the biggest fossil fuel addict, given all of the excise duty and carbon taxes it collects, writes Grattan Healy.

IRELAND IS A fossil fuel addict, but fortunately is starting treatment. But it is a long road.

Over 80% of our total energy still comes from fossil fuels. We are haemorrhaging a hard-won €5-6bn per year to pay for these expensive and dirty fuels that contribute to climate change and pollute our air, making our children ill.

We have lots of talk and papers from government – the Energy White Paper, Project Ireland 2040 and most recently the vacuous Implementation Plan for the UN Sustainable Development Goals. But where is the real ambition? Where are the hard decisions? Where is the detailed plan to achieve that ambition?

Most importantly, where is the hard objective to stop using fossil fuels? We won’t even manage that by 2050, maybe even 2100 the way we are doing things today.

Powerful interests

Ireland’s hesitation seems to have two reasons. Powerful interests want to continue to drill for oil and gas in the hostile waters around this island, to find fuels the world no longer needs and that are now very expensive and inefficient to extract.

The second reason is tax. Our government itself is the biggest fossil fuel addict, given all of the excise duty and carbon taxes it collects.

Taxes on fossil fuel as they currently stand are not designed to reduce or eliminate their use. They are set to optimise the tax take.

Ireland is also addicted to drink and smoking for the same reason. But in these two areas, it has to pay the health costs with the money so raised. The objective of these taxes must be to reduce use, and in the case of fossil fuels to eliminate them altogether, with a view to reducing health costs and raising any necessary revenue elsewhere.

Renewables are the future

One reason the world economy is stagnating is the decline in the energy return on investment (EROI) of fossil and nuclear fuels, as reserves deplete and require more energy to extract. And yet today wars are being fought in the Middle East, in a desperate futile bid to build more pipelines to deliver fossil fuels that Europe is trying to wean itself off.

Renewables are the future with high and rising EROI, which makes them the only viable future for humanity.

Ireland is not just soft on dealing with its addiction to fossil fuels. It has also placed increasing obstacles in the way of renewables – severe grid rationing following an effective 10 year moratorium, a backward-looking I-SEM market, massive rates increases for wind, unresolved planning issues, and no renewable support offered since 2015.

Wasting our money

So instead of developing our own projects to meet renewables and emissions targets, the Irish government will end up wasting tens of millions of euros of taxpayers’ money on energy and emissions credits and handing our hard-earned cash over to energy emissions compliant countries such as Estonia.

Instead of promoting wind and promoting other renewables, we’re killing the industry at every possible turn. Instead of offering incentives, commercial rates on wind farms have in some cases been quadrupled! In Offaly for example, they’re on average two and a half times that for fossil fuels.

The government has the capacity to make Ireland the envy of Europe where wind energy is concerned. We need “a serious, objective and detailed plan” from government on how it is going to address climate change and eliminate the use of fossil fuels by 2050, Ireland’s existing so-called ‘implementation plan’ is full of waffle.

The White Paper and National Plan are similar. We need an Energy Future Plan to 2050.  It needs to be based on 100% renewables. That would be a really exciting and positive future for this country, that the vast majority of our people could and would get behind.

Grattan Healy’s piece comes ahead of the Irish Wind Farmers Association’s annual Spring Workshop on May 17, a major event which brings together wind farmers, the country’s top engineers, professionals, foreign experts and industry leaders. Tickets and agenda on

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