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An LNG storage and regasification unit in Klaipeda, Lithuania

Explainer: Why a report says Ireland should build an LNG facility - and why that's controversial

The new report outlines options for measures that could improve Ireland’s energy security.

A NEW REPORT proposing a liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility to try to improve Ireland’s energy security has reignited questions about the country’s policies on gas infrastructure. 

The report, which was conducted by UK-based consultancy firm CEPA at a cost of at least €170,000 to date, outlines options for measures that could improve Ireland’s energy security.

One of the options for gas it offers is the construction of a floating LNG facility that would operate during periods when there is a risk of disruption to supply. LNG is natural gas in a cooled, liquid state.

It also raises the development of strategic gas storage or a gas option package involving storage, renewable gas, and demand-side responsiveness.

Additionally, for electricity, some of the options it outlines are an interconnector to France – a project that is already planned – and a 360MW plant for additional pumped storage. It touches on the acceleration of energy efficiency and the shift from gas toward renewable fuels such as hydrogen.

The report’s recommendations on LNG pose questions for Ireland’s position on gas, a fossil fuel, as it battles the climate crisis while also trying to manage energy supply and prices.

What does the report say about LNG?

The natural gas Ireland uses at the moment is supplied through a combination of domestic production and imports that come through a pipeline from the UK. Currently, there is no infrastructure for importing LNG.

The report published today points to LNG infrastructure as a potential option for increasing Ireland’s energy security. 

The government has previously acknowledged that following the depletion of the Corrib gas field, Ireland is expected to be dependent on imports for over 90% of gas by 2030.

CEPA’s report points to LNG as an alternative source of natural gas to the volumes currently imported from the UK.

“In carrying out our assessment of this mitigation option, we modelled a floating LNG storage and regasification unit (FSRU) which would be used on a non-commercial, ‘strategic‘ basis,” the report said.

An FSRU can convert imported LNG back into a gaseous state and supply it directly to the onshore gas network.

“Developing an FSRU facility in Ireland avoids the need to develop large onshore LNG import infrastructure. As the FSRU is an operating ship, if and when the facility is no longer required, it can be transported to another location without leaving a large piece of stranded infrastructure behind,” the report said.

“We assume that the LNG FSRU would be leased for a limited period of time, as a medium-term solution to mitigate more immediate security of supply concerns.

“In combination with the designation of the FSRU as a ‘back-up’ facility, this helps to ensure that Ireland’s commitment to gas in the future remains aligned with the long-term decarbonisation targets set out in the Climate Action Plan and Programme for Government.”

It would operate at times during which there is considered to be a risk to Ireland’s energy supply. 

Why is LNG controversial?

The use of gas as an energy source and the expansion of LNG infrastructure is a point of contention in debates around renewable energy and energy security.

Many in Ireland will be most familiar with the concept of LNG from the controversy over the proposed Shannon LNG terminal, which has attracted criticism for years from opponents of gas since it was first put forward in the 2000s. 

While not as heavy a polluter as oil or coal, gas is a fossil fuel that contributes to pushing global temperatures upwards, creating the climate crisis that is already having significant consequences in parts of the world and will grow worse if left unchecked. 

On that basis, many experts, politicians and activists argue that it should be moved away from as quickly as possible in favour of renewable energy sources.

Others, however, say that for countries that still rely heavily on sources like coal, LNG is a relatively cleaner alternative that should be used while transitioning to a decarbonised energy sector.

A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s leading assessment of the latest climate science, outlined that reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the energy sector requires major transitions, including a substantial reduction in fossil fuels.

The IPCC found that continuing to install unabated fossil fuel infrastructure would “lock- in” greenhouse gas emissions, despite the world needing to rapidly and substantially cut down emissions to prevent a global catastrophe.

Where does Ireland stand?

Currently, before the Dáil is a bill backed by the Green Party that would deny planning permission for LNG infrastructure.

The private members’ bill was introduced to the Dáil in March by Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan but has not yet been subject to a full debate. 

Introducing the bill, Hourigan said that LNG “did not protect France or Germany from price surges this year” and “did not protect their communities from inflation”.

“It did not protect communities in other countries from fuel poverty, even when it polluted them,” she said.

In the Programme for Government, the three coalition parties came to some agreements on energy and LNG, including an assertion that it would not “make sense” to develop LNG terminals to import fracked gas.

“We will harness the natural resources to meet our needs in this country, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. We will end the issue of new licenses for the exploration and extraction of gas, on the same basis as the recent decision in relation to oil exploration and extraction,” the programme states. 

“As Ireland moves towards carbon neutrality, we do not believe that it make sense to develop LNG gas import terminals importing fracked gas. Accordingly, we shall withdraw the Shannon LNG terminal from the EU Projects of Common Interest list in 2021.

“We do not support the importation of fracked gas and shall develop a policy statement to establish that approach.”

However, despite those agreements between the parties in 2020, the question of whether Ireland should further develop LNG infrastructure is one that has not found a consensus among members of the coalition parties.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has stated publicly that he thinks the use of LNG as a transition fuel is among the options that need to be considered amid the energy crisis.

In recent days, MEPs Seán Kelly and Billy Kelleher, of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil respectively, have called for the government to expand LNG infrastructure.

Kelleher said a floating unit should be installed to allow direct LNG imports.

“Longer term, we will need a permanent LNG terminal in Ireland with connections into the grid,” he said, adding that such a facility could take up to five years to build. 

Meanwhile, in opposition, People Before Profit climate spokesperson TD Bríd Smith said today that the current energy crisis should not be used as an “excuse” to lock Ireland into fossil fuels.

“The only real energy security in the coming years is a move to reduce our dependence on all fossil fuels, including gas; as opposed to investing in state owned gas storage,” Smith said.

“We need the state to take control of developing offshore wind and renewables, not investing more in fossil fuel infrastructure or allow private development of LNGs.”

In March, environmental campaign groups told the Oireachtas Committee on Environment and Climate Action that fast-tracking the development of LNG terminals could pose more costs for households.

“Our core message for members today is that more gas does not simply equate to more security,” Jerry MacEvilly, Head of Policy at Friends of the Earth Ireland, said.

“Our over-reliance on fossil fuels, in particular gas, is itself a security risk and it’s essential that the Oireachtas addresses it as such.”

But Chair of the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (CRU) Aoife MacEvilly said that LNG import infrastructure should be considered as part of the review of energy security.

“We simply don’t meet the supply standard at the moment that’s required by the EU,” MavEvilly said.

“The importance of this has been further underlined in recent times, as I think we’ve all come to realise just how important our secure supplies of energy are.”

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