Last year was another strong year for wind energy in Ireland, with the sector delivering €350m of vital investment, while helping us reduce our dependency on foreign fossil fuels and securing our clean energy future by meeting 19% of our overall electricity demand in 2014.
Ireland is in a uniquely fortunate position. We have one of the most reliable sources of renewable energy in wind energy, currently supplying enough electricity to power more than 1.4m homes and routinely producing enough power to meet 50% of domestic electricity demand.
Wind energy is a new, indigenous, and growing sector that’s already supplying 3,400 people with jobs that support Irish families. Having a secure and dependable energy supply is vital. The first thing I do every evening when I open my front door is to flick the light switch. But in the flicking of the switch we are also becoming increasingly empowered as citizens about where our energy is sourced from and how. This discussion is one which is taking place across all strands of society, not just among politicians in the Dáil.
As a small island nation, our challenge is to deliver a secure supply of energy to meet our growing needs and drive economic prosperity, while making sure cost is at the forefront of decision-making, alongside reducing CO2 emissions to protect the environment and limit the impact of climate change for our children and their children.
Anyone living here knows we have a huge resource in our wind power, which is one of the best globally and the envy of our European neighbours. This resource presents us with an unrivalled opportunity to deliver sustainable energy for future generations, while delivering significant economic benefits to our fragile but recovering economy.
Wind energy is working for us, and for Ireland to build the required additional wind-energy capacity to meet our European 2020 targets. The most conservative estimate shows that this will deliver a further investment of more than €3.5bn into the economy, significantly reduce Ireland’s CO2 emissions and reduce our costly dependency on foreign energy, saving the country €282m in 2020 in fossil-fuel imports.
We can also be proud that wind energy is a guaranteed Irish product, particularly for a country which ranks as one of the worst in Europe, with an 89% dependency on costly foreign imports of energy. The cost of all energy imports to Ireland was approximately €6.7bn for 2013, making it clear that we need to ensure that we have greater control over our future energy destiny.
Ireland is not alone in favouring wind power as our leading and preferred renewable energy source.
US president Barack Obama used his recent State of the Union address to highlight his country’s achievements in terms of wind energy development.
Here in Ireland, we broke our record for peak wind generation in January, while Canada and Germany broke records for the amount of wind energy installed in 2014. Denmark broke the world record for having 39% of its national electricity coming from wind in 2014. Wind is being widely used and is accepted as a proven, safe and efficient technology the world over.
In Ireland, our first commercial wind farm opened in Mayo more than 20 years ago in 1992 and is still operating. Today, communities across the country live in harmony with wind power, seeing its benefits both locally and nationally.
Yes, there are some people who have questions — questions which the people working on wind farms are happy to work to assuage.
Experience has shown us that often the queries raised are not necessarily from those living near windfarms but those yet to experience wind energy in action.
June 2014 saw wind farms across the country open their doors to the public, welcoming over 1,000 people in, answering questions and showing young and old wind energy in action. We’re encouraging everybody to visit a wind farm open day in 2015.
We have an energy choice to make. Ireland, under the leadership of Energy Minister Alex White, is deciding this year on our future energy policy through the Government’s upcoming white paper. There have been consultations and well attended events across the country, lively and engaged debates and discussions, but as a society the choices are clear.
Potential alternatives to wind energy include nuclear energy, fracking or large-scale biomass. Apart from the potential risks posed by some of these solutions, they are simply inferior, either extremely costly or unviable.
December will also see global leaders, including those from Ireland, gather in Paris to negotiate a global climate deal.
Europe, with Ireland’s backing, has already committed to a clear target to increase the share of renewable energy “by at least 27%” to 2030, but we must also show our own Irish leadership to achieve these goals by backing renewable energy and especially wind power.
Today, as each of us arrives home and turns on the light switch, we have a choice to make. Our energy system needs to be fit for our modern lives, secure, clean and efficient. Wind energy is already delivering this for Irish families but can, if we make the right choices and show the right leadership, deliver so much more.
Kenneth Matthews is CEO of Irish Wind Energy Association