For most people, energy policy is crippling — until the lights go out, the gas doesn’t come on, or letters pile up on doormats warning of astronomical increases in costs.
On the day Russian troops invaded Ukraine, Ireland’s Environment Department assured the public that a gas supply shock was “very unlikely”. That and years of Irish politics now look shockingly smug.
With winter less than four months away, the Government last week admitted any gas shortages in the UK will have an impact on Ireland. That was a statement of what should have been obvious; Ireland’s gas fields have been depleted for years and now around three quarters of Ireland’s gas comes from the UK.
Of this, about half comes from the UK’s own North Sea gas fields, a third from Norway, and most of the rest arrives on tankers as liquefied natural gas (LNG) from around the world – a small portion of which comes from Russia.
Channeled beneath the Irish Sea, this is the gas that heats Irish homes, generates almost half of the country’s electricity and powers much of Ireland’s industry. Because of this, the UK and Ireland are less vulnerable to the threat of Russian gas being shut off than Germany and much of continental Europe.
Terror at Russia’s willingness to see Europe frozen has prompted dramatic action; After years of eschewing energy security in favor of depending on Russian gas, Germany is urgently building LNG terminals, where liquid fuel can be offloaded at regasification plants and pumped into the grid.
Ireland is quite consciously not. Geographically, this is surprising. As an island, we are better positioned for such terminals than many European countries. There have been three LNG port proposals, none of which have been approved and all run counter to government policy.
That policy — which targets LNG terminals being built to import fracked gas — was laid down in 2020 as a key concession to the Greens in the talks that led to the coalition government.
As a result, a proposed LNG terminal in Cork was abandoned last January. On board Pleanála is to decide on a €650 million plan by US company New Fortress Energy to build an LNG terminal on the Shannon estuary.
The government’s position is incoherent. Environment Secretary and leader of the Greens, Eamon Ryan, said the development must be allowed “under no circumstances”. But last week, the Taoiseach said that due to the severity of the crisis, LNG “simply needs to be considered.”
There are understandable reasons for opposing LNG terminals. With fracking banned in Ireland, many people find it absurd to simply pay for another part of the world to be fracked.
And with climate change now manifesting itself in ways that cannot be ignored, a radical investment in renewable energy instinctively seems more logical than building even larger fossil-fuel infrastructure.
However, this episode reveals a larger contradiction. After Ireland refused to land fracked LNG in Irish ports for environmental reasons, Ireland is now more dependent on the UK – where LNG tankers queue to offload cargoes which are then pumped to Ireland under the Irish Sea. The result is morally and ecologically identical to the open dumping of the gas here. But out of sight, it’s less noticeable.
This is not the only area in which Ireland pursues a policy of moral outsourcing – seizing the moral high ground while benefiting from the activities it disapproves of.
Ireland is adamantly opposed to nuclear power, but is happy to import UK electricity produced in nuclear power plants.
Ireland prides itself on its militarily neutral stance. But when potentially enemy planes fly towards this island, it’s the high-speed jets of the Royal Air Force that are out to intercept them. Pilot and ground crew skills have been honed in wars that Ireland has denounced but from which we have indirectly benefited.
Even more blatantly, conflicts like the Iraq war – which the Irish government and people viewed with disgust – have been facilitated by Shannon Airport. Intervention would not end such conflicts and anger the US, but would be more consistent than verbal denunciation accompanied by silent assistance.
Closer to home, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil insist that Sinn Féin must be in government in Belfast, but refuse to even consider going to government with Sinn Féin in Dublin.
Ireland is not the only country acting unevenly. Every country does this; indeed, national hypocrisy are only larger versions of our own contradictions.
People fearing climate change continue to fly around the world; People who fear public money is being wasted eagerly sign up for government subsidies they don’t need; Shoppers who believe workers should be paid a fair wage are looking beyond Fair Trade coffee for the cheaper alternative.
To be human means to be imperfect, but in political debates about such important issues as the island’s energy security, it’s important to be honest about the decisions we make. Feeling good doesn’t keep us warm in winter.
Every outsourcing is associated with a loss of control. As energy security becomes an urgent national security issue, it is Britain that will now not only make moral decisions on Ireland’s behalf on gas, but will also be instrumental in seeing Ireland through this winter.
Although Brexit is severely straining British-Irish relations, there has been no evidence that the British government would intervene in this area – an act which it believes would be moral and defamatory – but it is a point of vulnerability.
Ireland is one of the most successful countries in the world in integrating wind energy into the electricity grid. But it has failed to balance this with storage or renewable alternatives for times when the wind isn’t blowing.
Boring or not, that should be a national priority. It would reduce emissions, clean the air we breathe, and deliver long-term economic benefits — and end at least one hypocrisy.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/the-energy-crisis-feeling-good-about-ourselves-wont-keep-us-warm-in-winter-41894671.html The Energy Crisis: Feeling good about ourselves doesn’t keep us warm in winter