Saturday 25 April 2015

Cost Benefit Analysis obligations for Ireland's Renewable Action Plan - Part One

Ireland finally decides to do a Cost Benefit study for the renewable energy programme
By Pat Swords BE CEng FIChemE CEnv MIEMA

The Sunday Independent of the 12th April 2015, in an article entitled “Government yet to publish cost benefit analysis on wind energy”, clarified that “a spokeswoman from the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources said the Government believes it is necessary to take a broader look and will soon publish a report.

  • "It was considered timely to undertake and publish analysis which takes a broader look at the components contributing to the projected costs, in order to inform public debate and commentary on the cost and financial impact on the electricity customer," she said”.

Given that billions of private and public money have already been spent in an effort to ensure 40% of Ireland's electricity is supplied by renewable sources by 2020, there is more to this than just a complete lack of common sense. After all you “look before you leap for as you sow, ye are likely to reap”, is a well-established proverb and for good reason too. Do different rules apply, as it is our money as electricity consumers, which is to be spent on this programme? So what are the rules? What have we ended up with as a result of all this expenditure to date?

There are in fact a whole series of questions to be addressed, which can be broken down into the following themes:

  1. Was there not a regulatory requirement to do this form of cost benefit analysis prior to this programme being initiated?
  2. What has actually been the benefit to date from our expenditure?
  3. If I am sceptical of this Green / renewable agenda and a wind farm is to be built in my vicinity, what is being used to support this decision making?
  4. If I have a right to a social market economy, namely to buy goods and services on the free market at the best prices, what justification is being used to force me to purchase the renewable energy, for which I am not interested in paying a premium for?
  5. As regards those who claim we have no option, it’s a mandatory EU target and there are huge fines if we don’t comply; how accurate is that?

Note the supporting information for what is addressed in the following section, plus additional analysis, can be found in the document produced by the same author entitled: “Clean energy, what is it and what are we paying for?”

Part 1 - Obligation to complete a prior cost benefit analysis

Warren Buffet is one of the world’s most successful investors and renowned for his ‘folksy sayings’ such as "risk comes from not knowing what you're doing" and “it’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who has being swimming naked”. Appropriate comments in the light of the complete mess, which was left here in 2008, and which will still affect us for generations to come. That Ireland is acutely prone to ‘Groupthink’ is now well known, the Finnish economist Peter Nyberg, who was commissioned in 2011 to write the official Irish Government report on the banking sector in Ireland, made it very clear, in that ‘Groupthink’ was the main contributing factor to the resulting financial crises, as his executive summary put it:

  • Widespread lack of critical discussion within many banks and authorities indicates a tendency to “groupthink”; serious consideration of alternatives appears to be modest or absent. A tendency to favour silo organisation and submissiveness to superiors strengthened this effect, particularly among the public authorities.

As the report went on further to clarify:

  • Groupthink occurs when people adapt to the beliefs and views of others without real intellectual conviction. A consensus forms without serious consideration of consequences or alternatives, often under overt or imaginary social pressure. Recent studies indicate that tendencies to groupthink may be both stronger and more common than previously thought.

Indeed, history abounds with regulatory failures, such that countries have adopted formal Regulatory Impact Assessment procedures, which include cost benefit analysis and public consultation procedures. Indeed, the Irish Government decided in June 2005 that Regulatory Impact Analysis should be introduced across all Government Departments and Offices and applied to a range of regulatory measures including:

  • Proposals for EU Directives and significant EU Regulations when they are published by the European Commission.

Furthermore, the Irish Regulatory Impact Assessment guidelines from 2005, which were later updated in 2009, clarify:

  • The steps of Regulatory Impact Assessment comprise:

1. Statement of policy problem and objective
2. Identification and description of options
3. Impact analysis including costs and benefits of each option
4. Consultation
5. Enforcement and compliance for each option
6. Review
7. Summary of merits / drawbacks of each option and identification of recommended option where appropriate.

  • Examine at least three options. Include the ‘no policy change’ option and at least one regulatory alternative

  • Cost-benefit analysis: This entails identifying and evaluating expected economic, environmental and social benefits and costs of proposed public initiatives. A measure is considered justified where net benefits can be expected from the intervention.

  • Cost Benefit Analysis must be considered where costs of €50 million over ten years are likely.

  • Where the costs exceed the predicted benefits, the proposal should be refined or in certain circumstances abandoned.
However, the Irish authorities simply never completed a Regulatory Impact Assessment when the proposal for the 20% renewable energy by 2020 Directive was published by the EU Commission; i.e. this procedure was bypassed with the development and introduction of Directive 2009/28/EC.

If we consider the EU itself, it has an even longer tradition of ‘Impact Assessments’, which as its own guidance clarifies:

  • Impact assessment is about gathering and analysing evidence to support policy making. In this process, it verifies the existence of a problem, identifies its underlying causes, assesses whether EU action is needed, and analyses the advantages and disadvantages of available solutions.

One also has to seriously question SEC(2006) 1719, the sixty two page document, which was the official Impact Assessment for this massive roll out of the 20% renewable energy programme. First off, how on earth can one properly assess the impact of such an enormous programme on the EU as a whole, in just sixty two pages, a programme which for the island of Ireland alone is to result in the plastering of the countryside with over three thousand wind turbines and over a thousand kilometres of new high voltage lines? In reality, this can be partly explained by the fact that the 20% target was just ‘pulled out of a hat’ by the politicians, without working out first in advance, as to what was actually achievable, not to mention its costs, benefits and impacts:

  • In 2004, the European Parliament called for a target of a 20% share of renewable energy in 2020. Also in 2004, the Commission agreed to "thoroughly assess the impacts of RES resources, notably with regard to their global economic effects before deciding on adopting targets beyond 2010 and before taking a position on a 20% target for the share of renewable energy in 2020"15. And in 2006, the spring European Council asked the Commission to look into a 15% target for renewable energy in 2015.

Did that assessment of the impacts of Renewable Energy Sources (RES) actually happen? The Impact Assessment report states, i.e. claims, that the following impacts were examined:

Feasibility and achievability risks (Section 5.1.1);

Costs (Section 5.1.2);

Benefits (Section 5.1.3):
- Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions
- Security of supply
- Employment, GDP and export opportunities
- Biodiversity impacts
- Regional development and rural economy.

Not only would one question the brevity of the documentation, but also the competency of those who wrote it, in particular the academic institutions and their computer models. The Impact Assessment was most certainly not completed by a recognised engineering company with a track record in major power generation projects and the assessments of the same. For instance with respect to the capital costs required for investment in renewable electricity, it claimed:

  • Under PRIMES, which works in detail with the electricity sector, investment needs in this sector are calculated to be about €160bn in the business-as-usual case (renewable share across all sectors: 10.4%) and some €280bn to reach 20% by 2020 in the PRIMES high renewables and efficiency scenario. In comparison, the Green-X model projects, for the power generation sector, an investment cost of €232bn for renewable energy in the business-as-usual scenario and a range of €285–414bn in the 20% scenarios.

Indeed, it can quite easily be calculated that the capital investment in solar panels and wind turbines alone in the EU by the end of 2012 was €600 billion and that's only a fraction of the investment required to be installed by 2020. So we are not even half way there and have completely blown the budget.

Indeed, as regards the alleged environmental benefit, the EU Commission’s official position in their “Renewable Energy Road Map Renewable Energies in the 21st Century: building a more sustainable future COM (2006) 848 final1was summarised by:

  • The additional renewable energy deployment needed to achieve the 20% target will reduce annual CO2 emissions in a range of 600-900 Mt in 2020. Considering a CO2 - price of €25 per tonne, the additional total CO2 benefit can be calculated at a range of €150 - €200 billion. Actual CO2 prices will depend on the future international climate regime”.
So where did this benefit analysis come from? It has to made clear that this is not a benefit analysis, it is a political statement; the €25 per tonne was based on the expected trading price for carbon dioxide. The EU never had, and continues not to have, any assessment of what environmental damage carbon dioxide is doing. While extensive work has been completed in order to assign a financial damage cost to common air pollutants, such as particulates and sulphur dioxide, there is essentially zero equivalent information for carbon dioxide.

We also need to critically evaluate the other claim above, that the additional renewable energy deployment needed to achieve the 20% target would reduce annual CO2 emissions in a range of 600-900 million tonnes (Mt) in 2020. The source of this claim was the PRIMES computer model used by the Commission, a computer model which has caused a lot of controversy, as it remains the private property of the National Technical University of Athens. While assumptions are published, independent parties cannot replicate the results.

However, the PRIMES model makes no allowance for the significantly increased power station inefficiencies, which are occurring on the grid, with resulting higher fuel consumption and emissions, as more and more intermittent renewable energy is placed on the grid. In other words the balancing costs, which the EU Commission recognised had to be financially funded under the REFIT and similar schemes. The PRIMES computer model is therefore fundamentally flawed and over predicts any emission savings which could arise.

Furthermore, if we come to the claim in the Impact Assessment document that the impacts on “regional development and rural economy” were addressed, then there is zero indication that this happened, as outside the ‘contents list’, it was never actually mentioned again. To reiterate this point, at no stage in the documentation or the associated models PRIMES and Green-X was it ever worked out what exactly was to be built, where it was to be built, what were its proper costs, what were the impacts and real benefits? For instance, there is not a scrap of information on what was to be built in Ireland, where it was to be built, etc. As the introduction to the relevant 2009/28/EC Directive explains, the overall 20% target for the EU was then shared out among the Member States based on their existing level of renewable energy and a factor based on GDP. Hence Ireland obtained a 16% target and Austria, a country with considerable hydro reserves; essentially double that at 34%.

Neither were any alternatives to renewable energies assessed. After all, it’s not unknown that there are a multitude ways of reducing carbon emissions. For instance, it is indisputable that electricity in Denmark costs twice as much as France and has some ten times the amount of carbon emissions in its generation. Furthermore, the carbon price on the EU’s emissions trading scheme has effectively collapsed to €5 per tonne, as there were so many low cost options available, such as in efficiency improvements, to reduce carbon.

None of this was looked at, as the whole Impact Assessment document was solely about a percentage target of renewables and nothing in relation to assessing what this actually ‘would do for you’ or alternatives to achieve that goal. In this regard, there are 35 billion tonnes of anthropogenic (man-made) carbon emissions each year. Given the PRIMES claim that the 20% target would reduce annual CO2 emissions in a range of 600-900 million tonnes (Mt) in 2020 and this was a clear over-prediction, even if the EU’s renewable energy programme had been reasonably effective, we are still only looking at less than a 2% reduction in anthropogenic emissions. In other words, it simply was never capable of having any impact on the climate cycles.

Note: Both the EU and Ireland in their National Implementation Reports to UNECE with regard to the Aarhus Convention on Access to Justice, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters claim that their system of Regulatory Impact Assessment fulfills the obligation under Article 7 of the Convention. Article 7 being the legal requirement for public participation concerning plans, programmes and policies related to the environment.

There is already a decision of non-compliance (V/9g) of International Law at UNECE against the EU in that it failed to comply with Article 7 of the Convention with respect to the adoption of National Renewable Energy Action Plans (NREAPs) by its Member States on the basis of Directive 2009/28/EC. These NREAPs were rushed through; despite the provisions of Article 7 being that the public were to be provided with the ‘necessary information’ for ‘effective participation’ in the decision-making. There is a parallel provision in the Aarhus Convention related to environmental information, environmental information which includes in its scope; ‘cost-benefit and other economic analyses and assumptions used in environmental decision-making’:

  • Recognizing the importance of fully integrating environmental considerations in governmental decision-making and the consequent need for public authorities to be in possession of accurate, comprehensive and up-to-date environmental information.

Indeed, in the UNECE Communication ACCC/C/2010/54 taken by the author and which lead to the previously mentioned decision of non-compliance against the EU, not only did the EU Commission take an ‘Ad Hominem’ approach to the author, but in their opening written statement to Compliance Committee meeting in Geneva stated:  

  • The Convention leaves significant discretion to authorities by using words such as "adequate" and "sufficient". In addition, it focuses on information on threats to the environment and does not require information to be collected on comparative costs”.

So according to the EU, the Irish public are to be kept in the dark about the huge costs they are being forced to fund, despite the Convention’s specific requirement that they are to be provided with the ‘necessary information’ for ‘effective participation’ in the decision-making.

Indeed if we further consider what environmental information was actually in the NREAPs and they are an awful disjointed and rambling document to read, the core issue was to be found right at the end of the NREAP template, which was prepared by the EU Commission as part of the compliance with Directive 2009/28/EC.

5.3.   Assessment of the impacts (Optional)
Table 13
Estimated costs and benefits of the renewable energy policy support measures
Expected renewable energy use
Expected cost (in EUR) — indicate time frame
Expected GHG reduction by gas
Expected job creation

An access to information on the environment request was sent in to the Irish Department of Communications. Energy and Natural Resources in July 2011 in relation to the failure to complete the above section of the NREAP template and the basis for emission savings claims made in the State Aid for Environmental Protection application in 2006 for the REFIT scheme. As the reply documented not filling in the above Section of the NREAP was justified on the basis that 19 Member States did likewise and a verbal decision had been reached by the Department and Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) not to so. Indeed, what the remaining Member States provided for Section 5.3 can be best described as having ‘fudged it’.

In conclusion then the glaring lack of relevant information on not only cost and benefits, but other critical environmental information, is not just related to an abject failure to regulate in legally compliant manner, but also deprived citizens of their legal rights to participate in that decision-making process.  


Saturday 18 April 2015

Whats In Your Electricity Bill : Part 6 Conclusions

Diagram 1: Energy Prices by component (Source ESB and Eurostat)

The above diagram shows in very simple terms the factors which are driving up our bills. Energy and Supply is basically the cost of generating the electricity including wholesale costs of fuel, operation costs etc. As ESB noted, only 40% of the electricity price is subject to the competitive market; the balance is set by policy measures and regulated prices. So Energy and Supply makes up 40% and if the costs come down in the wholesale market as they have recently done then this cost comes down. The problem then lies with the 60% - Networks and Taxes and Levies. The main driver in these costs is government policy. 

One of the things to note is that when wholesale costs come down, the cost of energy and supply comes down but levies goes up. This is explained in this blogpost :

So next time you hear about rising electricity prices been blamed on the wholesale cost of gas going up, you will know that this is only 40% of your bill, and so does not fully explain what is going on. Taxes and Levies must be increased to pay for additional wind capacity and network costs must also be increased as explained below. But the situation is even worse when wholesale costs come down, as just like in a weighing scales, taxes and levies must then increase further to make up the larger gap between the market price and subsidy price for peat and wind etc.

Network Costs

While there was always an issue in Ireland with dispersed houses and buildings, thus requiring a larger network than other countries, we can see from Diagram 1 that something else has impacted on this cost since 2008. Between 2008 and 2012 we added about 700MW of wind, driving network costs up to bring this wind energy from remote regions to where it is needed. Two new gas plants were also built in Cork but these were built nearby existing power plants which meant that minimal transmission infrastructure was required. 

We can refer to Eurostat to see what has happened network costs since 2012 (click to zoom in):

Network Costs for domestic customers 

Network Costs for industrial customers 

For households, the cost has gone up from € 0.0669 in 2012 to € 0.0697 in 2014. For industry,
the cost has gone up from € 0.0446 in 2012 to € 0.0455 in 2014. 

For industry, they have had a 47% increase since 2008.

Taxes and Levies

For industrial consumers, taxes and levies have more than doubled since 2012. Hence, why we have industries complaining that they are been unfairly levied. For households, levies have gone up by 35% since 2012. Levies comprise the ever increasing PSO Levy which was discussed in Part 5.

Taxes and Levies for households

Taxes and Levies for industrial customers with consumption between 2,000MWh and 20,000MWh

Taxes and Levies for industrial customers with consumption between 500MWh and 2,000MWh

Taxes have remained static i.e. VAT at 13.5%

Other Costs

Other costs include supplier profit and admin costs to run the electricity market. Of course, the suppliers do make good profits and engineers and staff are paid higher than most of their European counterparts. But anyone that has followed this blog, should know that it is a mistake to blame the high electricity bills coming through your door entirely on capitalism. It is socialist interventionist policies that fixes the price above a certain level.

Admin costs would have also gone up in recent years due to the increased complexity in the market with increased wind and interconnection. What has happened is that the market has now become imperfect. If everyone had perfect foresight, the system would run smoothly i.e. be "perfect". But because nobody can have this level of foresight and can only know what will happen after the fact (i.e. when the wind rushes in unexpectedly or doesn't blow at all), the system runs imperfectly and as Eirgrid point out "less optimal".

To be fair to one supplier, they are not too happy about this situation. After all, one of the benefits of wind energy and interconnection that we were sold by our politicians was that it would reduce energy costs :

Concern was raised by a respondent in which they expressed their disappointment ‘that despite growing levels of wind and recently introduced TSO incentives to reduce dispatch balancing costs, the overall charges are increasing. This increase and the fact that the supplier have no control over these increases does not bode well for consumer perception of increasing energy bills.’

And the CER Response: 
 The RAs expect the TSOs to continue to seek mitigation measures to reduce constraint costs for the betterment of electricity consumers.

In other words, we will keep trying to keep the costs down. Just don't expect it to happen anytime soon.....

Lower fuel costs does not mean lower bills

The year 2008 saw record prices for fossil fuels (see page 8 of this document). 

The SMP is the market price paid to generators and is influenced by international gas prices. So we can see from the below that the SMP was highest in 2008 and in 2013 was lower reflecting the fact that gas prices never recovered fully since 2008. So we would expect that our electricity bills would be lower in 2013 than 2008. 

In 2008, electricity prices were € 20.33 per 100kWh (see also diagram here on Page 15 confirming this figure does include taxes)

But in 2013, electricity prices were higher at € 22.95 :

So despite lower fuel prices, electricity prices were higher.  It was other factors apart from fuel - network costs and taxes and levies - that drove the price of electricity up.

Thursday 16 April 2015

The difference between Power and Energy

Image result for man on treadmill cartoon

Power and energy are two words that are thrown around a lot in the debate on energy. Val Martin of EPAW helps explain the difference between the two :

There is a huge difference between energy and power as Robert Bryce pointed out in his book on the subject, “Power Hungry”.    There are three sources of energy on Earth, Solar from the sun to grow plants stored over millions of years as fossil fuel, tidal from the gravitational influences of the moon on sea water and nuclear from the fact that E = mc2. There are non quantifiable sources of energy, falling leaves, horses, people, rain water, wind, explosives and lightening to name a few. There is a misconception that energy is power. While the sun and nitrate in fertiliser is required to provide the energy to grow plants, the feebleness of sunlight and the intensity of Nitrate explosives make it difficult to use it to provide power homes, transport or electricity. The electricity grid needs a constant reliable source to provide the power to drive cookers, electric power tools, welders etc. Likewise a loaded lorry going up a hill needs a very intense source of energy carried with it. Lightening is very intensive, but incapable of conversion.

Let's say a retired couple have a family saloon petrol car. Government introduces a law that the engines must be removed and replaced by a horse connected to it and controlled by reins through holes in the wind screen. Say the horse = 1 horse power (hp) and the car = 12 HP and the car is required for 2 hours a day, then theoretically the daily energy potential of the horse is 24hp (24 x 1) which is enough to power the car. The problem is that the horse is restricted to an average speed of 7 mph, he will only move 24hrs x 7mph = 168 miles in one day. The car can move 24hrs x 50mph = 1,200 miles. On a steep hill the horse may fail. Moreover the travel times for the couple will greatly increase and there may be no heating or lighting system, not to count rest times for the horse. The misconception with wind energy is to count the total potential output over one year as the actual useful output. 

A test of any energy source is if it can work on its own, independent of other sources. If it cannot, the likelihood is that it is a passenger on the system. There is no agreed scientific way to measure the contribution of wind energy on the grid.  

Monday 13 April 2015

The evidence that Ireland cannot become Denmark

And why Curtailment of Wind Power will become substantial by 2020

We currently have over 2,000MW of wind. Theoretically, we are at the stage where it should be easy to export some of our excess wind energy, which we can't use, to the UK as curtailment levels are still relatively small (in 2013 we curtailed about 3.5% of our wind) and should not pose problems to the UK system which is 11 times greater than ours. When we reach really high levels of wind, we will want to export a lot more surplus wind energy to our neighbours.

When you extract the data from Eirgrid's website (See here) for the year 2014, electricity exports to the UK amounted to just 6.5% of what we imported.  So for every 1MW of electricity that we import, we export just 0.065 of a MW. So what is going on ?

Days like the 23rd February 2015, give us a clue because large levels of wind penetration occurred. Figure 1 shows wind output which remained unusually high throughout the day - between 1,500MW and 1,969MW which is a record for Ireland (A similar analysis was done for 30th March here).

Figure 1: Wind Generation 23/02/15 - output was very high throughout the day

The shortfalls between the blue line and red line gives an indication of the level of wind 
curtailment that occurred.  Demand was about 4,000MW, so if we take 1,700MW of wind 
and 500MW of imported power that gives  us total non-synchronous generation of 2,200 - 
over half of demand. This means Eirgrid had to curtail approx 200MW of wind to keep 
within the 50% non-sync limit. 

So the logical thing to do would be to instead of curtailing this wind, export it through the interconnector 
to the UK. Figure 2 shows that we were actually importing electricity about 70% of the time, and 
close to the maximum permitted by the interconnector which is around 500MW. 

If we assume that average demand was around 4,000MW, then this meant that just circa 1,500MW of 
wind could be accepted by the grid (4,000*50% less 500 for the interconnector) at any one time because
we were importing electricity. 

Figure 2: EW Interconnector Flows 23/02/15 - we were importing close to 500MW of electricity from UK from 8am till 10pm

So the fact is that we are not able to export wind energy except at night. This means that a large proportion of our wind cannot be exported and the situation is exacerbated by the fact that high wind speeds tend to occur during daylight hours (as wind is a function of heat).

 When we get to higher levels of wind at 4,000MW or more, we will be at a stage where wind will sometimes exceed even the daily demand.   Taking into account all the constraints in the system - baseload plant that must be running, 50% limit on wind and interconnection etc - this means substantial amounts of wind will have to be curtailed (i.e wind farms will be shutdown) unless it can be exported - currently this is not the case for around two thirds of each day on average and we have no reason to believe this will change in the future.

This presents a problem for the Irish renewable experts because Denmark is often held up as an example of what Ireland can do. But Denmark has 6GW of interconnectors and can export wind at any time to Sweden and Norway. These countries have a lot of hydro which can be switched on and off at the flick of a switch to facilitate the intermittency of Danish wind. This then, perhaps, gives us a clue as to what is going on in the UK.

The UK has only around 900MW of hydro which is kept running as baseload power regardless of what wind is doing.  Figure 3 shows an example of a day with large levels of wind penetration in the UK system. Like Ireland, it is CCGT (gas plant) which is ramped down to accommodate the wind. The CCGT fleet in figure 3 has very low output which means they are running very inefficiently, like a car running in 1st gear. The UK do not want our wind at this time because, frankly, they do not have space for it. Nuclear must be kept running at baseload level and cannot be ramped down. There is a little more freedom with a coal plant but they too are designed mainly for baseload. An interconnector to France won't alleviate the situation as 80% of their electricity is powered by nuclear which cant be ramped down either.

And I might add that windy days in UK tend to occur at the same time as windy days in Ireland (see previous articles on this blog).

Figure 3: The UK system on a windy day

It will become all too clear in the coming years as to how this situation pans out but the phrase "badly thought out" springs to mind. Denmark, we are not, and can never be.

What this means is that it will be very difficult for us to achieve our renewable targets. The only way the UK will take our wind is if we compensate them for their CCGT running more inefficiently. This might sound like a mad idea (and yes it is) but the regulations already facilitate for such an arrangement - see here, its called negative pricing.

What this means for consumers is higher bills - either more payments to shutdown wind farms or payments to compensate the UK grid to take our wind (negative pricing).

By the looks of it, most likely Ireland will overtake Denmark in one aspect - as the country with the most expensive electricity in Europe by 2020.

Tuesday 7 April 2015

One of Europe's leading renewable energy experts on the alternative to wind energy for Ireland

So if we have reached saturation point with wind energy as the evidence clearly shows, then what are Ireland's options for the future ?

Malcolm Brown, a director of BW Energy, has almost three decades experience in the international energy sector and low carbon economy. He therefore is a voice that carries a lot of weight in any debate on energy policy. He has now brought his expertise to bear on the current debate in Ireland.

New technologies will make cheaper green power and also protect the country's tourism

by Malcolm Brown, director BW Energy

THE Government is planning to erect hundreds of gigantic pylons as tall as Liberty Hall across Ireland as part of a € 3 billion network upgrade.

Up to 2,000 new wind turbines will be built through the country's beauty spots - and next to our world-famous racing stables.

Last week Eirgrid said it could consider technology that would mean no new pylons - but only in the South-East.

Ireland has an "all-wind strategy" to meet EU 2020 renewable "green power" targets. But these plans are now outdated and unnecessarily expensive. By the end of 2014, Ireland had installed more than 2,000 wind turbines in rural heartlands and was just halfway to its target of 40% of renewable electricity by 2020.

Meeting the target requires a doubling of onshore wind power. So, another 200 new wind farms involving 2,000 new turbines - to be subsidised by the ordinary bill payer.

And to carry all this extra power, high-voltage lines will be strung over 700km of countryside - on huge pylons up to 60m in height. More wind power requires more pylons because it is produced in remote places which are actually the heartlands of the vital horse and tourism industries.

The construction and operation of these turbines and pylons threatens the tranquillity essential for the equine and tourism industries.

Tourism is worth €3.4 billion to the economy and horse racing is worth another € 1 billion. Why threaten such vital industries, especially when there is no need to do so? And who will pay for all these new turbines scattered across a very beautiful countryside? It will be you, the ordinary electricity consumer through subsidies added to your bill.

In 2015, Irish electricity prices are amongst the highest in Europe. Irish householders pay 42% more for their power.

Fortunately, there are better, cheaper ways to meet EU "green power" demands. Technology today offers better solutions in transmitting and producing "green power".

Last week, EirGrid, which is responsible for Irish electricity transmission plans, announced that "developments in technology now allow us to achieve improved performance from existing transmission infrastructure". Modern technology called "series compensation" can put more power onto the system without the need for new infrastructure and there is also scope for more undergrounding of high-voltage cables. That means better value for electricity bill payers. The higher tech option at Grid Link - from Kildare to Wexford and onto Cork - would save € 300million compared to the original plan.

Improved technology has found a cheaper, better way of transmitting electricity. But hard-pressed Irish electricity bill payers should also be asking the question, "Can new technologies also help to actually produce subsidised 'green power' more cheaply?" The answer is a resounding "Yes".

Existing dirty coal-fired power stations can now be re-engineered to produce clean "green power" from sustainable biomass, or burning wood pellets. Ireland can meet her 2020 EU "green power" target in one fell swoop by converting the Moneypoint coal-fired power station in Co Clare to burn sustainable biomass.

With Moneypoint supplying up to 25% of Irish electricity demand from a single power station and being the country's largest single emitter of greenhouse gases, it has a key role to play in fighting climate change. It is economic common sense to re-engineer an existing power station to produce "green power".

Then use the same transmission system to deliver this power rather than spending billions of euros on doubling wind power and associated transmission investments.

And that way you also protect Ireland's stunning countryside, and its racing and tourism industries.

Republished from The Irish Mirror with kind permission from Malcolm Brown. 

Five Reasons why we have reached saturation point with wind energy

To any impartial analyst, Ireland has reached saturation point with wind energy and it should now be time to put a pause on new wind development and consider our options. No damage was ever done down through history by pausing before deciding what to do next. Think of how many billions of euros we could have saved if this was done in 2006.

  1. Dumping of wind power and the 50% limit on wind - recent evidence shows that during periods of high winds we have to dump more and more of available wind energy to maintain a safe secure supply of electricity.  On the 30th March, at least 26% of available wind energy was dumped. 
  2. Over capacity - We now have generation capacity equivalent to double our peak demand and three times that of our average electricity demand needs. Let's use up this excess capacity before we start building any more. No new generating units (including wind) need to be built unless they are replacing retired units.
  3. Baseload plant minimum load requirements - there is a requirement for 5 large generating units to be running at all times for "dynamic stability". These comprise combined cycle gas turbine plants and Moneypoint coal plant. This means they can never be completely switched off. Increasing wind penetration further will exacerbate the inefficiencies inherent in running these plant on low loads, thereby negating any additional savings due to adding more wind.
  4. Electricity bills are one of the highest in Europe - government policy has locked society into high electricity prices with the preference towards subsidized forms of generation meaning savings from falls in wholesale prices can never filter down to consumer's bills. Another factor is that an over supply of generation capacity results in units requiring subsidies and capacity payments to recover their high fixed costs as payments for energy generation become insufficient and staggered due to low demand and more intermittent wind on the system. There are also extra costs due to new infrastructure required to carry the wind power.
  5. Impacts on other sectors - The tourism and equine industries are two of the largest industries in Ireland supporting many direct and indirect jobs. Chances are if you live outside any of the main cities, your job is dependent in someway on either of these industries.  Planting wind farms and associated pylons near scenic and horse breeding locations will have a negative impact on these important industries.  The Irish Hotels Federation recently warned that the location of energy infrastructure should not diminish the natural beauty of the landscape because this is an important element of the Irish tourism product. Already, this impact is being felt with one castle owner recently saying "The tourists can't believe it. They said we're mad. They said we're ruining our heritage. They say it's disgusting to go around Ireland now"