By Dominic McGrath and Grainne Ni Aodha, PA
The EU official in charge of energy policy has been questioned by Irish parliamentarians.
Kadri Simson, European Commissioner for Energy, appeared before an Oireachtas committee to take questions amid the backdrop of an energy crisis sparked by the war in Ukraine.
This week, the EU forged a compromise that will see the body move to block most Russian oil imports.
Ms Simson told the Oireachtas Energy and Climate Committee that the war in Ukraine is “causing us to reconsider Europe’s energy security”.
She added: “The war in Ukraine has changed things when it comes to energy.
“We are forced to confront the fact we are too dependent on imports from Russia and it is being a tool for blackmail.
“This is something that we cannot tolerate.”
Discussing the drastic shift in EU energy policy, Ms Simson said: “Doubling down even further will take commitment and effort across the whole society.”
She also praised Ireland’s potential as a source of off-shore renewable energy.
Ms Simson said: “There are few places in the world that are better suited for off-shore renewables than Ireland, sitting here on the edge of the windy Atlantic gives you a great potential to build more renewable energy.”
Some politicians raised the concerns of climate campaigners about EU policy on climate change, in particular the recent shift to liquefied natural gas (LNG) sparked by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The EU is aiming to be climate-neutral by 2050.
Sinn Féin climate spokesperson Darren O’Rourke said: “Everybody, hopefully, is moving in the same direction. But of course that puts challenges on capacity to deliver at scale, at a European level.
“How do you prioritise within that and at a time where you’re pulling from those resources to deliver LNG?”
Ms Simson replied: “In the long run, we’ll see that if our member states will achieve everything that is proposed under the Fit for 55, then by 2030, Europe will consume 30% less natural gas than we consumed 2020.
The 3 issues dominating #energy at the moment are sustainability, affordability & security. It might be #EU wide, but every Member State is unique.
Good discussion w/ Oireachtas 🇮🇪 Committee on Environment & Climate Action. Happy to hear your views on current state in energy. pic.twitter.com/i22HFYRlH5
— Kadri Simson (@KadriSimson) June 2, 2022
“So yes, this extraordinary time and huge pressure before this heating season, but in the longer run we will decarbonise and we will replace also significant shares of our gas consumption with this clean gas.”
Similar concerns were flagged by Senator Alice Mary Higgins.
She said: “To simply say that in 2050 we’re suddenly talking about net zero, but not having a genuinely strong emission path up to that is the real danger and in fact, really, Europe and the EU in particular does not have 28 years given our disproportionate responsibility for driving climate change.
“That we in fact should be, you know, leading ahead of the curve in terms of decarbonisation, as our fair share will be exhausted before that.”
Ms Simson said that while member states were committed to climate neutrality by 2050, some this year would need “emergency investments to get rid of Russian imports”.
She added: “This is not easily doable to replace them with renewables in such a short term.
“This is behind the flexibility that offers some landlocked countries a window where they can use their own recovery funds to co-finance pipelines, but mainly they will be financed against the market.”
Speaking on Thursday morning, Ms Simson said that she and Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan discussed the challenges that Europe faces and proposals on how to scale up renewable energy sources.
She said: “We discussed how to scale up and to accelerate renewable deployment in Europe, we will negotiate that with our member states in the Energy Council that takes place at the end of June, and I do hope that we will find a common understanding that investments in renewables are the best practices how we can get rid of Russian imports, because this is a dangerous dependency that we face right now.
“So lots of work ahead of us, a challenging heating season ahead of us, but we do have a plan how to secure supply for our consumers and how to tackle high energy prices.”
This was Ms Simson’s first visit to Ireland in her capacity as the EU’s Energy Commissioner.
Ireland is one of the member states not dependent on Russian energy, she said.
Ms Simson said that the EU could only partially replace the gas supply levels that it received from Russia last year, but would aim to double its biogas production, which she said may be of interest to Irish farmers.
“It will be a very big challenge to replace Russian gas fully,” she added.