We are honoured to have Minister Pat Rabbitte to deliver the UCD Engineering Graduates Annual Spring Lecture on April 3rd next in the Clinton Auditorium Belfield at 7pm on the topic "Meeting Ireland's Energy Challenge".
Last year we had Regina Finn for this lecture then Chief Executive of the Water Regulation Authority for England and Wales and that was another highly timely and eventful gathering as will be this year's Lecture on a timely and critically important economic and social topic.
Pat Rabbitte TD is the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources which is a huge Government portfolio covering Energy, Telecommunications, Broadcasting, Postal Service and Oil/Gas Exploration. He is responsible for a huge number of semi-state bodies including ESB, EirGrid, Bord Gais, RTE, TG4, Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, National Oil Reserves Agency (NORA), An Post, Bord na Mona and Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI).
He is a TD for Dublin South West since 1989 and was leader of the Labour Party from 2002 to 2007. He was the Dail's longest serving member of the Public Accounts Committee. He was previously Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment with responsibility for Commerce, Science and Technology.
Energy policy traditionally concentrated on 'ensuring a secure, sustainable and competitive energy environment'. That is so but the current Government have a higher ambition and that is to ensure that energy policy also supports inward investment, growth and jobs as part of economic recovery.
It’s the same strong message we got last Autumn from the Taoiseach when he came to address us on 'Manufacturing Engineering and Job Creation' - where he said 'the Government's top priority and a strong manufacturing sector is essential to growing our exports to sustain and create jobs in innovative home grown business as well as foreign companies who locate in Ireland'.
It’s reassuring to see that in this area of Job Creation in Ireland there appears to be very strong 'joined up thinking' among the Departments at Government level.
We expect the Minister will concentrate on the 'big picture' policies that will inform the Energy Green Paper from Government later this year and make reference to the current strategies for onshore and offshore renewables. The Minister may also make some reference to the implementation of the North South Interconnector, Grid Link and Grid West projects which are at different stages of development.
Media commentators are firmly linking the roll out of new grid projects with new onshore wind projects in the Midlands and assuming that if the onshore wind export projects do not proceed that this will obviate the need for the new grid development projects. Not so - as I'm reliably informed that these projects are quite independent of each other. The new EirGrid projects are still all required whether the export wind projects proceed or not.
The vast majority of Engineers accept the need for the new Grid Development projects as part of the Grid 25 Strategy approved by Government. The vast majority of Engineers also support the ongoing development of onshore and offshore wind as does the Government. There are a small number who don't and they are often mischievously quoted by opposition groups against wind farms and grid development as being representative of the engineering profession when they are not.
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These are primarily issues for the development organisations and not for the Minister who sets Energy Policy and an implementation framework in which the transmission projects are developed. One such framework policy was the Government Policy Statement on the Strategic Importance of Transmission and other Energy Infrastructure published in June 2012.
We greatly look forward to what the Minister has to say at this critical juncture in our energy infrastructure development. One thing is clear - we need ongoing energy infrastructure development to match our ambition to regrow our economy, to encourage national and international investment and to accelerate job creation.