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Impacts of Green Energy Production on Ireland

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Studies
Wordcount: 2942 words Published: 28th Jul 2021

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An Evaluation of the Impacts of Green Energy Production on the Flora and Fauna of Ireland


Green energy production has significantly increased in recent years. Its rise is primarily due to environmental concerns and the vital need to find alternative energy sources as fossil fuels supplies decline. In terms of the environment, the use of renewable energy in order to alleviate the effects of global warming is supported internationally. (Warren, et al., 2005) There are several sources of renewable energy used in Ireland today, these include; wind power, solar, hydroelectric energy and biomass etc.

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Global Policy and legislation

In 1992, at the Earth summit in Rio, many nations joined an international treaty, which was known as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)  (United Nations, 2017). This treaty was put into effect in 1994 and its main aim was to fight the challenges of climate change. In order to achieve this, they encouraged member states to keep their greenhouse gas emissions at a steady state. (United Nations, 2017). This treaty was accompanied by the Kyoto Protocol which was more successful as it committed developing countries to reduce their emissions by introducing legally binding reduction targets. (United Nations, 2017)

EU policy and legislation

In 1997, the EU’s renewable energy policy came about with the implementation of the White Paper which was called ‘Energy for the future: renewable sources of energy (European Commission , 2011). This paper gave details of how gross energy consumption in terms of renewable energy needs to increase from 6% to 12% by 2010 (European Commission , 2011). Then in 2008 the Commission proposed an ambitious ‘Climate Change and Energy Package’. The European Union accepted this package in December of 2008. This energy package stated that European Union Member States must achieve the following targets:

  1. 20% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 in comparison to the 1990 levels.
  2. 20% increase in the use of renewables.
  3. 20% increase in energy efficiency.

(European Commission , 2011)

All EU Member States were required to draw up National Renewable Energy Action Plans (NREAP’s) as part of the Renewable Energy Directive (European Commission , 2011). These NREAP’s outlined the way in which each Member State aimed to meet their approved share of the overall target of a 20% increase of renewables in energy consumption by 2020. Additionally, the NREAP must also describe the steps that will be taken to improve and grow the use of renewable energy. Examples of this include improving conditions to allow more access to electricity gird lines as well as having less administrative barriers. (European Commission , 2011).

Irelands Policy and Legislation

Irelands renewable energy policy and legislation is entirely based on the context of European legal responsibilities. Our policies and legislations are specified in numerous Directives and Regulations, as well as in many international and national targets (Dineen, et al., 2015). In terms of the NREAP, Ireland submitted its final plan to the European Commission at the end June in 2010. We submitted our initial progress report in the January of 2012 followed by the second report two years later in February 2014 (Dineen, et al., 2015). There are many schemes that are carried out nationally to meet the EU’s 2020 targets.

Irelands Strategy for Renewable Energy: 2012 – 2020, proposed an ambitious statement which stated that Ireland could become a world-wide leader in the research and progress of renewable energy and other associated technologies (Dineen, et al., 2015). Irelands strategy for renewable energy recognises five goals, some of which include; an increase in both onshore and offshore wind; the construction of a sustainable bioenergy sector and building robust and efficient electricity networks etc. (Dineen, et al., 2015).

Under the European Union Directive 2012 on energy efficiency all member states, including Ireland must have a NREAP. The European Energy Directive placed energy efficiency at the forefront of the EU Energy 2020 strategy. It became a part of the law in Ireland through the SI 426 of 2014 and SI 131 of 2014 (Dineen, et al., 2015). The directive is aimed at keeping energy use from economic growth separate as well as setting out a mutual framework of measures to meet the European Union’s 20% target in energy efficiency by 2020 (Dineen, et al., 2015).

It is obligatory that all member states submit three National Energy Efficiency Action Plans to the European Commission over a seven-year period. The action plans should detail the measures planned to meet the 20-20 targets (Dineen, et al., 2015). Ireland’s initial National Energy Efficiency Action Plan was available in May 2009. It reiterated the target which was originally included in 2007 in the White Paper on energy efficiency. This target aimed to save approximately 20% of the average primary energy used from a period of 2001 – 2005, with this target being reached by 2020 (Dineen, et al., 2015).

In terms of Irelands legislation on the protection of flora and fauna, the protection of biodiversity on an international front comes from the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), in the form of an extensive strategy towards sustainable development. The CBD has three main aims which include;

  • To conserve biodiversity.
  • To sustainably use the components of biodiversity.
  • To share the benefits that come from the use of genetic resources in a just and impartial way.

(A, et al., 2005)

Irelands main policy to protect the flora and fauna is included in the National biodiversity plan “Actions for Biodiversity”. This action plan outlines how Ireland plans to conserve and protect its biodiversity. This policy is supported by the following legislation;

  • Birds Directive 1979
  • Habitats Directive 1992 (Natura 2000 sites)
  • Wildlife Act 1976, plus amendment Act 2000
  • Irish Flora Protection Order 2015

(Scheer, et al., 2016)


Currently there are numerous different types of renewable energy available in Ireland, which include; wind power, solar, hydroelectric energy and biomass etc. This section is going to focus on just wind and hydroelectric energy.

Wind Power background

Wind power began to draw interest just after the oil shocks in the 1970’s and it only started to grow during the 1990’s (Warren, et al., 2005). Today, wind energy is at the forefront in terms of renewable energy as it has emerged as one of the cleanest, safest and cheapest sources of energy. Since the 90’s the capacity of wind generating energy has been doubling approximately every three years and the production costs have been decreasing thus making it a favourable source of energy. In Ireland, the first operational windfarm came about in 1992 and as of 2015 there were 228 operational windfarms present across 27 counties (Irish Wind Energy Association, 2017). These windfarms are producing a wind capacity of 3025 megawatts. It is estimated that the value of 1MW can provide energy for approximately 650 homes, therefore the capacity of 3025MW is providing enough energy for 1.97 million homes in Ireland (Irish Wind Energy Association, 2017). However, for these windfarms to be effective it is vital that they are located in open, exposed areas where wind speed is high. Thus, the uplands, coastal and offshore areas are generally proposed (Drewitt & Langsto, 2006).


From a report carried out by BirdLife (BirdLife Europe , 2011), wind power energy was classified as a medium risk technology, therefore meaning that it can have negative impacts i.e. habitat disturbance especially in terms of sensitive species. However, if the correct framework policies are in place and if they are strategically organised then they can be developed without any negative impacts (BirdLife Europe , 2011). Areas such as the uplands, coastal and offshore are important habitats for migratory, breeding and wintering birds and therefore their habitats may be affected by the development of windfarms. However, the impact of wind farms on bird populations can vary and depend on different aspects including; the habitats that are affected, the species that are present, the topography of the adjacent land and finally the biogeographic range of a species (Drewitt & Langsto, 2006).

At numerous poorly sited wind farms (specifically at offshore sites) collision mortality has had a significant effect on population level (BirdLife Europe , 2011).

In addition, more indirect effects such as access to remote areas i.e. tracks may lead to an increased level of disturbance or an increased risk of predation. Cumulative mortality may contribute to the decline in more susceptible species due to other environmental or anthropogenic pressures (BirdLife Europe , 2011). Thus, impacts that are site specific in addition to effects on the local wildlife populations are in fact relevant apprehensions if windfarms are not developed properly. To mitigate the effects of developing windfarms there are two directives under EU environmental legislation that are directly applicable to the development of wind farms. These directives include;

  • SEA Directive (Strategic Environmental Assessments)
  • EIA Directive (Environmental Impact Assessments)

(European Commission , 2011)

Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEAs) are assessments that authorities use to improve spatial plans for various infrastructure needs such as; energy installations (BirdLife Europe , 2011). These assessments include the process of analysing as well as allowing the publics input to combine the analysis of environmental protection into plans and to encourage sustainability through investment programmes (BirdLife Europe , 2011). Furthermore, Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) are carried out by developers with the aim of avoiding, reducing and mitigating the impacts of projects. They then consider their findings in the planning decisions (BirdLife Europe , 2011)

Hydroelectricity background

Hydroelectricity is another major source of renewable energy and it is made from the movement of water. It is currently the worlds most extensively used source of renewable energy (O Rourke, et al., 2009). Three different categories of hydroelectric plants occur which include;

  1. Impoundment -  most prevalent and known kind of hydroelectric plant. It uses a dam to keep the water in a reservoir and a turbine releases the water, therefore generating electricity.
  2. Diversion – the water is diverted/transferred from the river over a canal which turns the turbine.
  3. Pumped storage – water is pumped from a low reservoir into a higher reservoir when the electricity demand is low. Thus, electricity is generated when the electricity demand is high and the water is released. (O Rourke, et al., 2009)

In terms of Ireland, hydroelectric energy is our second greatest source of renewable energy, just behind wind. The development of this energy will increase with more focus on the smaller scale hydroelectricity plants. Currently the ESB oversee the larger-scale plants and they have stated that these plants supply approximately 6% of our electricity (O Rourke, et al., 2009).


Hydroelectric plants can have numerous negative impacts on both the land and in terms of wildlife. Firstly, hydroelectricity plants can have a significant effect on aquatic ecosystems. For example, fish and several other species can be wounded or killed by the turbine blades, however there has been numerous mitigation methods to minimize these impacts e.g. fish ladders and in-take screens (UCS, 2017). As mentioned above the most common types of hydroelectric power plants use a dam and a reservoir and they generally can hinder the migration patterns of fish, thus affecting their population. These plants can also have an impact on the flow of the river and on the water temperature i.e. the temperature not being consistent. These changes can have a significant effect on the native flora and fauna in the river and on the land (Environment and Ecology , 2017). Wildlife impacts can also occur within the dammed reservoir in addition to downstream from the plant. Water from a reservoir is generally more stationary compared to normal river water (UCS, 2017). As a result, it would be expected for the reservoir to have a higher amount of sediment and nutrients, which in turn would promote a surplus amount of algae and other aquatic weeds (UCS, 2017). This then allows the weeds to crowd out additional flora and fauna that exist in the river. (UCS, 2017).


Irelands Current State

Ireland has made significant progress towards achieving the energy efficiency and renewable energy targets. From a report carried out by SEAI (Scheer, et al., 2016) in 2016 they stated that to date Ireland has done the following;

  1. In terms of our energy efficiency target, Ireland has energy efficiency savings relating to about half of the country’s 2020 energy efficiency target (Scheer, et al., 2016).
  2. In terms of meeting our 2020 renewable energy target, we are also just over half way with 8.6% of our gross final consumption coming from renewables in 2014 (Scheer, et al., 2016).
  • This has been achieved due to more than 40,000 homes and more than 550 businesses using some form of renewable energy. In terms of heat, 6.6% of the national 12% heat target has been achieved by end 2014 (Scheer, et al., 2016).
  • Additionally, since 2003 around 190 wind farms, linked across 24 counties, have been developed. This compares to 2,375 MW of renewable electricity capacity.
  1. In total, over 6 million tonnes of CO2 emissions have been avoided each year through using energy efficient and renewable energy technologies (Scheer, et al., 2016).

In terms of wind power energy, with careful development they can prove to be successful as they don’t produce greenhouse gas emissions, pollutants, effluent or waste. In addition, it’s a natural source of energy.

Hydroelectricity also has potential as a source of energy, as stated above it currentlyprovides approximately 6% of our electricity. However, Ireland is limited to a small number of large-scale of hydro sites for the generation of power. (O Rourke, et al., 2009).


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