A top climate expert has warned that Ireland's "enduring dependency" on imported fossil fuels is harming the economy, the planet and security of energy supply.

Chairperson of the Climate Change Advisory Council, Marie Donnelly, said that Ireland has the potential to generate much of its energy needs through indigenous resources such as wind and solar, and an immediate opportunity to significantly reduce spiralling energy costs.

Speaking at the launch of the new South East Energy Agency in Waterford, she said: "€1m an hour is leaving this country to purchase imported fossil fuel, and that leadership at a local and national level will be required to deliver results.

"Ireland's dependence on fossil fuels is a root cause of high energy costs, supply instability as well as high levels of carbon dioxide emissions.

"We must quickly unlock Ireland’s vast renewable energy resources, increasing our targets for onshore wind, solar renewable electricity and BioEnergy projects as well as the pace of delivery through improvements to planning, regulatory and connections processes."

Ms Donnelly said that by expediting the delivery of indigenous resources, Ireland will secure its long-term energy future, protect households and businesses against cost volatility and support climate change objectives.

"This will need strong political and policy support at both a national and local level as well as support to local sustainable energy communities."

The South East Energy Agency is bidding to create the country’s first near zero emissions rural region that spans Carlow, Kilkenny, Wexford and now Waterford.

A not-for-profit enterprise, it builds on the work completed over two decades by the 3 Counties Energy Agency (3CEA) and its predecessor, the Carlow-Kilkenny Energy Agency.

John Carley of South East Energy Agency; Michael Walsh of Waterford City & County Council, Marie Donnelly, Chairperson and Paddy Phelan

The expansion "further demonstrates the newly-formed South East Energy Agency’s mission to create a low carbon, energy efficient region, work in partnership with the community of the transport industry, home owners, local authorities business and farming sector to raise awareness and provide support to those who want to become more energy efficient", CEO Paddy Phelan said.

"With recent energy security and price shocks impacting all homes, business and communities, we all need to play our part. We are supporting energy users in the South East towards a zero-carbon future.

"Ireland didn’t deliver on our 2020 targets. We can’t wait until the oil runs out to make a switch.

"Our 2030 targets are much stiffer. We have to start accepting responsibility as individuals and understand there is a way, we will get there, but we all need to play our part in our homes, in our communities and in our own back yards."

Mr Phelan said the South East Energy Agency and its members are now planning for what the next number of decades will need to look like, particularly when it comes to the transition of both energy infrastructure and energy supply at a regional level.

"Through our work we want to partner and facilitate the key stakeholders to ensure that the region is transitioned and ready to support the now increasing appetite of its citizens to take action."