Private Members' Business. - Electricity Supply: Motion (Resumed).

Wednesday, 28 March 2001

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 533 No. 4

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The following motion was moved by Deputy Jim Higgins on Tuesday, 27 March 2001:

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I understand Deputy Wall is sharing time with Deputy Penrose.

Mr. Wall: Information on Jack Wall  Zoom on Jack Wall  Yes. I am pleased to contribute to the debate. With water and sewerage, electricity is one of the three principal ingredients in the provision of any development, be it industrial, commercial or residential. While water and sewerage problems can be addressed, if major difficulties arise due to lack of generation or, as happens in many cases, poor supply or lack of facilities to provide extra capacity, the capabilities of an area will be confined to minimal development. There is major infrastructural development in the greater Dublin area and along the east coast. If this continues, what effect will it have on rural communities and small towns and villages? Will they suffer because of the need for the ESB to ensure maximum generation along the east coast and the Dublin region?

If deregulation is introduced, as it has been in other sectors, will prospective developers or investors cherry-pick their projects? While cities and large towns would benefit as a result, it would be to the detriment of other areas, particularly the rural economy. That would be a disaster and unacceptable. It is of vital importance that markers are put down now to ensure rural Ireland is not forgotten in the rush by such investors to make the fast buck.

We have major problems in many areas due to the poor quality of the national grid. In recent weeks I have received numerous representations from householders in particular areas of my constituency of Kildare South, particularly the Ballinteague area where families have lost power for televisions, computers and washing machines because of the low voltage and poor quality of the grid in the area. I have also received representations from members of the farming community who have had to purchase generators to ensure they can use their milking machines morning and evening when there is maximum demand on the grid. They want a back-up service in order that damage will not be done to the machines they use on their farms.

On new housing estates, particularly single house developments in rural areas, the period of time it now takes the ESB to provide a supply is of major concern. In recent weeks we have experienced problems due to foot and mouth disease, although I accept that the ESB has adhered to the request from the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development not to proceed with such developments where its employees would have to gain access to ESB supplies by travelling across farm land. Apart from this, there [912] is a general concern in relation to the delays because those who are trying to move into their homes are being held up. I am aware that some local authority housing schemes are being held up due to the board's lack of facilities to connect systems.

We must develop generating capacity. Where companies have stand-by generation systems, such as the former Irish Sugar Company and others, they could be used if negotiations took place between the companies concerned and the ESB on the possibility of using such systems to provide further capacity on the grid.

Mr. Penrose: Information on Willie Penrose  Zoom on Willie Penrose  I welcome the opportunity to speak in this important and timely debate. Last night my colleague, Deputy Stagg, emphasised the severe disadvantage from which many regions are suffering due to the inability of the national power network to provide electricity for industrial and commercial users. The crisis afflicting the power generation and supply network is copper-fastening the gross investment and employment disparity between the greater Dublin region and the Border, midlands and west region in particular, of which County Westmeath is part. Unless urgent action is taken to overcome the current problems, the unbalanced growth of the past decade will continue unabated and render Government commitments to regional development and spatial planning utterly meaningless as one third of the country currently cannot be supplied with the energy required by high consumption commercial users. Major growth sectors of the economy such as data processing, computer software development and telecommunications companies are, in effect, prohibited from establishing in the areas that need these jobs and investment the most. We should ensure remedial action is taken in order that two thirds of the country will be able to sustain this type of investment in five years' time. That is the challenge facing us.

While the Minister, no doubt, bears some responsibility for this state of affairs, I do not want to engage in a political blame game. The Government amendment to the Fine Gael motion draws attention to the ESB's plans to invest £2.1 billion in transmission and distribution networks in the coming five years. Investment of this size is urgently needed, but will the Minister give a guarantee that the projects envisaged will be started and completed on time? Every Member is aware of the major delays encountered by major capital projects. It should be recognised that delays in the planning process are affecting implementation of the relatively modest national development plan. I heard the chairman of the Progressive Democrats, in a recent debate on an RTE radio programme, state that the road projects included in the national development plan would not be completed until at least 2010. That opinion was not denied by Government spokespersons. Will that happen to the electricity network investment outlined by the Minister? In the [913] event of the projected shortages, I understand the ESB is committed to importing further portable plant which will effectively supply more than 100 megawatts of electricity in the winter of 2001. That is an indication of the magnitude of the problem.

People say that the shortages are due to the non-liberalisation of the market. That is not the reason and people should not lay the problem at the door of the ESB. A question arises at EU level about the rush to liberalise the market. While the Government has tried to introduce competition, the market is not as lucrative as some previously thought and when some try to enter it, what will happen to the rural areas about which Deputy Wall spoke? Will they always rush to the most profitable regions and forget about many rural areas, as was the case with many of the major utilities which were privatised? In our mad rush for liberalisation and privatisation we should not forget those in rural areas.

While the ESB now operates as a commercial venture, it should be given the authority and freedom to build additional power stations which would ensure any anticipated shortages would be met. As part and parcel of the expenditure on electricity generation, it might be appropriate to exploit and support further investment in the generation of electricity through peat which would have a number of beneficial effects. It would meet any shortages in the medium term, assist Bord na Móna in the midlands where it would help to provide jobs in an area which has suffered more than its fair share of job losses in recent times. One only has to look at Longford and Tullamore.

Widespread liberalisation is not the answer. We only have to look at the state of electricity generation in California to realise this. As liberalisation has effectively meant that generating companies are pulling out of the market, we must be careful in that regard. At a recent meeting in Stockholm the French Prime Minster did not endorse the speeding up of the liberalisation programme agreed at the Lisbon Summit. We should, therefore, watch this area.

Let me mention briefly the development of a peat-fired station at Coolnagun in north Westmeath, which is in need of investment. There is a huge reserve of turf in the area. It would provide a number of well paid skilled jobs in an area which is beset with employment difficulties. I hope the Minister considers trying to get extra electricity for the national grid.

Mr. O'Flynn: Information on Noel O'Flynn  Zoom on Noel O'Flynn  I wish to share my time with Deputies Pat Carey, Brady and Conor Lenihan.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Foley): Information on Denis Foley  Zoom on Denis Foley  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. O'Flynn: Information on Noel O'Flynn  Zoom on Noel O'Flynn  I support the amendment and I commend the Minister for Public Enterprise for overseeing the liberalisation of the electricity market. It is important to note that in the past [914] five years the ESB has connected more than 200,000 new customers. There were more than 50,000 new customers in 2000. This is the highest number of new connections since the heyday of rural electrification. This exceptional level of growth mirrors the growth in the economy generally and confirms the strength of the economic boom in Ireland in recent years.

Not surprisingly, the exceptional level of growth has begun to impose a significant additional load on the electricity network. To provide a continuing network to international standards, I understand the ESB would have to spend more than £2 billion in the next five years, of which £0.5 billion would be spent on the national grid, which is known as the motorway of the electricity system, and £1.5 billion would be spent on the distribution network which brings electricity into homes, farms and businesses. The record level of investment, together with expenditure on the extension of the country's gas network which was recently announced by the Government, will give the country an updated and renewed energy infrastructure which will see us well into the new century. This expenditure will continue into the second half of the decade and beyond.

I want to speak about the Cork Harbour pilot project at Aghada and Raheen. I am sure Deputy Stanton will have something to say about that. In January 2001 the ESB board announced it had agreed with the Cobh Anti-pylon Representative Association, CARA, to carry out a joint review of the harbour pylons scheme. The review is currently being conducted under the chairmanship of Mr. Phil Flynn and is examining such issues as the ESB's need to strengthen the network in the harbour area, the impact on health and the environment, the effect on agricultural land and the possibility of an underwater cable system rather than overhead pylons. There is a growing demand for power in the Cork area. It is hoped the review will yield positive results which will be fair and acceptable to all the interests concerned. Lines should be laid underground, where feasible, in the interest of the health and safety of our citizens and of the environment.

Mr. Stanton: Information on David Stanton  Zoom on David Stanton  And under the water.

Mr. O'Flynn: Information on Noel O'Flynn  Zoom on Noel O'Flynn  I fully support the people of Cork in their struggle to convince the ESB to lay underground and underwater cables in the Cobh, Aghada and Raheen part of our beautiful harbour and county of Cork.

I am also concerned about the risk of electromagnetic fields causing leukaemia in children. The possibility remains that intense and prolonged exposure to electromagnetic fields can increase the risk of leukaemia in children. The recently published report by Sir Oliver Doll in the UK on the safety of overhead pylons raises many new questions about the prolonged exposure to higher levels of power frequency magnetic fields. It suggests there is a small risk of [915] such fields causing leukaemia in children. That is enough to merit a full investigation in this country. I called for such an inquiry at the Committee on Public Enterprise and Transport in recent weeks.

The residents of Thorndale and Dublin Hill in my constituency in Cork have serious concerns about overhead lines beside their houses. It was a disastrous decision by Cork County Council to give planning permission to builders to build under such power lines. It is currently compiling statistics on the illnesses which have been contracted in the Dublin Hill and Ballyvolane areas of my constituency. I will fight their case in this House if conclusive proof is found that overhead power lines have caused some of the health problems experienced in this part of Cork.

The ESB will continue to be a household name in the decades ahead. It is based on a tradition of service to the community. The bulk of its workforce lives in the local communities it serves. The challenge for both the company and its workforce is to maintain that spirit of public service. It workforce must be commended for its level of public service for many generations. The ESB cannot afford to be complacent in this era of competition and globalisation, but it should look forward with confidence. It has a tradition of service and a record of delivery and core skills. However, there is much work still to be done. The investment programme in the networks will provide work for the ESB for many years to come. The key challenge for the ESB is to serve the country as well in the future as it has done in the past.

I thank the staff of the ESB in Cork and throughout the country for answering the call of our people in emergencies both during the day and at night. They do so in hail, rain, snow and frost and during holidays, particularly on Christmas Day. I commend them for going out on bad nights. They are a credit to this country. They are dedicated to the service and I would hate to see it diluted in any way. I hope we can help to strengthen that service because it is second to none and it has proved that throughout the world.

Mr. P. Carey: Information on Pat Carey  Zoom on Pat Carey  Those of us who are Dublin based must try to restore the balance of power back to Dublin. I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. It gives us an opportunity to salute the ESB and the work it has done over the years and to highlight the inadequacies in the motion tabled by the Opposition.

The ESB has been in existence since 1927. It is a byword in best practice in State enterprise. It led the State companies in terms of initiative and co-ordination. Some of us in Dublin Corporation remember when it generated electricity for the city prior to the establishment of the ESB. However, the ESB has done a tremendous job since the 1930s. I remember my first educational tour was to Ardnacrusha on the River Shannon to see the magnificent engineering project the [916] ESB managed to bring on stream. We were advised that it would be a model for other countries, which was the case. At a time when other companies, such as CIE, were cutting back on initiatives and closing rural lines, the ESB continued its work of rural electrification which transformed the country.

We all remember the work done under the First Programme for Economic Expansion between 1958 and 1963. The film RTE showed last year as part of its celebration of the millennium highlighted the hard work and diligence of the ESB workers, which continues today. Workers worked on mountain-sides and across farms and boglands to provide an extensive network of electricity across the country. It is astounding to think that 130,000 km of electricity lines were laid. In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s the ESB diversified into different energy supplies, such as oil, water and gas. The Moneypoint station is also a byword in best practice engineering. The ESB has served the country well.

We are experiencing unprecedented growth. However, at a time when companies in other utilities are tempted to increase their charges, the ESB has managed to keep its prices low. Electricity costs in Ireland are among the lowest in Europe. There were more than 50,000 new ESB connections in 2000. That is a significant barometer of the growth of the economy. If we have any criticism of the ESB's diligence, it is the amount of disruption its workers must cause when they are putting in new lines and upgrading existing ones. The £2 billion investment in both infrastructure and in the grid over the next number of years will transform the nature of power supply in the country. That record of investment, together with the expenditure on the extension of the country's gas network, will ensure that we will have an energy infrastructure which will take us right into the next century.

Other speakers have adverted to liberalisation and the implications of EU regulation and globalisation. I believe that the cost and competitiveness review agreement which was hammered out in 1996, has prepared the company very well for the challenges that lie ahead. The exposure of 30% of the Irish electricity market to competition last year and up to a further 40% in 2002, with full market liberalisation in 2005, is certainly going to provide a challenge for the ESB and I have no doubt the ESB can meet that challenge. The rate of growth in the Irish market is among the highest in the OECD. Continued growth, even on a reduced scale, would still put us ahead of all our trading partners. It will provide opportunities for both the ESB and companies wishing to build new power plants.

I wish to mention the contribution made by the ESB and its various consultancy companies to European development. Many of the applicant countries for EU membership have benefited greatly from ESB International and other offshoots of the ESB helping them to prepare for EU membership. I wish to salute the public ser[917] vice record of the ESB and its workers. Its staff has worked in all sorts of weather conditions, often at great personal risk. I wish to compliment the ESB for its support of artistic endeavours such as drama and music festivals. Through my involvement with the VEC, I am aware of the support given to apprenticeship competitions.

Ballymun is undergoing a multi-million pound regeneration; it will cost the best part of £1billion. I am pleased that the ESB has agreed to use underground cabling in the new Ballymun. At the moment, high tension cables run through the only park in the area and they are very close to houses. Overhead cables are visually obtrusive and I am concerned about them from an environmental and health point of view. I am extremely concerned about the proximity of high tension lines to a new Traveller housing development in my area. Avila Gardens is a fine development but the residents are very concerned about the health implications of living cheek by jowl with high tension cables and massive pylons. There was a debate on “Nationwide” last week about the health implications of living beside these installations.

I wish to commend other modes of energy transformation which have been undertaken. The gas company in co-operation with Wimpey Limited has converted the methane gas in the Dunsink landfill site into the gas grid. I am pleased that one of the first private generating plants in the country is being developed in the Roadstone quarry site in Huntstown. I commend the amendment to the House.

Mr. C. Lenihan: Information on Conor Lenihan  Zoom on Conor Lenihan  It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate and I wish to be associated with the tributes paid to the ESB and its workforce and the dynamic management it has produced over the years. It has had great engineers and a great leader in Mr. Paddy Moriarty who was very far-seeing in what he did with the ESB.

I speak from a background of involvement in the private sector. Members opposite would know that I worked as a senior executive with Esat Digifone before I was elected to the Dáil and I still continue to advise that company. People talk in hysterical terms about capacity constraints. Capacity constraints arise in the private sector as much as in the public sector. They are as always unforeseen, unplanned and cannot be planned for. No country such as ours could have planned or foreseen the enormous economic success we have achieved. It is extraordinary that we are recording 8% or 9% year on year growth. With the American slowdown, we are going to see a progressive downscaling from the dizzy heights of 8% and 9% year on year growth. We are now seeing severe capacity constraints in relation to the supply of electricity and our ability to serve the growth in the economy. It is particularly acute, less for Deputy Stanton's constituency than the area Deputy Higgins serves. When it comes to infrastructure, the areas around the Border, the midlands and the western [918] region are particularly disadvantaged, whether it be in the provision of roads, telecommunications infrastructure or electricity.

At a recent meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts I asked a senior official from the Minister's Department whether it would be possible to land an Intel style project in Leitrim. It would not be possible to do so. If Deputy Higgins were trying to deliver this for his constituency, it could not be done because the power supply is not available in that region. That is a huge challenge to the cornerstone of our current thinking in terms of regional development.

I had to come to grips with Deputy Higgins in my previous life with Digifone in relation to the spreading of the mast infrastructure in telecommunications. It is a very tricky and difficult business.

Mr. Higgins: Information on Jim Higgins  Zoom on Jim Higgins  (Mayo): We were on the same side.

Mr. C. Lenihan: Information on Conor Lenihan  Zoom on Conor Lenihan  We were possibly on the same side. The Deputy was positive but his brother certainly was more populist in his approach, so the family seem to have covered it both ways. There was an each way bet, pro or anti mast, as I remember it, in Foxford—

Mr. Stanton: Information on David Stanton  Zoom on David Stanton  In Swinford.

Mr. C. Lenihan: Information on Conor Lenihan  Zoom on Conor Lenihan  The meetings were wild and wonderful. We need to look seriously at how we roll out national infrastructure, be it in electricity or telecommunications. I think it is daft to have such a level of public concentration in this area. If you really want the jobs and investment to follow that infrastructure, there must be a centralised system. We had to confront this in relation to the motorways and the roads by creating the National Roads Authority. There is a limited level of consultation but the authority rolls ahead with the infrastructure. That sort of approach must be applied to electricity and telecommunications if we are going to live up to the promise of delivering state of the art infrastructure to the less well off regions of the country. The ESB is a great Irish company, and it is in a position to do just that.

The Government has adopted a sensible approach. My aunt is the person in charge of government policy but I think if Deputy Higgins or Deputy Stanton were in government, they would implement much the same thing. There is an element of bipartisanship in this House between the two main parties and, to a lesser extent but more so since Deputy Quinn arrived, the Labour Party which is adapting to the free market and seeing the sense in deregulation. However, with regard to deregulation, the Minister should make haste slowly. I would err on the side of caution. If there is a significant downturn in the next few years, globally or in a European sense, many of the new competitors could quickly disappear and leave us with an unplanned net[919] work of no use or value when the economy picks up again. We need to reinforce what the ESB is doing, add to its capacity and hope the private sector will add to that capacity.

By upgrading the interconnector between here and Northern Ireland we can add to the pool of capacity available should the economy have another dizzy spell, which I do not expect to happen for another five to ten years. We are in a progressive decline which will see us reaching normal growth levels of 3% to 5% with which other European economies are very satisfied. Mr. Greenspan would, certainly, be satisfied with the lower end of that spectrum.

We must plan our networks properly. The Minister for Finance should closely examine the tax treatment of wind power generating stations as representatives of the industry argue that it is not as benign as it might be. Some argue that he should go as far as extending BES-style incentives to those who invest in wind power generating stations. We must consider such measures if we are to take infrastructural investment seriously. Taxation purists would not approve of BES-style schemes because they tend to allow those who are very well-off to evade or avoid tax responsibilities. We must consider the matter in the same democratic manner we considered the savings scheme. One could ask whether it is more appropriate for people to put money into a savings or tax-driven system whereby they would invest money for a guaranteed period in infrastructure such as power generation. Perhaps the Minister will turn that issue over in his mind as he approaches his next and, possibly, most successful budget which will lead us into a successful general election.

Mr. Stanton: Information on David Stanton  Zoom on David Stanton  It will be his last budget.

Mr. M. Brady: Information on Martin Brady  Zoom on Martin Brady  I support the amendment to the motion and commend the Minister on her very impressive and able defence of her brief. I acknowledge, too, the great service the ESB has provided for the people since its establishment in 1927. ESB employees often work in very dangerous and difficult conditions and I commend Mr. Ken O'Hara and his staff on their good work. The ESB also provides services in the fisheries area such as stocking lakes.

Many of the difficulties confronting us have been generated by our economic success. We are lucky to be confronting the problems of success rather than failure. The economic growth in recent years has transformed the economy and society. Our prosperity is the undoubted result of the good foundations laid by Fianna Fáil-led Governments back to the groundbreaking Programme for National Recovery in 1987. That programme successfully introduced the partnership model to the management of the economy, a model which continues to excite envy and interest abroad. Nobody foresaw the scale of our success. Our economic boom is currently tempered by the [920] regrettable outbreak of foot and mouth disease which has created some new bottlenecks and imposed new constraints on the economy.

The national development plan, which involves expenditure of some £40 billion, is partly designed to remove or alleviate many of the problems created by our success. The increased demand for energy supplies of all types has arisen as a result of surging economic activity which has also resulted in increases in personal income and expenditure. It is entirely reasonable that, in circumstances of unforeseen and unprecedented growth, the demand for power supplies would begin to rise to a point at which it could, at peak times, affect the peak capacity of the generating system. The Minister acknowledged this rather obvious point in her contribution last night and stated that there is a need for additional generating capacity.

Additional capacity is under construction with the ESB Statoil plant in Ringsend and the Huntstown Meridian plant. Other generating stations are at planning stage. Schemes are also being developed to generate power such as wind energy from alternative and renewable sources. I welcome the recent announcement that a Turkish civil engineering company is to participate in the construction of the Meridian plant on a joint venture basis. We must be careful, however, to ensure we will not be visiting these plants as museums in the future. Joint ventures are one means of removing obstacles to infrastructural development arising from the fact that the economy is operating at almost full capacity. The controlled involvement of qualified foreign construction companies is a welcome means of taking heat off the construction industry here. With the removal, via deregulation, of overall responsibility from the ESB to ensure adequate power supplies, the Government has, through the appointment of a commission for electricity regulation, provided a sound and comprehensive framework for the development of industry at a pace which will ensure sufficient capacity is constructed to enable supply to exceed demand in the future by a safe and comfortable margin while adequately providing for the demands of a growing economy.

In addition to the public-private partnership framework, the national development plan provides for significant investment in the development of transmission and supply throughout the country. Investment of £500 million is scheduled for the national grid in coming years, from which Cork and other areas on the western seaboard will greatly benefit. This investment is part of the NDP, an integrated national programme designed to address the development needs of the category one BMW region. The IDA's regional development plans and the Government's plans will provide a solid infrastructural platform for Ireland's development as a European, and perhaps worldwide, centre for e-commerce. Adequate and reliable power supplies are a prerequisite for integrated development of this nat[921] ure, in addition to improved communications and transport infrastructure.

For development to be successful we must proceed in a planned and balanced fashion. The Government is conscious that its actions must be sufficiently flexible to accommodate industrial and commercial developments which arrive virtually without warning as a result of the ever increasing pace of technological development and the reduction in lead-in times from prototype development to manufacture or operation. There has been much debate about the development of web farms and data hosting centres and the Minister has blown away the inaccuracies trotted out by some members of the Opposition and the media on the nature of power supplies to these companies. She has offered welcome reassurances to those operating or contemplating the development of such centres.

Power supplies are essential to domestic and inward investment. There is no crisis in power supplies in spite of the futile efforts made to convince us otherwise. We should not involve ourselves in irresponsible scaremongering merely to score cheap political points. I support the amendment.

Mr. Stanton: Information on David Stanton  Zoom on David Stanton  I wish to share my time with Deputies Kenny, Durkan, Burke, Farrelly, Perry and Ó Caoláin.

Acting Chairman:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Stanton: Information on David Stanton  Zoom on David Stanton  I commend my colleague, Deputy Jim Higgins, for tabling this motion. It is timely to examine the issues, especially as we emerge from the peak winter season, when demand was at its highest, and enter summer, when demand will fall off. We witnessed the effects of high demand during winter when the ESB was forced to bring in generators from abroad. There were also a number of close shaves when a power station almost went off-line, which would have caused major problems, and where there was a switching mistake in Cork and major firms such as IFI and Irish Steel shut down automatically. That shows what can happen when things go wrong.

We on this side of the House want to sound warning bells in good time. We want to jump start the Government and put some power into it to get some action. There is a lack of energy in the Government. I am delighted to see the Minister of State present, but she has no support from her colleagues. They have all gone away to be recharged because it took so much energy for them to come here and read out their waffle. We are concerned about the growing demand for power, especially where the technological sector is concerned. We are also concerned about the slow process of deregulation, although we are careful that it should be done properly.

The IDA is concerned about the position and I know jobs have already been lost in the Cork region. Whatever about the blather of the Mini[922] ster of State and her colleagues, the unmistakable facts were given at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Public Enterprise and Transport on 5 October last. The ESB told committee members at that meeting that what had been said previously on television about job losses was a fact. Mr. Donnelly, representing the ESB, said:

At least one industry was looking at the Cork area but because of the significant issues surrounding the future uncertainty of the electricity supply to Cork it backed off the region.

Our information is that 500 jobs were involved. That is only one of which we know. How many other industries have backed off because of the problems with infrastructure? Mr. Donnelly has said this repeatedly for two years. He said two years ago that the standard of supply in Cork did not meet international requirements and that there were questions about security.

Deputy O'Flynn alluded to a problem in Cork with the proposals of the ESB to set up a transmission system around the harbour. The Government has failed to meet the fears of local people about the system, and I am glad to hear Deputy O'Flynn finally coming around to what we have been saying for a number of years. People are scared and the Government has not allayed their fears. Every time I raised this issue in the House the Minister said it was not a matter for her but for the ESB. The Government should commission a study into the risks, real or imagined, associated with electromagnetic radiation.

I draw the Minister of State's attention to research carried out by a Professor Henshaw in Britain which was criticised by Sir Richard Doll of the imperial cancer research fund unit in Oxford. However, an advisory group on non-ionising radiation headed by Sir Richard Doll, which conducted a recent study into electromagnetic fields and the risk of cancer as part of its report, said:

There is, however, some evidence that prolonged exposure to higher levels of power frequency and magnetic fields is associated with a small risk of leukaemia in children.

It went on to say:

Unless, however, further research indicates that the finding is due to chance or some unrecognised possibility, the possibility remains that intense and prolonged exposure to magnetic fields can increase the risk of leukaemia in children.

This scares people and, when they hear about it, it is only to be expected and understood that they would protest strongly against high voltage transmission lines.

As Deputy O'Flynn said, there is an alternative available in the Cork region in that the power lines can be put underground. However, the management of the ESB has consistently resisted this measure for a long time. It is not feasible to proceed with the overground route in Cork. Other [923] Members on both sides have said there are questions over the transmission of electricity because of the resistance of local people. If this is delaying the implementation of infrastructure and it is not feasible to proceed with overhead power lines, the Government should investigate the possibility of going underground because it may be the only feasible way of bringing power to where it is needed. I would like to hear what the Minister of State has to say on those issues and I ask him to respond to them. Is he aware of Sir Richard Doll's most recent findings and what is his opinion of them?

When the grid was first erected in Ireland, people did not object to it because they did not know any better. Europe is ahead of us in that its grid was established 30 to 40 years ago. The Government should get its act together. I would like to see it put more effort into combined heat and power plants. They are more efficient and the gas can be brought to where it is needed and used. I am delighted to hear the ESB will construct a wind farm at Moneypoint. That is welcome. I commend ESB workers who, over the past few winters, had to prop up a grid which is not up to standard.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  I support the motion. I also compliment ESB workers who have built a tradition of excellence and dedication to duty and who have shown bravery and courage in extreme weather conditions over a number of winters. The appointment of the regulator of competition in this area has brought about a new era for the ESB. It presents it with an enormous challenge and opportunity. An investment of £2.1 billion over the next five years, a growth of 6% in use and more than 56,000 new connections last year for consumers speak for themselves. The old ESB is no more and it has entered a new era of the challenge of competition.

We have had many arguments about the endless network of pylons throughout the nation which, although they are unsightly and unwanted, are necessary in terms of the transmission of power. When World Trade Organisation talks were held in Singapore, the major question the Chinese asked was whether it was possible to transmit power without power lines. I am not sure it is, but I agree that the combined heat and power process for major plants should be examined in depth by the Government. It does away with the need for pylons and provides a stable power supply through the gas field. A major plant employing 1,000 people could supply enough energy and electricity not only for its own plant to provide certainty of supply but for the town nearby. That is something which should be examined.

In the context of the provision of transmission lines, the Government should form a public private partnership with a major contracting firm of world class standards to ensure the national plan, in so far as this and other areas are con[924] cerned, is implemented on time, to cost and under budget. It is being implemented in a very amateur fashion at present.

I notice from the ESB's Electric Mail newsletter for last month that the company intends to provide broadband communications through power lines. It mentioned a number of areas where it intends to provide these lines. The one county it did not mention was County Mayo, which is at the western end of the Border, Midlands and West region. If the Government policy of equalisation of advantage is to be implemented, that area should be included.

I support the motion and I hope the Minister will consider the issues raised. The Minister attended a meeting with the north Mayo delegation on 4 October 2000 at which the question of a replacement for Bellacorrick peat power station was raised. The ESB is not eligible to build a gas fired station there, but a 200 MW or larger gas fired station should be built in that location by a private contractor or under a public private arrangement. This station is necessary to provide an energy source for the north Mayo district.

Mr. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  I acknowledge the work done by the ESB staff and management over the years in identifying and responding to needs when required. In common with other Members, over the past three years I have tabled a series of questions about the ability of the national grid to meet requirements. I had no difficulty getting replies when the answer was positive, but, amazingly, in the past year the response has changed to the statement that the Minister has no responsibility to the House for the matter. This is not a reflection on the Chair, but it appears that when the answer was positive, there was no difficulty replying to questions in the House. However, when the answer became negative, I was told that the Minister had no responsibility for the matter. This is extremely bad for democracy and accountability. It means that State and semi-State companies are not aware of what Members of the House feel about a particular matter.

In common with other Members, I did not have any data or statistics other than the increase in population and the increased demand for electricity from the various industrial enterprises that have developed in the past five or six years. One does not need to be a mathematician to work out that there had to be a serious drawdown of electricity and that the national grid needed to be replenished. However, this did not happen as readily as one might have expected. The result is that in my constituency, and other areas, there are continual black-outs and a danger of overloading. We were lucky this winter. Although there was plenty of frost, we did not have prolonged snowfalls. If there had been snow for two or three weeks, there would have been serious breakdowns and a serious energy crisis.

One of the major aspects of planning any enterprise is the ability to identify issues before [925] they become crises. The Department should have identified this problem, but it has been passed on to the regulator or some other body which is not responsible to the House. This is not right. The Department should have responsibility for identifying the full extent of an issue long before it becomes a crisis. A crisis is approaching and it will be much more serious next winter unless the matter is addressed. The Minister should, as a matter of urgency, identify the most expeditious means of ensuring a dramatic improvement in supply to the national grid.

Mr. U. Burke: Information on Ulick Burke  Zoom on Ulick Burke  I thank Deputy Stanton for sharing his time and I support the motion. It is regrettable that the Minister in her contribution ignored the potential in Ireland for increasing the amount of energy from renewable resources, particularly wind.

Mr. Jacob: Information on Joe Jacob  Zoom on Joe Jacob  I will deal with it later.

Mr. U. Burke: Information on Ulick Burke  Zoom on Ulick Burke  Perhaps the issue was considered in hindsight. It is ironic that the Minister of State will address that aspect given that the ESB today announced a £15 million investment plan for a wind farm at Moneypoint. If we are serious about generating additional supplies, the way forward is wind energy.

It is important that the Government recognises the capacity of landowners, particularly in the BMW region and along the west coast where most of the existing wind farms are located. In its last budget, the Government failed to provide any incentives to encourage farmers and communities along the west coast to develop wind energy facilities. If wind energy were tapped, imports would be reduced and it would enable Ireland to comply with European legislation that requires a reduction in our dependence on imported fossil fuels. It would also enable the country to honour its commitments under the Kyoto protocol regarding a reduction in our use of fossil fuels which create greenhouse gases and damage the atmosphere.

It is important that the Government provides grants for feasibility studies on the potential of wind farms along the west coast. They would require huge investment, but people are seeking alternative uses for land. They could come together, pool their resources and generate electricity. However, the Government has not responded. I ask the Minister to introduce a package of finance and grants for those people. If the rental income from forestry projects is tax free, there is no reason that a similar incentive cannot be given to people who lease their land for the production of electricity. This would be a welcome and meaningful response to the efforts of the individuals concerned.

The Minister should insist that the ESB change its attitude to people who want access to the national grid. Heretofore, the company placed every obstacle possible in the way of easy access to the grid. It is important that this attitude is [926] changed and this may happen now that the company is becoming involved in wind farms.

There are three major infrastructural developments in my county, the new N6 road, the gas line and the new huge ESB power line. These are located within a mile of each other and run in the same direction. A Government Department should take responsibility for co-ordinating such services in areas to avoid causing disruption to farming communities throughout the county.

Mr. Farrelly: Information on John V. Farrelly  Zoom on John V. Farrelly  I support the motion and I wish to outline the situation in my constituency. I concur with the compliments to the staff of the ESB, especially those on the ground. We are not aware of much of the work they do, particularly following storms. The last ESB person who worked in my house told me he had worked for two and a half days without sleep because of the serious shortage of staff. Is the Minister aware of the serious lack of staff in the ESB to carry out daily duties?

Is the Minister aware that people who built a new housing estate comprising up to 20 houses and who made an application last November are still waiting for a quote for connection? Houses have been built and sold, but people must wait a further two months before they can move into their homes. Is the Government aware that this is happening in my village in County Meath and on every site with which I have contact? People are waiting for electricity, but no staff are available to carry out the work. There is not even someone to draw up a quotation and there is currently less and less supply across the board. What is the Government doing to ensure an adequate supply for the extra numbers of people and houses in the country? People who have built their own homes in parts of my constituency have been told it will be ten or 12 weeks before they can receive an electricity supply. A number of people who are paying mortgages, many of whom are still living in mobile homes or rented accommodation, cannot move into their homes because the only supplier of electricity, which has a monopoly across the board, is telling them they will have to wait ten or 12 weeks for a supply because it cannot carry out the work.

This is a serious problem for people moving into new homes throughout the country. I know of 20 people who wanted the electricity supply to be connected before Christmas. These people had to wait until the middle of January to be connected. It is not acceptable in this day and age, given the progress of recent years, that the main supplier of one of the most important services cannot carry out the work required. In 2001 the situation has got worse rather than better. I hope the Minister of State will take on board some of my points and talk to the ESB about this matter.

Mr. Perry: Information on John Perry  Zoom on John Perry  I thank Deputy Stanton for sharing his time with me on this important issue.

Just this week the Chairman of Connacht Gold, [927] Mr. Michael Farrell, highlighted power shortage as a huge obstacle to Sligo's progress. Everyone in Sligo agrees with this point of view. A high quality electricity supply with consistently stable voltage and frequency is an essential requirement for the operation of most industries. Where such a supply is not available, firms have no option but to locate elsewhere. That is the situation in Sligo.

In this country, there are regions with 275-400 kv and 200 kv while areas all around the west have just 110 kv. It is crucial that at least 220 kv supply is available, particularly in the north west region. In light of the Corrib gas find, which has now proved to be commercial, consideration should be given to the possibility of constructing an electricity power station of substantial capacity in the region. A strong grid is a prerequisite for development. It enables flexibility in the location of new loads and of new generating capacity. It also copes with the changing location of industry as technology changes. The time required to plan and construct a grid runs to a considerable number of years. This is proving to be a constraint on the location. The development of wind farms in the region and the fact that there is no grid to take that capacity is of concern.

The former chief executive of the IDA, Mr. White, said recently that there was a failure to put the different pieces of infrastructure in place in the regions. The study found that up to 2003 a total of 6,271 graduates will come from the north-west. The best of our talent is leaving due to the fact that new industry is not being provided. He also stated that practically every IDA itinerary in recent years included Sligo, but no company had yet set up there. The town has not yet achieved a critical breakthrough in terms of high tech industries. I must give credit to the engineering and health care companies on which Sligo has relied since the 1970s and 1980s. This was despite unprecedented growth in the economy.

If one looks at the ESB's transmission network, the north-west and the western seaboard has certainly suffered. There is a need for greater capacity in these areas. The Castlebar, Athlone, Letterkenny and Sligo areas are depending on 110 kv. That is the main concern of people who wish to set up new companies in the region. It is important for the Minister of State to take on board what the chief executive of one of the biggest companies in the region has said publicly. Sligo has been identified as one of the future growth centres in the country and it is important that the region is provided with the basic infrastructure. The growth of the region is the responsibility of Government.

Mr. Niall Murray of Collins McNicholas, which is a very important company, said there were no job opportunities for IT graduates within a 30 mile radius of Sligo. That is mainly due to a lack of high tech industries in the region. The reason for this is that Belfast, Derry, Dublin and Limerick are on 275-400 kv., Carlow, Cork, Dundalk, Galway and Waterford are on 220 kv and [928] Athlone, Castlebar, Coleraine, Letterkenny, Sligo and Tralee are on 110 kv. It is imperative to have a time frame for at least the 220 kv supply. There has been a great deal of controversy about the erection of pylons from Flagford to Sligo.

We must now look at the Corrib field which is the way forward. A gas fired generator could be developed which would more than adequately supply the region. I attended a meeting recently with the Minister of State when he indicated there would be a link into Sligo in the future. I ask him to consider providing a gas powered generator in Sligo. This would solve a huge number of problems and spare the landscape from the blight of these pylons. It would make the gas connection to Sligo more viable and ensure its success. I hope the Minister of State will take on board my proposals.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  I thank Deputy Stanton for sharing his time with me.

This debate is very timely as it raises an issue which many people take for granted, that is, the reliable and efficient supply of electricity. It will come as a surprise to most people that we have reached such a critical stage, given the generation and transmission capacities of the ESB. Clearly the shortfall in supply is already having an economic impact. If this is not rectified, the consequences could be very serious. It seems we are unable to properly service existing IT industries and the inadequate service is becoming a deterrent to future investment.

As a Deputy representing a Border constituency, I view this with grave concern. If the Dublin region, where the mass of new industry is located, is experiencing this problem, what hope is there for the Border, midlands and western regions in attracting new job creating investment, which we need so badly. The neglect of successive Governments has meant that we are already at a disadvantage in terms of infrastructure, including electricity supply. If we come to crisis point in electricity supply, our region, before others, will be plunged into darkness.

I reject the notion that the panacea for the energy supply problem is privatisation of the ESB. On this I differ greatly from some of the earlier speakers. The Minister for Public Enterprise signalled that privatisation and complete deregulation of the electricity supply industry should be in force by 2005. I oppose the privatisation of the ESB. Tribute should be paid to the ESB and all its workers who, over the years, built up our vital energy infrastructure for the benefit of all the people. This is a strategic sector which should remain in public hands and should be given all the support necessary to ensure it provides the best and most efficient service. We have all admired the public spiritedness of ESB workers who risked life and limb in dangerous weather conditions to ensure that service was restored to citizens in all parts of the country, including isolated rural areas. They have given service in other countries also in times of crisis.

[929] When we look at the pathetically small proportion of our power supply which comes from wind energy, we can see another failure of policy on the part of successive Governments. That said, I welcome today's announcement by the ESB of the decision to invest more than £50 million in a new wind farm development adjacent to the Moneypoint station in County Clare. It is incredible that in a country which is buffeted by Atlantic winds the whole year round we have not harnessed this natural and clean resource before now. Instead the Government and some members of other parties prefer to see waste incinerators built. These incinerators are bad in terms of waste management, the environment and health. These plants have been described as waste-to-energy but the corollary is that we will be dependent on the continuing production of waste at current and even expanded levels to produce energy. We have heard little in the debate about energy conservation. A major part of the solution to the emerging power supply problems is a concerted campaign to reduce the wasteful use of electricity where feasible.

On a note of mirth – I do not often get this chance – there is no electricity in the lift system in block 2000. The Ceann Comhairle may need to give Members extra time to get here for the vote. Will the Minister have it fixed?

Minister of State at the Department of Public Enterprise (Mr. Jacob): Information on Joe Jacob  Zoom on Joe Jacob  On behalf of the Minister, I thank all the Deputies who contributed to the debate on energy. It was a useful debate on this important and critical topic and the contributions were robust. I wish to address a number of the points raised.

Reference was made to the situation in California, which is entirely different from that in Ireland. No major new power plants have been built in California for many years while the reverse is true in our case. The new ESB plant at Poolbeg has been operational for more than two years. This was followed in December 2000 by the IVO peat plant at Edenderry. Foot and mouth precautions permitting, the upgraded electricity interconnector with Northern Ireland will kick in towards the end of the year. The ESB-Statoil plant at Ringsend is on track for commissioning in February of next year to be followed in June by the Viridian plant at Huntstown. All of these developments represent a steady stream of new additions to our power supply and do not take account of other planned projects such as major wind farm developments in the pipeline and other gas fired plants being planned by developers.

Deputy Stagg said that the Ringsend and Huntstown plants were not scheduled to come on stream until 2003. I can categorically confirm, having checked with the companies today, that both plants will come on stream in 2002 as scheduled – the Ringsend plant in February 2002 and the Viridian plant in June 2002. My Department has received letters today from both companies [930] which put this matter beyond doubt and I can make these available to the Deputy.

The power supply for data hosting centres, also known as web farms, was covered at some length in the debate. The Minister dealt with this issue last night and it has been checked again today with the ESB and EirGrid. I can confirm the information the Minister gave to the House that no data hosting centre has opted for an interruptible supply arrangement and the ESB, in collaboration with the development agencies, is responding positively to all requests for power.

While the power requirements of web farms are significant, both the ESB and EirGrid have categorically assured the Minister that at no time has an existing data hosting centre been requested by the ESB to switch off its systems due to inadequate power supply. This has been confirmed by both companies again today. The ESB has succeeded in connecting all those enterprises which had been in a position to receive a supply. It is understood from the ESB that a small number of interruptions to supply have occurred but in each case these were the result of damage to underground cables caused by construction works unrelated to the ESB.

Deputies referred to the BMW region. The House will be aware that the infrastructure needs of the BMW region are being addressed in a major way in the national development plan. From an energy perspective, a large proportion of the extension to the domestic gas network, which I recently announced, will take place in the BMW region. The infrastructure developments planned by the ESB and Eirgrid will also include a number of significant projects in the BMW region. These developments will give the BMW region a significantly enhanced energy infrastructure within five years and will place the region in a much better position to compete for investment.

The question of renewable energy, including wind farms, was raised during the debate. As Minister of State with particular responsibility for that area I wish to respond to this point. The Electricity Regulation Act, 1999, gives special recognition to renewable energy where it liberalised the entire market for electricity generated from renewable energy sources. I continue to promote the increased use of renewable and alternative sources of energy as a priority. In September 1999 I published a Green Paper on sustainable energy which sets a course for the further development of our renewable energy resources and a more focused approach to the adoption of energy efficiency measures over the next five years.

In the Green Paper I set a revised target of 500 megawatts of additional renewable energy based generating capacity, the majority of which will be in the wind energy sector. This revised target will, in effect, double the contribution that renewables make to meeting our electricity needs over the next five years. As it stands, more than 5% of electricity consumption is based on renewables. My aim is to increase this figure to 12% by 2005.

[931] The last four years have been ones of intense activity in the energy area. Some of the key milestones include the CCR process, the opening of the market to competition last year, the tripartite agreement of February 2000 which set out the framework for the future of the electricity sector, the building of the new IVO peat station in Edenderry – the first independent power plant to come on stream, the passage of the Electricity Regulation Act, 1999, the establishment of the independent Commission for Electricity Regulation, the setting up of the national grid part of the ESB as a separate independent company now known as Eirgrid, the joint decision by the Minister, Deputy O'Rourke, and Sir Reg Empey to upgrade the main North-South electricity interconnector, which is currently in progress and the announcement last year that the electricity market will open fully to competition in 2005. The foregoing represent the most sustained series of decisions and activity since the days of rural electrification.

The Minister, Deputy O'Rourke, and I as Minister of State have continued the work of the previous Government with vigour and commitment. The milestones I set out above stand as solid testament to that commitment.

Mr. Ring: Information on Michael Ring  Zoom on Michael Ring  I wish to share my time with Deputies Enright, Cosgrave, Healy and Higgins.

I compliment Deputy Higgins on tabling this appropriate motion on a serious problem, particularly in County Mayo. Every week since Christmas the electricity supply in north Mayo has been cut for one day. Deputy Ó Caoláin referred to the problem caused by the wind. While the wind and storms may cut the electricity supply in some areas, it only takes a rush of midges for the supply in north Mayo to be cut. I ask the Minister to ensure that the ESB restores the power lines. New lines are needed in Glenamoy but nothing has been done. Why should the people of County Mayo have to put up with this kind of service when they pay the same charges as everyone else?

It is hoped that a natural gas supply will be brought ashore in the county in the near future. I hope there is a new gas power station in Bellacorick so that there is sufficient electricity supply for County Mayo and the rest of the country, if needed. The first item on the Government's agenda should be to build this power station. The station in Bellacorick will be closed in a few years, with a large number of job losses. This would help in a small way to hold some of the workforce in the area.

I am sure Deputy Higgins referred to equipment imported by the ESB from America. The way this equipment, paid for by taxpayers, was abused and not used will give rise to another scandal. Some of this equipment was not used, while more of it was not used to its full capacity. There will be an investigation into this matter in the future.

[932] It is important that the necessary infrastructure is put in place in County Mayo. We promote County Mayo and the west in an effort to attract jobs. The IDA and State agencies tell us they cannot get American companies to invest in the west because the necessary infrastructure is not in place. We need proper roads and an electricity supply. We have no commitment from the Government in relation to jobs.

Mr. Enright: Information on Tom Enright  Zoom on Tom Enright  I congratulate Deputy Higgins and the other Fine Gael Deputies on tabling this important amendment. I would be totally against any move by the Government to privatise the ESB or to sell it to a private company or outside bidders. We must have a say in the control, production and management of our power supplies. A large private company could come in from anywhere and buy a large segment of our electricity production but we should remember that such companies come not because they like us but to make as much profit as they can. Such a company would find out rapidly that we are a very small market and they would not be prepared to provide a service in uneconomic areas such as the BMW region. They would pull out then or withdraw and we would have to try to get somebody else in or depend on an outside body. The ESB has been a great company and we always had control in the management, production and control of our power supply and our energy. We should do all we can to retain that.

Deputy O'Rourke guaranteed enough energy and electricity supply for next winter. There were 12 to 14 amber alerts and about five red alerts last winter and the ESB was terrified there would be a shutdown. Those alerts occurred at peak hours and the city of Dublin was on red alert on a number of occasions. In regard to Shannonbridge and Rhode and the stations across Laois and Offaly it is essential that the Minister proceed as fast as possible with development of the bogs as a source of energy. There is some level of progress in Shannonbridge and I urge to Minister to continue to develop our bogs as a resource for electricity generation.

Mr. Cosgrave: Information on Michael Joe Cosgrave  Zoom on Michael Joe Cosgrave  I welcome the opportunity to support this motion and congratulate Deputy Jim Higgins for bringing it before the House. The failure of this Government to address the adequacy and reliability of the supply of electricity is a cause of frustration to urban dwellers in the Dublin area. It is a national problem which will have long-term effects on the economic well-being of the State. Every sector is affected by the failure to upgrade the infrastructure which is required in the distribution of electricity and it is a threat to the long-term well-being of the State. Within less than a 20 miles radius of this House continuous supply interruption occurs due to the lack of infrastructure. The economic investment to provide employment in North Dublin is under direct threat due to the lack of adequate power supply while every existing business holds its breath [933] waiting for a blackout or a power surge. One recent power surge was in the Kilbarrack area and I compliment the ESB staff for their handling of that. A great deal of damage was done to household equipment but the staff ensured that proper replacement and compensation was made to the households.

The Government lack of action in planning the provision of adequate supply or distribution is just one of its disgraces. The Government expends effort encouraging people back into the work force and talks of the need for the work force to expand through the introduction of external labour but it has not made any provision to deliver the electricity to power the economy in the years ahead. We learn with dismay that an American plant is going home. The IDA speaks openly of its fears of the threat posed to its efforts to attract investment to Ireland by the energy deficit. Its job is made more and more difficult by the failures of the present administration which seems not to have the capacity to manage the economic needs of the nation. Management is about shaping the future while supervision is about implementation of policy procrastination. The ESB has warned of the danger for some years and the national strategic planners have highlighted the problem. Without a policy to sort out the lack of supply it will start to slip behind. The size of the work force or how good it is will not matter if the proper electricity supply is not there.

Mr. Healy: Information on Seamus Healy  Zoom on Seamus Healy  There is a totally inadequate transmission and distribution network in south Tipperary. A high quality electricity supply with consistently stable voltage and frequency is an essential requirement for the operation of most industries. Where such a supply is not available firms have no option but to locate elsewhere. In south Tipperary we are at a significant disadvantage in the location of industry because of the bad electricity infrastructure. The Tánaiste told us in the Forfás enterprise 2010 report that effective access to a 220 kv power supply is now a basic requirement for sustained enterprise development. We have no area in the county supplied by a 220 kv supply. The towns of Carrick-on-Suir and Tipperary and all of west Tipperary do not even have a 110 kv supply. Those areas have been at a significant disadvantage in job creation. We in south Tipperary urgently need job creation investment and jobs. The areas I have mentioned have large scale unemployment. There is twice the level of unemployment in south Tipperary compared to Kilkenny and 50% more compared to our countymen in north Tipperary. Urgent job creation measures are obviously needed and I urge the Minister to ensure that at least 110 kv supply is made available throughout the county. The west Tipperary area has suffered huge loss in population since 1986, down 8.4%. Fifteen hundred people travel to work outside the area every day, some up to 50 miles. I urge the Minister to [934] ensure at least a 110 kv electricity supply throughout south Tipperary in the near future.

Mr. Higgins: Information on Jim Higgins  Zoom on Jim Higgins  (Mayo): The amendment brought forward by Deputy O'Rourke to the Fine Gael motion on the electricity process is grossly inaccurate and misleading. The amendment notes that the amount of generating capacity available continues to exceed the level of peak demand. It also notes that all demands for power supply have been met and that neither the general public nor the industry have suffered any interruptions or shortages apart from interruptions caused by normal maintenance and repair work, localised storm damage and builders digging up cables. That is blatantly untrue. As Deputy Enright said we have had amber alerts, red alerts, power cuts and power shortages. Industries have had to cease production. Enterprises have had to install their own generators. Computer material has been lost and computers damaged because of power surges. It is the same story with TV sets, washing machines and medical equipment.

The Minister's advice to the House yesterday flies in the face of the confidential DKM report compiled for and presented to her Department. It warns of unplanned outages, of economic consequences for the future, because of the failure to invest in generation and transmission. It warns that there would be a flight of digital capital to economies where power supply is guaranteed. I now demand that the Minister and the Government publish the DKM report in full.

I thank everybody who contributed to the debate, in particular the Labour Party for its support. The Green Party suggested that the motion has too narrow a focus. I agree the focus is narrow, but that was deliberate in order to focus on the real short-term issue which is that we have a major power crisis on our hands which needs urgent action. We fully support green energy alternative power concepts but that is a debate for another day. Last night eight Deputies contributed to the debate and 13 tonight and six were Government Members. That highlights the gravity of the situation. They all have tales to tell of power crises in their own constituencies and that is the prevailing situation throughout the country. We have had many pious aspirations about balanced regional development, a more equitable distribution of jobs, the BMW region and Objective One status.

The situation is farcical. The ESB admits and the IDA acknowledges that no industry of any consequence can locate west of a line from Galway to Cavan because the power is not available. That is an absolute scandal. Why has this happened? It has happened in the past four years because there was not any planning, vision, cohesion or co-ordination of policy. We welcome the two plants under construction at Ringsend and Viridian. These will come on stream in the next two or three years but will not provide the necessary secure margins to ensure there are no [935] blackouts. Effectively we are running hard to stand still.

The Erris area of County Mayo is one of the most remote and beautiful but neglected regions of the country. It could supply the entire energy needs of the Border, midlands and western region. It has thousands of acres of the finest bog and yet its power station in Bellacorick is to close in 2004 with the loss of 95 permanent jobs, 120 part-time jobs and 80 associated jobs.

It is obvious that privatisation and deregulation are not working. It is not delivering the electricity and energy needs of the economy. The liberalisation of the market with the opening up of 28% [936] of the electricity industry from February 2000 has not had the positive effect anticipated. The constant challenges to the directives of the Commission for Electricity Regulation have delayed and frustrated progress. It is ridiculous that EirGrid, the independent State owned company and the transmission system operator, simply manages the grid while the monopoly producer, the ESB, still owns and maintains the system.

Unless the Government acts immediately along the lines recommended by the Fine Gael motion, the worst predictions of the DTM report will be realised. Unless action is taken there will be another California here. We are calling for action, immediate action, before the lights go out.

Amendment put.

The Dáil divided: Tá, 73; Níl, 61.

Ahern, Dermot.

Ahern, Michael.

Ahern, Noel.

Ardagh, Seán.

Blaney, Harry.

Brady, Johnny.

Brady, Martin.

Brennan, Matt.

Brennan, Séamus.

Briscoe, Ben.

Browne, John (Wexford).

Byrne, Hugh.

Callely, Ivor.

Carey, Pat.

Collins, Michael.

Coughlan, Mary.

Cowen, Brian.

Cullen, Martin.

Daly, Brendan.

Davern, Noel.

de Valera, Síle.

Dempsey, Noel.

Dennehy, John.

Doherty, Seán.

Ellis, John.

Fahey, Frank.

Fleming, Seán.

Flood, Chris.

Foley, Denis.

Gildea, Thomas.

Hanafin, Mary.

Harney, Mary.

Haughey, Seán.

Healy-Rae, Jackie.

Jacob, Joe.

Keaveney, Cecilia.

Kelleher, Billy.

Kenneally, Brendan.

Killeen, Tony.

Kirk, Séamus.

Lawlor, Liam.

Lenihan, Brian.

Lenihan, Conor.

McDaid, James.

McGennis, Marian.

McGuinness, John J.

Martin, Micheál.

Molloy, Robert.

Moloney, John.

Moynihan, Donal.

Moynihan, Michael.

Ó Cuív, Éamon.

O'Dea, Willie.

O'Donoghue, John.

O'Flynn, Noel.

O'Hanlon, Rory.

O'Keeffe, Batt.

O'Keeffe, Ned.

O'Kennedy, Michael.

O'Rourke, Mary.

Power, Seán.

Reynolds, Albert.

Roche, Dick.

Ryan, Eoin.

Smith, Brendan.

Smith, Michael.

Treacy, Noel.

Wade, Eddie.

Wallace, Dan.

Wallace, Mary.

Walsh, Joe.

Woods, Michael.

Wright, G. V.


Barnes, Monica.

Barrett, Seán.

Bell, Michael.

Belton, Louis J.

Boylan, Andrew.

Bradford, Paul.

Broughan, Thomas P.

Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).

Bruton, Richard.

Burke, Ulick.

Carey, Donal.

Clune, Deirdre.

Connaughton, Paul.

Cosgrave, Michael.

Coveney, Simon.

Crawford, Seymour.

Creed, Michael.

D'Arcy, Michael.

Deasy, Austin.

Deenihan, Jimmy.

Durkan, Bernard.

Enright, Thomas.

Farrelly, John.

Fitzgerald, Frances.

Flanagan, Charles.

Gilmore, Éamon.

Gormley, John.

Hayes, Brian.

Higgins, Jim.

Higgins, Joe.

Hogan, Philip.

Kenny, Enda.

McCormack, Pádraic.

McDowell, Derek.

McGahon, Brendan.

McGinley, Dinny.

McManus, Liz.

Mitchell, Gay.

Mitchell, Olivia.

Naughten, Denis.

Neville, Dan.

Noonan, Michael.

O'Shea, Brian.

O'Sullivan, Jan.

[938] Owen, Nora.

Penrose, William.

Perry, John.

Quinn, Ruairí.

Rabbitte, Pat.

Reynolds, Gerard.

Ring, Michael.

Ryan, Seán.

Sargent, Trevor.

Sheehan, Patrick.

Shortall, Róisín.

Stagg, Emmet.

Stanton, David.

Timmins, Billy.

Upton, Mary.

Wall, Jack.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies S. Brennan and Power; Níl, Deputies Bradford and Stagg.

Amendment declared carried.

Motion, as amended, put and declared carried.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Order please, the House is still in session. I would ask Members who wish to continue a conversation to leave the Lobby. The House is in session.

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