Wednesday, 10 May 2006
Dáil Eireann Debate
—ongoing imperative to develop innovative renewable and sustainable energy policies to ensure security of energy supply, economic competitiveness and environmental sustainability, and the major progress being made by the Government in achieving these objectives;
—comprehensive and holistic strategy of Government in addressing renewable energy priorities, through all-island co-operation and a fully cohesive policy approach involving all relevant Departments, agencies and stakeholders;
—the implementation of a targeted ocean strategy to capitalise on Ireland’s unique maritime environment which will position Ireland at the forefront of international research and development in this area;
—that VRT already takes into account the fuel usage of the car, with bigger cars incurring higher VRT rates, and that review of vehicle tax is the subject of a current European Commission proposal; and
—that EC Directive 1999/94 already requires member states to implement requirements in relation to the provision of information on CO2 emissions and fuel economy in the case of all new passenger cars.”
Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mary Coughlan): I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak on this motion. As the House heard last evening, my colleague, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, is leading a cross-departmental cross-agency approach in developing and implementing our renewable energy policy. That Fine Gael has ignored the range of initiatives taken by the Government means either that it is not up to speed on this important area or that it is simply trying to be opportunistic. The Minister made it clear last night that the Government is pursuing a coherent and joined-up approach to the promotion of renewable energy.
The promotion of biofuels is one element in the development of renewable energy. As agriculture can play a central role in supplying raw materials for biofuels, the Department of Agriculture and Food has been working closely with the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. The agriculture and forestry sectors have the potential to be the sources of many feedstocks for biofuels. Oilseed rape, wheat and sugar beet have the potential to be used for the manufacture of liquid transport biofuels, while forestry by-products and other farming and food by-products such as meat and bonemeal and tallow can be used for energy and heat generation. Tallow can also be used for biodiesel production. Other energy crops such as short rotation coppice and miscanthus can be used for heat and electricity generation.
Biofuels are being developed not only because we need to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels for environmental and cost reasons, but also because the growing of energy crops for the purposes of the development of biofuels offers new opportunities to rural communities and economies. The reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, which was agreed in 2003, gives farmers the freedom to exploit new farming opportunities, including agricultural production for non-food uses. Supports may be granted to farmers for the growing of energy crops only in accordance with EU regulations. Such support is currently provided by means of the energy crops scheme which was introduced under the CAP reform programme and is administered by the Department of Agriculture and Food. Under this scheme, energy crops may qualify for aid of €45 per hectare as long as they are intended primarily for use in the production of biofuels and electric and thermal energy produced from biomass. In addition to this scheme, set-aside land can be used for a variety of non-food uses, including the growing of crops for energy purposes. Therefore those who use such lands in that way can qualify to activate set-aside entitlements under the single payment scheme. The EU has agreed that sugar beet will be eligible for aid under the scheme and may also be grown as an energy crop on set-aside land. Fine Gael does not appear to be aware of this.
Mary Coughlan: I accept the €45 per hectare available under the energy crops scheme is a small enough incentive for the growing of energy crops and is not sufficiently attractive in itself to stimulate the growing of such crops. I called for a review of the premium at the February meeting of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council for that reason. I am pleased the European Commission has undertaken to review the operation of the scheme, which was reiterated today by the Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel, on the floor of this House. The production and utilisation of agricultural products for energy purposes can be sustained in the longer term only if biofuels generate a more favourable return than traditional market outlets. I am confident the extension in the last budget of excise relief of €205 million, which will support the use and production of 163 million litres of biofuels annually when it is fully operational, will help to drive additional demand for the production of energy crops.
Following the decision by Greencore to cease sugar production in Ireland, it has been suggested that bioethanol production might provide an alternative outlet for the sugar beet crop, possibly using the facilities in Mallow. The agreement on the reform of the EU sugar regime provides for a restructuring scheme under which a sugar manufacturer that renounces its quota and completely dismantles a sugar factory may receive 100% of the restructuring aid available, of which at least 10% is to be reserved for growers and contractors. The option of partially dismantling a factory and using it for non-sugar production, while continuing to attract 75% of the aid available, is also open to sugar manufacturers. During the negotiations leading to the agreement, I argued strongly that the provision in the agreement relating to partial dismantling should be extended as an incentive to the production of bioethanol. I am glad we achieved that aim. The question of full or partial dismantling and the continued use of the Mallow plant for bioethanol production are matters for commercial decision by Greencore. Under the relevant regulations, the initiative in this regard rests with the company.
As the Minister for Agriculture and Food, I hold a single special share in Greencore. The share does not empower me to get involved in the company’s operational matters or normal business decisions. I refer to a decision to use the facilities for bioethanol production, for example. However, I raised the possibility of using the Mallow plant for ethanol production with Greencore having regard to the option under the restructuring scheme, the inclusion of sugar beet in the energy crops scheme and the expanded excise relief scheme. The company informed me it does not intend to produce bioethanol in Mallow, but the framework remains in place whereby other potential developers could consider the option.
Mary Coughlan: The importance and significance of biomass is increasing within the wider agenda of agriculture and energy policy generally. Most biomass energy in Ireland is derived from wood products which are converted into heat. The exploitation of wood resources, especially pulp wood, sawmill residues and harvestable forest residues, offers enormous potential and could contribute significantly to meeting our energy and heat requirements. Ireland has an excellent climate for growing and an ongoing supply of raw materials for wood fuel. The Minister for Finance has confirmed that the existing income tax exemption for forestry will not be changed, as its significant environmental benefits have been verified by a cost benefit analysis.
Wood residues are being used to produce heat for sawmills across the country. The wood energy market is poised for growth with the emergence of a number of commercial start-ups and a supply chain. The €27 million “greener homes” grant programme for the domestic sector, which was announced by the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources recently, will help to drive demand for wood biomass. The levels of grant aid to be made available for commercial scale biomass boilers, which will be announced in the coming weeks, will stimulate demand further. The Department of Agriculture and Food is actively promoting the use of wood biomass through grants to promote and develop sustainable forestry, including alternative timber uses. It is close to finalising a scheme of supports for the purchase of specialist wood biomass harvesting equipment. It is directly promoting the use of wood biomass by installing a wood-using heating system in the Department’s offices at Johnstown Castle.
Short rotation coppice and miscanthus have considerable potential for heat and electricity generation. The production of short rotation coppice is relatively undeveloped in Ireland, however. Therefore, the costs of production, especially the substantial initial establishment costs, will be high due to the economies of scale. The Minister of State, Deputy Mary Wallace, is pursuing a proposal to reactivate establishment grants for short rotation coppice. I have received a number of proposals for the introduction of establishment grants for miscanthus and they are being considered.
The Department of Agriculture and Food, in conjunction with Teagasc and COFORD, has examined the potential of energy crops, wood biomass and farming and food by-products. Last year, it started to provide direct funding on a competitive basis to support priority research projects relating to biofuels. This funding is channelled through the Department’s research stimulus fund programme. Three of the projects selected under the 2005 call for proposals, which relate directly to biofuel and energy crops, received grant assistance of €900,000. The funding available under the programme has been substantially increased. A further call for projects was recently advertised in the national press. This call also relates to the non-food uses of agricultural land.
Apart from purpose-grown energy crops and wood biomass, several by-products of the farming and food processing industries can be recovered and used in various ways as biofuels. I refer mainly to animal by-products such as meat and bonemeal, tallow, animal manures and food by-products. Some of the many significant opportunities for the use of animal by-products as biofuels are being considered actively. The proposals in question are being driven by commercial realities. As the disposal of by-products imposes a cost on industry, it makes economic sense to offset this cost by realising the potential of the by-products as energy sources. Tallow is used as a biofuel in thermal boilers in rendering plants and larger meat export plants to provide energy. A recent EU regulation provides for the conversion of tallow to biodiesel. Some rendering plants are considering building biodiesel plants for this purpose using various combinations of tallow, recovered vegetable oil and rapeseed oil. The importance of biofuels and bioenergy is recognised in the agri-vision 2015 action plan. The Minister of State, Deputy Mary Wallace, and I will continue to work closely with my colleague, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, to ensure agriculture contributes to the development of biofuels as part of a coherent energy policy.
Ms F. O’Malley: I am glad to have this opportunity. The fact Fine Gael tabled the motion this week has more to do with a face-saving exercise for its energy policy after the shambolic performance the party put in last week.
Ms F. O’Malley: The party realises the embarrassment of what it has signed up to and that it had better bring some level of coherence to its energy policy. Whether it has put much thought into it remains to be seen.
Ms F. O’Malley: The Fine Gael Party last week saddled itself with some madcap notions. On reflection, the party has realised what it has let itself in for. That is why it has tabled this motion. I am delighted to have this opportunity, as no doubt the Government is, because it gives us ample opportunity once again to demonstrate what the Government has been doing on this topic. Fine Gael had the opportunity to provide a counter-motion but, because of the sterile or frigid position——
Ms F. O’Malley: ——the party finds itself in, where it is so frightened to come up with policies because it may offend the Labour Party, it was not in a position to do something about it. Labour’s performance was hardly better.
Ms F. O’Malley: Labour’s performance was not a whole lot better. I am afraid that Deputy Broughan took the opportunity, rather than to showcase the Labour Party policy which we are all waiting to see and hear about, to peddle a falsehood. He admitted himself it was a fabrication, and he was rather embarrassed and had to withdraw it. It is an awful pity that Labour once again demonstrated that it does nothing but knock other policies. I am familiar with the party’s health policy. All it has ever produced as a health policy is universal general practitioner health care.
Ms F. O’Malley: I asked Deputy Broughan, rather than hitting the Government for its very good record, to show us a Labour initiative. The party does not have one, so no wonder they are having such difficulty cobbling a Government together. Both parties seem to be so terrified to say anything that will isolate or alienate anybody that we get nothing. We get incoherent blather.
Ms F. O’Malley: I pay tribute to elements to the Private Members’ business this week as a little bit more thought went into it, but it also reflects the fact that they do not know what Government policy is.
I had a certain sympathy with the total removal of excise duty on biofuels to stimulate production. There is merit in that but, on further reflection, looking into it and discussing it with the Department of Finance, I can see difficulties. I also see difficulties with the legislation compelling all filling stations to include a 2% mix of biodiesel. What has happened in mainland Europe when that has been the case, especially in bringing in that 2% or 5%, is that a country such as Brazil, which we would all acknowledge is the capital of biofuels operations——
Ms F. O’Malley: ——and which has soared ahead, and “well done” to it, has been able to provide the material at a cheaper level. That is what I am afraid we might end up doing, and I am sure that is not what people intend or would like to happen. We want to promote indigenous industry.
I commend the Government motion on the establishment of the Irish Energy Research Council. It is one of the most important things the Government can do. We need long-term good thinking on that, not madcap notions such as we got from Fine Gael.
Cecilia Keaveney: In every great journey, the first step is the most important, and we have taken several important first steps. People talk about the bigger picture, but sometimes the smaller picture can add to the bigger picture. The smaller picture is sometimes as important, as I thought last night when I walked the two miles to where I stay and saw the number of people stuck in their cars who were making probably a very small journey.
We talk about the rising price of petrol and diesel and the use of cars. One of the first things that we have to do is think about the small steps that we can take to reduce the number of times we use our car and go for that walk when we can rather than creating more traffic. I do not underestimate the fact that one of the biggest industries in my constituency is in selling diesel and petrol, with many people coming from the Six Counties not only to see our beautiful area but to avail themselves of the cheaper petrol. A big step is needed to get fit by getting out of our cars and using our feet and walking or cycling rather than always driving. Last week someone called in to collect me from Monkstown. It took one hour and 15 minutes to come in and one hour and 10 minutes to go back out. I could have walked it faster.
Windmills as a source of energy are being supported in many parts, and I hope that continues in areas such as Donegal which I am told has the best wind potential in the country. I want to put on notice that a windmill was applied for in the Tunes Plateau near Lough Foyle. I do not think wind energy has to be accepted just because it is wind energy. In areas where there is a natural sea fishery, that can be as important as the ability to have wind energy. In those situations, the sea has uses. There is tidal power and there are other hydro schemes that would be as efficient and not as intrusive as windmills in that location.
Why do we not use the sea more for freight? While we have invested a significant amount of money in harbours and piers, I still think there is an opportunity to maximise the use of freight by sea rather than road. At the same time, I accept that fishermen and boating companies alike suffer from the same issue of rising fuel costs, but it is something that should be examined. It also comes within the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources.
The natural gas link from Dublin to Belfast and the one from Belfast to Derry have been very important in giving alternative sources of energy. Will the Minister continue that pipeline from Belfast through Derry and on into Donegal because we would benefit in our energy uses from that? There are other ways in which to reduce the freight costs by using the train system. We have a very good Dublin-Belfast service, but it could also lead on to Derry, and there could be a Dubln-Derry freight service via rail which would provide alternative transport to the significant investment that we have given Derry through the airport, which has improved access anyway.
While we have had significant and important improvements in public transport within Dublin with the Luas, for example, at the same time there is the alternative of people using their feet rather than driving short distances. They can do that in their own areas and not just in the big cities.
I commend the Government on the insulation grant and the different grants that have been made available down the years to improve old houses to make them more energy efficient. I congratulate the Government on the €27 million spend on the recent environmentally friendly homes initiative. That is very important. I was asked recently by a person who is going to build a home next year whether water turbines would be included as well as the current parameters. It is important that all aspects of environmentally friendly energy saving issues be examined.
I encourage more forestry and welcome the Minister’s remarks on biofuels. I raised the issue today with Commissioner Fischer Boel because it is important that the drive to biofuels is not at the total expense of people moving out of food agriculture into biofuels. I commend the Government on what it is doing. There is still a way to go, but we are going in the right direction.
Dr. Devins: I am thankful for the opportunity to speak on this important issue. We are all well aware in this House of the impending shortage of fossil fuel. Recent increases in petrol and diesel prices are a salutary reminder of how exposed Ireland is to any variation in worldwide oil prices, which we can do absolutely nothing about. The upward spiral in petrol costs poses a major difficulty to the continuing successful management of the economy which this Government has been undertaking for several years. That is one potent argument in favour of the development of alternative fuels. Equally potent and perhaps more important in the long term, is the ever-present and increasingly real threat of global warming. Fossil fuels produce carbon dioxide, which hastens global warming with potentially disastrous effects on the world climate, and by implication on economies and lifestyles. It is therefore essential that a coherent, viable and impenetrable energy policy is in place in Ireland,
The Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dempsey, has such a policy in place, as he outlined in the debate last night. Time does not allow me to discuss in detail the various innovative and sustainable developments the Government has initiated. I will confine myself to two important measures. The first of these is the €205 million biofuel excise relief package announced in last year’s budget. Three different types of biofuel are available. In the budget last December a five-year package of excise duty relief was introduced. Uptake of these tax reliefs is driving the production of biofuels. At present it appears the level of production is such that by 2008 we will have a market share of more than 2% in biofuels.
This represents a real achievement when it is considered that Ireland is starting from a very low base. Already there has been enormous interest in the scheme and currently various manufacturing facilities for biofuel are up and running throughout the country. There is no doubt that the potential for transfer from fossil fuel to biofuel is enormous. I urge the Minister to allow further excise relief on biofuels being placed on the market in the near future. A recent report on biofuels suggested that excise relief is the most effective short-term measure for developing this market. Other initiatives, however, such as renewable energy obligations, might be more beneficial in the long term. I am sure the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, will give due consideration to all this implies.
The second measure is the recent announcement by the Minister of grants payable to domestic homes. These grants will allow individual householders to obtain money for the installation of technologies to use renewable energy. Grants can vary from €1,100 to €6,500, depending on the technology being used. For example, there is a grant of €4,200 for the provision of a wood chip or pellet boiler to provide heating in a house. Ireland has an excellent climate for growing timber. There has been an enormous increase in the Irish forestry sector and already wood residue is being used to supply heat in various situations. This is a renewable energy source provided from within Ireland and is a good example of bio-energy. The grant of €4,200 towards the provision of boilers that use wood residue would be of great help to householders who want to use a renewable energy source while at the same time saving a considerable amount of money in the future as the price of oil and gas continues to rise. I understand there has been a considerable take-up of these greener home grants and this reflects the willingness of the public to embrace renewable energy technology.
Mr. Carty: I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak to this motion. I commend Deputy Dempsey on the initiatives he has taken since becoming Minister. The most important one was reflected in the budget for 2006 where a five-year package of excise relief valued at €205 million was announced for biofuel schemes. These schemes will allow Ireland to achieve 2% market penetration of biofuels up to 2008. Funding is also being provided towards the capital cost of developing the processing facilities for biofuels. In my region the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology is involved in processing recovered vegetable oil. If this project is successful, it will contribute greatly to energy savings.
Farmers, too, have an opportunity in producing wood and copse for biofuels. It is most interesting that the by-products of meat, bonemeal and tallow can also be used, because there is a major problem as regards getting rid of such products. We had to export them in the past, and it would be an ideal opportunity to utilise them at this point. I also commend the Minister on the €27 million for the greener homes domestic grants scheme. That is part of a multi-annual finance package of €65 million for renewable energy, which will include grants for a range of renewable heat, electricity and transport initiatives. One of the good parts to this is that the number of applications received by the Department within the scheme’s first month was 1,600, and some 1,100 have already been approved. This shows the scheme is being availed of by householders who must be complimented on taking the initiative, as must the Minister for putting it in place.
Mr. Callanan: I am grateful for the opportunity to address the House on what will be one of the major political issues of the next ten years. Since the introduction of the greener homes grant by the Government, I have been surprised at the level of interest among the public for alternative energy heating sources. The current oil price has certainly alerted most of the public to the critical need to lower our reliance on fossil-based energy sources such as oil and gas. All politics is local and on Monday night I spoke to the Mountbellew active retirement group and explained the grants that were available — the geothermal heating systems, wood-pellet burners and stoves and the solar panels. More than half the group had requested application forms. Elderly people are most in need of assistance as they spend relatively large amounts on home heating oil.
As a farmer I have lived my life actively aware of the need to protect the environment. Many urban dwellers may be somewhat sceptical as regards a farmer claiming to care about sustaining the environment. Without sustaining the environment, however, farming cannot survive. The future of rural Ireland lies in the willingness of the people striving to make farming profitable to embrace new trends. The explosion of organic foods and the regeneration of farmers’ markets all indicate a trend towards the return of farming allied to the opportunities for renewable energy crops in the tillage area. I compliment Teagasc on the great work it is doing in this area.
A campaign is under way in south Galway to lobby for a resource recovery park similar to those that already are to be found in Australia and Canada. I have been impressed by the arguments in this regard and the ability of such initiatives to create employment, while helping to recover waste from what, too often in the past, could not be reconditioned or recycled. I hope my ministerial colleagues in the area of environmental and natural resources and Galway County Council will give the group all the assistance it needs to bring the project to fruition as the town of Gort is in need of new employment opportunities. The west of Ireland, too, is in need of innovation as regards waste management.
I raised the issue of refineries for renewable energy crops in the media last week, based on the towns that once had sugar beet factories. In particular, I hope the western refinery will be based in Tuam. I thank the Acting Chairman for allowing me to speak and I compliment the Government on the great work it is doing.
Dr. Cowley: The Fine Gael motion is timely and I congratulate its Deputies for bringing it forward. It dovetails nicely with the motion brought forward by Independent Deputies last week, which forced the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, to have a change of heart as regards the better exploitation of our natural resources by the people. The finite nature of carbon resources has been well flagged. This makes it imperative that the State invest heavily in alternative sources of energy which do not change the environment, are sustainable and indigenous. The potential is all around us — wind power, wave power, tidal energy and solar power. What has been lacking is vision on the part of Government to face up to a critical situation. The small amount of energy generated from alternative sources is evidence of that failure. We are all aware of alternative energy projects that did not get the go-ahead. For example, wind farm turbine projects are constantly being refused planning permission.
One essential missing ingredient in this area is meaningful community involvement. I do not speak of token involvement but of true partnership between the community and the State in bringing these projects to fruition and in their ongoing running.
Dr. Cowley: The Government has lacked vision in terms of involving communities. One needs only look at the evidence provided by group water schemes to show how keen people are to be involved at community level. Communities set these up and have been involved in running them on a voluntary basis with very little help from Government, particularly in the past. Those communities are willing to get involved and I urge the Government not to miss the opportunity but to accept the challenge to involve communities. We could have a bright future in this regard.
Ms C. Murphy: This motion has identified the need to incentivise the use of biofuels, which is welcome. However, I am surprised that given the widespread public concern about the price of gas and home heating oil the list of demands was so limited. The two areas that absorb the greatest amount of energy are transport and our homes. Clearly, we need to adopt an energy policy that looks at changes in these two key areas.
Given that €20 million of taxpayers’ money has been set aside in this year’s budget under the heading, carbon trading, which allows developed countries buy pollution permits from poorer countries, it makes economic sense that our dependence on imported energy sources, which is currently as high as 90% and is something of which this Administration should be ashamed, should have been attacked aggressively in the lifetime of the Government. Despite a huge increase in energy use, the fact that alternative energies contribute less than 3% to that demand is scandalous.
It makes complete economic sense for us to make significant inroads into changing our ways. We need to stop focusing on shunting vehicles around and consider how we can move people and goods much more efficiently. There is no better way to do this than by building a comprehensive public transport system. While there are many positive proposals in Transport 21, a delivery timeframe of ten years is too long and must be reconsidered.
Renewable energy comes in many shapes and forms. Some types, such as solar energy, can be generated in a home setting. With gas and home heating oil prices set to rocket, there is no doubt that some householders will be in a position to change the energy they use in their homes. Clearly, this was the intention of the grant package announced recently. I repeat the complaint I made last week about the difficulties being encountered by some people in trying to ascertain if they need planning permission for such projects. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has not issued guidelines to local authorities. We need joined-up thinking in this area if people are to get involved. A campaign to inform the public must be initiated on how people can reduce their energy consumption, together with action packs on changing to renewable energies.
Mr. F. McGrath: I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate on energy costs but we must also look seriously at the public health issues which are involved. I call on all Deputies and the Government to be radical, creative and sensible on the issue of energy. We need to be proactive in developing policies. Dithering or delaying is no longer an option. The Independent Deputies will always support sensible, clean, creative energy policies.
My concerns are basically the increased costs of energy arising from global instability and the threat this presents to our economy, coupled with the economic impact of our failure to meet our commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. I condemn the Government for its failure to act in a meaningful way on the alternative energy agenda. The current measures in place to improve Ireland’s renewable energy output are totally inadequate.
I strongly support the section in the motion which calls for the removal of excise duty on biofuels to stimulate production. It is most important that an appropriate agency would be set up to co-ordinate the research required for the development of the renewable energy sector. I warn those who are trying to sneak in nuclear energy by the back door that they will be challenged most strenuously in this House. I welcome the debate and call for radical, new and creative policies on energy.
Mr. Connolly: I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate. We are now six years into the 21st century and Ireland remains heavily dependent on the fuel that powered us more than 100 years ago. Since that time we have sent rockets into outer space and put men on the moon, yet we are still dependent on this fuel. In recent months President Bush went so far as to state that our dependence on oil is an addiction. The only solution to an addiction is to recognise one has it and then to take steps to cure it. That is the situation with which we are now faced.
If one is in a situation where a car can run at 120 km/h up until the last second before it runs out, the moral of the story is that energy shortages can happen almost instantaneously. We only have to examine the situation in the Middle East which is most unstable and the threat of war is ever present. This leads to increases in the price of oil and, in turn, to it becoming scarcer. Every so often we get trapped in a vicious cycle in this regard. I suspect another such crisis is imminent.
When Saudi Arabian oil production peaks, oil production around the world will enter a period of irreversible decline. There is rising demand for oil in India and China, which is in second place in terms of worldwide demand. Demand is rising at a rapid rate and an oil production peak is fast approaching. The worst thing we can do is be in denial. We must recognise we have a problem and begin to address it.
Cambridge Energy Research Associates expect oil supplies to hold out for the next 20 to 30 years before the decline impacts. Recent forecasts have predicted oil prices will climb to $120 a barrel and this will have serious consequences for the price of goods and services which will hit us right across the board. The cost of heating an average home will rise significantly.
Mr. J. Breen: Our dependence on imported energy sources is currently as high as 90%, something of which this Administration should be ashamed. This dependence should have been attacked aggressively in the lifetime of the Government. It is scandalous that despite a major increase in energy use, alternative energies contribute less than 3% of that output.
We have known for years of the dwindling oil reserves around the world and the associated rise in cost of supply, yet nothing constructive was done to address this shortfall until recently when — as with everything else this Government eventually addresses — reports and inquiries were sanctioned.
The Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, stated last evening he would shortly announce the establishment of an energy research council to advise on the development of an energy research policy. This should have been established nine years ago when this Government first came to power. The simple fact is that this Administration has no idea of energy policy, how best to maximise alternative energy supplies and at 5% has failed to meet or even come close to its requirements under the Kyoto Protocol.
I stated previously in this House that in a written reply to a parliamentary question tabled by me, the Minister stated he hoped to have interconnectors operational by 2012. These interconnectors should be a priority. We should currently be in advanced consultation with our British counterparts to determine the best way forward for putting them in place.
We are all aware of wind as a natural resource but action needs to be taken to advance its use and to increase the construction of wind farms. We need to tackle the delays and the high costs of obtaining connections to the national grid for wind farms. We then need to ensure the urgent installation of those interconnectors with our EU partners in the event that wind temporarily fails us.
Renewable energy has to supply 13.2% of total energy consumption by 2010 and currently we are not even halfway there. At total of 13.2% is approximately 1,450 MW of installed energy capacity. Biomass technologies currently supply about 30MW. Budget 2006 announced grant aid of €65 million over the next five years for renewable energy schemes, that is €13 million per year. If this grant aid amount were ten times higher I would think the Government was serious about its supposed energy policy.
Mr. Eamon Ryan: I am happy on behalf of the Green Party to support this Fine Gael motion. First I will make a couple of technical points. While I agree with the motion, the call by Fine Gael for a requirement on all filling stations to use a biofuel mix is a proper long-term development the Government should undertake. If that could be achieved, it would remove the requirement on the State to abolish excise duty on such fuels. The cost of the biofuel support would, therefore, be borne by the oil companies rather than the taxpayer. The State should seek to do this quickly once the industry has been established. The Department must be clear on what is possible in designating fuel sources to provide the supply for such biofuels and on whether a requirement can be set under WTO rules for domestic or European farmers to produce such fuels. Such clarity would give farmers certainty when investing.
Energy policy must consider the broad picture of energy use, which is generally divided into three categories — transport, heating and electricity generation. Because fuel is interchangeable and the price varies depending on global supply, the issue must be addressed across all areas. The motion concentrates exclusively on transport, which is valid because it is very important, but if one takes a broader perspective and analyses what our land and resources can be used for, one may take a different position. While the provision of biofuels would be useful in securing supply, ensuring money is invested in domestic farms rather than in Saudi Arabia and reducing carbon emissions, a policy issue arises because if Irish land is used to develop biomass crops for heating and power generation, a higher return may be achieved in carbon reduction, energy efficiency and revenue for the farmer. Power is used in a more efficient manner in this context and a broad, integrated policy must be developed.
It has been argued that parties have taken on green clothes, but the issues of peak oil and climate change, which are linked, are of such fundamental importance that radical changes are needed and every Member needs to take on such green thinking. This would lead to further change. The Minister’s response to the motion was comical and his failure in this area is farcical, with people crying rather than laughing. He stated, “The Government has delivered an ambitious programme of renewable and sustainable development and it has a comprehensive and holistic strategy in the area.” That, unfortunately, is a scandalous disgrace.
Mr. Sargent: It is important that a clear message is sent to the Government that radical and sincere changes are needed, as my colleague, Deputy Eamon Ryan, stated. People are trying to establish businesses such as Ecofuels Limited in Killarney, County Kerry. I received a letter from the owner when I visited Kerry a month ago about his experience of trying to set up a biodiesel business. He states:
That is the reality on the ground. I ask the Minister of State and the Government to closely examine the difference between their rhetoric and delivery because they are not the same. This company can only sell biodiesel as a lubricant, yet it has a full tax clearance certificate and has the capacity to produce 1 million litres. Meanwhile, the waste oil from restaurants is, in many cases, poured into drains causing pollution and logistical problems for local authorities, which are exacerbated by the Government turning a blind eye to a significant resource. The Minister of State should take direct action to ensure companies in a position to roll out the production of alternative fuels, such as pure plant oil and making use of waste products, can do so without being impeded by the Government.
Mr. Ferris: I support the general thrust of this motion. Sinn Féin has advocated an even more radical approach focused on production as well as the fiscal incentives proposed in the motion. The production of the energy crops necessary to produce biofuels is a vital component. It is welcome, therefore, that the Government has altered its approach to the grant scheme covering such crops and removed the previous exclusion of sugar beet. I suggested this two years ago and pointed to the potential of sugar beet crop and the current processing facilities at Carlow and Mallow for the production of biofuels, given that the sugar sector has been sacrificed at EU level.
The importance of the production aspect was highlighted in the report on biofuels strategy published in 2004 by Sustainable Energy Ireland, which pointed out that the State would only be capable of producing 23% of the requirement if the 2010 target of 5.75% biofuels was to be met. The report concluded, therefore, that substantial imports would be required. In other words, a large gap could be filled if an appropriate grant structure was in place and if substantial research and development was conducted to encourage farmers to move into this area. The redirection of the sugar beet crop accounts for part of this but the growth of energy crops could also have been more attractive to farmers since the introduction of the single farm payment. In the new context, where that source of funding is no longer dependent on the old subsidies system, farmers have more freedom to plan their production to meet new and potentially valuable demands.
Energy crops is one such area. It is also important that Ireland should have its own energy crop and biofuels sector for broader economic reasons. The sugar plants, for example, could provide a viable source of alternative employment, as would the industrial production of these fuels at new locations. It is also vital, especially given renewed concerns over future energy needs and security of supply, that as much of our demand as possible is supplied from domestic sources. If that is not the case, biofuels will become another source for which we will be dependent on imports.
It is also uniquely suited to this country as, unlike with most fossil fuels, we have the potential to supply our requirement for energy crops. This also provides a potentially large alternative new sector for Irish farmers, which might well contribute to a reversal of the current trend in the rapid decline of family farming. As the Sustainable Energy Ireland report highlighted, while difficulties are impeding the expansion of the scope for the growth of such crops, none is insurmountable in the context of CAP reform. As with the inclusion of sugar beet under a grant scheme, therefore, it mainly requires the political foresight and will to ensure those barriers are removed. Above all, they require that this should be made an integral part of a new strategy for Irish agriculture, which is urgently required if the sector is to adapt and prosper under the new order.
Mr. Naughten: I am delighted to speak on this issue for two reasons, namely, because I am Fine Gael spokesperson on agriculture and because I am from the west. With petrol prices creeping towards 125 cent per litre and with the associated impact on electricity and gas costs, many jobs in the west and in the northwest are under threat, unless serious action is taken to develop alternative energy sources. The west and north west are the most vulnerable regions because most of our employment is based on primary production or manufacturing, which is the sector most vulnerable to price increases for energy. Unless the Government is prepared to acknowledge that a problem exists and adopts the principles outlined in this motion, there will be significant job losses in the west and the northwest. In this scenario, jobs will migrate to lower-cost locations in other parts of the world.
We are in the most exposed region in the country and we do not have adequate energy sources. We should try to develop combined heat and power sources in the region, as well as developing the woodchip and renewable energy sector, yet none of that has happened. We do not have gas pipelines, nor do we have the basic electricity infrastructure in place and the cost of that is a serious threat to many jobs.
The Minister for Agriculture and Food stated that the Mallow sugar factory will attract 75% of the compensation that may be made available through the sugar reforms. Can the farming community receive the maximum level of compensation available to it if the plant in Mallow is retained for the processing of bioethanol? The Minister states that the regulations are in place, but the reality is that the regulations have not yet come from Brussels. There is still an opportunity to impress on the Commission the need to ensure that there is flexibility for that compensation, that farmers get the maximum level possible and that we develop an alternative industry based on those plants. There is an onus on the Minister to impress on the Commission the need to look at the rules, to ensure that there are no barriers to the development of an alternative fuel industry. The proposals, as they stand at the moment, are a barrier to the development of a bioethanol facility here.
Deputy Fiona O’Malley raised a point about excise duty on biofuels. She stated that there are problems with implementing it, such as changing the legislation to blend 2% of biodiesel and 5% of bioethanol into petrol and diesel. There are no problems with it, but the difficulty is that every time a proposal is made, the Government finds a way to put a barrier against the development of the renewable energy sector. There is an easy solution to the problem of imports from Brazil, namely, to put duty on all imported fuels. Fuel created in Ireland from renewable energy sources can be exempt from duty if duty is put on fuels at the point of entry. That would solve the problem, but the Government is not prepared to consider addressing problems, it would prefer to come up with more of them.
Fine Gael has published a practical and realistic blueprint for renewable energy. There are two strands to it. The first is to create demand and we have outlined some of those proposals in the motion before the House. The second strand is to create capacity, especially in the area of biofuels, by encouraging the establishment of producer groups, in which farmers and private industry could put forward proposals for the development of alternative processing facilities. We would encourage a public competition for farmers and the private sector to develop such proposals, which could be grant-aided. I commend this motion to the House.
Mr. O’Dowd: There is nothing more important facing this country than the issue of having a proper plan for alternative energy. Energy costs are going through the roof and they will affect employment and people in their own homes. We in Fine Gael have a coherent plan, which we announced months ago and long before the Government made a few announcements on the issue. These ideas have been thought out clearly and we will pursue them with vigour when we get into office. We must have a proper alternative energy structure and its implementation will be as urgent as the current need for a proper road network. It is vital that we put a planning process in place that can cope with that need.
The Dutch system of planning can offer Ireland a very important lesson in this area. The Dutch Government decides the infrastructure projects that are needed on a national basis and the best area in which to locate them. It consults with parliament, local authorities and the people themselves about its plans after they are published. It amends its plans accordingly and publishes binding guidelines on infrastructure construction for the immediate future. Local authorities are then required to implement the plan, dealing with local complaints about major infrastructural projects. Local authority members do not take the blame for those decisions, but national politicians accept full political responsibility for nationally vital infrastructure. Such a system is part of a major change that Fine Gael will make in Government.
Fine Gael will amend the national spatial strategy to include major renewable energy infrastructure projects. This will involve identifying the areas that are most suitable for each type of project. A draft of the amended strategy will be published and submissions invited, before a final version is presented to the Oireachtas for its approval or rejection. Alternative energy infrastructure will constitute an element of regional development plans. This will help avoid the exertion of pressure on local authority members when dealing with necessary alternative energy infrastructure, as they will be required to implement the development plan as it is set out.
As this new agenda is rolled out, it is vital that local communities hosting infrastructure of importance to the national alternative energy programme are given the necessary reward. Those communities close to developments such as wind farms should be the beneficiaries of community facilities above and beyond those communities that are not located close to the major developments.
That is why Fine Gael will legislate for the provision of a community dividend for those communities located close to new infrastructure. This will act as compensation for those communities living close to important infrastructure that aids the entire country in reaching its alternative energy commitments. The dividend will take the form of improved sporting and cultural facilities in those areas. The dividend will be put in place before the development of the energy infrastructure and the upkeep will be paid for by the private company or State body responsible for that energy infrastructure. This will turn on its head the current system of planning that encourages protest, dither and delay and that offers communities no incentive to welcome any new development.
I welcome the commitment of Fingal County Council, led by members of the Green Party, the Labour Party, Fine Gael and others working together, to identify significant proposals for alternative energy for future housing developments in its local area plan. Every local authority should identify a percentage of energy for housing developments that must come from alternative energy sources.
Mr. Neville: I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I am pleased to raise the issue of promoting miscanthus in the context of the environment because I raised it during a recent adjournment debate in the context of agriculture.
The first crop of miscanthus grass in Ireland was harvested in Adare, County Limerick. This grass should be supported with substantial grant aid because it has much to offer in terms of farm crop replacement and renewable energy. An Adare company, JHM Crops Limited, was formed to promote miscanthus as a viable alternative crop. The company has identified the growing of miscanthus as an alternative farm enterprise and has established crops for rhizome and cane production. A feasibility study carried out by Dr. J.J. Leahy at the University of Limerick shows the project has excellent potential.
Miscanthus is a low input, high yielding multipurpose crop, suitable for production across large areas of Ireland. The grass is undergoing much research in Europe, the United Kingdom and more recently, Ireland, as a renewable energy crop to produce heat and power. Miscanthus has other environmentally positive applications, such as use in equine bedding or garden mulch. The establishment of more processing facilities to meet the needs of growers and end users is essential to provide an opportunity for farmers to maximise returns, especially in the early years.
Miscanthus is a woody perennial grass which originated in south east Asia and is commonly known as elephant grass. The non-flowering forms are of interest agriculturally as they grow rapidly, have low nutrient requirements, produce high yields, suffer from no known pests or diseases and conventional agricultural machinery can be used to plant, maintain and harvest them.
Miscanthus is grown commercially as an energy crop for use in power generation. Commercial power generation projects using biomass crops such as miscanthus commenced some time ago in the United Kingdom and Europe, with more due to come on stream in the next number of years. Ireland is only now waking up to the potential of biomass power. JHM Crops Limited, in Adare, is committed to supplying crops for a similar market in Ireland.
The crop is propagated by rhizomes, will grow to three metres in height within three years of planting and remains viable for at least 25 years. As the plants are sterile, there is no danger of proliferation of the crop onto adjoining lands. The crop is perennial, with stems emerging from an underground rhizome complex annually, in March or April, reaching its maximum height of three metres towards the end of August. Cooler temperatures in autumn trigger senescence and translocation of reserves below ground. The crop is left in the field over winter and, during this phase, leaf material falls to the ground, recycling nutrients and providing mulch which suppresses weed growth. By spring, the cane is ready to harvest, typically using a forage harvester similar to that used for maize. It can also be harvested using mower conditioner power prior to baling. Detailed information on the agronomy of miscanthus can be supplied.
Miscanthus differs from short rotation coppices in that it provides an annual harvest and, therefore, an annual income for the grower. In Ireland, long-term arid harvestable yields from a mature crop will exceed seven tonnes per acre per year and will, in many cases, amount to eight or nine tonnes. Markets are being explored and developed for miscanthus in areas as diverse as equine bedding, plywood and sustainable composites materials for car parts and plant plots. The crop is supported through the energy crops scheme, which only provides €45 per acre to farmers. I urge the Government to consider further support for this crop.
Mr. Deenihan: After listening in my office to the arguments made by all sides, I am glad of the opportunity to speak on this motion. Fine Gael’s proposals must be striking a chord because the Government has launched an unprecedented attack on Deputy Durkan’s motion. The Government’s response was obviously written by civil servants, who normally write factual material but in this instance have used extraordinary political language.
For the past six years, I have helped people to develop a wind farm, so I have first hand information about what is involved. The people concerned have already suffered an exercise in frustration and now that everything is ready, they have discovered they must wait two years for delivery of the turbines they ordered. Turbines, which are manufactured in Germany and the Netherlands, are in massive demand in America, where it is easier to enter the electricity grid than in Ireland. The conditions on grid compliance are far more stringent in Ireland than in America. As a result, Dutch and German companies are selling significant numbers of turbines in the American market.
A turbine producing 2.3 MW costs €1.8 million and the aforementioned people plan to install 16 turbines, which represents a major investment. They also have to pay a 25% deposit on the machinery. Wind farms are said to be attractive to farmers but I wonder how many farmers will be able to afford that level of investment. The real world should be acknowledged because it is not that simple and significant outlays are required.
The people concerned have also been discouraged by bureaucratic obstacles. It took them a considerable length of time to reach a purchase agreement and it is not a simple matter under the REFIT programme to find somebody who will take energy. Planning permission has been granted under gate 1 for 4,000 MW of wind energy, which is sufficient to satisfy demand until 2013. Anyone who wants to produce wind energy will have to wait until then to do so unless Government policy changes to allow more wind energy in the grid. It is obvious that an interconnector is needed and the sooner one is built, the better.
As I told the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism today, provision should be made in the capital grants programme for solar heated water and dressing rooms in the country’s sports centres. My club has installed solar panels and, as a result, we have no oil bills and even during the winter the water is hot. This could easily be done elsewhere.
Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Parlon): I am delighted to have this opportunity to address the House on the issue of renewable energy development in Ireland. The Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, and the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, outlined many of the important initiatives already introduced as part of this Government’s integrated strategy to promote a sustainable and renewable energy development in Ireland.
The Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, gave details of our ambitious biofuels excise relief programme and noted that the 2005 pilot mineral oil tax relief scheme for biofuels has resulted in the emergence of eight innovative biofuel projects which will produce 16 million litres of biofuels by the end of next year. A further targeted package of excise relief valued at €205 million was announced in the last budget. The new excise relief programme, underpinned by capital grant aid, will be rolled out from this year to 2010 and will enable us to exceed 2% market penetration by biofuels by 2008. The programme, which was developed and supported by several Departments working in close consultation, will support the use and production of 163 million litres of biofuels each year when fully operational.
Deputy Broughan mentioned that the bulk of the money for the biofuels excise relief programme would be rolled out in 2008. If he would like us to front-load this financial commitment in 2006, he would deliver most of the excise relief to imported biofuels. Few biofuels developers can produce 163 million litres of biofuels in the space of less than a year since the programme was announced. Deputy Broughan is forgetting that large-scale production facilities will require finance, planning and other permissions which do not happen overnight.
I note that Fine Gael calls for a mandatory blending of 5% bioethanol in petrol and 2% of biodiesel in diesel at all fuel outlets. While I have no difficulty with this aim which is worth pursuing, the Opposition is out of touch with EU legislation which specifically precludes such a provision.
Mr. Parlon: I will explain it all if the Deputy will take his time. The Commission is reviewing the biofuels directive with a view to considering changes to the relevant legislation, and we have welcomed this review.
Mr. Parlon: We will work closely with the Commission and member states in achieving any change needed but Ireland cannot make these changes unilaterally. An alternative in the longer term would be to introduce a biofuels obligation. Such a system takes considerable planning and would not necessarily support Irish biofuels developers because two thirds of Irish transport fuels are already imported fully refined. We need to ensure policies in these areas are fully integrated and fully thought out.
The Government’s policy is to support the development of a new biofuels sector through a targeted excise relief and capital funding programme. The programme will deliver quantities of biofuels that can support and develop the agricultural sector, ensure that biofuels comply with EU standards and provide an opportunity for Ireland to develop a biofuels sector that could ultimately compete on the European market.
Deputy Broughan also mentioned the EU biomass action plan. Ireland has engaged proactively with the Commission in developing its biomass action plan and strongly supports this initiative. The Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources intends launching a major bioheat grants programme in the coming weeks which will assist commercial and industrial users to switch to lower cost, cleaner biomass heating systems. This in turn will stimulate demand and is one of the key recommendations of the bioenergy strategy group whose report will be published in the coming weeks. That group was established by Government, comprises representatives of all the relevant Departments and interests as well as industry representatives, and has produced a concrete series of recommendations to promote biomass development across the entire processing and supply chain in Ireland.
We will continue to work closely with the European Commission on the development of new opportunities for bioenergy production across the electricity, heat and transport sectors. Working with our European colleagues, we will press for new and ambitious policies to encourage greater use of biomass resources across Europe in line with the strategic objectives of the European Commission’s Green Paper.
The development of a sustainable energy economy requires us to pursue two key policy objectives: renewable energy and energy efficiency. The Government is giving priority to increasing energy efficiency significantly and through Sustainable Energy Ireland is making a major contribution to increase energy efficiency through its various programmes. The industry energy programmes, energy awards, public sector, house of tomorrow and warmer homes programmes are all resulting in greater awareness and lower emissions from the industry, commercial, public and domestic sectors.
Mr. Parlon: This is clearly untrue. My colleagues have already spoken about the high level of uptake of the Government’s greener homes renewable heat grants programme for the domestic sector. This programme aims to provide renewable energy in more than 10,000 homes.
The Government is pleased to have had this opportunity to set out comprehensively its successful track record and continued ambitions for the national renewable energy resource. By contrast I do not detect that the Opposition has a great deal of strategic thinking to offer.
Mr. Parlon: We have had an interesting debate over the course of the past two days and I am sure the Opposition parties have gained valuable insights into the depth and range of Government policy on renewable energy.
Mr. Crawford: I wish to share time with Deputies Kenny and Durkan. In the limited time available I want to record some of the facts about what has happened over the past ten years. If they are any guide, we face a grave future. I spoke to one young man who in 1997 started to organise a windmill unit in County Cavan involving 35 farmers. I want to announce progress. The bases are going in and it is hoped the windmills will be in by Christmas. However, it was like pulling teeth all the way.
Mr. Crawford: Every obstacle was put in the group’s way and the company that is doing it, Airtricity, is now doing most of its business in Scotland because of the difficulties that arose in this case. I have raised this several times in this House. The scheme will provide significant additional income to 35 farmers in a hard-pressed rural area and will save the Government in assistance what it might have had to pay otherwise. If we are to move forward to provide proper assistance in such areas, we must ensure there is minimal red tape and obstruction. Some help would be a major move forward.
Last week I listened to Teagasc, our national organisation, advising the Joint Committee on Agriculture and Food on what it had done on investigating what power could be provided from poultry litter or pig manure, which it said was not viable. In part of its presentation it suggested that alternative energy was good in the UK and Germany. We asked how that alternative energy is produced in those countries and we found out that there is a Fibrowatt poultry litter biomass fuel power plant at Thetford, Norfolk, giving 40 MW; one at Eye, Suffolk, giving 12.5 MW; Westfield Power Station in Fife giving 10 MW; and there is a fourth one the name of which I cannot recollect. Those have been in operation since the early 1990s. The people who are supposed to do research in this country say such ventures are not viable although we deal with the same EU structures. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, may find it funny that such sources should be used——
I pay tribute to the Ceann Comhairle and to his colleague, former Deputy Jimmy Leonard, who worked with me through three Governments to try to get this through the competition, but the ESB and others blocked it. We then went to Europe — we talked about Europe in this House all day — and it was helpful and brought us through the fifth framework programme. When we returned, Forfás, which had promised the land for the project outside Monaghan town in the mid-1990s, suddenly found that all its land was used and could no longer be given. The land is for sale at present and this is the truth of the matter. The Government put the obstacles in the way. The company applied for planning permission on its own farm but had not got it 27 months later, and the matter is now before the court. A letter for the attention of the company dated 4 May states: “I refer to the above Judicial Review and the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government wish to have the relevant Minister joined as a Notice Party to these proceedings”, between Monopower and Monaghan County Council.
If we are serious about meeting deadlines and implementing proposals, we must surely start within the Departments and ensure that there are sufficient personnel to help people who are prepared to invest their own money and to encourage them to do so properly.
The issue of the Monopower plant is now a judicial one. The planning process has been engaged in and I have no involvement in the matter, good, bad or indifferent. The failure of the Government to allow the company to use the site it was promised has caused a lot of friction in the area, as the Ceann Comhairle will confirm. This friction was caused by the Government, not by me or anybody else.
Mr. Kenny: It is chilling to think that within a decade and a half, all the gas imported into Ireland will come from one field in the Russian Arctic, which will also supply China and the United States. This will leave us in a very vulnerable position at the end of a 3,000 km pipeline.
Later this year the Government is to produce a Green Paper on energy, which is to be welcomed. This motion is timely in that it brings into focus the crisis we face and indicates how unaware people are of how great it might be. I spoke some days ago to the director of a multinational firm in the midlands and discovered that it uses 27,000 litres of oil per day. Its energy bill has increased by €1 million in the past 18 months and it faces the prospect of meeting a T-junction because of competitive rates, internal competition and incentives offered by other countries. This issue is beyond mere party politics and is in the national interest. A solution should be sought at individual and State levels. This is essentially why Deputy Durkan tabled the Fine Gael motion.
I believe very much in Airtricity’s supergrid concept and proposal to have 2,000 offshore turbines as part of a 3,000 MW prototype scheme involving The Netherlands, the United Kingdom and France. An interconnected grid would allow for wind-powered electricity production wherever the wind is blowing. This could be developed over 20 years, thus allowing electricity production wherever wind blows in Europe.
One of the saddest sagas in recent history was the one associated with the Corrib gas development. The mediator appointed by the Government, Mr. Peter Cassells, should be allowed to mediate in the case without interference from the political sphere or from persons whose motives might not be focused entirely on the question of safety and the capacity of development throughout the country.
I welcome the fact that the energy regulator has made it somewhat easier for towns to avail of a stable supply of natural gas from the Corrib field as an incentive to attract industry, particularly in the north and north west. The Government must, in the Green Paper, consider balanced regional development through putting in place electricity infrastructure with the capacity to carry an industrial load that will balance the pressures on Dublin with the opportunities that exist in other parts of the country. This is very necessary.
The Government should consider wind potential very seriously. In the Corrib case, the mediator should be allowed to mediate. Lessons were learned from the handling of the matter by the multinational company, the local authority and the Government. I expect the company involved will participate demonstrably in developments with the local community over the next 20 years — it is a question of the future of a very scarce resource. As I stated, the stand-off some time ago between President Putin and the authorities in the Ukraine was rather chilling. It is only when the lights go out that one will realise the difficulty of the matter. The 53 amber alerts last year and the closure of the power station in Shannonbridge because of corrosion problems have a bearing on the bigger picture. Individuals have a part to play, as outlined by Deputy Durkan in the motion.
Mr. Durkan: I thank my colleagues on both sides of the House for their contributions to this debate. The motion is timely and it is appropriate, following the debates of last week, that the House should focus on an issue such as that referred to by my party leader, Deputy Kenny.
I congratulate Deputies O’Dowd, Naughten, Olivia Mitchell and Bruton on making a major contribution to our policy in this area. I presume it has been replicated on the Government side because one needs the co-operation of the various ministries in respect of further policy in this area.
Let me correct one or two of the points made. While the Government speakers spent ages downgrading, decrying and denigrating the Fine Gael policy, and while they must have spent the past few weeks examining it, it is a pity they did not read it very carefully.
There seems to be some confusion on foot of the briefing the Government gave to the press after last week’s motion. Some members of the Government do not seem to know what they voted on at the end of the night. They voted on the same issue that they will be voting on tonight, a Government amendment. This amendment, which will become the motion, can be voted on afterwards. Somebody should explain to all parties on the Government benches what they will be voting on before the vote takes place so they will know exactly what they are doing. They will not have to brief the press incorrectly any more and they will know what they are talking about.
Mr. Durkan: The issue raised by all Members of the House is the most serious facing us at present. Every single house, including every farmhouse, and every factory, office and building depends on energy. If in the next few weeks, months or years there is an energy crisis in which the supply is cut altogether, which could well happen for all we know, Government policy should kick in immediately. Instead of denigrating the Opposition and its so-called inadequacies, the Government would be far better taking on board what it has to say and putting it into operation. After all, this is what it is attempting to do in any case.
Over the past four years, the Government, with everybody else, has been aware of the international difficulties that have arisen, but it did nothing about them. It could have done so and could have focused research on this area. All the research was done by private individuals and third level institutions of their own volition. Only in recent times did Sustainable Energy Ireland do its bit. The Government has stood aloof regarding the matter and it is only in the past few weeks that it suddenly woke up to the fact that there could be an energy crisis. If there is one, we will be heavily dependent on imports, which is not desirable.
The Government seems to have an obstacle for every solution. The European Union and other factors will be obstacles. The Minister has a problem for every solution and is being snowed under by them. All of these matters can be resolved. This motion is progressive and pragmatic and addresses all areas. The Government has paid our motion the greatest tribute by imitating it. The Government imitation is not as well researched as the Fine Gael motion but we will help Government in any way we can, in the hope that the Government Members will not be as sceptical and cynical as they have been. They should spend more time researching the subject and less time berating the Opposition.
|Ahern, Michael.||Ahern, Noel.|
|Andrews, Barry.||Ardagh, Seán.|
|Blaney, Niall.||Brady, Johnny.|
|Brady, Martin.||Brennan, Seamus.|
|Callanan, Joe.||Callely, Ivor.|
|Carey, Pat.||Carty, John.|
|Cassidy, Donie.||Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.|
|Coughlan, Mary.||Cregan, John.|
|Cullen, Martin.||Curran, John.|
|Davern, Noel.||de Valera, Síle.|
|Dempsey, Tony.||Dennehy, John.|
|Devins, Jimmy.||Ellis, John.|
|Fahey, Frank.||Finneran, Michael.|
|Fleming, Seán.||Fox, Mildred.|
|Gallagher, Pat The Cope.||Glennon, Jim.|
|Grealish, Noel.||Hanafin, Mary.|
|Haughey, Seán.||Hoctor, Máire.|
|Jacob, Joe.||Keaveney, Cecilia.|
|Kelleher, Billy.||Kelly, Peter.|
|Killeen, Tony.||Kirk, Seamus.|
|Kitt, Tom.||Lenihan, Brian.|
|Lenihan, Conor.||McDowell, Michael.|
|McEllistrim, Thomas.||Martin, Micheál.|
|Moloney, John.||Moynihan, Donal.|
|Moynihan, Michael.||Mulcahy, Michael.|
|Ó Cuív, Éamon.||Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.|
|O’Connor, Charlie.||O’Dea, Willie.|
|O’Donnell, Liz.||O’Donoghue, John.|
|O’Donovan, Denis.||O’Flynn, Noel.|
|O’Keeffe, Ned.||O’Malley, Fiona.|
|Parlon, Tom.||Power, Peter.|
|Power, Seán.||Sexton, Mae.|
|Smith, Michael.||Treacy, Noel.|
|Wallace, Dan.||Wallace, Mary.|
|Wilkinson, Ollie.||Woods, Michael.|
|Allen, Bernard.||Boyle, Dan.|
|Breen, James.||Broughan, Thomas P.|
|Bruton, Richard.||Burton, Joan.|
|Connaughton, Paul.||Connolly, Paudge.|
|Costello, Joe.||Cowley, Jerry.|
|Crawford, Seymour.||Cuffe, Ciarán.|
|Deasy, John.||Deenihan, Jimmy.|
|Durkan, Bernard J.||Enright, Olwyn.|
|Ferris, Martin.||Gilmore, Eamon.|
|Gogarty, Paul.||Gormley, John.|
|Gregory, Tony.||Hayes, Tom.|
|Healy, Seamus.||Higgins, Joe.|
|Higgins, Michael D.||Howlin, Brendan.|
|Kehoe, Paul.||Kenny, Enda.|
|Lynch, Kathleen.||McCormack, Pádraic.|
|McEntee, Shane.||McGinley, Dinny.|
|McGrath, Finian.||McHugh, Paddy.|
|McManus, Liz.||Mitchell, Olivia.|
|Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.||Murphy, Catherine.|
|Murphy, Gerard.||Naughten, Denis.|
|Neville, Dan.||Noonan, Michael.|
|Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.||Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.|
|O’Dowd, Fergus.||O’Keeffe, Jim.|
|O’Sullivan, Jan.||Pattison, Seamus.|
|Perry, John.||Quinn, Ruairí.|
|Rabbitte, Pat.||Ring, Michael.|
|Ryan, Eamon.||Ryan, Seán.|
|Sargent, Trevor.||Sherlock, Joe.|
|Shortall, Róisín.||Stagg, Emmet.|
|Stanton, David.||Twomey, Liam.|
|Upton, Mary.||Wall, Jack.|
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