Wednesday, 25 March 1992
Seanad Éireann Debate
I welcome the Minister for Energy to the House. This is an important debate in so far as it is opportune that energy and energy policy should be debated and possibly changed to suit the nineties and thereafter.
This morning on the Order of Business some Senators indicated that they were confused by the motion. It is a broad and complex motion and during the debate people will identify areas where they consider change and further developments should take place. I am not versed in all areas of energy and I presume the same applies to other Senators, but we all have our own views on certain aspects of energy policy.
Electricity, on which I intend to concentrate, is generated from imported coal and natural resources such as water, gas and peat. Peat production appears to be under the greatest threat and that is regrettable because there is still a great future for the peat industry here. It can either survive or go under but if it is to survive and be viable this will have serious consequences for employment and development in the industry.
Over the past number of years more than 2,000 jobs were shed in Bord na Móna to keep the company commercially viable and to keep their head above water. Semi-State bodies should be expected to operate on a viable basis but  we must look at Bord na Móna in a different light. Bord na Móna were originally set up to develop our bogs and their importance became apparent in the seventies when there was a substantial increase in oil prices. At that time Bord na Móna were asked to expand and develop their outlets, but they did not do so voluntarily. Governments and Ministers prompted, pushed and cajoled them and as a result of their expansion operations they are now in debt to the tune of approximately £200 million. We are now telling them they must solve all their own problems and not ask the Government for money. They have been told to live within their means and to survive on an economic basis.
As I already outlined, the only avenue open to Bord na Móna was rationalisation and that meant job losses and the consequences of that rationalisation have been serious for rural Ireland, particularly the midlands which will be decimated if Bord na Móna continue to implement their rationalisation policy.
I am asking for a review of that policy. The Government should examine ways Bord na Móna can develop rather than merely survive on an economic basis. The potential of Bord na Móna should be considered and Government involvement in the finances of the company should not be excluded. The IDA might be better off creating employment opportunities in Bord na Móna rather than trying to attract foreign companies here. If the most recent Bord na Móna proposal to shed a further 600 jobs in the midlands is accepted I fear for peat production and the families in that area. A total of 2,000 people have lost their jobs in the past four years and another 600 are to go now. Of course, Bord na Móna will be in a sound financial position in a number of years but many jobs will have been lost. They will be able to balance their books in the year 2000 because they will have a staff of 200 compared with 4,000 when the company was established.
I worry when I hear of people being  slapped on the back for doing a good job in semi-State bodies. The chairman of Bord Telecom was praised for the way he turned round the finances of the company, but what about the human side? We must consider the 2,500 or 3,000 jobs that were lost achieving this. In my view, Bord na Móna should get Government assistance in the form of equity, subsidies from the IDA, share capital, or elsewhere. The company should not be allowed to close especially in view of the employment consequences of such closure for the midland region.
In my area of south Roscommon and east Galway £30 million was spent over the past number of years on development and now we are informed by Bord na Móna that they want to close the gate on that development with a loss of jobs for the remaining 32 employees. Surely that is not in the best interests of the area. This should not be allowed when a company — particularly a semi-State company like Bord na Móna — acquire 15,000 acres of bog and receive the support of the people in the community.
Sixty full-time jobs in Gowla Farm, a subsidiary of the Sugar Company, were lost, the people were made redundant, land was handed over to Bord na Móna on the basis that they would create three or four times as many jobs; and 600 acres of forest, some of it ten or 12 years old, were bulldozed into the bog to accommodate Bord na Móna. Now, ten years later, 60 jobs are lost, Bord na Móna want to walk away from 15,000 acres of prime peat land, 600 acres of forest and the £30 million spent on development because they must balance their books.
That cannot be in the interests of this country. Should Bord na Móna continue to be involved in our energy policy? Can we exclude Bord na Móna from life of the midlands when we are trying to attract foreign companies to set up here, when we are forming committees and forums to create jobs and, at the same time, we are allowing one of our finest semi-State  bodies to sink or swim at the expense of the people in the midlands.
I do not agree with that. Bord na Móna should not pull out of Ballyforan at the expense of 32 jobs, for two reasons: first, the massive investment in the area to date and the promises and commitments made to the people there, and, second, because of the recommendations of the report on the whole Derrynafadda area. To “close the gate” while those recommendations are being considered does not make sense. Bord na Móna say they will not harvest peat in Ballyforan because it costs £3 a tonne extra to transport it by road to Shannonbridge or Lanesborough. I believed them for some time but recently I discovered they are transporting more peat by road from other areas and that they have bought new lorries for that purpose. Why is it economic to transport peat by lorry in one county and uneconomic to do so in another? I understand the difference in the journeys is approximately two miles.
Of course, I could be cynical and say Bord na Móna set up in Ballyforan, made a number of promises, got the bog, had the forestries destroyed and when they had it all legally in their name walked away and closed the gate. That is what a colonial power would do and if that is the case it is dispicable. I would not be that cynical but that is what is being said.
The task force report recommended that the Ballyforan factory be allowed harvest their 50,000 or 60,000 tonnes of peat this year and transport it to Shannonbridge and Lanesborough. That is not asking too much as far as the people of east Galway and south Roscommon are concerned. In fact, it is the least that could be done for those people who gave such commitment to a semi-State body and to the Government, who supported the project at that time.
When Bord na Móna commenced operations there in the mid-seventies a power station was proposed but that was killed off in 1976. A briquette factory was  closed in 1983 and this time they have gone for the jugular. The people of that community, who sold their land for as little as £20 per acre should not be treated in this way. If Bord na Móna are not prepared to continue operating for the next 12 months, while the recommendations of the task force are being considered, the Minister should consider the payment of a subsidy for transporting 100,000 to 150,000 tonnes of peat from the Derrynafadda group of bogs to Shannonbridge. In this way the jobs of the 32 qualified men who range in age from 26 to 38 years, would be maintained. We cannot afford to lose people with those skills. If the IDA were to set up a similar project elsewhere it would cost between £5 million and £10 million and we would clap ourselves on the back for creating employment. We should use the opportunity to develop that industry.
We have not investigated fully the potential of harvesting and burning peat to generate electricity. This has not been discussed at European level. At present, £100 million is being spent on a gas line from this country to mainland Britain. How much money has been given to Bord na Móna over the years and what debate has taken place in the European Parliament, the Commission or in the Council of Ministers regarding Bord na Móna? What moneys have come to the country to support native industries, such as peat harvesting by Bord na Móna? The RECHAR programme was introduced to deal with the declining coal industry in England and Germany. Up to 6,000 people were employed in the peat industry here and 2,000 employees have been laid off over the past four years. A European programme should be introduced to deal with the peat industry here.
Are we using our peat to the best advantage? Is the burning of peat for generating electricity useful and economic? I understand approximately 55 per cent of the heat from the burning of peat for generating electricity goes into the  atmosphere or the river beside the power station. That is an extraordinary waste of heat. In other countries they use this heat for ancillary industries. We should, through the European Commission, set up a pilot project to examine this new process of combined power and heat. In some countries horticulture producers use this heat. Power stations also supply heating to industrial estates, domestic dwellings and fish farms but we have not fully investigated those possibilities here. I understand some feeble attempt was made in Lanesborough regarding that but it is not in use now; gas is being used at that station. We have not investigated or experimented with that process to the extent they have elsewhere, particularly in Europe and Canada.
The peat harvesting operations of Bord na Móna should not be discontinued. It is time for a change in attitude and policy regarding Bord na Móna. If we continue our present policies in relation to peat harvesting Bord na Móna will be a figment of the imagination in a few years' time. Bord na Móna should be given Government support in the form of equity and the IDA should be involved in developing this industry. Bord na Móna are not being used to their full potential at present. They have worked with their hands behind their back in so far as they have been at the beck and call of the Government over the years, but now they are allowed to row their own boat and sink or swim. I understand they are considering closing a major briquette factory in the midlands. I am not sure of the number of jobs involved, but it is a further nail in the coffin of the workforce of Bord na Móna.
Mr. Finneran: Bord na Móna inform me that they cannot maintain existing employment because they have to meet interest repayments of approximately £21 million a year on a debt of approximately £189 million. I understand that last year  they made a small profit. If Bord na Móna did not have to meet that interest payment, imagine the development and the opportunities there would be in Bord na Móna today rather than slowing down and killing off operations. If the Government intend to invest in employment, they should invest in something we know something about, something that has a proven track record. Not all the things that Bord na Móna did were correct but they did not do them off their own bat; they were asked, and sometimes told, what to do.
The peat industry and Bord na Móna should be looked at again, particularly in the context of providing employment. Otherwise by the year 2000 there will only be a few hundred jobs in Bord na Móna. That would be a terrible mistake, given that that natural resource is there in abundance. Why not tap that resource now? Why cannot Bord na Móna, in co-operation with private industry, produce their own electricity and set it into the national grid? The simple answer is their debt is too high and they cannot get involved in further development. The ESB is a monopoly and that is not good for the country. Here we have an opportunity, through Bord na Móna, to open up different avenues in the areas of energy and job creation.
The task force's comprehensive report on Ballyforan could apply to many other areas. Top technical knowledge was used to produce that report. People with national and European experience in energy matters put their names to that report and those recommendations; people do not lightly put their professional reputation on the line. One of the participants, Dr. Paul Monaghan, of UCG, produced an independent report on combined heat and power, and showed how it has been successful in Europe and in Canada, and how it could be successful in this country. It identifies Ballyforan and Derrynafadda as an area that could be used on a pilot basis, with European funding, for a combined heat and power plant.
 I ask that the Derrynafadda bogs continue in operation for 12 months and that the harvesting of peat continue during 1992, giving a breathing space to the task force and to the different agencies who will see if the recommendations in the report of the State and semi-State organisations can be implemented. If Bord na Móna are not prepared to do that, I call on the Government to provide a transport subsidy for the peat to be taken from the Derrynafadda group to Shannonbridge and Lanesborough. Bord na Móna should not be allowed to continue as they are. The Government should become involved as Bord na Móna have the potential to create employment and provide electricity and energy. Bord na Móna is a fine company. They should not be left to sink or swim. We should row in behind them; we have a duty to do so. We were involved with them when it was politically, economically and commercially suitable. If we help, Bord na Móna and forest development will be enhanced.
It does not seem very long ago when the movies with Elvis Presley and the gas guzzlers were the sort of films we would see in cinemas, and even today we see their return. In these few years there has been a total change in our attitude to energy. Those were the days of the great gas guzzlers, the cars that would travel three or four miles per gallon, when oil cost as little as $1 a barrel. That scene has changed and we have come to realise our dependence on energy.
The thought of a power crisis or an electricity strike today is awesome. We are very dependent on our cars, electricity and other readily available energy sources. Not too long ago there were queues at petrol stations. There was the famous incident in the Unites States  when one car driver shot another dead because he had gone ahead of him in a queue. It is only when these sources of energy are taken from us that we suddenly realise how very dependent we are on them.
One of our great achievements at a very early stage was the Shannon hydroelectric scheme. It remains a magnificent achievement even though for many years in some ways it clouded our thinking on energy. We imagined we had more energy available to us than was the case. It played a great role in Irish life in decades gone by and played a great role during the war. At that time Bord na Móna were essential to us. For a few years after the war one could see the remains of turf dumps up in the Phoenix Park which were the main source of heating for houses in the city. For a while, trains endeavoured to use peat. It was not very efficient but it meant that between the Shannon scheme and Bord na Móna we had some degree of self-sufficiency in energy and that was a very proud record. We should not forget Bord na Móna or the men who worked for the company in years gone by.
In the sixties there was a total transformation of Irish society from an industrial and commercial point of view, the Lemass years and later. From being an agriculturally based country we became an industrial country. What we did not, perhaps, notice was that in the process we had far outstripped our sufficiency of energy supplied from hydro-electricity. It was only when the oil crisis hit us in the seventies that industry, Government and others suddenly became aware that we were 65 per cent dependent on oil. In many ways it is the effects of that oil crisis on industry, the circulation of what were called petro-dollars and the resultant financial excesses of the eighties that today the Government, and other Governments, are facing up to and paying the price of that extraordinary transformation in energy and financial costs which occurred in the early seventies.  It is 20 years later that we are really beginning to come to terms with it. It is a pretty painful process.
In the seventies and eighties the great cry was energy conservation. There was a huge change. Our energy needs now in oil are probably down to about 40 per cent or 43 per cent. The gas guzzling cars have long since gone. In industry the efficient use of energy has improved enormously. One of the great difficulties in the countries of eastern Europe have now is that their industry is so heavily dependent on energy that it is virtually uncompetitive with western European industry. In turn, we will have problems in that in an endeavour to get hard currency they will push very hard to sell agricultural produce in the west and that will effect us in the next five to ten years.
We also hoped in the seventies that we would discover large quantities of oil and gas. The North Sea successes encouraged us, as did some early successes of our own. Unfortunately, between technical disappointments and financial terms which were over-optimistic for our situation — we had not reached the Norwegian stage of development — oil and gas exploration off our coast has been appallingly disappointing. We have one economic gas field and one subsidiary field to it. We have one small oil field which is on the margins of commerciality, depending on the recoverability of the oil there and the technology, together with the oil price. It will be a very close run thing. The Minister has taken very courageous steps to try to encourage the oil industry to start spending dollars again on exploration in Irish waters. The only way we will find oil is by sinking wells.
We have many forms of energy. We talked about hydro-electricity. We still import coal — it is used at the Moneypoint power station — and heavy fuel oil. It is very hard to distinguish between the various forms of energy because to a very considerable extent they are interchangeable. We have concentrated on hydro-electricity, on coal, turf, as mentioned  by another Senator, and oil. We have turned our face against nuclear power and will probably be able to maintain this position. Certainly recent happenings in the Soviet Union — albeit with very inefficient and dangerous installations — seem to confirm us in that view.
Other countries argue on efficiency and environmental grounds that nuclear power is the way to proceed. Sweden, which one certainly would not accuse of being environmentally backward, is one of those which does so. Fortunately we will be able to avoid the necessity for nuclear power but one has to say that our usage of energy is still extraordinarily low. We are the second lowest in the European Community. Luxembourg, in terms of millions of oil equivalent tonnes per annum, is below us but has almost 30 per cent of our energy usage.
We must have a careful balance and make the most efficient use of energy. When one thinks in terms of development one is a little concerned at our relatively low levels of usage. One very major factor is the price of energy here which at one stage was relatively high. Now we are in line with the rest of Europe. In fact, we are about 10 per cent below the European average, a major feature for certain plants. I know of one industry — I am associated with it — where one of the crucial points on whether it is economic is the price of energy. The fact that we have got the cost of energy down within the European average level, and even slightly below, will be a major factor in industrial progress here. The ESB are to be congratulated on that and on the work they have done.
While mentioning the Electricity Supply Board, I wish to refer to two other matters. One is the linkage of Lough Erne and the River Shannon. It may seem strange that the ESB are involved in this project but that was the case from an early stage. The contract work of the Electricity Supply Board abroad is another successful project.
 In almost any country in the Middle East there are Irish technologists from the ESB involved in either the development, maintenance or other aspects of electricity energy supply programmes. It is a great tribute to the ability and expertise of those concerned and to the enterprise of the ESB.
An Bord Gáis have developed rapidly. People are now complaining because gas is not readily available to them. Gas is an excellent from of energy, environmentally it is probably the most satisfactory. The Minister recently signed a contract and if we have a gas inter-connector with Europe, gas should be relatively readily available. That is significant.
I would not rely too much on gas from Siberia. From what I have heard of the Russian gas industry, the situation is critical. What we saw with nuclear power at Chernobyl is reflected in gas pipelines which are positively dangerous with poor maintenance. They were initially constructed from poor materials and are now in an extremely serious condition. There are huge gas and oil fields in Russia and the main reason for the decline in gas and oil output is simply a lack of technical expertise and equipment. Some horrific tragedies have occurred there. For example, one gas pipeline exploded when a train was passing and approximately 200 people were killed. These tragedies have not received as much publicity as the Chernobyl incident, but they are important.
Gas has an excellent relationship with the environment. It does not emit carbon dioxide or sulphur dioxide as do other substances. Our national energy policy would seem to be one of providing supplies at economic prices from a variety of sources resulting in an economically and environmentally satisfactory situation. That is very important to our national economy.
Mr. McDonald: I am glad of the opportunity  to speak on this motion. I expected the proposer and seconder of the motion to outline what the national energy policy is but unfortunately, I am still at a loss. I thought the Minister would have informed us of his thinking on this issue.
Energy is an under-rated feature of life but it accounts for upwards of 20 per cent of GNP. In the absence of a policy being laid down and enunciated tonight, I will put a few questions to the Minister which I am confident he will address in his reply. I had an opportunity over the weekend to think about this issue and feel we should have a national energy policy. I have never heard of one. However, we have a National Energy Board. The ESB is an important player in this area; Bord na Móna has already been mentioned as has An Bord Gáis. The Nuclear Energy Board is an energy monitoring board, but I am sure they do an excellent job. Looking at the projections in the ESB, they do not envisage that nuclear energy will play a significant role here at any time in the future. We also have the National Petroleum Corporation. I looked them up in the telephone book to ask what their policy was, but I could not find them.
It occurred to me that over the years Bills dealing with some of those semi-State organisations have passed through the Oireachtas but it is very difficult to get information from them. When I inquired from some of them what their policy was for the next decade they referred me to their annual reports. Annual reports give an outline of the work achieved over the year but they do not set down clear and precise policies.
I compliment the ESB who two years ago produced a very clear document, “Connecting with the Future”, outlining their strategies for the remainder of this century. I hope they will be able to meet all their targets.
I have been interested in alternative sources of energy since 1974 when the ESB announced their proposal to decommission five peat powered stations in  the midlands. This policy has resulted in the loss of almost 1,500 skilled jobs over the last four or five years, especially in Offaly, Laois, Westmeath, Kildare and other counties as well. I campaigned through the mid-seventies for alternative sources of energy. At that time an experiment was carried out by An Foras Talúntais with the co-operation of the ESB and Bord na Móna. I do not know what our national energy policy is and what concerted effort or co-ordination exists between all these players in the energy field, nor do I know what interaction exists between the Nuclear Energy Board, An Bord Gáis, Bord na Móna, the National Petroleum Corporation and the National Energy Board. However, perhaps the Minister would tell me what policy decisions are being taken by his Department? Is there an interdepartmental committee monitoring the work, policies and projections of these very important semi-State organisations and agencies? For instance, have the Department of Agriculture and Food any interest or input, or even an embryonic policy on energy crops or on non-food crops in an era where, without exception, every food crop is overproduced or restricted with shrinking profit margins for the producer?
Last month the commissioner with special responsibility for taxation, Mrs. Schrivener, announced the adoption of a proposal for a directive which aims at a substantial reduction in the rates of excise duty on fuels from agricultural sources or bio-fuels. Mrs. Schrivener said the aim of this tax incentive is to develop a very promising branch of agri-industrial production. It will be a decisive factor in the future of agriculture and for the Community's policies on energy and environmental protection.
The aim of the directive is to bring about a Community-wide reduction in excise duty on bio-fuels when they come into commercial use. It lays down that from 1 January 1993 excise duty on each member state may not exceed 10 per cent  of the rate in that same member state for the fuel being replaced — that is, petrol or diesel. This amounts to a compulsory reduction by 90 per cent or more in the excise duties on bio-fuels in each member state.
The measure concerns all fuels from agricultural sources, regardless of their origin or the nature of the agricultural product from which they derive. These bio-fuels have two main uses, replacing either petrol or diesel fuel. In petrol the fuel is ethanol which is alcohol obtained by fermentation of sugarbeet, cereals, potatoes or artichokes. It may be mixed with petrol or used alone. One of the most significant outlets for bioethanol is ETBE — ethyl-teriary-butyl-ether, a feature of which is that it raises the octane rating of motor fuels. The market for such additives is growing with the market for lead free petrol.
Vegetable oils can be used to fuel diesel engines. The use of pure vegetable oil — rape, sunflower and so on — requires a special motor while derivatives like diester — obtained from reaction with an alochol — can be used directly without any special adaptation of the engine.
In dealing with this subject of vegetable oils I should declare a personal interest in new engine technology which has led to my studying the entire process in an effort to introduce that technology which may be of immense benefit to this country. On the prospects regarding energy, environment and farm policy, bio-fuels are a new non-food outlet for farm production. This is in line with one aspect of the reform of the common agricultural policy which provides for growing non-food crops on lands, subject to compulsory set-aside. I ask the Minister if there is any interdepartmental committee which includes the Minister for Agricultural and Food his own Department, and the Department of the Environment all of whom must have a considerable interest in this new development.
The processing of agricultural products  which because of transport costs will require distilleries to be set up near the growing areas provides good prospects for jobs and activities in the countryside. In addition the emergence of a biofuel production capacity may help in improving the EC's security of supply. The energy balance of biofuels is positive, that is to say, the total energy consumed in the production, processing and distribution cycle is less than the energy value of the fuel obtained. These new potential outlets could lead to biofuels accounting eventually for about 5 per cent of the motor fuel market. That is the view of the Commissioner for Taxation. Biofuels also release less CO² — greenhouse gas — and a little less SO² — acid rain — which is a major advantage from the environment point of view.
May I refer to the Elsbett technology with which I am familiar which is truly a multifuel engine with the capacity to burn any of the ordinary fossil fuels, any of the vegetable fuels either in the raw or refined state, ethanol or methanol. In a direct comparison with the production costs of ethanol or methanol that raw vegetable oil is 110 per cent more efficient than ethanol and 176 per cent more efficient than methanol. New technology offers agriculture considerable benefits.
The Agricultural Institute, last year, carried out some interesting studies on the production of rape seed oil for energy. Production of rape seed in the Community has expanded over the past number of years and this year I understand that about 6,000 hectares has been sown here. Unfortunately all that produce has to exported to the UK for crushing and processing. Between 1981 and 1983 Teagasc — the agricultural and food development authority — researched the feasibility of rape seed oil as an engine fuel. Two major problems were highlighted at that time, a technical problem with conventional diesel engines and the lack of economic viability compared with mineral fuels. Economic  reviews in subsequent years reinforced that conclusion. In recent years several significant developments have taken place which have rekindled interest in rape seed oil as a fuel. These are the development engines which can burn unrefined rape seed oil; the development of the esterification process to allow rape seed oil to be burned in most conventional diesel engines as diester; increasing concern about atmospheric pollution — the urban traffic problem and the more widespread concern about atmospheric CO² levels; the uncertainty about mineral fuel supplies renewed a couple of years ago by the circumstances of the Gulf War and over-production of crops for food use with a consequent increased interest in non-food uses of traditional and novel crops.
Tallow, the animal fats by-product, over a quarter of a million tonnes of which is produced by the beef industry or was produced by the beef industry when that industry flowered here, also has potential as an engine fuel. Present production is sold in an uncertain world market and the year before last I think producers were lucky to get the price of its transport out of the country. Cold pressed and esterified rape seed oils are now under test as fuels in a number of EC countries particularly France and Germany. Rape seed oil can compete with diesel fuel provided that the EC crushing subsidy is available.
I would like to summarise briefly the results of the Teagasc studies of last year; these figures were compiled last autumn. The composite base price of transport diesel which retails at 52.1p per litre is 10.62p per litre. The wholesale price — bulk delivery to a farm — of agricultural and transport diesel is 17.65p and 35.35p per litre, excluding VAT, respectively. The cost of extracted filtered rape seed when revenue from the byproduct, rape seed cake is added — the price of rape seed is £300 per tonne — varies from 51.7p to 59.1p per litre, depending on the percentage of oil extraction. Assuming a  crushing subsidy of £190 per tonne and the seed price at £300 per tonne the cost of rape seed oil is 17.3p to 19.5p per litre. At a seed price of £275 per tonne the cost is reduced to 10.4p and to 13.9p per litre. Assuming availability of £80 per acre set aside payment, the cost of rape at 80 per cent extraction and £300 per tonne is 47.3p per litre. This reduces to 30.5p and 23.7p when the seed price is reduced to £275 and £250 per tonne respectively. The composite price of diesel at 10.6p per litre is about the same as extracted filtered rape seed oil when the following criteria apply: rape seed prices £275 per tonne, crushing subsidy at £19 per tonne, oil extraction cost, 10 pence per litre and a by product value of the oil seed cake at £125 per tonne.
Mr. D. Kiely: I welcome the motion and debate on the National Energy Policy. I also welcome the Minister to the House and congratulate him on the way he handled our energy crisis during the Gulf War, alleviating people's fears that fuel would not be available for homes or industries; things were difficult over those few months. I commend him for his assurances that there were adequate supplies for all industries in this country.
The first oil crisis hit this country back in the seventies. I was glad to see the shift then by the ESB from their total dependence on oil fired stations to natural gas and the Moneypoint coal power station was also constructed. In the future, I would like to see a policy document on the direction being taken by the ESB, Bord na Móna, An Bord Gáis and other energy bodies. I would also like to see a continuation of rural power stations which need to be examined in depth by the National Energy Board to ensure that problems that may arise in this area will be anticipated to guarantee the future of power stations in rural Ireland.
 It is easy for experts to say that for efficiency or other reasons it would be better to close down five, six or seven power stations, amalgamate them into one, cut everything down to size and discontinue hundreds of jobs which could not be replaced. Those people would have to join dole queues and receive all the benefits that accompany dole, such as medical cards etc. The Government of the day might find that it would be more cost effective to keep people employed in the smaller power stations rather than made unemployed.
Another thing that needs to be looked at in depth is the advent of industrialists into the country and together with the cost of fuel or power to them. Industrialists should be given the opportunity to build their own power station to run an industry if they think the cost of the power available was too high. This may be necessary to attract industrialist into certain regions. This possibility was mentioned some years ago when Alcan was being constructed; there was talk at that time about erecting one power station to provide all the energy for that plant. A number of discussions took place then. If an industry of that size and nature wanted to erect their own power station they should be allowed to do so.
We should be conducting more exploration for oil and gas off our shores to see if we can become self-sufficient in the future. We have already brought gas on shore and we have some oil out there; as Senator Conroy said earlier, I would like more exploration being done by multinationals to see if we can get a major oil find. That would be of benefit to us now and in the future.
With all the scares about nuclear power, I do not envisage the Minister allowing nuclear stations to be built in this country in the foreseeable future. In the seventies all one heard were proposals to erect nuclear stations all over the east and west coasts of Ireland; there was tremendous demand for energy then and nobody felt it could be provided  other than by nuclear sources I compliment everyone involved in that situation, especially the ESB.
The ESB have a nice balance now between oil, gas and coal sources of energy. I am also led to believe that there is a steady growth at the rate of 6 per cent annually in the consumption of power. I was glad to hear recently that the ESB intended to bring back units one and two of the Tarbert oil powered station; that will bring some badly needed extra jobs into our region which we lost when the units were closed down as Moneypoint came on stream. I would hate to think from talks that went on recently that there is a doubt about reopening unit one; the ESB have given a commitment and I would like to see them honouring it.
I would not welcome the privatisation of power stations. Greater efficiency might be the objective but privatisation would inflict a desperate blow on rural economies. Major industries coming into this country with large energy requirements may be encouraged to provide their own energy.
There has been talk recently about Board na Móna and the inefficiency of peat powered stations, but one would have to consider what peat did for this country during World War I and World War II. We have a natural resource there which we should nuture and if we can create jobs from it all the better. If the power coming from peat driven power stations is a little more expensive, at least it is our own fuel which we are generating from our own natural resources; it is then going back into our economy creating badly needed jobs. The Minister should keep that in mind when arguments are made for greater efficiency. We might all be walking around looking in the win-down  of efficiency with no jobs. At the end of the day jobs on the ground will be crucial.
Pól Ó Foighil: Fáiltím roimh an Aire go dtí an Teach le roinnt plé a dhéanamh ar chúrsaí fuinnimh. Is í mo chéad cheist ná an bhfuil plosaí náisiúnta fuinnimh ag Éireann chun fuinneamh a chaomhnú agus a fhorbairt? Ag léamh an Cuilliton report dom le deánaí, feachaint cén chaoi a bhfuilimid ag dul ó thaobh tionsclaíochta de, chuir sé iontas orm go mbeadh i gceist, aon tionscal atá le bunú, go mbunófaí é laistigh de 15 de bhailte móra sa taobh seo tíre. Tá sé ráite sa tuarascáil, os rud é gur tír an-bheag í seo, go mbíonn daoine in ann taisteal go héasca idir na bailte seo. Tá mise a cheapadh gurb é an fáth go bhfuil an rún seo faoinár mbráid anocht ná go dteastaíonn ón Seanadóir Finneran a impí ar an Aire rud éigin a dhéanamh go luath agus go sciobtha le teacht i gcabhair ar Ros Comáin agus Bhéal Átha na Feorainne agus ar na portaigh atá timpeall ansin. Más ea, tugaim lántacaíocht dó mar tá mé meabhrach gur chaith sé cuid mhaith ama ann. Molaim é gur éirigh leis é a dhéanamh mar ní fhéadfá rud is fearr a dhéanamh sa Teach seo ná drochstaid an iarthair a chur chun cinn.
Ach, le dul siar go dtí an tuarascáil, más rud é go bhfuil Culliton agus na daoine a bhí ag tabhairt cúnaimh dó den tuairim sin faoin tionsclaíocht, ní fheadar a mbeadh an tAire sásta freisin, os rud é go bhfuil an tír chomh beag sin, agus de réir loighic an Culliton report, Bord Soláthair an Leictreachais, Bord na Móna agus an Bord Gáis a chur le chéile in aon chomhlacht mór amháin. Dá ndéanfadh sé amhlaidh b'fhéidir nach mbeadh an trioblóid sa tír chomh dona sin agus atá sé agus b'fhéidir go mbeadh seans níos fearr againn in iarthar na hÉireann dá mbeadh a leithéid ann. Sílim go bhfuil an polasaí atá á leanúint faoi láthair ag an Stát maidir le forbairt fhuinnimh agus táirgeadh ábhar fuinnimh, ag déanamh go leor dochair don iarthar.
 Rinne go leor daoine trácht ar an chogadh deireanach agus is cuimhin liom na céadta fear ag obair i mBaile an Gharraí i dTiobraid Arann, ag saothrú antraicít agus guail den tríú grád. Cúpla míle síos an bóthar uaidh bhí an Baile Beag, an áit ina ndearnadh an fhorbairt ba mhó agus obair iontach tháirgeadh móna ar siúl ag Bord na Móna. Nárbh iontach an rud é an dá acmhainn nádúrtha sin bheith taobh le chéile, ach anois tá Baile an Gharraí dúnta agus laghdú ar fhorbairt na bportach a shíneann suas go Ros Comáin. Bhí Arigna ann agus é ag táirgeadh mar a bhí á dhéanamh i dTiobraid Árann blianta ó shin. Tá deireadh leis sin anois. Sin polasaí Bhord Soláthair an Leictreachais atá faoi cheannasaíocht an Aire Fuinnimh, Tá sé sin dúnta mar, deirtear, nach raibh na hearraí á dtairgeadh ar phraghas eacnamúil, nach raibh an tír seo in ann é a airgeadú. Má tá sé sin fíor faoi Arigna agus faoi Bhaile an Gharraí, cén fáth gur féidir linn rud éigin a dhéanamh faoin mbeostoc ó thaobh intervention agus chuile shórt eile agus praghas ard Eorpach á fháil, rud a mbaineann na feíirmeoirí móra leas as ó thaobh oibre agus airgid de.
Is cuid den pholasaí é sin, ach is oth liom go bhfuil polasaí Bhord na Móna imithe ar stire agus, dá bhrí sin, táimid ag caint faoi iompórtáil ola agus ghuail — breathnaigí ar Moneypoint — agus faoi dhíothú na bportach, an acmhainn fhuinnimh is mó dá bhfuil sa tír, an acmhainn a choinnigh ag imeacht sinn le linn agus tar éis dhá chogadh. Tá a fhios agam go ndéarfaidh daoine, ná bí ag caint seafóide faoi na portaigh: bhí an ré sin ann ach tá sé thart anois. Ach níl sé thart. Má táimíd ag caint faoin iarthar i gcomhthéacs forbartha, ní dhearnadh aon fhorbairt ar phortaigh an iarthair, agus áirím portaigh i Ros Comáin agus i mBéal Átha Feorainne ina measc siúd.
Bhí Béal Átha Feorainne le forbairt, caitheadh na milliúin phunt ar an bhforbairt sin ach anois tá cinneadh eile déanta ag an Rialtas, gan dul ar aghaidh leis. Níl sé eacnamúil, tá ganntanas airgid ag cur  as do Bhord na Móna, agus tá ráite leo go gcaithfidh siad bheith ar a gconlán féin, nó éirí as. Is trua go deo liomsa go bhfuil an casadh sin tagtha ar fhorbairt fhuinnimh na tíre, agus ar an ngné is dúchasaí d'eacnamaíocht na tíre, saothrú na bportach. Tá na mílte agus na céadta míle acra de phortaigh fós san iarthar ach nach truamhéaleach an rud é an casadh nua sa scéal go ndeirtear linn anois nach fiú, nach féidir agus nach bhfuil sé eacnamúil an fhorbairt sin a dhéanamh. Tuigeann an tAire go maith an rud atá á rá agam. Sin é a cheantar féin. Bhí stáisiún ginte leictreachais, i gceartlár na Gaeltachta i gConamara gar do Rosmuc ach ní raibh sé eacnamúil. Cuireadh ann é ar dhá bhonn: le haghaidh leictreachas a chur ar fáil ach, níos tábhachtaí fós, chun go dtabharfaí deis do mhuintir an cheantair sin airgead breise a thuilleamh. Anois tá deireadh leis sin, ar nós go leor eile timpeall na tíre, agus céard atá againn ina áit? Tá an dífhostaíocht imithe ó smacht, le beagnach 300,000 duine as obair. Táimid ag cur scéimeanna eile ar bun ar a dtugtar social employment schemes, scéimeanna atá go forleathan agus a bhfuil de chuspóir acu an dífhostaíocht a laghdú. B'fhearr go mór dá gcoinneofaí na stáisiúin bheaga agus daoine bheith ag obair iontu mar, ó thaobh na heacnamaíochta de, nuair a chuirtear airgeadú agus airgead ón SES i gcomparáid le hairgead dífhostaíochta — agus tá móin i gceist sa stáisiún ginte — is beag an difríocht atá eatarthu.
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