Thursday, 23 November 2000
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: I thank the Cathaoirleach for affording me the opportunity to raise this issue. Do I take it by the presence of the Minister of State, Deputy Brennan, that the Department of the Taoiseach has a direct interest in Moneypoint? Will he be speaking about this important issue with the imprimatur of the Taoiseach?
I raise this matter because earlier this month the Government published the national climate change strategy and that deserves a full public debate and requires complete openness and honesty from the Government. One of the options suggested in the document is the closure of the ESB's 920 megawatt coal burning station at Moneypoint, County Clare. As the Minister of State is well aware, the station operates 24 hours a day all year round. It employs 298 people and has an annual salary bill of £7.5 million. About £2 million is spent on services in the west Clare area. The station is an essential part of the west Clare economy. Any proposal to close it would be a major disaster for the entire community and economy in west Clare and would be met with the severest opposition.
People working at Moneypoint are living in Kilrush and in all the villages in west Clare. They have a positive and constructive input to the local  community. Most of these people have resided in the area for between 15 and 20 years and as a result of their living in the are many schools which would have lost students have managed to maintain their staff numbers. Their input has resulted in a vibrant community.
The staff at Moneypoint are aware of the necessary changes required on environmental grounds. I recognise that the Government signed up to the UN Kyoto protocol in 1997 and is bound to comply with it. The Government, however, is far behind what it agreed to do and has been seriously negligent with regard to that convention.
The plant already operates to a very high environmental standard. Recently it was awarded the ISO 14001 certificate. This certification is not easily acquired and full marks go to the station's management and staff for securing it. The station has already introduced controls to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions and burns a very special low sulphur coal. Plans are also being put in place to further reduce emissions from nitrogen oxide and sulphur oxide.
It is important that the Government adopts a responsible approach to the future of Moneypoint. I suggest to the Minister of State that he take the this opportunity to state clearly that the Government will not close Moneypoint. He should also outline the strategy it intends to adopt for Moneypoint in light of the publication of the national climate change strategy. I would like to know exactly what strategy for Moneypoint the Government intends putting in place.
Suggestions have also been made in the national climate change strategy to convert the plant to natural gas. I recommend that the Minister look very seriously at this option and give this matter very serious consideration. Earlier this year, during the debate on the Gas Bill, I suggested to the Minister of State, Deputy Jacob, that he recommend Bord Gais taking the gas pipe from Ballynacally, which is between Ennis and Kildysart, westwards through Kildysart village, along the Shannon, into Moneypoint and on to Kilrush. I suggest the Minister contacts the Minister of State, Deputy Jacob, and the Minister, Deputy O'Rourke, to ensure this happens. This would be the answer to everyone's prayers. It would answer the Government's prayer in relation to conforming with the Kyoto Protocol and it would put in place a positive future for Moneypoint.
However, as matters stand, the people in the area are very fearful that the Government is just making statements. In signing the Kyoto Protocol we have agreed to the end but we do not have a strategy to devise the means to achieve that end. I want a clear statement from the Minister of State this evening on what is being put in place to ensure Moneypoint remains open as a generating station while complying with the Kyoto Protocol.
It is also important, in considering this option, to ensure there is no reduction in the workforce at Moneypoint. If there is a need to transfer  people, particularly from a coal burning to a gas station, the people currently working in the coal yard, the area where coal is taken in and the management of that sector, should be transferred to another sector on site and additional services of a complementary nature should be in place to absorb the displaced people.
The people in west Clare are fully aware of the climatic changes and of the importance of the Kyoto Protocol that was signed in 1997. We see the dramatic changes in climate. The people in west Clare have seen the increase in rainfall and the change in climate. The farmers in the area fully appreciate what is going on.
We also recognise that we are far from the emissions levels recommended in 1990. It was recommended that we reduce our emissions to 13% of our 1990 levels by 2010. We know we are now at 18% and the forecast for 2010, if we continue the way we are going, is that it could be up to 38%.
On 2 November the Minister for the Environment and Local Government was quoted in The Irish Times as stating that this would be done “in a manner that protects our economy”. I suggest that this matter should be considered in a way which does not damage the economy of west Clare. I understand that last year the International Energy Agency, an OECD body, considered the option of switching Moneypoint from coal to gas. It concluded that it would be a profitable investment which would yield the largest emissions reduction.
I am delighted the Minister of State, Deputy Brennan, is here from the Department of the Taoiseach. He might be wearing two hats but I will take the message to Clare that he came to this House representing the Taoiseach. Whatever message is in his speech will be interpreted in that way.
The Minister has a responsibility to put together a concrete proposal in relation to the conversion of Moneypoint to natural gas. The Minister of State must assure the Seanad, the people working in Moneypoint and the people of west Clare that the Government does not intend in any circumstances to close Moneypoint or to put plans in place that would result in its closure by 2008 or 2010. I look forward to the Minister of State's reply.
Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. S. Brennan): I will convey to the relevant Ministers and the Taoiseach the Senator's comments. I would not read too much into my attendance in the House other than that is part of the duties that befall Government Chief Whips from time to time.
The Government's strategy for dealing with climate change was published recently by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government. That strategy recognises that fuel switching in the electricity sector, to gas and renewables, can deliver significant reductions in COf8>2 emissions. In this context the strategy points out that closure of Moneypoint would make the largest single contribution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – 3.4 million tonnes of COf8>2 per annum.
The ESB is, therefore, going to be faced with a decision on the future of coal burning at Moneypoint and the question of using gas fired technology instead. It will be a major decision affecting one of the largest electricity plants in the State. I hope that any changeover, including any new technology used, will work well and meet all relevant aspirations, not least of which is the continuing need to ensure security of supply and employment, about which the Senator spoke.
Business as usual is no longer an option for Ireland in this area I am afraid. Our record economic growth means that, even with flexibility, to continue our development against a low emissions baseline in 1990 our strategy must be radically different in the coming decade. We have already reached our Kyoto 13% target. Now, we have to achieve the difficult task of dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions over this decade. We intend to do so in a manner that protects our economy, is equitable and will place a premium on efficiency and on technical innovation.
The main greenhouse gas in Ireland is COf8>2. The burning of fossil fuels in electricity generation is not the only contributor to COf8>2 emissions. The use of fossil fuels in transport and heating are also major contributors.
The Government's climate change strategy indicates that reductions of emissions will be achieved through an integrated approach, using the full range of instruments and policy options. These include the use of economic instruments, including taxation and emissions trading, with broad sectoral and/or cross sectoral application; a broad range of policies and measures tailored specifically to relevant sectors; a vigorous and appropriate pursuit of common and co-ordinated policies and measures implemented at EU and wider international levels and participation in international emissions trading.
In the energy sector the measures envisaged include measures to support fuel switching towards less carbon intensive fuels and the replacement of existing peat plants with more  efficient options, an expansion of renewable energy, the maximisation of combined heat and power and an enhanced demand side management programme under the Irish Energy Centre.
The quality of life for our children and future generations will greatly depend on the success of the strategy and the part we play in it. We should play our full part in that process. I thank the Senator for raising the matter and will certainly convey the opinions she expressed this evening to the relevant Ministers.
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