Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 27 November 2019
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action
Developing Ireland's Sustainable Transport System: Discussion
I welcome members and viewers who are watching proceedings on Oireachtas TV to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action. I remind people to turn off their mobile phones or to switch them to flight mode because they interfere with the sound system.
On behalf of the committee, I extend a warm welcome to Mr. James Cogan and Mr. Padraic O'Neill from Ethanol Europe. We also welcome Professor Edgar Morgenroth from DCU business school and, from the Irish Composites Centre, Dr. Terry McGrail and Dr. Water Stanley.
I will address some formalities before we commence formal proceedings. I wish to advise witnesses that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
Members are reminded of the long-standing ruling of the Chair to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I call on Mr. Cogan from Ethanol Europe to make his opening statement,.
Mr. James Cogan:
I thank the Chairman and the members for inviting Ethanol Europe to address the committee; I appreciate the opportunity. Ethanol Europe is an Irish organisation which produces climate-friendly ethanol for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. It is a substitute for petrol. IrBEA is the Irish Bioenergy Association, of which we are proud members.
We believe Ireland should be doing much more in the transport sector to address climate change, both where electromobility is concerned and where our huge and growing diesel and petrol fleet is concerned. It is now part of routine conversation among academic and industry leaders to express surprise and concern at the meagre consideration given the matter. In the midst of a climate emergency of immense proportions, those leaders expected to be convened to urgent consultations for achieving early progress but instead, there is mostly a vacuum. Today’s hearing is clearly very welcome.
Despite the size and growth rate of Ireland’s diesel and petrol fleet, Ireland has done less than virtually any other country in Europe to cut the carbon emissions of its fleet. Little encouragement is given to the oil sector to do more, a blind eye is turned to palm oil being falsely labelled as used cooking oil in our biodiesel and we see needless delaying of the simple and cost-free measure of introducing E10, the European standard for modern petrol today.
As the committee knows, fossil energy is our biggest source of climate-harming greenhouse gas emissions. In Ireland, which has a large population of transport users, 40% of our energy-related emissions come from diesel and petrol vehicles, and this is increasing both in relative and absolute terms.
Ireland has a fleet of over 2.7 million diesel and petrol vehicles. Last year, there were 280,000 new registrations, of which half were brand new and half were imported used vehicles, and the total grew by 45,000 net of de-registrations. Just one in 70 new registrations was electric or hybrid and the diesel and petrol fleet actually grew by an amount ten times greater than total sales of electrics, to give a sense of the size of the challenge we are facing. It will be several years before the diesel and petrol fleet reaches peak size and a couple of decades more before electrics match diesel and petrol, by which time the total fleet will be close to double the size it is today.
As a nation, we are guilty on two fronts: we need to do more to build the electric fleet that we would want in an ideal scenario and we need to take serious action to reduce the carbon footprint of the fleet we have and in which the Irish people continue to invest.
The latest UN report on climate change - the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C - recognising the scale and longevity of fossil fuel in transport, states that biofuels will need to reach 15% of transport energy if global warming is to be brought under control. Ireland has less than a quarter of this today and aims for the same or less by 2030, according to its recent proposal for the future of the biofuels obligation scheme, which is the country’s regulatory instrument for implementing transport bioenergy policy.
Under the Paris Agreement, the EU has passed legislation which demands at least 40% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. I note the European Commission President, Dr. Ursula von der Leyen, is now aiming for 50%. The agreement also demands 32% renewable energy across the entire economy. Ireland has signed up to the agreement and its implications and will have to match those figures. How can it be reasonable that our country’s new proposal for the biofuels obligation scheme, instead of aspiring to alignment with the Paris Agreement ambitions, essentially goes in the opposite direction? What is currently proposed is alignment of the scheme with a now redundant item of EU regulation called the renewable energy directive for transport, which, if it were to achieve its maximum imaginable ambition, would bring 10% renewables in transport by 2030 but which allows, by way of loopholes and options, unambitious countries to settle for as little as 3 or 4%. Ireland is aiming for the lowest end of the scale under the biofuels obligation scheme, both in volume and quality, with us treating climate action in the diesel and petrol fleet as just an irksome piece of Brussels bureaucracy.
It is frequently noted that Ireland has achieved 7.2% renewable energy in transport to date under the reporting schema of the renewables directive. What does not clearly emerge is that nearly half of this figure is actually regular fossil diesel counted as renewable according to the multiplier loophole of the directive, and that much of the other half is comprised of used cooking oil biodiesel which comes from regions where fraud is carried out on a huge scale, with virgin palm oil being falsely labelled as used cooking oil. Only one third of the 7.2% figure is reliable and true, coming from genuine European used cooking oil and tallow and from sustainable, traceable, climate-friendly ethanol produced by the European farm sector.
Climate progress in the diesel and petrol fleet is a challenge, but it is possible, and there are some measures which can be taken immediately. Ireland could have introduced E10 petrol fuel by now, which means petrol containing 10% ethanol. France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Finland, the USA and many other countries have done it already because E10 cuts greenhouse gas emissions, cuts particulates emissions from exhaust pipes, is considerably better for cars than petrol with no ethanol in it, and comes from the sugar and starch of sustainably grown European crops, with no risk of adverse environmental impacts.
To get an idea of how valuable this measure is, just consider that E10 in Ireland will bring the same climate benefits as 100,000 electric cars, can be done overnight, and comes at no cost to the consumer or Exchequer. In contrast, encouraging 100,000 Irish drivers to buy electric will cost the State €1.1 billion in grants and forgone tax revenue. The money on electric cars would be well spent, but why not also take the free option and adopt E10? However, instead of jumping at the opportunity of cutting carbon emissions immediately, we currently plan to delay the measure until as far out as 2030.
What could we do as a country to become more proactive and resourceful? We could start by redesigning from scratch the biofuels obligation scheme, which is an extremely valuable regulatory instrument, and use it as a means for progressing our ambitions under the Paris Agreement. We could introduce E10 petrol right away. We could set a target for bioenergy in transport commensurate with the UN science report figure of 15% and seek ways of reaching it while maintaining proper qualitative criteria for determining which forms of renewables to allow and which not. The renewables directive allowed for low volume and low quality with loopholes through which one could drive a bus. The Paris Agreement is different. Brussels is not prescribing the regulations under it, so Ireland needs to own the problem from now on in order to do it right.
Sustainable, crop-based biofuels such as European ethanol will be central as they are the most scalable and economical forms of bioenergy available for transport. There are substantial untapped reserves of them in Europe, they are economical and easy to produce without risk of adverse impacts, and they are compatible with today’s fleets of diesel and petrol vehicles.
In France, Sweden, Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg and many other countries, crop biofuels already contribute 5% or more to transport energy. As an agricultural nation, Ireland should also aim for that level, which would be an increase on its current rate of 0.7%.
Biomethane should play a significant role in this area, as it is an extremely flexible form of bioenergy, both in how it is produced and how it is used. A well-designed policy support scheme for biomethane could scale to as much as 3% of Ireland’s transport energy needs in little more than a decade.
We should examine the current mix of biofuels in Ireland’s diesel and petrol fleet, and weed out the bad from the good. Traceable, genuine European used cooking oil and tallow biofuels should continue to enjoy special status based on their extremely high greenhouse gas savings and contribution to reducing landfill waste, while restrictions should be imposed on imports from countries where the raw materials are not legally classed as waste and where the governance systems are ineffective in preventing palm oil leaking into the supply chain. Ireland should not be worrying about whether it can achieve exemptions from a Brussels anti-fraud cap in the new version of the renewables directive. Instead, it should be working to ensure that only genuine used cooking oil that is legally considered as waste in its country of origin is allowed under our climate programme.
It will be necessary to set up a results-oriented programme development team for transport climate action, with deep technical and regulatory skills. This should be initiated at the earliest possible opportunity. It should establish from the outset the costs for each option for cutting carbon emissions in transport, as well as what the total costs will be when applied at the scale required for meeting our Paris Agreement goals. Ireland is in the process of finalising its national energy and climate plan, as required under Europe’s strategy for meeting its Paris Agreement goals, and the lack of clarity and costings in the current plan should be a cause for concern.
I thank the committee for hearing these arguments today. We hope they are of service and would be interested in contributing to any future Government work on climate action in transport.
Professor Edgar Morgenroth:
I thank the committee for inviting me to appear before it today. I will talk about a slightly different topic, namely, sustainable transport systems and the impacts of transport infrastructure on regional development in particular. I will outline some of the key findings from my research over recent years. This topic is complicated and doing it justice in a short opening statement is difficult. In order to keep my contribution brief, I will confine my remarks to the research I conducted on behalf of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport some years ago; my research on the national planning framework, NPF; and a recently published study that considered the effects of different infrastructures on firm start-ups and foreign direct investment, FDI.
Transport issues, particularly in the context of regional development, are often portrayed as a trade-off between environmental sustainability and accessibility and economic development. Many assertions are made in this respect, such as the common claim that transport investment is concentrated in and around Dublin. However, data up to 2009 show that our total investment in roads was not overly concentrated in Dublin. Almost all parts of the country have benefitted from major roads projects and the midlands region has benefitted most from such projects, given its central location. It is also not true that many places are far from rail infrastructure. Overall accessibility to rail stations is high but what differs significantly is the level of service between stations, which means that having a rail station close by is often of little use as few trains are stopping there. It is also often asserted that rural areas would be harder hit by carbon taxes or other fuel taxes because they do not have good public transport. This, again, is not quite correct. Farmers, for example, have essentially no commute and those commuting to nearby towns face little or no congestion, drive relatively short distances and thus drive at optimal engine operating conditions, with consequent low fuel consumption. However, one group of rural dwellers would be harder hit by additional taxes, namely, long-distance commuters who have few economic connections to rural Ireland.
Importantly, peripherality is difficult to eliminate. Roads improve the drive time for all intermediate points such that relative peripherality is unchanged even with investment. This implies that a singular focus on transport infrastructure investment for regional development is likely to fail. Rather, the focus should be on identifying the key constraints that can be removed and the potential comparative advantage that can be exploited in particular regions.
A priori, transport infrastructure is expected to have a positive effect on regional development but that effect can be reduced by high taxes, low demand, good initial stock of infrastructure, incomplete networks, and increased competition. It is therefore not surprising that the empirical literature shows some mixed results. While on average, studies find a positive return on transport infrastructure investment, the return is often smaller than assumed and spillovers are important at the regional level. Some studies suggest that investment in neighbouring regions can often have a more positive effect on peripheral regions than investment in the region itself. By facilitating greater densities in urban areas, transport infrastructure has been found to generate significant productivity gains.
A recent paper I published investigated the importance of different infrastructures in driving firm start-ups and FDI attraction, which are key in driving economic growth, outside Dublin. The paper shows that broadband infrastructure is more important than any other infrastructure. The effect of broadband on such areas is at least twice that of motorways. Proximity to airports only appears to matter for high-tech foreign firms. Importantly, the analysis shows that the educational attainment of the local labour force is far more important than any infrastructure and that areas with low third level attainment are unlikely to benefit from broadband infrastructure when it comes to new firm formation.
Without significant policy changes, the spatial pattern of economic development in Ireland is likely to involve an increasing concentration of the population and economic activity in the east of the country, but with significant sprawl. The only feasible alternative involves building the scale of second-tier cities such as Cork, Limerick and Galway. It is important to note that scale means a larger population but also increased densities. Simply changing city boundaries achieves nothing. These larger second-tier cities would generate increased levels of economic activity for their wider hinterlands. This is the approach adopted in the national planning framework, which I strongly support. In order to achieve this strategy, significant policy change will be needed in both planning and investment.
Increased scale will only be achieved if housing is built to accommodate that increase, and the urban environment needs to be sufficiently attractive for people to want to live in a higher density environment. High-quality public transport plays an important role in this respect. While people appear to have a preference for residing close to urban areas, individuals do not necessarily prefer central locations. Evidence also indicates that high-skilled workers may be more footloose and willing to tolerate longer commutes and to choose their residential location on the basis of amenities and the quality of housing.
Developing scale and density requires stopping sprawl and one-off housing. While economic activity - that is, where jobs locate - is concentrating, there is increasing sprawl in residential locations, which implies longer commutes. The share of Irish commuters driving to work increased from 45% to 62% between 1981 and 2016, which has put additional pressure on roads infrastructure and contributes to increasing emissions from transport. Putting infrastructure between cities has facilitated that sprawl. Without policy change, the projected patterns imply a significant increase in commuting across regions, particularly to Dublin. Projections I produced suggest an additional 100,000 long-distance commuters into Dublin by 2040 if we do not do something fairly radical.
The strategy of the national planning framework to pursue increased scale will help achieve more balanced regional development. If it is pursued properly - though the national development plan's emphasis on motorways suggests that is not the case - the NPF would also achieve reduced emissions from transport.
However, that requires infrastructure, and particularly public transport infrastructure, to be put in place in the cities, and not between the cities, where it would just facilitate more sprawl. City locations are also those where the congestion takes place, and thus, investment will also benefit the hinterland around the cities by facilitating faster travel to the cities.
I thank the committee and I am happy to take any questions members may have.
Dr. Terry McGrail:
I am director of the Irish Composites Centre located at the University of Limerick. First, I would like to say that I am not an academic. I spent all my life prior to coming to Ireland working in industry. I would like to thank the committee for giving me the opportunity to talk about how crucial composites are in Ireland's sustainable transport system and how they will play a key role in enabling the Government to deliver on the climate action plan. Ireland is internationally recognised as being good at composites, with a strong science and technology presence and a good spread of manufacturing companies across the whole of the island. Irish industry across different sectors believes that it is necessary for the Government to provide dedicated funding to sustain a composites centre that will give industry the world-class support in the way that IComp, the Irish Composites Centre, does.
What is a composite? I will show the committee these are carbon fibres, which have been braided by a company in Tallaght to form a tube. This is combined with a liquid resin, and when that is heated up, one gets a material like this, which is a composite material 70% lighter than what the equivalent metal part would be. That is the simplest composite. There are quite a lot more complicated ones than that. The fibres are usually carbon, but they can make glass, or they can also be natural fibres such as wax, which is obviously a fibre traditionally grown in Ireland.
Why use composites? As I said, composites can give a 70% reduction in weight compared to metals. Why is this important to transport? It is important simply because reducing vehicle weight by 10% reduces fuel consumption by 7%, and this is illustrated by aircraft such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A350 XWB, which are now built out of 50% composite by weight, resulting in significant fuel saving and also giving them much extended range without stopping.
Composites have been used to reduce emissions in other forms of transport as well. Electric cars, trains and lorries are using larger and larger amounts of composites. A really good example of this is in China. This is a very difficult statistic to believe, but every week, 1,900 new electric buses are coming onto roads in China, and all these are built using 50% composite material. An SME in Mayo is making zero-emission composite boats, which are half the weight and have twice the range of standard boats.
Additional to the weight savings in the material, composite manufacturers use less energy than used in metals and cement. Another advantage is that composites do not rust, so composite vehicles last longer and are much more sustainable than metal vehicles. As they are rust-free and light-weight, composite structures are essential for making use of Ireland's natural resources, which include wind and water for wind and water turbines to generate renewable energy and also for biogas from anaerobic digestion of agricultural waste. The plants to manufacture this require three 20,000 l tanks for each plant, and composite is the ideal material out of which to make these. In Germany, almost every village or farm is now being equipped with these anaerobic digesters to make what is essentially carbon-neutral biogas.
In keeping with the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Richard Bruton's recent statement regarding the need to create a circular economy, IComp has developed an innovative technology to recycle post-consumer plastic bottles. Across the world, 20 million tonnes of this polymer are going to making plastic bottles every year. That is 3 kg for every man, woman and child on the planet going into plastic bottles. That is a very good high-performance engineering polymer, and we have developed a way to convert it into fibres like this. These fibres can be put into a microwave oven and converted into plastic parts like this, which is what is called self-reinforcing composites. One has fibres made out of this plastic within the matrix made out of the plastic, so these are very strong, very stiff, and at the end of the day, they are 100% recyclable, so one has the ideal, complete, circular economy based on this. We have patented this technology, and it is available for development across Irish industry.
Some people may have seen this development when it was featured on RTÉ news earlier this year. Ireland can be a front-runner in saving the planet from irresponsible disposable plastic if we can exploit this technology here. It does not have to be completely exploited in Ireland. It can ideally be exploited in countries, for example, in Cuba where the water is unfit to drink. Millions and millions of these plastic bottles are used across Cuba, India and Africa and are saving lives. They are saving lives by bringing clean water to people. It then becomes a useful resource for them to recycle into making parts for off-the-road vehicles, if they manufacture cars or whatever. They can make parts for these things.
Two of Ireland's most important industries are agriculture and construction, and composites are key to their longevity. In both industries, transportation of goods is a major cost. Was the committee aware that tractors, combines, combine harvesters and the all-terrain vehicles account for 7% of Ireland's annual fuel consumption? That is a huge amount of fuel being used by these vehicles. Weight reduction in agricultural vehicles and in trailers will not only reduce this fuel consumption but will also reduce land compaction, which is a major issue across the world, not just in Ireland. The yield from agricultural land in Ireland is dropping dramatically because these very heavy vehicles that are used on it are compacting the soil and the fertility is dropping. Also, road damage is a major problem in Ireland, and the Taoiseach talked about this recently and said millions of potholes and things are caused by heavy vehicles on the roads.
In the construction industry, composites are very important. We have developed a composite access cover. This is a part of an access cover, which a lot of people may know under a different name, but it is used on roads and footpaths and garage forecourts, etc. This is 70% lighter than the equivalent metal, so therefore when it is transported across the country, one is using that much less fuel to transport it. It is not just being transported across the country but it is being exported all over Europe. The ergonomics of this much better because one person can lift this, put it into place, lift it up again, instead of needing a JCB or some other mechanical device for lifting it This is something that we have developed for a company in Offaly.
Similar technologies can be applied to things like lintels, pre-stressed concrete sections and building claddings, which can be reduced in weight, resulting in major fuel reductions in transporting these across the country and also in handling them when they get to the sites where they are going.
Composites in construction and agriculture are very important. Composites are also important for updating the transport infrastructure, including bridges, station platforms, signage, utility poles, and so on. For example, a fantastic amount of updating is required on degrading concrete bridges.
Dr. Terry McGrail:
I will conclude shortly. Enterprise Ireland established the Irish Composite Centre in 2010. Since then, IComp has successfully supported many SMEs across the island of Ireland. Such support is proving to be a crucial enabler for rural development and for establishing manufacturing in small towns and villages. A recent independent review of IComp's performance highlighted its many national and international successes, for example, 198 jobs have been created and retained since 2015 and it is predicted many more will be created or retained in the next three years. In spite of this, due to the predominance of small companies in the composites sector in Ireland, IComp has not been able to meet the Enterprise Ireland criterion of attracting matching funding from industry. The current situation is that Enterprise Ireland will cease funding from the end of May 2020. However, Irish composites industries have expressed support for having a dedicated to composites centre. We call on the committee to recognise the crucial importance of composites to Ireland's sustainable transport system.
I thank the committee for listening. My colleague will answer any difficult questions.
I ask Mr. Cogan not to take this the wrong way but, in terms of some of the presenters, he should be the poor relation in regard to us taking this ethanol seriously. His contribution was very interesting, although he does not cite evidence for it. While I do not want to take up the time of the committee, there are a number of assertions in his presentation in respect of which I would ask him to forward the evidence to back them up.
It is a very sobering point. I know palm oil is a big issue with schoolchildren because of the manner in which it is extracted and the labour that is used. Mr. Cogan has illustrated very well the poor response of the country in meeting the challenges facing us. Most of the incentives for changes in transport, for example, electric vehicles, are for people who have quite a lot of disposable income. I drive a diesel car and I cannot afford an electric car, like hundreds of thousands of people, because the incentive kicks in after the car is bought as opposed to before. I would love to take up the idea of ethanol, mix my fuel and contribute my part in that sense.
Mr. Cogan's figures are staggering. Some 280,000 new vehicles came into the country in 2018 and just one in 70 of those was electric. In addition, we have the whole issue with the roll-out of charging points, and I believe we need to hang our heads in shame in this regard. Nonetheless, there is the issue of affordability and, despite what is said in some of the contributions that will come later, namely, that electric vehicles are becoming cheaper, they are far out of the reach of most ordinary people. I believe a real variety of offerings need to be put before people. I know electric is the way we are going but companies like Toyota are making huge advances with hydrogen. I picture a country in 2027 or 2028 with e-charging points every mile and where hydrogen has become the norm. I do not think we are innovative enough, inventive enough and dynamic enough and we are not ballsy enough not to put all our eggs in one particular basket.
I would like the following points substantiated. Mr. Cogan says it will be several years before diesel and petrol reach their peak and we may expect hundreds of thousands more diesel and petrol car on the roads. Ethanol is not a topic that would excite everybody but Mr. Cogan threw in so many interesting statistics that he is the person I wanted to focus on.
Mr. James Cogan:
I agree ethanol is a pretty dull subject. I often say that if I worked for Tesla, I would get more invites to speak at committee meetings, not just here but everywhere else. I am an advocate and an evangeliser for electric cars, first and foremost, but I work for the ethanol industry and I believe passionately that, with such a large fleet of vehicles running around the world that are still burning liquid, we need to do something about that. We have a phenomenon called peak ICE, with ICE being the internal combustion engine, which is the name for a conventional vehicle. The question is when we reach peak ICE. It is similar to the question of reaching peak oil given, years ago, we thought we were going to reach peak oil but we still have not. We thought we were going to reach peak ICE but we still have not. I believe Ireland is going to reach peak ICE sooner than many countries but, globally, we are not going to reach it until 2040 on current trends, and there are certainly no indications to show we are going to reach peak ICE earlier than 2040. I would love to have this incredible hockey stick effect where, suddenly, everybody switched to electric vehicles but there are no indicators that will happen, unfortunately.
We. therefore, have this fleet. It may well be that we will reach the peak size of the diesel and petrol fleet in Ireland in three to six years. Last year, we added 45,000 units to the fleet and 4,000 were electric and plug-in hybrid. This year, we will probably add that number again to fleet and more - perhaps 10,000 - will be plug-in hybrid and electric. We are then looking at what stage we get to the point where we have used up all of our early adopters or all the kind of people who are prepared to buy electric and plug-in. I am optimistic that will be a good number. However, people in climate policy have a tendency to imagine electric vehicles have done a lot more than they have, whereas, for the most part, the impact of electric vehicles has been essentially minimal.
Mr. James Cogan:
Ethanol has been around for years. If we put it in the petrol right now, it brings down the carbon emissions of the petrol instantly. It is as simple as that. It is a litmus test of whether we are looking for all the low-hanging fruit and if we are doing what we could. If f we have not done it, then we are not even doing the easy stuff. That is the bottom line.
It was a very interesting presentation. Mr. Cogan makes a compelling case about the impact it can have upfront and the fact there is no requirement to adapt the internal combustion engine or to make any major modifications at the forecourt. My only concern relates to the availability of the product and its sustainability. I look on it from the point of view of the importation of fracked gas and further exploration for gas or oil off the coast.
In terms of infrastructure, we have this term "lock-in". Does Mr. Cogan have concerns about getting farmers to invest in growing sugar beet or whatever will produce the ethanol at a time we are effectively phasing it out? I accept the point that peak oil will be reached in 2040, but is Mr. Cogan suggesting that we ramp up investment in something that we are trying to tail off? That is my only concern.
There is an argument that we should look at this immediately because emissions from the transport sector are so far off the scale. Why have we not introduced the requirement at this stage or what is the impediment?
Mr. James Cogan:
There are masses of it available. It is a commodity produced on a massive scale worldwide. In Europe, we produce a great deal of it. We have 20% of capacity. That is essentially idle, but functioning capacity that can be used.
It is a fairly simple matter of building extra capacity if one needs it. The farm sector has oodles of tillage capacity in Europe. Essentially, we are reducing tillage land area in Europe by a couple of percent a year. We are increasing tillage yields by a couple of percent a year. The entire European need for ethanol and biodiesel, if it were all to come from European tillage land, and even if it were several times today's volumes, could be accommodated by one year's yield increase of Europe production or two years of less tillage land going out of production.
Before we would build processing capacity in Ireland, we would want a very ambitious policy. We would want to increase significantly. We would want to build an extra 50 or 100 plants around Europe, and that would inevitably mean that there would be opportunities for doing it here as well. It would be misleading to say that with only a marginally more favourable policy outlook, we could suddenly have plants around this county. That will not happen either.
Mr. James Cogan:
Under today's conditions, there is not. We firmly believe that under the climate action planning programmes that will be developed over the next couple of years to meet the Paris Agreement goals, demand for this product will increase significantly. Once one does the mathematics, one cannot get away from it.
We have on average 5% ethanol in European petrol today - between countries that have none, countries that have 10%, and places where they have 30% or 85%. That can easily double or treble. It is unimaginable that we could establish rules under the Paris Agreement framework for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and then not use that opportunity.
On the Deputy's question as to why it has not happened, it is simply because we are doing very little. We do not get beyond these introductory conversations. We do not have a form where we can have the next-step conversation to go into the real reason we have not. When the US Government decided to introduce E10, it went to the motor and oil industries and asked whether anybody had a problem with this and everybody said that they had all kinds of problems with it. Then the US Government objected and stated that it wanted them to give a real answer. The US Government repeated the question because it wanted this and the motor industry and the fuel industry said that it was okay. That was in 1978. They have been running all of America's considerable petrol fleet on E10 almost ever since without any difficulties at all. It is a standard change that many countries made many years ago. It is the European standard for petrol.
Mr. James Cogan:
It is a question of replacing a small volume of the petrol that we put into our tanks today with ethanol as opposed to using fossil petrol. The ethanol does not cost much more than petrol. It costs a couple of cent more per litre when one buys it wholesale but the base petrol that one uses underneath it becomes slightly cheaper when one puts ethanol in because ethanol is an oxygenator. Ethanol is a cleaner and one can use a slightly less refined base petrol underneath it and fewer additives and forms of other oxygenators and purifiers. When buyers of petrol on a considerable scale, such as Maxol and Applegreen, order their petrol, it is cheaper because they are adding in more ethanol. It costs less.
Mr. James Cogan:
If one speaks with them, they tend to say that they are all in favour of it but, collectively, as an industry, because it involves a change in the standard of the fuel that they are using, albeit a small change, they want to go across the line together. To go across the line together, they need a regulatory change.
Mr. James Cogan:
Between the Department and the fuel industry, there is a positive attitude to it. It is just that the narrative is the fuel industry states somebody needs to tell them to do it and they will not do it automatically. They ask why would they, given that I am the only person in Ireland asking them to do it and I am nobody. They state that they will not act for me. The Department, on the other hand, states that it does not have a legislative power to mandate such a thing. The Department states that it does not have a tool to order the fuel industry to do it and that it needs to be done on some kind of collegial basis.
Mr. James Cogan:
It was under the same scheme - the biofuels obligation scheme, which obliges fuel suppliers to put a certain volume of biofuels into their supply. At present, that level is not high enough to incentivise them to do it. They can just about get away with the current mix, which largely comprises used cooking oil that they are able to count twice. For every litre they put in, they are allowed to declare 2 litres. It is popular among them to do it because they are able to satisfy the obligation with half the effort.
Mr. James Cogan:
The scheme is Ireland's regulatory instrument for bioenergy in transport. Bioenergy in transport, given the size of our petrol and diesel fleet, is fairly important legislation. It was established almost a decade ago under a European regulatory scheme, which was the renewable energy directive. Those two Acts are kind of going into their next generation but perhaps they have not changed the thinking enough. The renewable energy directive for the next decade is essentially a continuation of the one for the previous decade but it does not think big. It is modest, clunky legislation and it is dwarfed by the Paris Agreement. It is kind of irrelevant in terms of the scale of climate ambition now.
If one looks at Ireland's climate action plan or any other climate action plan, or the national energy and climate plan that was submitted to the European Union, all of the ambitions are much higher than what this directive would oblige us to do. The biofuels obligation scheme should be tuned to a new world of much greater ambition rather than simply carrying on in the tradition of the previous decade, which was determined by the old directive, if that makes sense.
Mr. James Cogan:
The two important documents that Ireland has produced this year are the climate action plan and the national energy and climate plan. The national energy and climate plan is the official blueprint for every country in Europe for achieving climate goals under the Paris Agreement over the next ten years. We, like all other European countries, submitted ours to the European Commission early on this year and we are finalising the final versions of the first generation of these plans, because they will be renewed every two years. December is the date for finalising those. Ireland is in bad company in that many of the plans submitted by countries to date are highly non-specific. It is difficult to grasp how things will be done. They have not been costed, so it is difficult to grasp how much a particular measure will cost, whether it is heating, cooling, transport or power generation, per unit of carbon saved, and therefore how much it would cost if scaled up to the amount of carbon that we will have to save in the economy overall. Admittedly it is the first generation of plans and hopefully the next generation will be more clear. If one is looking to these plans for guidance on what we are actually going to do, those documents are not very helpful in the specificity of what they tell us they will do, how the plans will be done and how much they will cost. That will be one of the next things that the major news agencies in the world will report. This week we have had two reports that show that carbon emissions are going up and that we are not doing enough about it. When people look at the collective set of national energy and economic plans, including Ireland's, that will be yet another message where the action is not matching the rhetoric.
What are Professor Morgenroth's views on moving from our existing rail network to high-speed rail? We hear that many people can get from place to place faster in their car than if they use public transport. That is a major concern for commuters. Other countries have moved to high-speed rail. Does Professor Morgenroth think that we should do so?
Professor Edgar Morgenroth:
We have pursued a policy where we have built alternatives to the rail network, with motorways to facilitate just that and make it faster. We have not really invested in the rail network, which is quite extensive but most of it lies idle for most of the day because there are no services on it. To have a high-speed network, one would typically require large distances between stops because a lot of time is lost at the stops. We have a network that would be able to serve us better if we put more services on the network. I was a rail commuter until not too long ago. Many rail commuters would say that, especially at peak times, there is no space on the trains and there are not enough trains. There are many areas that have a railway line that has essentially no service. If there are only three stops a day, it is not really feasible to commute with that service. Rather than putting a lot of money into one or two high-speed lines that do not stop very much, we can use the existing network far more efficiently. As I said at the start, we have provided alternatives in the form of motorways in places that we had planned to put a rail line. For example, there was a plan to put a railway line beside the M3 going to Navan, to facilitate commuting. We have built the motorway. How many ways are needed to go from place to place? It costs a lot of money. The sequencing of our investment has been wrong. We have invested into roads in the first place and we are now looking to backfill with some public transport investment. The horse has already bolted in some areas and if we want to make that switch, it will come at a significant cost. We should stop putting infrastructure between the cities and put proper public transport in the cities. That includes Cork, Limerick and Galway, not just Dublin.
Dr. McGrail's information about changing the type of material that can be used for various purposes was fascinating. I am interested in what he said about Germany being well ahead of Ireland. Will he explain that a little more with regard to what it is doing compared with what we are doing?
Dr. Terry McGrail:
In the second half of last year, it invested €1.5 billion in composites research in different research centres. I was in Berlin on Monday of this week, talking to people there. They are very advanced in making what we call hybrid materials, which are a combination of a composite material with metal, so one uses much less metal than composite to stiffen the material and finish up with a material that is much lighter but which can also be conventionally processed by welding, for example, so people are very interested in that. I mentioned biogas from agricultural waste. A substantial amount of biogas can be generated by so-called anaerobic digestion. Biogas is essentially carbon neutral because one creates the gas this year, burns it in a car or power station and the carbon dioxide is absorbed by the crops next year. It is a cyclical process. Germany is installing biodigesters in farms, small communities and so on. It is a long way ahead of us.
Dr. McGrail says that Government and public awareness of composites in Ireland is minimal. I agree with that because I knew very little about it. Why does Dr. McGrail think that is and what can be done to raise awareness of the value of composites?
Dr. Terry McGrail:
People have always regarded carbon fibres as being very expensive. I personally worked in an industry where we focused on aircraft. The goal was to build lightweight, more efficient, more manoeuvrable aircraft using carbon fibre. Over the last few years, carbon fibre has come down enormously in price and is now usable in traditional Irish industries such as construction, agricultural vehicles and infrastructure. The Irish Composites Centre is working on a European project where we are making carbon fibre from lignin, which is a waste product from the papermaking industry. We are well on the way to developing a new carbon fibre which will be much cheaper. The whole manufacturing process is much cheaper because instead of using huge furnaces to make the carbon fibre, we do it through a microwave process. In principle, small companies can have their own carbon fibre manufacturing plant. The matter that we are talking about today of sustainability and climate change focuses people's minds. They are saying that it may be expensive now but it will be much cheaper later on if we use these materials. Pressure from people such as the committee members brings climate change to people's notice and forces people to think about utilising composites.
I notice that while Dr. McGrail says that Enterprise Ireland is to be complimented for establishing the Irish Composites Centre, it seems a shame that, ten years later, when it is actually beginning to make progress, Enterprise Ireland is going to cease funding. Will Dr. McGrail explain why Enterprise Ireland is taking that decision with regard to the criteria he says it requires for matching industrial funding?
Dr. Terry McGrail:
Our funding from Enterprise Ireland has been €6 million over five years.
We had to get matching funding of €6 million from industry and also matching funding from external sources. We have got well over €10 million from external sources, which is a recognition of the quality of the science and technology bit we are doing. On the industrial side, it is very difficult for many SMEs and micro SMEs to come up with €10,000. The size of the companies is the problem.
Our approach has been to nurture SMEs and help them grow so that the business of making composites is spread across Ireland. As already stated, a company in Mayo is now making boats and a company in Birr is making manhole covers. We are spreading the business out like that in order that rural communities can benefit from it. We do not have major international companies, like Intel, for which a few million euro is neither here nor there. For the sorts of companies with which we are working, it is a lot of money. We have been able to get the cash in from industry but we have not been able to generate this so-called economic value added, which is the multiplier on the investment we have had from Enterprise Ireland.
I am sorry I missed some of the presentations. I was busy voting elsewhere. I wish to ask Mr. Cogan about ethanol. I have read through this and done some research. In northern Europe, Sweden in particular has gone down the route of flex-fuel cars, running E85, involving the use of biofuel, petrol and diesel at different mixes. It has not invested in electric vehicles. Are we being dazzled by electric vehicle in this country? The Minister asked for 1 million such vehicles even though that was not called for in our report. Sweden as a northern European country is choosing flex-fuel cars and not really touching electric vehicles. Brazil is also on E100.
Our 5% up to 10% does not sound too ambitious. Should the emphasis change from our apparent love affair with expensive electric vehicles and more towards ethanol, the cost of which would not be overbearing for people using vehicles with the same mechanics? If we go to that, what would be the impact? Will the fossil fuel companies be unhappy? Obviously, their profits and production will be impacted upon. Where is our 5% ethanol produced? Is any of it produced in Ireland? If it is and if we want to expand and want to expand operations or if we it is not and if we want to get involved, is there any potential for the areas where peat production has now been shut down?
Do we need to take a breather and reconsider electric vehicles? We have thrown all our eggs in one basket and that is what we are telling the public. Ethanol is not well known and we may need to push it and make it more popular. Despite having an enormous electric vehicle fleet, Norway's emissions increased and did not reduce. Sweden is using the flexi-fuel car and its emissions are reducing, and those cars are quite cost effective. Mr. Cogan stated that the cost of ethanol per litre is slightly more than that of diesel or petrol. Those are my questions for him.
Professor Morgenroth carried out the research into rural dwelling and farming activity. What percentage of rural dwellers are farmers? What type of pattern did he study? Did he take into account that they may travel very far? A small holder in Leitrim might be leasing land in Mullingar, Sligo, etc., resulting in considerable transport. Most farmers have another job and need to travel to that. In addition, there is transport for farming families for children to go to school and all that. What that included in his calculations for commutes mentioned in his research?
Professor Morgenroth co-authored a paper with Professor Richard Tol of the University of Sussex. Professor Tol is the adviser to the Global Warming Policy Foundation. His position seems to be that the science of global warming or climate change is not yet settled and that we may have negligible impacts or possible benefits at least up to end of the 21st century, which the Taoiseach seemed to endorse some time ago. Does Professor Morgenroth still stand by that? Is there a sense that we are not catching everything? We have got into climate action, the user-at-the-gates approach and we are responding. Professor Tol is trying to say that we should not be so hysterical about the matter. Would Professor Morgenroth stand by that analysis?
Does Professor Morgenroth believe that we need to stop building roads and motorways? With the emphasis on the private car regardless of its capacity to run on biofuel or the use of electric vehicles - even if they are clean - people still get stuck in traffic jams and cannot get to where we want to go. Despite what we are doing public transport infrastructure, trains, buses, electric scooters and all that sort of stuff, is it the case that we will just have a different form of congestion from that to which cars give rise - albeit a cleaner form of congestion - and that we will continue to have congestion?
Mr. James Cogan:
The Senator spoke about northern European countries that are experimenting with different blends of biofuels and different levels of support for electric fleets. I will come out: I am a complete electric car enthusiast. If Ireland could get to 1 million, I would be the first to sign on the dotted line for doing that. I have difficulty imagining how we can get there or even to half that number given the cost it takes to incentivise them, the requirements for extra power, infrastructure and so on. However, even if we reached 1 million electric vehicles by 2030, we would still need the extra vehicles running on biofuels because that number of electric vehicles would constitute one third of the fleet. At least half of them will be hybrid between diesel or petrol and electric. Therefore, people will continue to put diesel or petrol into them. At least half of the electricity they use will still be fossil based. We will need other measures as well as the electric vehicles even if we get to 1 million. Those other measures are clearly modal shift, more efficient use of traffic and less use of people sitting in cars on their own - I am all for that. However, we will still need to improve the performance of the fuels we are putting into the engines that burn diesel and petrol, including electric vehicles that partially burn diesel and petrol. That is where we get to the E5, E10 and the diesel blends.
France is putting 85% ethanol into its normal petrol cars now and is not waiting for new technologies or some special car to come out. People install a tuner device that costs €110. It makes the electronics of the engine recognise that there is a slightly different blend of petrol in it and it is able to run fine on it. It is pretty easy to go to higher than E10 ethanol for countries that want to do it. The cost of E10 is not even a tiny bit more than that of petrol. It is the same or less than regular petrol because the overall blend of the petrol stays the same or less when it is put in.
The Senator asked where it is made. It can be made all over Europe. There are two big plants in the UK. There are many plants in France, the Netherlands and Germany. There is a certain threshold of demand, above which if we had it, then it would make economic sense to build a plant in Ireland. If we could have a sugar industry, the two things go hand in hand.
They would reinforce each other and that would be a positive thing.
I am still not clear, perhaps I missed it. Brazil and India are using biofuels. What about northern European countries? We are all fans of electric vehicles but why would we invest in them? Is there something to learn from countries such as Sweden? Are there problems that I cannot see or do not understand?
Mr. James Cogan:
Norway and the Netherlands have been hurt very badly because they went for electric vehicles very enthusiastically and invested major amounts of money in them. In the context of the average electric vehicles in the first main batch in the Netherlands, it cost €85,000 in Government subsidies to get them on the road. That was a country that was very ambitious to do it and that was prepared to do it by popular consensus. It failed because people were really using petrol and diesel. The authorities could not get a transfer to normal consumer buying power. The whole electric vehicle movement is suffering big teething troubles. Norway can afford to throw as much money at these things as it wants because it is a massively wealthy country. It can afford to carry out all kinds of experiments and then step back and try something else.
Perhaps I am not saying it right. Mr. Cogan is promoting ethanol and here I am saying that if Sweden does not go down the route of electric vehicles but goes down the route of overwhelmingly using ethanol for its cars-----
Mr. James Cogan:
That will not work either. It must do both. We must pull every solution together in order to confront this climate challenge. There is no way that it is a question of electric vehicles versus those run on ethanol or biofuels. If we just go for one or the other the progress will be too small.
Professor Edgar Morgenroth:
On rural dwellers and CO2 emissions, the various journeys taken were factored in. What we find is that city centre dwellers have the lowest emissions followed by the real rural dwellers. It is long-distance commuters who have significantly different emissions. This stands to reason because even though the distances might be a little bit longer for people living in rural Ireland, which I do, typically the fuel consumption of the vehicle is quite low, whereas people driving in the city centre drive short distances but with high fuel consumption. This was captured in the analysis, therefore, it is not correct to say rural dwellers would end up with a higher incidence of fuel or carbon taxes. It is simply not true.
The committee should invite Professor Richard Tol before it if it wants to ask him questions. I do not share his views but I can stand over the analysis we published together.
With regard to road building, a number of significant mistakes were made in the roll-out of the motorways. There was an assumption the current transport patterns we see are optimal and we replicated the existing network and added more capacity. We never stepped back and asked whether this is the pattern we want to see. The second mistake we made with the roads programme was that we never considered the sustainability consequences relating to what was put in place. We have what we have and, of course, it is nice to drive on a nice motorway but it is also less sustainable than sitting on a train. To answer whether we should stop building roads, we should scale down the roads programme in favour of public transport.
All three presentations were hugely interesting and important. It is slightly difficult because they relate to three very different areas. Each of them in their own right deserve detailed attention.
I will begin with Professor Morgenroth because he spoke about a subject close to my heart. It is interesting that today the Government has published its public consultation on the long-term strategy on greenhouse gas emissions to influence our national energy climate action plan, which has to be agreed in four weeks' time. This document will determine our economic future because, under European governance rules, it will determine what we do in the next 30 or 50 years. There are 15 lines of content on transport and four questions within it. One of them asks what should transport in cities and rural areas look like in 2050. Listening to Professor Morgenroth, I was thinking of a making a submission that by 2050 we would have a scheme whereby we would all have self-driving cars so we could sleep in them on our commute because we will be spending so long commuting backwards and forwards. We could have our children in our cars all of the time as they come and go from school for hours every day as we could see them via Facebook live in our cars. That is where we are going. I agree 100% with what Professor Morgenroth said about the abandonment of the national planning framework and the national development plan. Does he think it makes transport sense to spend however many hundreds of millions of euro widening the M11 between Ashford and Bray, for example? What does that achieve? Would that be one of the roads projects that might be scaled back? Is it just serving the additional 100,000 long-distance commuters who will be stuck in their pyjamas in their cars in 2050? I will throw out another example. We are spending €250,000 widening the road between Westport and Castlebar. How does this fit with the national planning framework? These are two examples and I could pick many more.
Professor Edgar Morgenroth:
More seriously, the Westport road is remarkable. Westport is a shining example of a place which, despite its remote location, is thriving. It does not have great access in terms of transport. It has a lousy train service and it does not have a motorway but it is thriving. It shows that an area does not have to have a motorway to do well. Putting one there will be nice for people driving but I am not so sure whether we really need it. If we are really serious about the national planning framework it is urban public transport in particular that we need to spend the money on. Some bypasses are needed and there are dangerous roads throughout the country where we need to do something from a road safety perspective but putting motorways everywhere will not solve our regional development problems and it will perpetuate our sustainability issues.
Professor Edgar Morgenroth:
It is probably an equity issue. If one area gets a motorway, another needs to have one too. This goes against all of the evidence relating to regional development issues. What we should do is find the real constraint in each area and deal with it. It may not be transport. It may be something completely different. It may be clean water, human capital or other social infrastructure but we never do this because we always think that if next door gets something we need to have it too, whether or not we need it.
One quarter of new housing is in the counties surrounding Dublin. We have just widened the N7 between Naas and Newbridge and straight away it was clogged. There is no benefit to anyone. How much did that cost? Was it €400 million or €500 million? I want to ask the Department to come back in. It is depressing me beyond belief. It is not just about climate or unsustainability, it is those hundreds of thousands of people who will never see their children. It is unhealthy to be commuting for more than an hour a day. People are guaranteed to commute more than an hour a day. We could widen the M11 to a 20 lane highway but it will still hit Donnybrook village. No one says stop. Fine Gael is addicted to this. I cannot understand why and I cannot understand the logic involved. We are not serious about it. It beggars belief. I apologise but I get really annoyed about this because we are destroying the future quality of life of our people.
Professor Edgar Morgenroth:
The really big issue is that we tend to separate various policy areas when they are actually connected. We separate transport from other planning decisions. We separate our sustainability from other issues. We separate everything neatly.
That is the biggest problem with this. I understand why people do not necessarily want to live in high-density areas if we do not plan our cities to be attractive. They then want to move out because they want a certain type of lifestyle and we accommodate that. Instead, we need to think about how we make urban areas attractive for people to ensure they never want to be out there and travel for hours to work. That is the big crux.
Professor Morgenroth is correct. It is the unintended consequences of a good intention. The good intention in Dublin was to get people out of the slums. We did that by bringing them out to Drimnagh, Fairview and all these fantastic garden city estates where one could still walk and cycle into town. It was brilliant and it worked. As it worked, we did not stop. Then we went out to Tallaght, Blanchardstown and Finglas but we did not put in bus and other services to match it. Then we just kept going to Rathoath, Mullingar and Gorey. We are now going from Gorey to Enniscorthy and we will expect people to commute from there to Dublin. One would think we would learn at some point that the unintended consequences of that good intention will have to stop.
Widespread fraud seems to have been uncovered in the registering of palm oil as used cooking oil. The UK’s Serious Fraud Office and the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management are investigating this. The EU said that the next use of those cooking oils will have to be restricted to 1.7%. It seems the Union knows there is widespread fraud in this area. For example, Taiwan’s exports of used cooking oil exceed the total volume of cooking oil in the entire country. Does this have implications for Ireland? When one asks the Government how we are meeting our targets, it says we are doing great on renewables and transport because of all this blended-in used cooking oil. If a large percentage of that fuel is fraudulent, will we face higher fines for failing to meet our renewables directive targets after 2020?
Mr. James Cogan:
First and foremost, we should just be looking at solving the problem before we look at the implications around it. Simply speaking, we should not use biofuels with palm oil in them. That is worse than the fuel we are trying to replace. That should be our guiding principle.
On the administrative aspects of this and its impacts, Ireland is an outlier in Europe at the moment. We use more used cooking oil biodiesel per capitathan any other country in Europe. We import 97% of it. Given that we take it from the European pool of used cooking oil, the same pool into which everybody else dips, it is contaminated by palm oil to the same extent as all the other used cooking oil we have. Approximately one third of it is palm oil. That amounts to about a litre of palm oil per fill every time somebody puts diesel in their car. That was a problem caused by Brussels and its poor regulation. It created a directive and gave special privileges to used cooking oil. It was a niche thing but as we needed to encourage the sector, this would be fantastic. Several countries, including Ireland, instead of making it a niche thing, made it the mainstay of their climate policy on transport. We are addicted to it. If we took it out of our system right now, the low results we have would drop down to the floor. We are going to be forced to use less or report less. Within that 1.7% cap, however, one third of it will still be palm oil or possibly even more. The more we restrict it, cost is still the only factor in it. While cost is the only factor, palm oil is still the cheapest. We will use less but a bigger proportion of it will be the bad stuff.
How does one answer the criticisms by the UN special rapporteur on European biofuels policy that the massive expansion in bioethanol use presents similar land-use risks and knock-on impacts in Africa and elsewhere? The substitution effect of taking crops from food for transport fuels would be significant if we went with the suggestion Mr. Cogan is talking about. According to the rapporteur, it would promote a form of industrial farming, which is the last thing we should do to address climate change. Lord Deben told the committee we should avoid what they are doing in the UK, which is the type of agriculture that delivers the cereal crops for ethanol. Are there not risks in Mr. Cogan’s proposal that we would end up with other land-use impacts that would be deleterious for the environment?
Mr. James Cogan:
That scenario of massive large-scale industrial farming could not happen. It is imaginable emotionally. However, if one looks at the context of ethanol use in Europe, we have massive agricultural capacity in what we have now without any need for expansion. The demands of ethanol are tiny in comparison. There is no possibility that somehow it could get out of control. It is a peace of mind solution in the current fleet of vehicles. It is so far within an envelope of peace of mind parameters that this kind of apocalyptic adverse effect just could not arise.
I invite the Deputy to send a delegate of his choice to speak with us about it.
I thank everybody for their presentations. There is a strong case for E10. Mr. Cogan indicated that much of the E5 which we are currently achieving is not an achievement as it is based on the use of used cooking oil.
We are there on E10.
Will Mr. Cogan clarify how this relates with diesel? For example, in budget 2020, the Government is giving a tax relief to the Irish Road Haulage Association to subsidise the use of diesel at a time we are trying to get people to move away from this. Will Mr. Cogan comment specifically on the policy on diesel, as well as petrol, E10 and ethanol mixes?
I do not believe it is apocalyptic. In the case of Brazil, there are significant concerns in respect of land clearance for large-scale ethanol production. I am not against it. We can get it right but it is not helpful to use apocalyptic language. There are negative scenarios. An extremely negative scenario, however, is the scandal of used cooking oil. Taiwan gathered 12,000 tonnes of used cooking oil but somehow exported 11 million tonnes. That simply does not add up. That is worse for the environment.
To be constructive, Mr. Cogan referred to qualitative criteria for the sourcing of our biofuels. Will he elaborate on that? What portion could realistically come from agricultural waste? What portion cannot come from that source but will have to come from crops? Will he address the issue of biomethane and paludiculture? The committee has heard about rewetted lands being useable for paludiculture and the potential production of biofuel crops from that? These questions might require a written reply.
Mr. James Cogan:
I will write to the Senator.
Where does E10 ethanol relate to the diesel and biodiesel?
In Ireland, the obligation on fuel suppliers is simply that a certain proportion of the fuel must be bio. It is up to them whether to pick biodiesel or ethanol. If they can do it more cheaply and more easily with biodiesel, they will, and that is what they are doing. The Government does not say they must have so much in petrol and so much in biodiesel; it is up to the fuel companies to decide. Because it is cheaper and easier to use used cooking oil in their diesel than any other form, that is what they do. It is based on cost.
The Senator Higgins is quite correct about apocalyptic scenarios. I take her point and apologise for using the word. It is true that very awful adverse side effects can arise with policy and legislation on such things as this. The mistake we have had in Europe for the past ten years is that we have used a system of legislation based on numbers, caps and multipliers without the intelligence behind them to say, "You cannot do this", or, "You cannot do that". We have allowed a series of unwanted effects to happen. I am not even referring to used cooking oil, but palm oil, for instance, is dominant in diesel in Europe, although not in Ireland, fortunately. If we look at this intelligently and if we were just to decide to use the maximum volume of ethanol we can use within the technical limitations of cars and infrastructure, as long as it comes from Europe, we would be rock-solid safe. There are no scenarios in which that could run away into an adverse side effect we do not want. I agree that the policy officers should grasp this and be comfortable with it. They should design the policy to do it. It is a question of doing it right, which is where the thrust should be. Whether it is electricity, biofuels or anything else, we have an awful lot of learning how to do things right over the next ten years if we are to reach our climate goals.
Regarding the proportion that can come from crop waste, crops themselves and plant culture, we have lots of crop waste and plant culture opportunity. We have an awful lot more opportunity from crops themselves because the whole system has been optimised to produce crops. Grain and beet are energy crops. There is no purer form of energy crop, and the energy is in a form that can be easily processed, whereas with waste and plants we do not have any of those processes yet. We are big into these things. We have little investment projects in them. We tried a couple of years ago to set up a €400 million waste-based project. It fell down because the economics did not stand up. We could not sell the fuel we were going to make. There was no way fuel companies would ever have bought ethanol from us at the cost it was going to take for us to produce it. We, therefore, need rather more compelling policy systems to be put in place to drive through much bigger waste-based and aqua-based solutions.
Professor Morgenroth referred to infrastructure in a wide sense, in the context of roads and so on. I would like him to comment on cycling, active travel and footpath infrastructure and the difference they make not only in rural areas but also in urban areas and in the context of liveability and air quality in urban areas. They are important as well. As a subsection of infrastructure, this can often be lumped into the general debate on roads. I was very struck by what Professor Morgenroth said about the frequency of transport and the levels of usage of our rail networks. Does he still think there is much to save on some of the rail networks we are due to have? He mentioned the M3 cutting across what had been anticipated to be a rail network reaching to Kells. Could he comment on the residual rail network we have let atrophy and the intensification of use? The Wexford line, for example, has two or three trains a day, and that is it. Could Professor Morgenroth comment on those and the national development plan? Does it need to be upgraded to be more compatible with the national planning framework and our climate goals?
Professor Edgar Morgenroth:
Yes, it should have been drafted very differently to start with.
Regarding cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, there is an awful lot of work to be done. As I mentioned in my opening statement, cities need to be liveable and attractive for people to want to be there. Part of this is safety and an ability to get around. That urban realm is something in which we have not invested sufficiently, and we need to invest in it much more. In the more rural areas there is a safety issue. I live in rural Ireland. Cycling in those areas is very dangerous but walking is often quite dangerous as well. There is, again, scope for significant investment there.
Regarding Dr. McGrail's composites presentation, I am wondering about public procurement. If we were to see, in terms of either the technical specification or quality criteria for public procurement, a greater emphasis on quality materials and the use of a life cycle costing within procurement, would that make a significant difference from his perspective? Does anyone on the panel wish to comment on e-bikes, which have fallen by the wayside in the conversation?
Dr. Walter Stanley:
I agree with the Senator. I refer to recent legislation and life cycle costing for vehicles. For example, the PET material we have developed comes from bottles. The recyclers crush them and then we reharness them to turn them back into useful products that can then be recycled again, so it is from cradle to grave and back to cradle. I appreciate that if some sort of incentive were there to promote greener materials, one would take into account their end of life. I refer, for example, to 80 m wind turbine blades. Each blade comprises approximately 20 tonnes of glass fibre thermoset resin that cannot be recycled. During their useful life, wind turbines are great, but then 60 tonnes of blades go into landfill.
I will have to leave it there. I thank all the witnesses for keeping their answers tight because that helped the members. I propose to suspend the meeting for a few moments to allow our second set of witnesses to take their seats.
On behalf of the committee, I extend a warm welcome to Ms Deirdre Hanlon and Ms Laura Behan from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport; Mr. Kevin Brady and Mr. James Rowan from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment; Mr. Paul Hogan and Ms Laura Courtney from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government; and Mr. Gerry Kenny and Mr. Niall O'Sullivan from the Department of Finance.
I advise our guests that, by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members are reminded of the long-standing ruling of the Chair to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
We will start with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and I invite Ms Hanlon to give her opening statement.
Ms Deirdre Hanlon:
We are here today in response to the committee’s invitation to assist in its discussion on developing Ireland’s sustainable transport system. Three themes were identified by the committee on which we hope to help it: decarbonisation of the transport system; developing an integrated sustainable transport system; and empowering a modal shift in transport. We are joined by colleagues from three other Departments with whom we work closely in addressing the climate challenge, the lead on which falls within our various areas.
To look at the broad policy framework, the committee is well aware of the Government’s climate action plan that was published in May. That builds on the commitments in Project Ireland 2040, which the Government published a couple of years ago. The plan articulates the scale of challenge and the Government’s ambitions on climate action across all sectors. This is what sets the framework within which Departments are now working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to meet the Ireland’s international commitments on this front.
With regard to the transport sector, the Government’s policy can be described in terms of a model known as avoid, shift, improve. It is recognised internationally as a best practice approach in this area. The model gives us the focus and structure for the work we are doing. The first strand of our work is avoiding unnecessary distances in travel trips. What does this mean in practical terms? It is largely about making sure that both land use and transport are planned in a way that is mutually supportive. The aim over time is to bring better cohesion to the planning of where people live, their places of work and education, where they can shop, the location of public services they use and their places of entertainment and social interaction. Over time, this can influence the type of transport needs that will arise and help shape the ways in which those needs can be addressed effectively. We work closely with our colleagues in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government on connecting the policies we have in the areas of transport and land use planning. We recognise the need for collaborating on and strengthening those policy links.
The second part of the paradigm is shifting more journeys for more people on to more sustainable forms of travel. To support this the Government is investing heavily, under Project Ireland 2040, to increase passenger carrying capacity in the public transport system and in the active travel system to support walking and cycling through the development of new infrastructure. The target is to make public transport and active travel options a viable alternative for more people, for more of their journeys.
The work we are doing aims to create the modal shift we have been talking about. It is about changing the mode of transport people use for journeys. This is supported by substantial funding from the Government’s ten-year capital investment plan and a number of targeted tax incentives developed by our colleagues in the Department of Finance.
There are still a large number of trips undertaken by people or to move goods for which active travel or public transport are not realistic options. This is where the third pillar of our model comes in. This is about seeking improvements to reduce the harmful climate impact of journeys through vehicle technology, improved fuel efficiency or the use of lower-emission fuels, which we call alternative fuels. Our colleagues on the energy side of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment take a lead role in this area.
Data on travel patterns show us that to radically reduce transport emissions, we must look to decarbonise private transport. The Government’s aim is to develop a set of policies that will support citizens in making the environmentally friendly choices to select greener vehicles and greener fuels now and into the future. To advance the transition to green motoring, the Department and our colleagues in the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment jointly led the low-emissions vehicle task force to find a whole-of-Government approach to these issues. The work of the group was structured over two phases. The first phase looks exclusively at electric vehicles. The group analysed what type of interventions would be appropriate and necessary to create a positive policy environment to assist in the transition to electric vehicles. These recommendations to Government were taken on board in the budgets for 2018 and 2019. Their implementation has been followed by an increase in the sale of electric vehicles. There are now approximately 14,500 electric vehicles, EVs, on Irish roads. This is a sharp increase from the low level of approximately 3,500 to 4,000 at the beginning of last year. The technology is getting better, driving ranges are improving, more vehicle models are becoming available and, very importantly, the cars are becoming cheaper over time. All of those developments and improvements are expected to continue in the coming decade and beyond.
As the committee will know, the climate action plan sets very ambitious targets for the move to electric vehicles by 2030. Now that the Government has adopted a target and policy, we are setting out to develop a roadmap of policy initiatives, which we call the policy pathway, that we need to implement to allow Ireland to achieve this ambition. Just as we did previously with the low-emissions vehicles task force, we are working in collaboration with other relevant Departments, including the Departments of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Finance, and Public Expenditure and Reform. The approach to achieving the EV target the Government eventually adopts, through the initiatives it introduces to support achieving that target, will require broad input and support to be effective. There will be public consultation in the course of identifying and deciding on the appropriate pathway.
The Government, Minister and Department are strongly committed to supporting and encouraging more sustainable forms of travel. This is central to our approach to decarbonising transport and to helping achieve a better quality of life and more liveable cities and areas. The climate action plan sets a target for more than 500,000 extra journeys per day to be taken either on public transport or by walking and cycling. This ambition is supported by the €8.6 billion investment in sustainable mobility secured under Project Ireland 2040. On this point, it is notable and will probably interest the committee that the Exchequer investment for new projects in public transport and active travel over the coming years not only equals, but well exceeds what is available for investment in new roads. This is a reversal of the situation that had pertained a number of years ago. In the past, investment in new road projects greatly exceeded investment in public transport. That is a considerable rebalancing for the period ahead.
As a final point, the committee may be interested in a new public consultation process the Minister launched a couple of weeks ago. It relates to a review of sustainable mobility policy, which refers to public transport, active travel and climate in transport. As part of this consultation, which runs until late January, we published extensive documentation, including papers and data analysis, the Department had prepared on the areas of public transport, active travel and climate action for transport. The aim is to help inform the public and to inform the discussion of these topics. In the course of this public consultation, we seek the views of transport stakeholders, public representatives and people across the country on these topics. We want to know what they think we have got right and what we need to improve.
It is now a full decade on from the previous policy document in this area, Smarter Travel, which was published in 2009. Our purpose is to reflect on what has happened thus far and to concentrate on shaping the path ahead. Do we need to refresh our priorities? How can our past experience inform our future approach? What can we learn from other places? That is important. We expect that today's discussion will help us in our consideration of those matters. We hope our opening statement is a helpful scene-setter for today’s discussion and we hope we can be of assistance to the committee.
Mr. Kevin Brady:
I am the head of heating, transport and energy policy at the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. The Department supports the transition to a sustainable transport system primarily through energy policy. This includes promoting the use of renewable fuels and supporting the move to low-emission vehicles. The transport sector is responsible for approximately 36% of Ireland’s total primary energy requirement and its emissions constitute 20% of total emissions and 27% of non-emissions trading system, ETS, emissions. It is a large sector.
Our target is for 10% of energy used in the transport sector to come from renewable sources by 2020. We are currently above 7% and on our way to meeting this target. This is calculated in line with the renewable energy directive which was discussed earlier and includes the use of multipliers for biofuels that are produced from wastes and residues and for renewable energy used in electric vehicles. The level of renewable energy used in the transport system in 2020 is expected to be between 9% and 10%. It is therefore expected that Ireland will achieve 90% compliance with this target.
It was discussed in the previous session but the primary driver of renewable energy use in the transport sector is the biofuels obligation scheme. This was introduced in 2010 and is administered by the National Oil Reserves Agency. The scheme obliges each fuel supplier in the road transport sector, including all the household names we know, to ensure a certain proportion of all fuel supplied is from renewable sources. Under the scheme, biofuels placed on the market must adhere to sustainability criteria. The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, estimates that the biofuels obligation scheme avoided 340,000 tonnes of emissions in 2017, which is the latest year for which data are available. The obligation increased at the start of this year and it will increase again from the start of 2020. We believe this increase will lead to approximately 6% biofuel in diesel and 5% in petrol. This mix is known as E5 and is already widely available, as was discussed earlier. A public consultation was recently carried out. It actually closed yesterday. We received approximately 40 submissions, which we will be publishing on our website. This consultation related to the development of the scheme for the period from 2021 to 2030. It examines the implementation of the elements of the renewable energy directive that pertain to renewable fuels in transport.
It also considers how best to achieve the ambition set out in the climate action plan of 12% biofuel in diesel and 10% in petrol by 2030, a doubling of the levels expected in 2020. I recognise that during the previous session it was set out that there are absolutely no issues in regard to E10 but there are some issues that we need to explore in this consultation, including compatibility issues for older cars. The responses received to this public consultation will inform the future development of the biofuels obligation scheme.
Ms Hanlon has covered the low emission vehicle task force. Briefly, the Department also supports the transition to low emission vehicles and works closely with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport in this regard with the two Departments co-chairing the low emission vehicle task force which brought together Departments, agencies, State bodies and stakeholders to consider a range of measures and options available to Government to accelerate the take-up of low emission vehicles.
The first phase of the task force’s work focused on electric vehicles with the second phase primarily focused on other low emission vehicles, such as compressed natural gas and hydrogen. One report was published last year and the other was published more recently, which cover its work and set out the considerations by Government.
In addition to supports from the Departments of Finance and Transport, Tourism and Sport, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment provides a number of supports which include purchase grants for electric vehicles, grants to support the installation of home chargers and, most recently, grants to support local authorities installing on-street chargers.
Budget 2020 provided the Department with a total of €36 million in funding for electric vehicle supports, with €30 million allocated to the purchase grant and €6 million to support the development of charging infrastructure.
The climate action fund is administered by the Department. One of the successful projects under the first call for applications from the fund include €10 million to support the ESB developing a state-of-the-art fast-charging network for Ireland. This project will provide 90 new high-speed chargers with a power of 150 kW which is three times the current fast chargers. These can each charge two electric vehicles at once and are three times the power or speed of the current fast chargers in Ireland. It will upgrade 50 existing standard chargers to fast chargers; and replace more than 250 standard chargers, each which consists of two charging points, totalling more than 500 charge points, so that the vast majority of charging points across Ireland will be replaced with next generation high-reliability models.
The Government, as part of the climate action plan, has set a target of achieving 936,000 electric vehicles in Ireland by 2030. In order to support the achievement of this target, the plan has set out a number of actions which include: developing the charging network necessary to support the growth of electric vehicles and to stay sufficiently ahead of demand; developing the compressed natural gas, CNG, fuelling network to support the uptake of CNG vehicles, particularly in the road freight sector; increasing the use of biofuels, as I discussed; developing a roadmap on the optimum mix of regulatory, taxation and subsidy policies to drive a significant ramp-up in electric vehicles; and introducing legislation to ban the sale of new fossil fuel cars from 2030.
The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment is working with our colleagues in other Departments, agencies and State bodies to implement these actions.
Mr. Paul Hogan:
I thank the committee for the invitation to come here today along with colleagues from the Departments of Transport Tourism and Sport, Communications, Climate Action and Environment and Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform to discuss the development of Ireland’s sustainable transport system under the related headings of decarbonisation, integration and modal shift. I am the principal adviser of the planning side of the Department and I am joined today by my colleague, Ms Laura Courtney, planning adviser.
On the spatial pattern and development structure, we are all aware that the places where homes, workplaces, education, service and leisure activities are located, and the form of development that they may take, that is high or low density, concentrated or dispersed, mixed use or single use, when considered together, have a determining impact on mobility and travel behaviour.
The resultant pattern of movement in the frequency, length, location and duration of trips, consequently influences choice regarding the availability of different modes of transport and, ultimately, the quality and sustainability of our urban and rural places.
The Department is working with colleagues in the other Departments represented here and agencies, such as the National Transport Authority, NTA, and Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, in particular, to address decarbonisation through land use and transport integration and to encourage a greater sustainable mode share.
As part of Ireland 2040, the NPF sets out long-term policy, operating horizontally across Government and cascading vertically down through the three regional spatial and economic strategies, RSESs, to directly influence the operation of the planning system through the 31 local authority county or city development plans. To support this, we are currently updating statutory planning guidelines for the preparation of development plans, which will include provision for sustainable patterns and forms of development, that may be related to indicators that can be used for monitoring, such as commuting patterns and transport mode share.
Since the NPF was finalised in 2018, there have been a series of complementary supporting measures from the publication of new apartment and building height guidelines, to the launch of the urban and rural regeneration and development funds, URDF and RRDF, together worth €3 billion to 2027.
Sustainable mobility, where successfully achieved, is self-reinforcing. For example, a higher density of homes and workplaces generally, but especially around public transport nodes, combined with a greater mix of land-uses and investment in public transport and amenities such as public spaces, including parks and greenways, will facilitate: greater proximity of homes to employment and services; reduced travel distances for trips of every kind; more sustainable mode share, that is, walking, cycling and public transport; which means a greater proportion of zero emission trips by bike or on foot; shorter, more frequent and more reliable public transport trips; more viable public transport; the possibility of forms of development not dependent on road capacity or determined by car parking requirements; less urban land for road space and car parking; better used and safer public spaces and walking and cycling routes; and more footfall and greater business viability in our settlements.
Recognising that much of the change will have to take place within existing settlements, an updated version of the design manual for urban roads and streets, also known as DMURs, has recently been published by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. This is a collaborative document with significant planning, architectural and urban design input, that ensures a design toolkit that better reflects the needs of all road users, especially in built-up urban areas.
In addition, technological change, particularly in the form of electric vehicles, EVs, although at an early stage, will be significant. The targeted increase in the electric vehicle fleet will be in part facilitated by measures to ensure the availability of more electric charging points in new developments, arising from the work of the EV task force.
Spatial pattern, the form of development and sustainable mobility when combined, have an impact on levels of activity, footfall and viability in settlements, which influence their attractiveness and quality. In broad terms, the more convenient and safer it is for more people to get around by a range of modes, the greater the likelihood there is that streets and cycleways, public transport stops and routes will be frequently used.
The greater the catchment population served and available footfall, the easier it is for a range of shops, services and commercial outlets to operate. Ultimately, high levels of mobility combined with amenities and services will create desirable places in which to live, work, invest and visit.
Mr. Gerry Kenny:
I am a principal officer with responsibility for indirect tax policy in the Department of Finance. I am joined this afternoon by my colleague, Mr. Niall O’Sullivan. The main focus of taxation in the transport sector is in respect of private passenger vehicles, which are subject to a once-off vehicle registration tax, VRT, and an annual motor tax. The tax policy in recent years has been geared towards incentivising a move towards lower CO2 emitting vehicles. Since 1 July 2008, both VRT and motor tax on private motor cars have been calculated on the basis of emissions, so that motor cars with higher emissions attracted a higher tax liability. From January 2013, a revised banding structure was introduced in recognition that more fuel-efficient cars were becoming available and allowing for the further differentiation of the environmental incentive. A zero-emissions band for electric vehicles was also introduced at that time. In addition, VRT reliefs are available for battery electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids and conventional hybrids up to a maximum of €5,000, €2,500 and €1,500, respectively, to support the transition to a cleaner national fleet for passenger cars. Members will be aware that the €1,500 relief for hybrids, which was due to expire at the end of 2019, has been extended for a further year. However, CO2 ceilings have been introduced to ensure that only low-emission vehicles are benefiting from this tax incentive. This is based on clear evidence that certain hybrid models emit average and even high levels of CO2. This relief will expire at the end of 2020.
Budget 2019 introduced a 1% VRT surcharge to diesel passenger cars registering for the first time in the State from 1 January 2019.
This measure was introduced in light of public health and environmental concerns about pollutants such as NOx, sulphur oxides and particulate matter which impact air quality, particularly in high population density urban areas. This surcharge will be replaced by a new NOx charge introduced in the recent budget and due to come into effect from 1 January 2020.
Tax incentives to get people out of cars and onto public transport and bicycles include the TaxSaver commuter ticket scheme to reduce traffic congestion by helping reduce the cost for workers using public transport, and the bike to work scheme to encourage employees to cycle to work.
There has been some discussion of late on the taxation of the aviation sector and, in particular, on the current tax exemptions for aviation fuels in the context of broader efforts to address climate change as well as to level the playing field with other forms of transport fuels that are subject to tax. In this regard, Ireland is subject to energy taxation rules set out in the EU energy taxation directive. Under this directive, member states are obliged to exempt certain fuels used for commercial aviation purposes from excise duty. A member state may waive this exemption where it has entered into a bilateral agreement with another member state to tax fuel for intra-community flights. With regard to fuel for international transport, the scope for a member state to take a unilateral approach to taxation is limited by international law and a range of bilateral and multilateral agreements that operate under the 1944 Convention on International Civil Aviation, known as the Chicago Convention. In recognition of the environmental and fiscal merits of the case being made for the application of aviation taxes, Ireland will engage with the EU Commission in regard to the possible revision of the energy taxation directive to take greater account of environmental concerns in the taxation of energy products. Finally, the committee will be aware that the Department presents a series of papers to the tax strategy group each summer setting out options across the various tax heads for consideration in the annual budget.
My first question is for Mr. Hogan from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. Regarding the Department's interactions with local authorities that ultimately take many of the planning decisions, and in respect of much of the work with developers and setting out the agenda that will meet the demands or policy objectives that exist, what is his general sense of preparedness and understanding among local authorities? What is the general sense of a commitment to addressing future needs from a climate change perspective in terms of the land use policy? Where public transport is concerned, there is a requirement not just from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport but also very much from the actors or operators that they are buying into. That is important.
My next question is for Mr. Brady of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. The Government is setting out a long-term strategy to be submitted to the Commission about the decarbonisation of Ireland beyond 2030, which works towards our commitment to a 2050 net zero emissions target. That long-term strategy, to the best of my information, is seeking submissions from the public but only 15 days have been given to them to make their views known. That seems a very short timeframe. The final report has to be submitted to the Commission by the end of the year so it will all have to be prepared within approximately nine working days, recognising where we are at in the year now.
The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has looked at BusConnects and increasing rail capacity. That is medium to long term. That is important and ties in with the strategy Mr. Hogan mentioned. Have the officials any other ideas that they can deliver within the next two years that would begin the process? In trying to encourage people to change their behaviour, there is the carrot and the stick. The taxation is the stick. It is a soft enough stick at the moment because of the necessity to take people on that journey and the trajectory of the implementation of the carbon tax. To get people to move to public transport in the kind of numbers that we want and that we will need, we have to incentivise them. The quality of public transport has improved in urban areas but we need to see more in some of our peripheral towns. I get that there is a cost issue but we have to front-load it. We have been very good in this country through successive Governments at responding to infrastructure whether it is water and sewerage, roads, or public transport, usually long after it was needed, to the extent that we see strikes and demonstrations of people wanting their bypass, public transport or sewerage scheme. I get the 2040 plan but we are going to have to front-load projects that show consumers upfront that public transport infrastructure is in place. It is necessary if they are going to change their behaviour, live in a more densely populated area on the edge of a town, and accept that they may not have the same space around the house as they had in the past. Perhaps Ms Hanlon could speak to that a little bit.
Ms Deirdre Hanlon:
We have an €8.6 billion capital investment programme, which is happening over the short, medium and long term. The Deputy specifically asked about the shorter term initiatives for what we call expanding capacity. That means being able to carry more people and have more services. Next year alone there will be an expansion of the bus fleet by 60 vehicles in addition to the replacement of 175 buses. There is expansion of services in buses and, importantly, in the rural transport scheme. In 2016, we were spending €12.5 million a year and we are now spending €21 million a year supporting that. There are 1,000 different routes and 2.2 million passengers. That is increasing. I think there have been 76 different service improvements across that network in recent times with late-night services and other expansions of service. There are more regular services, including at weekends and off-peak times, not just in the traditional times. That is a rural initiative.
On the rail network, the Government announced recently the investment in new rail fleet, which is going to come on-track two years from now. The Deputy asked about a two-year trajectory. The first carriages in that fleet will come in in two years. It is costing €150 million and is going to double the capacity of the rail network in the greater Dublin area. It is massive. The greater Dublin area is the part of the rail network that carries approximately 70% of the patronage on the network nationally. Following the extension of the Luas line with the cross-city Luas, there has been investment in fleet. Seven new trams came in as part of that. They were the longer trams. They have bedded in well now and are running well. Some 26 of the existing trams are being extended, whereby what was a 42 m tram is being taken out of service and having a new chunk put in to become a 55 m tram. The first couple of extended trams have entered service and they will come in steadily over the coming months. Next year, eight more of the 55 m trams will be purchased.
Mr. Paul Hogan:
The Deputy's question was about the interaction with local authorities. It is true that there is a feeling out there that there has been a lot of policy change in recent years, particularly in areas of planning and regulation generally. There is also a reality that we do have a legacy in the practices and pattern of things to date, and the capacity and practices of the construction industry and what people are comfortable with and what they know.
That said, however, there is a willingness to change for a variety of reasons and a recognition of the need to change. Climate action is often cited. We are seeing different behaviours in younger people, for example, with regard to ownership of things, travel behaviour and willingness to consider alternatives. There is also a pressing need to regenerate towns and villages throughout the country, and recognition that there is a great deal of capacity there that is not utilised.
On that final point, Mr. Hogan has reminded me of a bugbear of mine. Many villages dotted throughout rural Ireland are, effectively, derelict. Villages close to my area have between 15 and 25 derelict properties because of the nature of the ownership where the owner is deceased and the property has not been passed on, there is no title and so forth. It would be much more sensible for the Department to put money into bringing those homes back into effective use. The Government has pursued the village renewal scheme under the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, and moneys have been invested in some projects that will not have a great capacity to enhance a village. A sure way of doing it is if money is provided to compulsorily purchase these buildings and bring them back into use. I know of a village where the Department has sanctioned money to build 22 local authority houses on its outskirts, yet there are 25 derelict properties in it.
Until somebody in the Department gets his or head around addressing that issue, there will be no joined-up thinking. It would achieve two objectives: it would keep people in the village, reducing the number commuting from outside, and strengthen the fabric of the village by making it more attractive for people to live there. People have started to drift out to one-off houses, even though the policy is moving away from that as climate change suggests that it is not the best way to proceed. Frankly, people are leaving villages because they are seeing buildings crumbling around them. Addressing that issue will not solve the problem, but it is an area where the Department could play a major role. First, it would address an important facet of climate change by encouraging people to live in a more built-up environment. Second, it would enhance rural villages.
Mr. Paul Hogan:
We are also dealing with an ageing population and the need for people to be proximate to services, neighbours and so forth as they get older. We are supportive of initiatives and ideas that can address such issues. The Department does not have perfect knowledge of every place in the country and we are willing to consider proposals and schemes from communities that are often promoted at county level. For example, in Tipperary, there is a scheme for small scale residential development in villages, which we have supported. We have the urban fund for the larger towns and the rural fund through the Department of Rural and Community Development. It is open to local authorities to bring forward ideas and schemes to deal with such situations. Under the urban fund, for example, we have indicated willingness to fund compulsory purchase in an urban context.
There is a willingness to change. There is the concept of transition in that we will not be able to do it all at once or overnight. We are working to influence what can be done. One of the concerns that has arisen around the country is that there is a feeling that some of our density standards, particularly when it comes to smaller scale settlements, might be seen as too high. We are committed to examining that on a cascading level as it relates to smaller, more peripheral locations where urban densities are not necessarily required if it will mean regeneration, and to look at the services issue because in some instances the issue is services.
Mr. Kevin Brady:
The question was about the three-week consultation period on the long-term strategy. It is important to put this in context. This is part of the wider governance regulation from the European Commission which became law at the end of last year. The process commenced with the publication of the draft national energy and climate plan, NECP, and the detailed consultation that took place on it at the start of this year. That is a ten-year plan. The plan must be revised with another draft plan in 2023 and a revised plan in 2024. Then we must work forward and have a more detailed plan for 2031 to 2040. There will be another ten-year plan after that. As part of this process, that consultation took place at the start of the year. Then we had the Government's climate action plan. This piece now is the look forward, as it were. It is a high-level plan, so it is nowhere near as detailed as the NECP. However, it is part of that process. This is the final leg which is the look forward.
A section in it refers to what transport in our cities and rural areas will look like in 2050 so I take Mr. Brady's point that it is about the future. However, should we not get the input from society now in respect of where we are going? Of course, there will be advances and, as a former Minister said, it will be a rolling and iterative process, which is grand, but more time should have been given to the public and other interested parties who need to feed in to this.
Mr. Kevin Brady:
On that point, I refer back to the NECP. The key part of that consultation at the start of the year and the development of that plan is that 2030 cannot be an end in itself. The year 2030 has to be a step on the way to 2050. That was part of the NECP consultation. With regard to the example the Deputy gave in his question, if one compares that to the level of detail in the NECP, it is a much higher level. It is fair to say the long-term strategy will not state we will have X% hydrogen, X% natural gas and Y% electric vehicles as it is at a much broader, higher level. That is why it comes at the end of the process. However, the input into the long-term strategy will not just be this consultation, but the inputs from the previous NECP consultation which included that.
Mr. Kevin Brady:
The governance regulation became European law at the end of 2018 and we were put under a tremendously tight timeframe. We are working within the tight timeframes provided by the European Commission. I am not aware of any other process that has seen a law come into force on Christmas Eve 2018 and within a year and a small number of days requires us to have a ten-year detailed plan as well as a look forward to 2050. The process is, indeed, constrained, but there were always going to be tighter timelines to try to do all that in a year.
I thank the witnesses for their presentations. I will focus my questions on the Departments of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and Transport, Tourism and Sport. Can Ms Hanlon outline progress on the rural transport strategy referred to in the climate action plan and what it will cover? I am familiar with the Local Link transport system, particularly the scheme in counties Offaly and Laois. It is an excellent system. There was good take-up of the additional routes provided under the pilot scheme. It is about getting the word out about it. What else is the Department considering in regard to rural transport?
There was reference to the cycling project office and the park-and-ride office. What is the timeline for getting that up and running?
Cloughjordan railway station is near where I live. In fact, that part of north Tipperary is in my electoral area. Every now and again, there appears to be a crisis due to a rumour that it will be closed. It is very important in that area not only for the village but also for the eco-village there, which is leading the way in showing us how to live in a low impact way. How is that to be managed? We do not want any more negative views on what is happening there in terms of potentially closing it.
With regard to electric buses, has the evaluation been completed on how quickly we can transition to them? How will electric buses be funded?
I wondered about the renewable energy directive that was mentioned in the presentation of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, and why we do not aim for the more ambitious Paris Agreement targets. Mr. Brady mentioned the biofuels obligations scheme and E10 fuel, and outlined his concerns about older cars. I am on the road a great deal, however, and do not see many old cars any more. What does "old" mean and what problems does Mr. Brady see in such cars?
The target for biofuels in petrol is 10% by 2030. That is a long way away, however, and surely we could do better than that. Will our guests comment on that?
To return to the biofuels obligation scheme, Mr. Brady noted that it is for the transport sector but we also have a difficult transition to make in our heating sector. Will heating be considered as part of the scheme? I have a vested interest given that a company in my area, Grant Engineering, produces efficient oil boilers. When we consider a just transition, we must also think about a just transition for such companies. Will the Department consider a combination of some kind of bio-blends under that scheme to help them transition?
Ms Deirdre Hanlon:
The Deputy asked about the strategy for the rural transport initiative. A strategy was published by the National Transport Authority which runs the scheme on our behalf. It is a relatively new strategy, published within the past 18 months, and it shows the level of ambition there is for the expansion of the services. The types of changes and improvements made in recent times are indicative of the trajectory of change that is hoped for over time, as funds allow.
As for the policy for public transport in rural areas, we decided to fold in that work with the wider work I mentioned earlier on a general review of public transport. Among the set of papers the Department published a couple of weeks ago at the launch of the strategy by the Minister, there is a specific one on transport in rural areas. It examines the nature of how and why people travel and the types of facilities that are available and of challenges that are emerging. It is one of the issues on which we are out to public consultation. We ran a stakeholder event last week, attended by a number of stakeholders in the transport sector, that included a workshop specifically on the question of rural transport. We expect to receive a great deal of feedback on the issue in the course of the public consultation, which will inform the policy stance in the years ahead.
The Deputy asked about two offices the NTA is establishing, namely, a cycle office and a park-and-ride office, two initiatives identified as actions under the climate action plan. The cycle office was required to be in place by the end of the first quarter, which finished at the end of September, and it has been set up by the NTA. It has helped to engender some momentum, overcome some blockages and bring some coherence and cohesiveness to the area of active travel and the cycling component thereof. The park-and-ride office is required to be set up in this quarter, which the NTA has undertaken. We expect that when we report on this quarter at some point in January, that aim will have been achieved.
The Deputy also asked about rail stations. The policy for the rail network is that the first priority in rail is maintenance of the existing network, and ensuring that the existing network is at a standard and quality that will allow it to continue to work properly. This is informed by international research and support we have received on the most important areas where we can spend the considerable investment we make in rail, through continuation, best use and maximising utilisation of the existing asset. That is the Government policy for that area.
On the question about electric buses and the transition to greener technology in the public transport fleet, I will ask my colleague, Ms Behan, who is head of the climate change unit within the Department, to answer.
Ms Laura Behan:
On when we might transition to fully zero-emission buses within the urban transport fleet and the potential costs that will arise, we understand the importance of the transition to zero-emission and low-emission buses, primarily because of the leadership role it provides to ease the low-emission vehicle transition. Buses do not generate a large volume of transport emissions. We would not, therefore, make the transition solely to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and there is a strong leadership aspect. Accordingly, we committed in the national development plan to not buying any more diesel-only buses from July this year.
The next phase will be the low-emission part, namely, the transition to hybrid vehicles we are undertaking. The tender process for that is under way and we can expect to see early in the new year the first hybrid technologies. While nine hybrid buses are already on the streets of Dublin, the larger-scale contract, which will provide for the next few years of bus buying, will be signed soon and we will see the buses on the streets of Dublin not long afterwards.
The technology to move to full zero emissions is a more interesting question, and there is much to take into consideration when making a final determination about which technology we will use when we move to full zero emissions. Our two main options in that regard will most likely be full battery electric vehicles for buses or hydrogen. We have to take into account the cost of the buses and how soon we expect it to fall as the technology and manufacturing improve. There are also service considerations, given that it is difficult to introduce fully electric buses on especially long routes, which we have, and in the case of double-deck technology, which is not yet widely available. Currently, there is limited production of full zero-emission double-deck buses, not least in right-hand drive vehicles.
We have assembled a range of evidence on the issue over the past year. We have run a bus trial, commissioned a full-scale assessment of all the various technologies in both a Dublin and Cork context to understand how they work on those cities' streets and routes. We also have a paper on alternative fuels in the bus fleets out for public consultation, as part of the wider public transport and sustainable mobility consultation. That is under way and we expect to get some evidence back from that. We are anxious to ensure that the medium-term pathway will be determined as quickly as possible in order that we can move from this phase of hybrid buying to the zero-emission technology. We will seek to publish a pathway early in the new year and will then be better able to give a timeline of when the full zero-emission technology might be available in Dublin.
Ms Laura Behan:
Yes, there is. In the context of other work we are doing on public transport, we are talking to the European Investment Bank and the European Commission, and being advised by JASPERS, which provides technical assistance to the Commission and member states on such issues and the availability of funding. A small amount of co-funding will be available at European level for zero-emission buses and we are in discussions with JASPERS about the possibility of leveraging some of that.
Mr. Kevin Brady:
The first question was on the renewable energy directive and moving more towards the Paris Agreement target. We are doing that. The biofuels obligations scheme to date has been aimed at complying with the renewable energy directive and meeting that target but in our recent consultation we set out new objectives for the scheme. The first objective is lowering emissions. The second is contributing to overall renewable energy and the third is complying with the renewable energy directive. We are now putting front and centre that this is no longer just about compliance with the renewable energy directive but about emissions reduction and contributing to what is required under the Paris Agreement.
The second question was on car compatability. In a previous session the Deputy mentioned that pumps have E5 fuel displayed on them such that people know now what it is and that it is safe to put it in their car. When E10 is introduced on some pumps an E10 fuel label will have to be clearly displayed in order that people will be aware it. In regard to compatibility of cars, we are confident that all cars registered from 2011 onwards are compatible with E10 fuel. The vast majority of cars registered prior to 2011 are likely to be compatible but we do not have assurance from the manufacturers, etc. There may well be a need for a type of protection grade. In other words, E5 fuel might be maintained at a designated number of filling stations in order that people who have older vehicles, in respect of which the manufacturer will not give an assurance in regard to E10 fuel, will be able to access it. This barrier is what is known as "a blend wall". The reason many of the fuel manufacturers have not moved to E10 fuel, despite the price being relatively low-increase, is they cannot give their customers the assurance that it is safe to use in all cars. In 90% or more of cars it will be fine but there is a communication piece here, similar to leaded and unleaded fuel. We are teasing this out in the consultation. We can be confident about cars registered from 2011 onwards but there are many cars in the fleet that are registered prior to 2011.
In regard to achieving the 10% target by 2030 and if we should do it earlier, the climate action set that target at 2030, but it can be achieved before then. In terms of moving from 6% biofuels in diesel to 12% in diesel, it can be a graduated increase whereas in regard to E5 and E10 in petrol there is no E7 or E8. In many ways, the increase will be a big one but the ethanol increase will probably happen in the first half of the next decade, with some of the higher level diesels - 7% is the blend wall for diesel - happening in the back end of the next decade. Again, part of this consultation is gathering the evidence from stakeholders, including the oil industry and so on, to better understand it.
On the final question regarding the heating sector and the company mentioned by the Deputy, we met the company recently on this issue. In the biofuels consultation, we included a specific question on the heat sector. Biofuels, when used outside of transport, are known as bioliquids. The question was around if there should be an obligation on the heat sector. Article 23 of the renewable energy directive provides for such an obligation. We do not have one to date but it is an issue we are examining, having posed it in the consultation. In a recent public consultation on the energy efficiency obligation scheme we included a similar question because there are different stakeholders in this sector which deals more with home heating oil than biofuels. We are told that a certain level of blending is possible in home heating oil. With minor adjustments existing boilers can utilise bioliquids. The concerns are around what will happen when what is known as fatty acid methyl ester or biodiesel is held in a tank over a long period. When a tank is half full at the end of winter the contents remain in it, largely unused for an entire summer. There is a problem with separation in that a more viscous or gloopier biodiesel can block up the boiler. There is need for some adjustments. It is not a simple process but we are examining it as one we think could contribute, not just in terms of oil but potentially in gas. Biomethane was mentioned earlier. It is a potential means of supporting gas as well.
My first question is to the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. I was recently contacted by a man who had purchased an electric vehicle. As I understand it, the standard is not the same for all models. Perhaps the officials would educate me on that point. This man had to go to a particular station which had a Tesla charging point. The Applegreen stations have their own brand chargers. This appears to be similar to the iPhone and the Android phone situation, which is extremely frustrating. It is confusing and it leads to people being less confident about being able to find a charging point when they need one. Also, the access card does not always work and people have to contact the ESB, often having to wait 15 minutes for a response, to have it reboot the charging point. I know these are teething problems, that it takes time for the negatives and positives to become known and that we will get there eventually but in the meantime the aforementioned issues need to be addressed.
On electric vehicle home charging units, I note these can be purchased for €350 to €400 but according to recent reports, electricians and builders are cashing in on this area and asking for €3,000 for home installation. There is no way retrofit or new build installation to a single electricity socket would cost that much. How does the Department propose to regulate this exploitation? On transport, has an analysis been undertaken of the viability of inland waterways for freight transport? This would be a return a previous mode of transport but with a twist. Has the feasibility of reintroducing this mode of transport been examined? The Shannon Foynes waterway in particular would have the capacity and infrastructure to enable it.
On tourism, I welcome the plan and the €8.6 billion for extension of the rail network and additional capacity on it. It was mentioned in the opening statement that investment in public transport and active travel over the coming years not only equals but well exceeds what will be invested in new roads. Would it be bold and brave to take the decision not to invest in new roads and instead protect and maintain current infrastructure? Is that feasible? As we all know, congestion, regardless of emissions, be they diesel, petrol or other fumes, is blocking ease of transport and commerce. The ethanol increase to 10% is not ambitious enough in light of the fact that Sweden has moved to 85% and Brazil to 100%. I accept that there are problems with older cars but their number will dwindle fairly quickly.
On the park-and-ride facilities, I live in the shadow of the national children's hospital construction site. When the hospital is completed in 2023, there will be 4,000 staff on that campus. Current staff and construction workers on the site have been told to use the park-and-ride facility at the Red Cow and the Luas, which they do not adhere to. However, this park-and-ride facility is already operating in excess of capacity. What is the proposed location of the new park-and-ride facility? Will the site for it be bought under compulsory purchase order and, if so, what is the estimated cost and how long will that process take?
My final question is on the aviation fuel tax. I understand the current exemption is to cease in the future but the wheels are turning slowly in making that happen because it is weighted against profit-making and passengers taking on the burden of the tax, which will cause an uproar as well. Perhaps, people will travel less even though they love their sun holidays. How do the witnesses foresee that happening? I note that the new European Commission only commenced in December.
The wheels turn slowly. Aviation is massive. I am very aware when I go to the airport of the smell of the fuel that lingers in my lungs. It is a public health issue, never mind the extra burden of tax and what it does to our environment and our own people in the public health area. I thank the witnesses.
Mr. Kevin Brady:
The Senator's first question was about the compatibility of connectors. The Tesla chargers are a private network for Tesla owners only. One unfortunately has to buy a Tesla vehicle to use them. The ESB has upgraded all of their network fast chargers and all of the new fast chargers under the climate action plan will have both fittings, the first of which is called CHAdeMO - the Nissan Leaf is probably the most popular car which uses that, which is the Japanese standard - and second of which is the combined charging system, CCS, the new European standard that the majority of cars use. All of the new ESB chargers and the vast majority of the existing ones have been upgraded to this standard.
The second point that the Senator made related to the access card, ringing up and resetting, is an issue around the old infrastructure that is out there. I mentioned in my opening statement that the climate action plan funding of €10 million is not just about new fast chargers. The 250 existing standard green chargers that can be seen across the street are being replaced with blue ones with Project Ireland 2040 written on them. They are the high reliability models. We accept that the existing standard chargers have reliability issues, which is why they are all being replaced. The ESB has replaced approximately 50 of them and is proceeding quite well. Both an upgrade to make the network more reliable, and an expansion are taking place. It is happening now and it is getting better each and every day. I hope that those experiences will get much better.
The home charger costs between €350 and €400. The Government gives a grant of €600, which covers not only the purchase but the installation cost. We require a certified electrician to do it. The vast majority of grants are claiming the full €600. The prices we are seeing are in the order of €1,000, so on average we are giving over half of that. On the higher costs, without naming any electricity supply companies, some offer a service. Even though one may not trust or know someone who may do the installation, I suggest looking at the electricity supply companies, which are trusted, regulated entities, to see their offers. One applies for the grant but one should definitely not pay €3,000. There are options there to look at.
On ethanol volume increasing to 10%,there is an issue around indirect land use change. Ethanol, by a large, comes from feed or food-based crops. The issue is that if we take corn or wheat and make it into ethanol, if they are planted on land that is currently used for some other food production, that food or animal feed needs to be produced somewhere else. That might involve cutting down a forest to plant it or whatever it might be. If we take over more land for biofuels, the issue is whether this will have an indirect land use change that is bad for the environment. Based upon what we are at, Ireland will probably be limited from 2021 onwards to only allowing food or feed-based biofuels to account for 2% of our energy use. E10 would be close enough to that 2%. Going beyond that, it would have to be ethanol that is not produced from food or feed-based crops, which would be much more expensive option.
As someone said earlier, these issues are very much intertwined. Even though it sounds like a great idea to go beyond that, the other environmental impacts need to taken into account too. I caution against indirect land use change impacts and the potential higher increases.
Ms Deirdre Hanlon:
The Senator asked if work that had been done on the scope of inland waterways for freight movement. The short answer is "No". There has not been any examination in detail of either the economic or environmental impact there. There are 1,000 km of inland waterways but these are largely oriented towards recreational use, which has been the focus of their use to date.
Internationally, the bulk of inland waterway usage is concentrated in the Rhine and Danube countries. The former have 85% of this usage within the EU on inland waterways with the latter around 15%. There is practically nothing happening in the other member states.
On the question of investment in new roads, it is important to clear up what might be a misapprehension that are massive plans for the expansion of many more motorways; there are not. The motorway network has been largely completed. This involved considerable investment and was developed largely in the earlier years of this century. The network is there. Together with the national road network, which is far more extensive, it is absorbing the bulk of the investment that there will be in roads in the coming time. The largest proportion of the roads budget is directed at maintaining and keeping in good service what has been built, and being used by people around the country. Some investment is available for new roads, but it is of a much smaller scale compared to what is being invested in keeping the existing network going. This is of a much smaller scale than the investment that will occur in new public transport.
Ms Deirdre Hanlon:
On the park-and-ride issue, the NTA which was mentioned earlier, is on the cusp of setting up its new offices. As part of this work it will pull together and refresh its strategy on park-and-ride centres and where they will be located. It has done work on this in the past because many have been developed previously and some plans are afoot. With the establishment of the new office, the authority will inject more momentum and impetus into what it is doing in that space. I expect there to be publication of a refreshed strategy and plans in respect of that in the coming months.
A further initiative might be of interest is a programme that it runs called smarter travel workplaces and campuses. For large employers such as a hospital, university or very large company, the NTA goes in and assists the employer and the staff in trying to plan the commuting that so many people are doing into that hub, how they get there and get home. It is about trying to assist them in initiatives that they can plan for in facilities that might be provided at the centre, and about information on the types of options, including public transport, that are available. I believe the major hospitals are part of that initiative with the NTA.
On aviation tax-----
Mr. Gerry Kenny:
To be fair, the Senator probably answered the question herself. There is a growing view that the aviation sector needs to make a greater contribution to this space. We have an expectation that the incoming EU Commission will bring something forward through the energy tax directive, which may address this issue but there are bigger questions involved. It is a wider issue, even outside of the EU, as to the arrangements that are currently in place. It would have probably been a slow train coming regardless. There are other areas in the aviation sector, to take this issue outside of the climate space to an extent, that the EU Commission could also look at, including ticket taxing.
We had our own air travel tax here for a time. These would not be the same constraints around them. It is conceivable that these could be brought forward also in some shape or other but we have to wait to see what the new Commission does.
The Department of Health is missing. Its policies very much intersect with a number of these climate policies. I ask all the witnesses, when replying, to talk about the public duty in respect of equality and human rights and how that intersects with their work on climate change.
Regarding the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Ms Hanlon gave some detail in her presentation but sustainable transport is being bundled. We hear about active travel. I met her at a meeting of a different sectoral committee a week ago. Can we start separating public transport, walking and cycling? I want to talk about each of those because this committee has specific targets for cycling. Public transport needs its own conversation. We talk about one kind of vehicle - electric vehicles - at great length but I am concerned that the other areas get bundled together. I ask that we separate the ambition and standards in terms of each of them.
Will the national cycling planning framework be renewed next year? Will it be more ambitious than in the past?
Regarding rail freight, Ms Hanlon mentioned the doubling of the capacity of the rail fleet in Dublin, which is a positive development. We went through a process recently where everybody had to fight to maintain the stop at the station in their town, and we are considering streamlining those stops. How did we reverse from a position whereby people are having to justify the existence of a railway station, and a service to that railway station? The Department is not seeing which commuters make a better case but it is actively seeking and promoting new rail users. It is a reversal of the conversation we have had where people have had to fight for a service. How do we flip that narrative?
The issue of schools was mentioned at great length in terms of walking, cycling and school safety. Has anything happened since the meeting of the other committee last week? I have been thinking about it since then and have ideas on it. What strategies specifically relate to younger people, older people and women cycling? Those are the major inequalities. Ireland has seen a situation develop whereby we are becoming less diverse in terms of cycling. There has been a 90% reduction in the number of girls cycling to school. That question is also for the Department of Finance. We are talking about tax relief, which is fine for commuters and people in particular work, but what initiatives in terms of tax measures, tax credits or a family tax credit incentivise pensioners or children to cycle?
I ask Mr. Kenny to comment on the fact that the Department of Finance has proposed a tax relief for road hauliers in respect of diesel. It was put in the context of Brexit but it seems contra-indicated with everything else that we are discussing and trying to push towards.
I refer to the biofuels obligation. It is now very clear from the European Court of Auditors and elsewhere that much of used cooking oil is palm oil or is highly diluted with palm oil. Do we intend to move away from double counting whereby used cooking oil is given preferential treatment in that one will get double the credit on used cooking oil, given that it is one of the most compromised and the major fraud scandals?
Ms Deirdre Hanlon:
The Senator asked about public transport, walking and cycling. For the purpose of showing the cohesiveness between the policy and the fact that all of these issues have certain benefits that are analogous to one another, we have joined them together for some of the public discourse on them but we tackle and engage on each of them separately and are happy to do so.
The national cycling policy framework was introduced in 2009, as was our Smarter Travel policy document. Those are ten years old at this stage. They had a horizon out to 2020. In the course of preparing for the public consultation we are doing now, which is part of a review of policy across this area, we specifically took each of those two documents and reviewed our progress on implementation of them. That was very much informed by the fact that 2009 is not a year we remember for cycling policy documents. We remember it for the economic, fiscal and banking crises that were occurring at that time. As a result of the fiscal crisis, we did not get the money we had hoped to get so implementation was at a lesser level.
The Senator asked if we will renew it. We will have something fresh in the future. That will be the far side of the process we are doing at the moment, which is questioning what is needed and asking the public, and public representatives such as the members, to engage with us on it.
The Senator highlighted the number of women cycling. That is something we, too, have seen in our evidence and it is an issue we want to examine to see if there are barriers to what we are doing. We are providing funding to the NTA. The provision of that is gender neutral but if we look internationally, for example, in the UK, Canada, America and Australia, the number of women cycling is far below the proportion of men cycling. There must be something in that that we want to explore because it seems to be an international phenomenon among one group of countries but not others.
My question relates to housing and planning. In a previous testimony we heard about the tension between the national development plan and the national planning framework. There is a concern around the emphasis on roads versus, for example, other forms of infrastructure. I have two specific questions. First, in terms of how and where we live and new developments, I refer to the remains of our rail network which was disbanded. Are there plans to examine that as potential important future infrastructure? What measures are being planned to protect that?
Second, in terms of rights of way, we talk about the potential for cycle pathways, walking pathways and rural access. We have heard how people have to drive 2 km into a town in rural Ireland because they cannot-----
There were measures to have rights of way expire in 2021. Is that now being revisited in light of the fact that they could become an effective national network to allow active travel in respect of cycling and walking across rural Ireland?
Mr. Kevin Brady:
A point about human rights was made at the outset. It is important to pick up on that. We have talked today exclusively about sustainability. Energy policy, however, is about sustainability, security of supply and competitiveness leading to affordability. When we talk about all of this, although we need to do so for climate reasons, we always need to be sure of how security of supply is affected. Will people's homes be heated? Will they have a supply of electricity? After recent storms, we saw what needs to be done. I point to the climate adaptation plans published recently in that we need to prepare our country for climate change, bearing in mind the need to sustain the electricity supply and the points on competitiveness and affordability.
I have a couple of points to make on biofuels. Two thirds of the biodiesel in Ireland comes from used cooking oil. We have not mentioned the one third that comes from tallow, which is a waste product of animals. On the two thirds that comes from used cooking oil, there was a case of fraud. The fraud involved something that was not used cooking oil which was purported to be used cooking oil. As a result of that fraud, we should not decide that reused cooking oil is somehow bad. It was something which was purported to be reused cooking oil that was bad. Used cooking oil, which is a waste product, is still higher up the hierarchy in that it is using a waste as opposed to using land, considering the potential indirect land use changes, etc. It is certainly better than using fossil fuel. I take the Senator's point, but where there is fraud we need to stop it.
Under the new renewable energy directive, there is a new Europe-wide database to allow for traceability and for all countries to talk to one another and submit information. The EU is leading in this regard and Ireland will very much play its part in working together to eliminate the fraud. It is our intention to maintain the double counting. That is what we set out in the public consultation. The decision is not made and we will listen to the submissions to the consultation. Our reasoning is based on the circular economy. We are trying to use waste above other things.
Rewetting the bogs is good for the climate. It does not really tie in with biofuels. Bord na Móna has tried to grow different types of biomass on the bogs but this has not been overly successful to date. If there is a crop that can be grown on bogs and that can be used to fuel vehicles, we are be absolutely open to listening. At present, however, it does not look practicable.
I have a follow-up question for Mr. Brady. He mentioned the target of 10% renewable energy use by 2020. I do not want to use up time but I would like him to follow up on this, even in writing. What are the hard targets? I am conscious that we have targets in percentages but I wonder whether we have hard targets for the various forms?
Mr. Kevin Brady:
The target is an overall one. There are limits in terms of what we could use of the different elements. I point the Senator to the public consultation document on our website, which explains this. We do not have targets for ethanol or biodiesel, for example; it is a matter of overall renewable energy in transport. To return to my earlier point, the biofuels obligation scheme has to move on to emissions reduction. That has to be its primary objective.
Mr. Paul Hogan:
The question was on the remains of the rail network. In rural areas, former railways are coming back into use as greenways, for example. There is a tourism element as well as a commuter element. In more suburban or urban areas, it remains a possibility that a railway line such as that to Dunboyne will be considered for development further north in future strategies for the greater Dublin area. Also to be borne in mind are new stations or a new line to Midleton, Cork. The Luas green line in Dublin is built on a former railway line.
I am not too sure what the Senator means in respect of rights of way expiring. It is not a matter of which I am aware.
There is a wide network of traditional routes with rights of way, such as cow roads, blackberry-picking roads and little pathways. They would not be vehicle pathways. They are walking pathways and routes through fields. Some of the fields become housing estates. How does one reimagine traditional rights of way - for example, for access to water for cattle - to give people alternative ways to connect their homes to work, neighbours or town. I understand people have to register the routes before 2021. I am concerned about that.
Mr. Paul Hogan:
Permeability is the technical planning term for the concept. We really championed it in recent years. If one wants to create shorter, safer routes for walking or cycling, it is always better to do it from the beginning. It needs to be coded into the design and into the negotiation with the planning authority from the outset. It is always easier to plan from the beginning. There are, however, cases, with which I am familiar from a local authority context, of recognising where such routes are still used but where people may have to jump over a fence or a wall. The Senator may have seen the shopping trolley upturned or the pallet up against the wall. Retrofitting is often possible in such circumstances where there is willingness to recognise the route, thus allowing choices to be made. There is a lot of opposition where these things are not recognised from the outset. All the policy documents we have issued and all the guidance we give suggest this must be much more to the fore in the consideration of the planning and design of new residential and work areas.
Ms Deirdre Hanlon:
Let me supplement some of the responses. The Senator asked me about the rail network. The first priority is to use the existing network, have services on it and keep it up to standard. Just to do that, €200 million per year must be invested in the infrastructure to keep it going and €140 million must be invested to support the services on the network. That is before we get into the new projects, such as expanding rail capacity through the new fleet.
Ms Deirdre Hanlon:
Some €140 million is going in every year in PSO subsidies to the heavy rail network for the services Irish Rail provides and to try to enhance them. The Cork transport strategy, for example, refers to intensification of services and to additional infrastructure.
The Senator mentioned old lines. CIÉ has specific legal obligations that stem from the legislation that applies to it. There are a couple of categories of lines. CIÉ is required to keep disused lines to a certain standard. Abandoned lines are the ones that could be used for alternative purposes. Greenways are the most obvious example. Where alternative uses can be explored, alternative infrastructure can be provided, in addition to a different amenity for people in areas where there used to be a railway a long time ago.
Mr. Gerry Kenny:
The Senator mentioned the diesel rebate scheme. It has been in place since 2013. It was introduced when fuel prices were particularly high. I acknowledge that the haulage sector was probably the only sector with the means of getting our goods to the market, either domestically or internationally. The Minister made a concession for the scheme this year in the context of the increase in the carbon tax but he did so on a temporary basis. He said it was to run until 2020 and to be reviewed. It was in the back of his mind that any increase in fuel costs for the haulage sector would just be passed on to the end user. It was the Minister's intention when introducing the carbon tax that it would not add to people's costs. That is why he went to so much trouble to ensure the additional revenue raised would be used to address fuel poverty, just transition and other matters.
Reference was made to the bike-to-work scheme. In this regard, the problem with many taxation issues is the tax expenditure. Unless people are paying tax, they cannot benefit from the scheme.
We do not benefit from that. Tax expenditures generally are not the best way of addressing these issues, to be perfectly honest.
On the carbon tax, the logic used is that it is an economic externality or an externalised cost. We have a carbon tax in order that we can re-internalise the social and environmental costs of fossil fuels. Would it not be consistent for all of the carbon tax and not just the incremental increase, that is the €521 million rather than just the €90 million, to be directed at mitigation or adaptation measures?
Mr. Gerry Kenny:
One could make that argument but it just has not been a feature of our tax that we hypothecate tax collected for a particular purpose, generally. The Minister would say that around €1.5 billion is being spent on an annual basis in the area of climate action. We are already spending that money even though it is not specifically geared towards-----
I have one brief question on electric vehicles. Apparently there is a shortage of such vehicles and people who have ordered them will have to wait for a few months before they are delivered. What interaction or engagement has the Department had, if any, with electric vehicle manufacturers to ensure that we can reach our targets?
Ms Laura Behan:
The Society of the Irish Motor Industry and all of the electrical vehicle importers were key stakeholders in the low emission vehicle task force. They participated in all our stakeholder engagements and even sat in on a number of the task force meetings. We have been able, through such fora, to impress on them the need to increase the number of electric vehicles that are being imported into Ireland. We have a very generous incentive regime through which we have generated a demand for electric vehicles in Ireland. It was a question of building faith with the industry that if it ordered electric vehicles in the sorts of numbers we want to see, there would be a market for them here. That took a while to build up but the Government's bona fides have been demonstrated by the incentives that have been put in place in order to try to expand the market. The industry is now stepping up its ordering and importation of electric vehicles.
Mr. Kevin Brady:
I would echo that. There is greater demand for electric vehicles than there is supply globally. In many ways, what we are hearing from vehicle importers and the SEAI, which runs the grant scheme, is that the more attractive a country looks for electric vehicles, the more likely a supplier is to send vehicles there. As Ms Behan stated, the first part is the generous round of incentives and the second part is the investment we are making in the charging network, both of which will help a lot.
How can we ensure that there are multi-modal facilities available in specific locations, like charging points and bicycle parking at park-and-ride facilities? We need to see a holistic approach to the location of multi-modal facilities. Who is in charge of that? Who is ensuring such a roll-out takes place?
Ms Deirdre Hanlon:
This is where co-operation between the two Departments and the NTA comes into play. The work that the NTA is doing on the development of park-and-ride sites, for example, involves integration with public transport services and the provision of charging facilities. We are also providing an incentive, through the funding that is available under the carbon tax measure, for the installation of fast chargers for taxis at public transport hubs. The idea is that people use various modes of transport to get to those hubs and such facilities will assist in integrating the different modes of transport. We have looked at targeting some of the incentives for electric vehicles at the taxi industry because that would have a leadership impact. Lots of people use taxis and could be exposed to an electric vehicle experience in that way.
My final question is for the Department of Finance. This committee's report recommended low-interest loans, scrappage schemes and other smart financing measures. Is the Department engaging with the European Investment Bank on this? The State cannot pay for everything but can enable the citizen to go part of the way in terms of transport. The same could be said for retrofitting but that is not the subject of today's discussion.
Mr. Gerry Kenny:
It was raised earlier this year in discussions on the climate action plan. The reliefs that are in place for the standard electric vehicle are such that one pays very little VRT and any scrappage scheme would revolve around VRT costs. Therefore, it probably would not work in that space.
Ms Deirdre Hanlon:
On the question of initiatives generally into the future, we are preparing a roadmap on a package of incentives, measures and interventions that the Government might be required to introduce in order to enable the electric vehicle transition. We are convening an interdepartmental group to drive that. We will chair it and the Departments of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform will be involved.
Ms Deirdre Hanlon:
I can give the Senator a one-minute answer on e-bikes now. The rule of thumb in respect of the typical cycle ride 7 km but people with electric bikes are likely to cover double that distance. Thus the potential for their use as sustainable transport is significant. E-bikes also qualify under the cycle to work scheme. That is a tax incentive scheme that came out of the national cycle policy framework. It is specifically targeted at commuters, that is, people who commute into work. That is why the incentive is set up in that way.