Dáil debates

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

6:00 pm

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)

We are examining that issue. The European Union is moving towards introducing statutory requirements on a regulatory system for gas storage. I hope this will be done by July 2010. The Commission for Energy Regulation, NORA and the Department have a crucial role in this regard. We will have to consider introducing primary legislation to set out the mechanism within which gas storage regulation is carried out. I believe it will involve NORA, the CER and the Department. We are apprised of this issue and are working on it, among a range of other projects.

We must concentrate on steps we can take to address the concern we have on the supply side. I propose to set out some of the measures being taken. The first emphasis should always be on efficiency. One puts in the plug if one wishes to fill a bath. In the same manner, one must make efficiency, the equivalent of the bath plug, the first priority. One of the first steps we took in government was to improve building standards, recognising that what was built in the past 20 or 30 years was as if the 1970s had not happened. A fundamental historical flaw of the past two or three decades was to allow the wrong buildings to be constructed. The buildings of this period were not fit for our climate, nor were they designed to keep in heat or cut out carbon. We changed the position immediately when we entered government. We are in the process of changing it again by revising Part L of the building regulations to use the breathing space that has been caused, unfortunately, by the property crash to reconfigure the building industry. We want the industry to work towards passive housing standards and ensure new buildings are fit for purpose. We are working on this issue, for example, through the retrofit programmes we introduced.

A few months ago, when the International Energy Agency met to discuss the issue of energy security, US Secretary of State Stephen Chu lauded his country's stimulus package which included a $400 million programme for retrofitting buildings. At the time, I noted that we have the guts of €100 million in our budget for these types of projects this year and our population is much less than one quarter that of the United States. The 50,000 or 60,000 houses being retrofitted this year is only a beginning. We need to increase the figure to 100,000.

I agree with Deputies opposite that students should not be required to sit on oil fired radiators in classrooms. We need to use the period when the construction industry is down to get it back on its feet by enabling it to make our buildings fit for purpose. This is what we are doing.

I also concur with Deputies opposite on the need to consider biomass, bio-gas and CHP as part of the solution. The Irish farming sector has an opportunity to play its part in the solution, including in the provision of micro-generation. Work remains to be done in this area. We are working on a bio-energy strategy which I hope to publish shortly. I have indicated to the industry that I recognise that the 19 cent support price for the first 3,500 kilowatt hours produced by micro-generation is not sufficient to encourage Irish farmers to sell power back to the system. We must take a number of measures. I welcome any and all suggestions or support in this regard.

One must always battle with the Departments of Finance or Enterprise, Trade and Employment when trying to get new industries up and running or setting a price support to help overcome supply chain disadvantages. One such disadvantage is that one has an oil fired burning system in place for 100 years with a range of supply materials ready for use in it. If we are to provide an alternative and get an anaerobic digestion, micro-generation, CHP or biomass fed system up and running, we must have scale. This requires the provision of support prices. Doing this, however, raises concerns - correctly in many senses - in the Department of Finance and elsewhere that it may have an effect on energy prices. I do not believe that will be the case.

We have a five year window of opportunity during which gas prices are likely to be low owing to the shale gas issue to make the switch and support new technologies. I am committed to doing this. At every meeting I attend, I point out that this approach is not politically contested and the only point of contention is the speed at which we are moving. Industry has the benefit of knowing that irrespective of the outcome of a future election or the configuration of a future Government, there is political agreement to move in a local, sustainable, renewable direction.

On electricity, I listened to Deputy Coveney and accept that Gate 3 is a complicated system. When I spoke to Michael Walsh of the Irish Wind Energy Association I asked whether, given its complexity, Gate 3 was the right approach to delivering on this issue. He stated that while it was complicated, it was fundamentally correct and we should proceed with it.

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