Wednesday, 13 March 2019
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
Commission for Regulation of Utilities
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me raise this issue and I particularly thank the Minister for taking it.
The Minister will be more than familiar with the Mayo renewable power project which is located in the former Asahi plant just outside Killala in County Mayo. This project will give 42 MW of combined heat and power, CHP, which will greatly aid us in attaining our national targets in this area. At its peak, it could over 300 construction jobs and, potentially, 130 full-time positions when it is up and running.
It has had a chequered history, however. The plant received, in 2012, a CHP plant certificate under the refit scheme at 100% rate. On that basis, it proceeded to construction, involving expenditure to date of €95 million, and the sod was turned by the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, with much publicity.
In 2016, there were changes in the structure and the financing of the company. It was then required to resubmit for permissions, which it received very efficiently and expeditiously from Mayo County Council and from the Environmental Protection Agency.
However, the grant of the 100% rate, which had been given in 2012, was reapplied for and on this occasion to the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities of water and electricity. That application has taken eight months to decide on. Instead of 100%, it came back with an 18% approval which has completely changed the viability of the project. The project itself has not changed. The environmental impact of the project has not changed since 2012. Nothing has changed in this project since 2012 except this analysis. The application for the re-analysis was made, not on the back of an envelop but by internationally renowned companies with expertise in this area which dealt with all of the issues and presented all of the challenges that were given. This project is now under threat. The job potential, the energy potential and the contribution to Ireland's carbon targets are all under threat.
I understand and appreciate that the Minister cannot intervene in the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities, CRU. However, that cannot make it unaccountable. As a former Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, I ask is it acceptable that investors are allowed to proceed with expenditure of €95 million on the basis of all of these permissions being in place and then, effectively, on the basis of a change of mind, that investment is left in the ground. Is it appropriate that a community, which was given this offer of significant job creation and potential in terms of further energy, is left hanging and without any information today as to where it can go? Is it appropriate that there is no avenue of appeal, bar a judicial review which is enormously expensive for any business to take? What has changed since 2012 in terms of the make-up of the project that has made CRU issue such a different decision today?
I am aware that the Minister cannot interfere but we need answers. One cannot have unaccountable Government bodies going around making decisions like this. I would appreciate if the Minister could offer some pathway by which we can remedy this and address it quickly because we have already lost eight months in their analysis, and so that we can give assurance that Ireland, and Mayo, is a place that one can invest in, that one can be confident about such investment and that we are interested as a country in proceeding with this kind of project.