Wednesday, 13 March 2019
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
Commission for Regulation of Utilities
I acknowledge that Deputy Calleary and indeed Senator Mulherin have been in touch with me on a number of occasions about this. There is a great degree of concern in Mayo about this project and I fully acknowledge that.
Deputy Calleary acknowledges in his comments that this is an entirely independent regulator and it is independent under EU legislation. That is the essence of the approach.
What is at stake here is a decision on the level of effective subsidy that would be provided for a plant on the basis that it achieves certain desirable features that were set out in the programme agreed at EU level. It requires the regulator to evaluate any project that comes before it and look at matters such as its electrical, thermal and overall efficiency, its power-to-heat ratios, the electricity from combined heat and power, the amount of fossil fuel displaced and all the other issues that are set out and the CRU has set out clearly for any investor to evaluate.
The decision in respect of its evaluation, which the Deputy acknowledged has seen a much lower certification of combined heat and power than was originally given, is a matter for the CRU.
The question of accountability of the regulator is one not to the Minister but to the Oireachtas committee. It is open to the Oireachtas committee to invite the regulator to attend and explain the approach that it takes, but I have full confidence in the regulator's fairness of approach in these matters. Indeed, not so long ago, the OECD conducted an evaluation of the CRU's procedures and practices and found it to operate in a strong manner. There is not any question that the CRU does not conduct its affairs in the fairest possible way.
There may be some issues of misunderstanding. The CRU is always open to meet the sponsors to clarify any issues that may need explanation or if there are issues of clarity. There was - I understand this was partly the delay - quite an amount of information acquired and exchanged and to my knowledge, considerable care has been taken over this decision.
I cannot intervene, as the Deputy has indicated, in a decision such as this. However, I can point to the fact that it is open to the company to meet the regulator and seek explanations or engagement on some of the assessment that has been carried out. The assessment is done against an objective set of criteria. The regulator has assessed many other projects in similar ways and I understand many have been well short of the 100% allocation in terms of the certification of combined heat and power.
The two avenues I mentioned are the only avenues open: from the Oireachtas point of view, the CRU may be invited to the committee and from the company's point of view it can of course seek clarification of the basis of the decision that has been made. It is not open to me to intervene in a case where an independent regulator evaluates the extent to which an application meets important criteria that must be met under this state aid provision.