Tuesday, 2 December 2008
Alternative Energy Projects.
Question 77: To ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the bio-fuel strategy with specific reference to liquid bio-fuels to be used in the transport sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43673/08]
Question 111: To ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the steps he will take following the completion of the public consultation on the bio-fuels obligation scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43630/08]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 77 and 111 together.
The planned introduction of a bio-fuels obligation will require all fuel suppliers to ensure that bio-fuels represent a certain percentage of their annual fuel sales. The bio-fuels obligation is designed to provide a long-term market based framework for the development of a bio-fuels sector and delivery of bio-fuels targets to 2020.
The public consultation process on the bio-fuels obligation scheme has recently been completed. More than 30 submissions were received as part of the consultation process. My Department is now analysing these submissions with a view to finalising a bio-fuels obligation scheme informed by the consultation process. I will be bringing a proposal to Government in the coming months, including introduction of the necessary legislation to put the bio-fuels obligation in place by the end of 2010.
Ireland's national bio-fuels obligation scheme will take full account of EU and global developments on bio-fuels and related sustainability criteria. Ireland is working closely with the Commission and other member states to ensure all bio-fuels placed on the European and Irish market are produced in a manner that does not harm indigenous communities, does not give rise to food security issues and that delivers real and worthwhile savings in greenhouse gas emissions. The trilateral discussions between Parliament, Council and Commission are coming to a close, and I expect to see the item on the agenda for the Energy Council later this month.
This process provides a critical opportunity to set realistic and worthwhile criteria to govern the bio-fuels sector as we move towards our 2020 energy in transport targets. Given that bio-fuels will form an increasingly important component of European transport fuels in the coming years, it is absolutely vital that these criteria are not alone robust and effective in protecting those most at risk in the developing world, but also set the agenda for further investment in more efficient bio-fuel production, and for investment in second generation bio-fuels.
Sustainable bio-fuels will play an important part in delivering the 10% renewable energy target for transport fuels by 2020. Electric vehicles will also play a key role in this regard. Through the full application of the EU sustainability criteria, the bio-fuels obligation scheme mechanism will allow us to ensure the bio-fuel we use is sustainably sourced, and evolving technologies will allow us to increase the penetration rate without any impacts on food prices.
The Minister might clarify what he means by sustainably sourced because I am not sure that bio-fuels will play an increasingly important role in terms of transportation fuel across the European Union, and he knows this as well. There will be a role for bio-fuels in the future but many are not quite sure what that role is.
I am also surprised the Minister has not mentioned the Government's bio-fuels pilot projects currently being proposed. My understanding is that the Government has incentives in place to encourage a certain number of people who are part of that scheme to produce bio-fuels into the future. Is that not the case? Could the Minister give us the detail of those pilot projects?
The concern in the industry is that by taking the current approach where there are pilot projects on bio-fuel production over the next number of years to address the issues of feasibility, viability and sustainability, we kill the rest of the industry. While the Minister gives a certain small number of producers of bio-fuels preferential treatment to get them going on pilot project schemes, nobody else will invest in the industry.
To answer that question on what are sustainable bio-fuels, first, it is taking what are currently waste products and environmental problems such as tallow or vegetable oil from existing processing industries and turning them into an energy source. I see that as sustainable.
Second, the development of second generation bio-fuels — the technology must be delivered here — from algae or from other lignnocellulose material that currently cannot be transferred into bio-fuels but which scientists state may become a reality, would be a further sustainable source.
Third, if we are to use bio-fuels from land use, produced either at home but particularly abroad, rather than from the first two processes I mentioned, it is crucial that they be sustainable in that the emission reduction achieved is real, not as in the case of some corn-to-ethanol or maize-to-ethanol bio-fuels that have come, particularly from the United States, in recent years. They should not come from land use processes that themselves are unsustainable, either in terms of the effect on food prices or on the natural environment. The definition of sustainable bio-fuels is those that meet such criteria.
In the absence of us supporting the European Commission in this proposal, two things happen. The first is that the entire European climate change package falls apart or certainly encounters difficulty because the renewables component, of which bio-fuels is one component, is a central structure keeping the European package together.
The second, which is more crucial, is that while bio-fuels will develop regardless of what the European Union does, if it does not set targets and procedures, there will not be any sustainability criteria in place. Supporting the European Union targets is a way for this country to support proper standards in distant parts of the world because the European Union has the buying power to affect the standards that apply across the world.
The pilot scheme contracts were signed and cannot be unsigned. The reason I want to put in place a bio-fuel obligation scheme is that it will treat all people in the industry on a level playing field where as long as they meet such sustainable criteria they have the ability to supply the market. That is a better approach than the approach taken to date of grant-aiding or giving a tax break to particular companies.
I presume the Minister accepts that the meeting of targets requires a considerable amount of imported bio-fuels and the issue of traceability is crucial. I have been struck by the fact that when I raised this in the past the Minister was not even able to tell me what percentage of bio-fuels were imported as opposed to indigenous, let alone from where it was coming, and yet other countries and companies are able to set down requirements to ensure that ethical standards are met. We hear a great deal of talk from the Minister but, in terms of practical requirements on producers and suppliers, what will he do to ensure full traceability so we can be comfortable in the idea that we are not causing depredation across the developing world?
In listening to what every European Government has to say, they are agreed that it is through European sustainability criteria that one is able to trace and monitor, under World Trade Organisation rules, the transfer of bio-fuels and to set proper standards for them. It is right for Ireland to attach itself, and to meet its interests in the sustainability criteria via such a European mechanism. For Ireland to try to do it alone would be incredibly difficult. Recognising that some of the fuels we import from the UK are already pre-blended with bio-fuel inputs, it is difficult for a country the size of Ireland to determine world trade rules in terms of bio-fuels.
The requirement set out by Norenergi, which is a huge company, is that suppliers must meet written assurances on GMOs and palm acid distillate. It is that specific, it is a requirement and there is no doubt about it. This company is not waiting for any European flimflam; it is doing it now.
The planting of bio-fuels on good land is a crime against humanity and nothing will ever convince me otherwise. The products to which the Minister referred do not amount to anything but bio-methane could be hugely beneficial given the issues that have arisen in regard to the present numbers of bovine stock. We should be trying to turn negatives into positives. A number of bio-methane units have been developed through private funding but there has been no support from the Department nor has any analysis been conducted.
I thank the Deputy for reminding me that the definition of sustainable transport fuels should include electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel cells and bio-methane. I was pleased earlier this year to provide additional support to Irish agriculture for the development of schemes similar to those in place in Germany and elsewhere for anaerobic digestive processors that can produce bio-methane. Meeting our targets will require a range of supplies from existing waste products and Irish farms and other sustainable transport solutions rather than a big bang solution.