Dáil debates

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Private Members' Business

Energy Security: Motion.

6:00 pm

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

recognises Ireland is acutely exposed in the event of fossil fuel import disruptions because:

- fossil fuels comprise 96% of Ireland's primary energy mix;

- all oil used for energy and over 90% of natural gas is imported;

- Ireland is at the end of a long supply chain that mostly originates in regions of geopolitical instability;

- Ireland has a total of only 11 days of commercial storage capacity for natural gas which may, or may not, be filled at any particular time;

- Ireland has no strategic gas reserves;

- natural gas accounts for over 60% of indigenous electricity generation in 2008;

- Ireland has only a few days of commercial stocks of oil on the island and is dependent on 24/7 availability of Dublin Port and the Whitegate refinery;

recognises the potential devastating impact of a dramatic spike in the price of oil or a prolonged disruption to fossil fuel imports can have on the Irish economy, national finances and general economic activity;

welcomes the anticipated coming on stream of the Corrib gas field and increased European electricity interconnection but recognises that these are only short term measures to assist energy security problems;

and calls on the Government to:

- extend the remit of the National Oil Reserves Agency to develop strategic gas reserves;

- increase the requirement on gas fired electricity generators to hold back-up stocks of oil from 5 days to 10 days so as to permit electricity generation to continue for a longer period of time in the event of a shortage or absence of gas supplies;

- facilitate as much as possible the coming on stream of the Corrib gas field;

- use the opportunity provided by the Corrib gas field and the global slump in energy demand to front load investment in domestic energy infrastructure as outlined in Fine Gael's 'NewERA' economic stimulus plan;

- facilitate greater investment in micro generation by fast tracking revised planning legislation to deal with impediments to micro generation and introducing statutory safety guidelines for the installation and maintenance of micro generation equipment, to develop a proper certification process for installers and to develop a new and more appropriate tariff and taxation structure to kick-start investment;

- invest in greater electricity interconnection with mainland Europe;

- develop a clear action plan with specific targets to promote indigenous biomass energy in Ireland;

- produce a White Paper on energy security and publish an annual report on efforts to improve Irish energy security, including annual targets for new domestic energy production, reasons for delay in developing indigenous energy production infrastructure and energy storage capacity; and

- devise an emergency strategy for the allocation of energy resources in the event of a serious disruption of oil or gas supplies.

Perhaps we should wait for the appropriate Minister to arrive.

Photo of Brian O'SheaBrian O'Shea (Waterford, Labour)
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We have a Minister.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister, Department of Finance; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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I am a Minister and I will keep you company for a while.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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It would be great if the Minister for Finance, Deputy Lenihan, would stay to listen. I have more faith in him than in many of the other Ministers. I am very pleased to introduce a motion to the House on energy security. It is my understanding that it is the first time in my political lifetime that there has been such a motion put before the House. It is an effort to get on the political agenda an important issue which raises serious concerns about a potential future crisis that may hit the Irish economy because of its over-exposure to imported fossil fuels.

Photo of Brian O'SheaBrian O'Shea (Waterford, Labour)
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I take it the Deputy intends to share time.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I will share time, with the agreement of the House, with Deputies Clune, Doyle, Deenihan, D'Arcy and McHugh. Perhaps the Acting Chairman will let me know when I have used approximately 18 minutes of my time.

I am glad the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Ryan, has arrived. This motion attempts to put the issue of energy security squarely on the Government agenda. There has been a significant emphasis from this Minister and the Government on trying to shift the focus from carbon-emitting fuels to more sustainable ways of powering the economy. The main driver for the Minister has been climate change and I want to attach equal, if not more, importance to energy security issues. They are at least of equal importance as an issue looking to change the way we power Ireland from a transport, energy generation and heating supply perspective.

The Minister will be familiar with two of the most recent reports which sum up the potential crisis that may hit Ireland because of our reliance on imported oil in particular, along with imported gas. The first is Energy Security: Ireland on the Edge, produced by the Ecology Foundation in January 2010, and the other is The Oil Crunch - A Wake-Up Call for the UK Economy, which was produced by the UK industry task force on peak oil and energy security.

The report produced in the UK makes it quite clear that they are predicting and anticipating a dramatic price increase in oil over the next three to four years to well over $100 a barrel. If this is combined with the Ireland on the Edge energy security report, one can see how vulnerable and ill-prepared we are for that type of oil spike in the not too distant future. It can also be combined with our almost complete reliance on imported gas, as our gas fields off Kinsale are running out and we do not yet have gas coming ashore from Corrib. We are perhaps the most exposed country in the OECD in our reliance on the import of fuel to power our homes, businesses and economy.

We need to make plans today to ensure we address the risk that exists and slowly turn the ship around in changing our reliance on fossil fuels in order to move to a more sustainable future. I know the Minister believes in that but my difficulty is that we have not seen a viable roadmap to get us there. I hope that by 2025 there will have been a massive increase in renewables, along with interconnection and the required storage capacity. There must be a bridging solution between now and then which will ensure that the Irish economy will not be exposed to supply or pricing concerns which are a real threat.

We can examine the storage capacity which Ireland has in case of a disruption of supply in oil or gas. We must reflect on the fact that 95% of all fuel used in Ireland is imported. We have 55 days of oil stored, although the majority of it is not held on the island but in Britain. We are reliant on Dublin Port being constantly open, as well as Whitegate refinery in Cork Harbour, should there be a crisis. We must seriously consider increasing the capacity of oil storage on the island of Ireland so we can counteract the effects of a reduction in imported oil supply.

The gas position is far worse as essentially, we have no strategic gas reserves in Ireland. Bord Gáis or any other gas supplier imports what is needed and can increase the pressure on the pipeline, giving a little extra supply. Bord Gáis keeps a small amount of reserves in small disused gas fields off Kinsale and it is estimated we have approximately 11 days of gas stored should the interconnectors between Ireland and Britain, which pipe gas into Ireland, shut down for a political or geological reason. Many people would say we do not even have that much of a supply and Ireland's gas supply probably would not even last longer than a week if the import of gas were halted for any reason. This is a very vulnerable position when one considers that more than 60% of our power generation in Ireland comes from gas.

The day in the past five years when Ireland used most power was 7 January. For the first time in a long time we used the second gas interconnector to approximately 30% capacity, along with the first interconnector to its maximum capacity, because we were importing so much gas. It was a cold day and there was no wind so there was no generation capacity coming from wind turbines. We were heavily reliant on gas, coal and peat in powering the country. We are entirely reliant on imports for practically all that gas.

What should we do as a result? I hope the Minister will take my suggestions on board. We must put financial incentives, or regulation, in place to require the industry to broaden risk. We could be much more proactive in using disused gas fields and other storage potential that is available in Ireland should we choose to use it. Ireland can use the gas pipeline infrastructure off the south coast of Ireland which feeds the Kinsale gas field for this purpose; it is happening already to some extent. In the summer months Bord Gáis pumps gas into some of the smaller gas fields in order to increase pressure and allow usage in the autumn as more gas is required. We need much more of this thinking.

We must require electricity generators to increase back-up stocks. Every gas powered station in Ireland - most of the newest, modern and most efficient electricity generators now operate on gas - should be required to hold oil reserves in case gas runs out. They are required to so do for a five-day period, but this must be doubled to ten days.

On the Corrib gas field, my clear position is that we need to bring gas ashore from off the west coast. It is a resource for Ireland and issues such as the taxation arrangements some criticise or the amount of money Ireland as a country is making from the exploitation of its own gas resources, its relationship with Shell and so on can be debated on another day. This debate is about energy security and the ability to bring large volumes of gas to the Irish market from a major gas field which I understand is approximately two thirds of the size of the Kinsale gas field and good for energy security in Ireland. Its exploitation must be supported and encouraged and facilitated as quickly as possible.

As for liquid natural gas, for the first time in living memory there has been a complete divergence in pricing between oil and gas. Gas no longer is priced depending on oil prices because huge new shale gas reserves have been discovered in the United States and Europe. This has resulted in an oversupply of liquid natural gas globally and, consequently, cheap gas. Moreover, it is likely that gas prices will fall even further in the next six months as oil prices increase beyond $85 per barrel towards $90 or $100 per barrel. Even though this is good in respect of the security of supply, the State must do all it can to encourage the liquid natural gas storage facilities being proposed for Tarbert. I note my colleague, Deputy Deenihan, is highly supportive of the project and will speak about it later.

There is a huge opportunity, albeit untapped in Ireland as yet, to produce what is called biogas, primarily methane, from farm waste. I refer, in particular, to slurry which is perceived to be a problem and methane which is a far more potent and damaging greenhouse gas than carbon. We should begin to perceive such waste as a resource rather than as a pollutant. There is much for the Minister to do to kick-start an industry that is a billion-euro industry in Germany where more than 4,000 anaerobic digesters on farms produce methane from slurry, grass and other farm produce and waste. We should be doing this in Ireland because we grow grass better and have a capacity to do it more efficiently. This constitutes an opportunity to give farmers a new source of income and wealth creation. The Minister is familiar with the work under way in UCC, particularly that of Professor Jerry Murphy whom I consider to be Ireland's leading expert in this area. I hope the Minister will be forthcoming with funding for a new pilot project on the Cork city landfill site for a planned new biogas anaerobic digester. Moreover, I understand it will be co-sponsored by Bord Gáis if approximately €4 million can be found by the Government to make the project happen.

This is an exciting potential income generator for farms nationwide because if there is one thing Irish farmers are good at, it is growing grass efficiently. They have been doing it for years and continue to do so in the dairy and beef industries. There is now an opportunity to generate new income from this crop. Ireland has a natural competitive advantage over other countries in the European Union that are generating huge sums of money and income for rural communities by dealing with waste in a far more environmentally-friendly way than spreading it on land, which is what happens with most slurry. I strongly encourage the Minister to promote and support through taxation, financial incentives and export tariff mechanisms, in particular, efforts to make this industry a reality in Ireland as it already is elsewhere in Europe in countries that are not as good at growing grass. This could pertain to selling biogas to the gas network or generating electricity from biogas and selling it back to the network.

I wish to shift the focus slightly onto Ireland's fuel mix and discuss briefly the need, from a security point of view, to move from spending money on imported oil, gas and coal to spending it in Ireland in a far more effective manner to create jobs, support rural communities and, most importantly, shift the risk away from reliance on imported fossil fuels to generating our own indigenous fuel in Ireland. I welcome the new legislation that Members probably will be debating tomorrow or on Thursday in respect of the obligation scheme that after July will require all petrol and diesel in Ireland to have a 4% bio-fuel mix which may be ethanol or biodiesel. However, much more must be done to promote the indigenous production of such bio-fuel on the island of Ireland because, as the Minister is aware, even though a market is being created for bio-fuel in Ireland by introducing this welcome obligation, it is being filled with imported bio-fuel to an unacceptable extent. We must be much more aggressive and proactive about supporting the industry in Ireland which is waiting to take off. Moreover, this does not simply pertain to agriculture either. We must also consider waste much more constructively to ascertain how methane or ethanol can be produced from it. Some of the projects I have studied, as I am sure has the Minister, have exciting potential.

Biomass has even more potential than liquid bio-fuel. I spoke at an energy conference in Cavan last night at which the viability of growing miscanthus and willow for wood biomass burners in the county was considered, with an expert from Teagasc. The exciting point about this is that willow and miscanthus grow on wet land that otherwise is difficult to farm and, consequently, there is no threat to food supplies. There is much that can be done in respect of bio-fuel and biomass crops in Ireland without affecting food supply because of the types of lands suitable for this purpose. Moreover, there are good examples of this happening in Ireland. For example, Johnson & Johnson which I often cite as a good example in my constituency receives trailer-loads of willow wood biomass which is grown in west Waterford and supplied on a weekly basis to a combined heat and power plant in Johnson & Johnson using a very competitive pricing model that should and can be replicated nationwide. The State has a central role in providing the market a guaranteed price for crops such as miscanthus and willow, as well as thinnings from forestry, to make wood biomass a huge industry in Ireland. A total of €400 million of taxpayers' money is spent per year in importing fossil fuel to heat public buildings in Ireland such as schools, libraries, this Chamber, hospitals and many others. We should enter into a roll-out programme for combined heat and power generating plants in all these buildings and source the fuel material from Irish farms to make this happen.

The big idea from the Government in moving away from reliance on fossil fuels pertains to wind energy, in particular. I acknowledge the wave, solar and other technologies but as my time is running out, I wish to concentrate on wind power. We have a fundamental problem in meeting our target of building enough turbines to generate approximately 6,000 MW, which is what we will require if we are to achieve the 40% target set by the Minister in terms of the renewable proportion of energy generation. Gate 3 is a flawed way to deal with grid connections. Under our current system, if an investor already in Ireland or coming to Ireland finds the ideal site for a wind farm, he or she has no chance of getting a grid connection within six to seven years because he or she would need to join a queuing system. We need to switch over to a model whereby every proposed wind farm is assessed on its merits alone rather than on how long it has been in the system. Its merits should be judged in terms of wind speed, proximity, cost, bankability, technology and so on. These should be the sole criteria. I appeal to the Minister to consider this matter.

The Government needs help in rolling out the grid infrastructure that will be necessary to make the new energy future a reality. We in this party will try to give the Minister that help as long as he considers the technologies and potential other solutions with an open mind in respect of discussions on whether infrastructure should be underground or overground, the costing implications of that and so on. My time is up, so I will raise my other issues at the end of the debate tomorrow night.

Photo of Brian O'SheaBrian O'Shea (Waterford, Labour)
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Deputy Clune has four minutes.

Photo of Deirdre CluneDeirdre Clune (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I am glad to have an opportunity to speak for even four minutes on this debate, which has a particular emphasis on energy security and security of supply. The past week has brought home to us all how vulnerable we are as an island nation. We need to focus on the fact that we must develop our self-sufficiency. The water shortage before Christmas highlighted a lack of storage and interconnectivity and poor planning for a crisis.

In this debate on energy, we are focusing on how vulnerable we are. We do not want to be exposed to energy shortages. Since we are a nation that is almost entirely dependent on fossil fuels, we need to change our strategy and focus on how to meet our European and international commitments to climate change. Many debates in the House have highlighted the cost of electricity vis-À-vis our competitors and the absolute need to keep those costs down to ensure that, as an exporting nation, we return to being competitive. It is essential that in all our decision making and policy formation in respect of the energy sector, particularly electricity, a price impact analysis is also considered. This consideration must always be with us, as must our consideration of how to reduce our dependence on carbon-emitting fuels.

We produce the most expensive electricity in Europe. The Celtic tiger years saw a clear divergence between Irish and European industrial electricity prices. The same is true in terms of domestic energy. We need to diversify, change and plan for our future. In the long term, we must plan on how to use our primary fuels. We are one of the greatest users of natural gas for electricity generation in the EU. The strategy to generate 40% of our electricity through renewables by 2020 must be supported. Wind probably comprises the largest target in this regard and must be supported in the form of appropriate storage facilities. Given the intermittent nature of wind, there is not necessarily a high wind factor at times of high demand. The options, be they pump storage or compressed air storage, must form part of an economic and technical feasibility study of our wind generation concepts.

If 40% of energy is to be generated via renewables by 2020, what of the balance? Will the mix include coal or gas? Will we reduce our dependence on oil? If we are to continue as we have been, we will most likely become dependent on gas. Given geopolitical considerations, we could be exposed to a major energy security risk. By 2030, the North Sea fields will be depleted, after which we will depend on gas from politically unstable regions such as the former Soviet Union, the Middle East and north Africa. Natural gas accounts for 20% of our energy demand, oil 56%, coal 9%, renewables 3% and peat 4%. Some 65% of our energy comes from natural gas. It is used by 700,000 homes for heating and cooking. Some 90% of this gas is imported through the UK. While my party welcomes that the Corrib field will come on stream, the latter will only supply approximately 50% of our needs initially, a figure that will quickly reduce to 20% after three or four years, which will increase our dependence on imports.

Photo of Brian O'SheaBrian O'Shea (Waterford, Labour)
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The Deputy's time is almost exhausted.

Photo of Deirdre CluneDeirdre Clune (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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We need to focus on the diversification of supply. Liquefied natural gas would be an important factor in this regard, as would the other sources mentioned by Deputy Coveney. We also need to develop gas storage facilities so that 20% of our annual natural gas usage is stored, be it in disused fields or salt caves. These are the types of policy we must consider now. Above all, an emphasis on the economics of whatever strategy we develop will be important if we, as an exporting nation, are serious about keeping our energy costs down. They have a significant impact on the cost of the services and products we export.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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I compliment Deputy Coveney on tabling this motion and on his work in this area. He is to the forefront as an expert in this regard.

I am delighted that the Minister signed a foreshore licence for the Shannon LNG project today. I welcome this sincerely. As he knows, the project was announced in May 2006 and will provide liquid natural gas at the Tarbert-Ballylongford landbank. In September 2007, the company applied for planning permission for a terminal. Its application was lodged with An Bord Pleanála and fast-tracked and planning permission was granted in March 2008. In April 2008, an application was made for a foreshore licence, but its granting took almost two years. It was a slow process. I hope that the granting of further foreshore licences will not take as long, as this project was held up for almost two years. However, I welcome the fact that it has been delivered today.

I wish to raise a few issues with the Minister. Shannon LNG got planning permission to provide a pipe from Foynes to the landbank. At the same time, Bord Gáis is considering another pipe to service Endesa, which is converting the Tarbert oil-burning station into a gas-fired station. It is ridiculous that two pipes would be provided to the same area. Will the Minister knock heads together and get people to agree on a single pipe?

Shannon LNG applied to the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER, in September 2008 for an exemption from third party use of the terminal. The CER published a consultative document and I understand that the exemption has been granted. It is a welcome departure. Shannon LNG would not normally have constructed a pipeline until the terminal was close to completion, but it is important to point out that, subject to certain undertakings, it has offered to build a pipeline early to accommodate any third party's requirements. It is prepared to build a pipeline to accommodate Endesa provided it receives certain assurances.

It is important that an assurance to the effect that if the project does not proceed - which is highly unlikely - the company will be compensated in respect of its investment. It would be easy to provide such an assurance. If the pipeline is provided, not only will it service the operations of Endesa on Tarbet Island, it will also service Listowel and Tralee. It will also lead to gas being brought into County Kerry for the first time. As far as I am aware, Kerry is one of the only counties - Donegal is another - to which gas is not provided. The county is at a considerable disadvantage as a result. An opportunity exists in this regard. I thank Endesa and Shannon LNG for initiating this exciting project.

An extremely interesting document on microgeneration was published in the UK recently. The document in question refers to the use of feed-in tariffs, with which the Minister is probably familiar, to encourage small-scale, low-carbon generation. It is expected that the scheme in the UK will, by 2020, support over 750,000 small-scale, low-carbon electricity installations and will have saved 7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. What is happening in the UK in respect of feed-in tariffs could be replicated in Ireland in the immediate future.

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputy Coveney for tabling this motion. The need for it is borne out of both frustration and necessity. We have a major dependence on imported fossil fuels, which constitute a finite resource. Ireland is at the end of the supply chain, regardless of whether it is importing such fuels from the east or the west.

The original programme for Government that was published in 2007 included provision for the establishment of a Cabinet sub-committee on climate change and energy security and of the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security, of which Deputies Coveney and McManus and I are members. The joint committee has made progress in respect of various initiatives, particularly those relating to electric vehicles, the heads of a Bill on climate change and a foreshore licensing Bill, which was presented to the Government approximately one year ago. The latter Bill, which appears to have become lost between two or three Departments, puts forward a proper plan for offshore alternative energy projects to be licensed and allowed to proceed without environmental impact statements being obtained for each one. The legislation in question is progressive and enjoys the support of all parties. Since it was sent to Government it has been left to languish in one of the Departments but I am not sure which one.

I wish to concentrate on microgeneration, particularly the area of biogas. In March 2008 the European Parliament adopted a resolution - in the form of an opinion, rather than a proposal for legislation - on sustainable agriculture and biogas and the need for a review of the relevant EU legislation. It was stressed at the time that, in the long term, renewable energy sources such as biogas and biofuels, together with solar and wind energy, offer the possibility of enjoying a higher degree of independence from the fossil fuel industry.

One of our main issues with the Minister and his colleagues in the Green Party is that they are focusing on the area of agricultural emissions as a high percentage of our total emissions. By adopting anaerobic digestion, for example, it is possible to mitigate huge amounts of the methane emissions from the agricultural sector by harvesting and harnessing the energy produced from said methane. The joint committee received a presentation on this matter and recommended to the Minister that the renewable energy feed-in tariff be brought into line with that of Europe and that it be index linked. As far as I am aware, the joint committee has not yet received a response to its correspondence on this matter.

We set aside €50 million in 2009 in respect of the provision of carbon emission fines. That is a complete waste of money. We could have invested the money in developing a smart metering system or facilitating a review of the planning regulations in order to support the development of microgeneration. We could have used those funds in a much better way. The policy that is currently in place is moving us towards a 20% renewable energy resource but we are not planning for this.

I wish to provide a simple example in this regard. Some 40% of the expenses incurred by those involved in horticulture who use glasshouses arise as a result of energy requirements. These people have a huge biodegradable waste facility at their disposal but there is no capital investment on offer to them in order that they might develop microgeneration and anaerobic digestion projects. The latter could meet most of their heating costs and thereby reduce the overall cost of producing fruit and vegetables. This would allow us to compete, to retain jobs and to supply Irish-produced fruit and vegetables to supermarkets rather than importing them from Spain and elsewhere.

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal North East, Fine Gael)
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I congratulate Deputy Coveney on the work he continues to do in this area and on putting forward this motion, which is proactive in nature and which offers suggestions to the Government.

I previously worked as a geography teacher and I recall that when my students opened their books to the chapter on energy security and fossil fuels and what might happen in the future, they found the subject unexciting, uninteresting and boring because it did not reflect reality. However, we are now living in the post-oil era and a new reality has emerged. In recent weeks people have begun to panic because they are being obliged to pay, on average, an additional €50 in respect of an order of 1,000 litres of home heating oil. They care panicking because many of them cannot afford to pay the extra cost. People have also begun to use green diesel illegally as a result of their not being able to afford the alternative. Reality is beginning to bite because people, farmers included, can no longer afford to purchase these fuels. We put forward a suggestion to the Minister at the time of the budget that farmers should have been excluded from the additional carbon tax on farm fuel. However, that suggestion was ignored.

Those who are currently studying geography in schools have their classrooms heated by radiator systems which burn oil in order to produce such heat. The Minister could take the lead in respect of this matter. Why, as Deputy Coveney inquired, are we not considering, in respect of Government buildings, public libraries and offices and schools which close at 4.30 p.m. or 5 p.m., of creating electric storage facilities that could be fuelled at night-time. That is a simple suggestion and it would provide a solution with regard to our needs in respect of public buildings. At 8 a.m. each day, prior to public buildings opening, oil must be burned in order to produce heat. We could, however, put in place electricity storage facilities whereby such buildings could be heated through the night and this would ensure that costs would be reduced.

We should also consider the lead taken by the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, in respect of hydrogen, electrolysis and fuel cell technology. In the UK, a great deal of research has been carried out at the universities of Warwick, Nottingham, Leicester and Birmingham in respect of the latter technology. We should be taking the lead in this regard and our third level sector should be examining the possibility of developing fuel cell technology as a solution to our problems. The Minister will state that this is already the case but not enough is being done. The reality is that there are many possibilities and permutations to be considered with regard to advancing alternative technologies and systems in the interests of ensuring energy security and safeguarding energy production.

On one day alone last summer, 1,000 MW of energy were imported to Paris from the United Kingdom. This was due to the fact that temperatures in France were so high at the time that it was not possible for nuclear energy to be produced for a period of two weeks. We need to fast track that interconnector between Ireland and Wales and be in a position to export our energy. We need to think outside the box. Rather than pinning farmers against the wall in terms of overhead pylons and so on, why do we not look at running this under the sea and at perhaps running it from Dublin to Moneypoint where we have a 400 kV line and up the west coast to Ballyshannon? The problem with this Government is very simple. A Government that will not take responsibility for the past is certainly not in a position to take responsibility for the future, especially in terms of energy security.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)
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I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:

"commends the Government for its comprehensive actions to ensure a sustainable energy future for Ireland, delivering a reliable supply, efficient use of energy, competitive prices and diverse fully sustainable energy sources through:

— ensuring that electricity supply consistently meets demand;

— ensuring the security and reliability of gas supplies;

— overseeing ongoing investment in electricity and gas networks;

— prioritising energy efficiency and conservation;

— delivering a diverse and sustainable fuel mix; and

— in particular:

— its prioritisation of electricity interconnection and grid development, including the East West Interconnector on schedule for 2012 with EU funding support, and the North South Interconnector, together with the development of further interconnection to the UK and mainland Europe;

— its commitment to ensuring all-island gas security through its support for the new European framework for security of gas supply and emergency planning under the forthcoming Regulation, and investment in the transmission system, bilateral arrangements with the UK and facilitation of Liquefied Natural Gas and gas storage projects;

— its delivery on increased levels of strategic oil stocks held on the island of Ireland, through new National Oil Reserves Agency facilities which will come on stream in the next three years and its ongoing commitment to rebalancing of strategic stocks in favour of stocks held on the island of Ireland;

— the exponential investment in national energy infrastructure currently under way by the State energy companies, including EirGrid's GRID25 €4 billion investment by 2025 in developing Ireland's high voltage transmission Grid, ESB's investment of €22 billion to decarbonise the national energy system, and Bord Gáis Éireann's investment in gas networks and energy supply;

— the accelerated development and deployment of renewable energy technologies including offshore and onshore wind, bioenergy and ocean, delivering the national target of 40% renewable energy in electricity in 2020, and creating the conditions for Ireland to become an exporter of energy with consequent economic and security of supply benefits;

— radically enhancing energy efficiency and conservation through unprecedented funding for energy efficiency programmes, including the Home Energy Saving Scheme, Warmer Homes, industry support programmes, the public sector energy efficiency programme, energy efficient equipment tax incentives and the roll out of the National Retrofit Programme this year; and

— maintaining a stable and sustainable environment for hydrocarbon exploration and production, including the strengthening of the regulatory safety framework through the enactment of the Petroleum (Exploration and Extraction) Safety Act 2010."

I wish to share my time with the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cuffe.

Photo of Brian O'SheaBrian O'Shea (Waterford, Labour)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)
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The Fine Gael Party motion is well constructed and I would not disagree fundamentally with much of the analysis Deputy Coveney presented. It is crucial we start to debate and understand this issue of energy security within the context of good energy policy being set and getting clean, competitive and secure energy sources. We are always trying to get those three legs of the stool right but we could add a fourth leg. Recently, I have started to change my thinking. The fourth leg is the country's balance of payments. I guess it is part of competitiveness but we want to reduce the amount of money we spend on energy imports and increase our exports. We could say there are four legs on the stool.

I have been acutely appraised of the energy security issue. Anyone who grew up in the 1970s and pushed the car to the petrol station had that hard-wired into his or her brain. Anyone who read "Limits to Growth", as I did as a teenager, had the clear understanding that this century would be defined by resource limits.

My thinking on energy security was further developed or honed eight or nine years ago. A very important conference was held in the Tipperary Institute which, I think, was organised by Richard Douthwaite from Feasta, the foundation for economic self-sustainability. A speaker at that conference was Colin Campbell, a former geologist, who had worked in the seas around Ireland looking for oil. He had also worked in Colombia and a range of different locations. As an independent expert, a geologist, who had worked for many of the oil companies but who no longer had any interest in them or in oil exploration, I found his analysis carried a certain weight. It was independent and he did not have a vested interest. He was surrounded by a collection of similar experts from all over the world, including Jean Laherrère from France who, I think, had worked for Elf, the French oil company, Chris Grabowski, the editor of one of the main petroleum magazines who has been quite brave in terms of saying it as it is, Matt Simmons from the USA and a range of other people who were part of what one might call that peak oil community. It is a community which has got it right.

A representative from Shell or one of the large oil companies at that conference eight or nine years said that this was all nonsense, that there was no shortage of oil, that we would be fine until 2050 and that even then we would find something else. At that time, the official sources of the International Energy Agency were scathing in their criticism of the likes of Colin Campbell and the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas.

However, what has happened in the intervening eight or nine is interesting. The geological reality has become increasingly apparent. We face a world not in which oil will disappear overnight but in which it will become increasingly scarce. We will face a peak, if we do not face it already, followed by a contraction in availability, in particular of light sweet crude oil which has powered our civilisation for the past 100 years. There is much shale oil left in Alberta, Canada, in Venezuela and elsewhere but it takes almost as much energy to get that out of the ground and huge volumes of water which are not readily available.

Nothing will be as good as oil. We will never have an energy resource which is as energy dense, transportable and as useful as oil. It is stored solar energy, stored for 150 million years. It is the perfect solar energy in terms of its energy density and transportability. Jonathan Porrit said recently that three tablespoons of oil is the equivalent of eight man hours of energy. Deputy Ferris knows what it is like to haul a net. If he did that for eight hours, three tablespoons of oil would give one that energy. It is phenomenal energy material. However, it is clear we face a peak in global oil production and that this planet faces a fundamental challenge to provide oil for its people in a world where it is no longer as freely or as cheaply available.

I am very much appraised of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas and the need for us to act now. Reality has caught up. A year and a half ago, I invited over Fatih Birol of the International Energy Agency and brought in the senior civil servants from across the public service and told them to listen to him. In its 2008 report, the most conservative energy agency said our dependence on oil was utterly unsustainable, that the age of cheap oil was over and that governments must act now. This report could not have been more stark. It did a field by field analysis which had not been done previously. Many lies are told in the oil industry. When the IEA started to look beneath the surface of what people had been saying and at the reality, there was a stark warning to every government which has continued since that we must rid ourselves of our dependency on oil, in particular.

That drives the European Union. We see it across the board. Energy Ministers are all pretty much appraised of this. It complements what we are doing on climate change. The 2020 strategy is a strong, mandatory approach from the European Union and it is backed up because Energy Ministers, Heads of Government and last but not least Finance Ministers are starting to understand this reality and react to it.

The promise at the inauguration of the new President in the US was to harness the sun, wind and soil to power its cars and run its factories. The US gets it. It is an oil economy and a country which got rich on the back of oil resources. It peaked in 1976 and it now imports 15 million barrels a day of the 20 million barrels a day it consumes.

China gets it. I was at one of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas conferences six or seven years ago. The top person in the Chinese oil company was there and all he said in his speech was that China will need a lot of oil and gas. It is now buying it around the world. The estimate from the IEA is that in 2030, China will import the same amount of oil America is now importing. I do not see from where it will come. I do not believe there is a miracle source we will discover so, therefore, we must act.

This country must act. We consume 165,000 barrels of oil a day. That is ten pints of oil for every man, woman and child every day. Think of the energy in that. We do not see it because it goes to food production, transport systems, fertilisers, petrol, heating systems and industrial production. It is a lot of oil. This is one of the most oil dependent countries in the world.

I appreciate Deputy Coveney's motion because it gives us a chance to set out that reality to the people. One of the first reactions is to provide storage so that if there is another energy crisis, like in the 1970s, we have something to cover us. That is why NORA is compelled to hold approximately 90 days oil stocks for the country. Currently, it holds 84 days in gasoline and 78 days in the distilled equivalent with the remainder coming from private industry. Currently, approximately 85% of that is in real oil stocks and approximately 15% is in tickets and stock tickets. As Deputy Coveney said, approximately 45% is held in Ireland and 40% abroad. However, we have given NORA a serious amount of resources to ensure 70% of our stocks are held here. We are looking at a range of different solutions to increase our capability in that regard and we have given NORA real resources to do that job.

In terms of gas, Deputy Coveney is right that there has been a change in the past couple of years. Forever and a day, gas prices followed oil prices but there has been a divergence in recent times because of the development of the hydrovacing of shale gas in certain areas in the United States. We should be careful as to whether it is a complete game change. The EPA in the United States is starting a two year study on the implications of this for the water table and water pollution. The level of resources is also not yet clear. It is true, however, that the development of this shale gas resource changed the spot market price in the United States and, by dint of that, the world market price for gas. It has also resulted in a change in the LNG business in that tankers which previously travelled across the Atlantic may no longer have a reason to do so. This has created a certain flexibility in the market which has helped to reduce prices.

Ireland should not be complacent in this regard given that gas accounts for one quarter of our energy use. Approximately two thirds of Ireland's gas consumption is used in electricity production where it accounts for approximately 60% of our electricity. We are, therefore, highly dependent on imported gas, especially for electricity. Between 95% and 97% of Ireland's gas is imported, largely from the North Sea. North Sea gas peaked about five or six years ago and estimates show that even by 2017, within ten or 15 years of North Sea production having peaked, the United Kingdom will import 70% of its gas needs. The figure for Ireland is likely to match the British figure.

While the immediate reliance for imports will probably be on Norway, its gas resource is relatively limited on a European scale. Ireland would then be dependent on LNG or Russian or Algerian gas supplies. Ireland's energy security is, therefore, under threat owing to our dependence on imported gas. This was evident during the Russia-Ukraine gas crisis. While the crisis did not affect Ireland directly, Europe was very much aware of the problem. It changed the consciousness of the European Council of Ministers which now seeks to develop an alternative strategy in which Europe is less divided and we provide ourselves with a series of security systems to protect against gas supply shortages.

The motion is correct on the need to increase our gas protection and we are doing what is set out in that regard. Citing the example of power plants, Deputy Coveney argues that we must increase storage from five to ten days. I agree and one option we are considering is to have some of the NORA distillate stocks, which are usable in gas fired power stations, become complementary. We could use these stocks to help us meet the storage requirements in our power stations and give us the extra buffer we need.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Will the Minister consider giving NORA responsibility for our strategic gas supply?

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

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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His members are in the queue.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)
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Mr. Walsh recognises that the biggest constraint is the grid. One could take the approach outlined by Deputy Coveney and assess which sites are better before delivering but if the grid is not in place, the number of good sites is irrelevant. We must, first and foremost, build the grid around which Gate 3 is based.

I welcome Deputy Coveney's statement that he is wiling to support the development of the grid, subject to others being willing to support the different options. I have always done this. For example, I employed a range of consultants to examine the underground options. This approach must continue in any Bord Pleanála hearing system to ensure all options are considered. Ultimately, however, the grid must be built. While we have met our 15% target for renewables and reached second or third place in Europe in terms of integration of wind in our system - we are heading towards first place in this respect - we will not make progress unless we build our grid to tap into the potential resources available to us. This is a precursor to the wider and larger strategy set out in the Oireachtas committee two weeks ago of Ireland becoming an energy exporter.

I fully support the offshore option to which Deputy McHugh referred. While it is part of our export potential, it will not solve our transmission grid problem on land. We need a transmission grid to County Donegal, not only to enable us to transmit wind power from that county but also to create jobs in the county. The new data centre jobs which are coming to Donegal and elsewhere require that a grid is in place.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Deputy McHugh referred to laying a DC line to connect Donegal.

8:00 pm

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)
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That is all very well but if we want to create jobs, we also need an AC transmission line in counties Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal. There is an increasing correlation between a good electricity system and good employment. It is not only a matter of tapping into resources but also bringing jobs to the counties in question. For this reason, we must ensure a transmission system is built as quickly as possible.

I concur with Deputy Doyle that the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security has done good work on electric vehicles. The reality is that by dint of the agreements we have made with car companies from around the world, the work being done by the ESB and the support given by the Government, we are now placed to be one of the first countries to roll out a national EV network and get many of the economic benefits that come from that.

There has also been an increase in investment in information and communications technology and energy efficiency. The IBM smart grid centre is coming here rather than elsewhere, and that is real and is happening. The bio-fuels obligation system is fitting within the European system, and this shows we are doing it.

We should be openly critical of each other. I picked up the "NewERA" document and while I agree with Deputy Coveney's aspiration of where we need to go, I fundamentally disagree with the document's approach. I do not agree that we will improve our energy security by selling the ESB and Bord Gáis. If anything, I have seen the benefits that accrue from having certain control.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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We are not proposing to sell the ESB.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)
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I understand that is Fine Gael policy as set out in the "NewERA" document.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The Minister is letting himself down by misleading people with the protection of the House.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)
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The big value is in our electricity and gas grids, and I do not believe we should sell them. There is no energy security benefit in selling our State assets in that way. Neither do I believe there is a benefit in bringing our companies together into one office in the Department of the Taoiseach. It do not believe it will work nor will it be more efficient. The figure of €18 billion that is being cited actually grasps the scale of the opportunity. I saw Mr. Peter Brennan speak recently on behalf of the energy group on the Dublin Chamber of Commerce. He cited the fact that taking a ten-year view, there is already a €75 billion investment plan being spent. This combines the €22 billion commitment by the ESB, the €5 billion commitment by Bord Gáis, the €4 billion to be spent on EirGrid, and the €16 billion that will be developed in the private wind energy sector.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The Minister is missing the point. He is talking about front-loading investment.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)
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The Minister, Deputy Gormley, spoke yesterday about the billions that will be spent on our water infrastructure. It is happening.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Through 34 different local authorities.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)
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We are raising the funding. The only thing that would stop these developments is a switch of policy towards a "NewERA" system that does not add any value nor create any efficiency. In fact, such an approach puts us all at risk by selling the assets and by creating a bureaucratic construct that I believe will not work.

I commend the motion because it raises a crucial issue. I disagree fundamentally with the Fine Gael approach, but I commend the Deputy on raising an issue that needs to be considered by all sides of this House.

Photo of Ciarán CuffeCiarán Cuffe (Minister of State , Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Minister of State , Department of Transport; Minister of State , Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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I welcome the motion, to which there are many commendable aspects and which concentrates our mind on a very important issue, namely, to ensure we have energy security. I am a bit disappointed the issue of energy security is taken in isolation. I always tend to put peak oil, energy security and climate change into the same area, and we cannot address one of these three issues without bringing in the other two. The motion before us does not touch sufficiently on climate change or on peak oil. It seems-----

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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We are trying to switch the focus onto an area that is not getting focus.

Photo of Ciarán CuffeCiarán Cuffe (Minister of State , Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Minister of State , Department of Transport; Minister of State , Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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That is fair enough and it is valuable to focus our attention on that area, but I would tend not to isolate the issue from the other two and it is worth considering all three of them at the same time. It is useful to draw people's attention to the challenges we face. As we have seen over the past week, things can quickly change about assumptions that might have previously been taken for granted. We need to bring back on board Irish natural gas and to look at electricity interconnection issues. I welcome this. However, there is a tendency to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds when in Opposition. I can give three examples of that.

The Deputy called for an increase in critical supplies of energy from five days to ten, which is a very valuable thing. However, it is not that long ago that he was harassing the Minister to lower energy prices in electricity and elsewhere. A balance must be struck between bringing in the appropriate reductions and also storing energy for future use. I do not think the Deputy can hammer us for not lowering prices and at the same time demand the imposition of very direct and substantial costs on the electricity producers and the oil distributors in the first instance. That is one example.

Another example is the call to expand and renew the grids nationwide. We have had a very public campaign in Meath and elsewhere about planning issues in respect of new pylons for the distribution of electricity to and from the north west. I understand members of Fine Gael have sided strongly with protesters on this issue, yet we need to reinforce the grid dramatically. We need to renew the grid that already exists, yet there seems to be support at local level from the two main parties in Opposition for the points made by the community.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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They are public representatives. They are entitled to work with communities to alleviate concerns.

Photo of Ciarán CuffeCiarán Cuffe (Minister of State , Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Minister of State , Department of Transport; Minister of State , Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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I agree that public representatives must work with the community they represent, but we need leadership on the energy security and climate change issue. We have to marry the concerns of local communities about planning with the need to address the three concerns I mentioned earlier.

The third example is in the area of transportation. The Green Party has argued long and hard for stronger investment in public transport. We are transforming the bus system in Government, with straighter routes and better information to the end users. We need all of that to happen and we need to shift the capital investment away from a position where the vast bulk goes into roads to a position where the bulk of the money goes into public transport.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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Why are bus routes being cut?

Photo of Ciarán CuffeCiarán Cuffe (Minister of State , Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Minister of State , Department of Transport; Minister of State , Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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This will happen over the next few years, but it will not happen if Deputy McManus from the Labour Party argues for an outer orbital motorway running from Dundalk across to the Wicklow mountains.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The Government is reducing expenditure on buses and the Green Party is in the Government.

Photo of Ciarán CuffeCiarán Cuffe (Minister of State , Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Minister of State , Department of Transport; Minister of State , Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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It is not going to happen when the Fine Gael Party argues for yet more motorway investment. If we are to make public transport work, we must make the capital investment. There have been reductions in expenditure on roads and in general expenditure, but if the two Opposition parties believe that when the money comes back, we should invest it all in roads, then we will not address the energy security issues, the peak oil issues and the climate change issues. Let us not run with the hare and hunt with the hounds.

While I accept that Deputy Coveney's concerns are genuine, we must look at how we are to reduce energy use. I commend him on his work in researching the move towards electricity in transportation, but this should not be about electric Range Rovers. It should be about smaller cars that use less energy and about how we can travel less and produce more with less energy. The post-peak oil, energy secure, climate change agenda must be about using resources wisely. I do not see enough of that in this motion.

I accept the Deputy wants to focus his attention exclusively on the energy security issue and I commend him on that. However, I have a little difficulty with the lack of a great attempt to address the energy conservation issue in the thrust of his motion. It would be remiss of me to make the polemical point that we need to address energy security without ensuring that we put significant resources into energy conservation. That may be in the Houses of the Oireachtas where we are moving over to using wood-pellet boilers and greater energy management, or the kind of measures my colleagues in Cabinet are taking to encourage householders to save money and have better heated homes, or in many other initiatives the Government is producing.

I welcome the Fine Gael motion, although I feel the Government amendment encapsulates the issues to a greater extent. I thank Deputy Coveney and others for their interest in this issue this evening.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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I wish to share my time with Deputy Martin Ferris and Deputy Joanna Tuffy.

Photo of Brian O'SheaBrian O'Shea (Waterford, Labour)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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First, I want to congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Ciarán Cuffe, and wish him well in his new position.

Photo of Ciarán CuffeCiarán Cuffe (Minister of State , Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Minister of State , Department of Transport; Minister of State , Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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Thank you.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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I find this debate quite puzzling. I have listened intently to both Ministers and after all their effusive compliments about the motion framed by Deputy Coveney, I did not get what their problem is with it and why they cannot support it. The Minister, Deputy Ryan, and the Minister of State, Deputy Cuffe, told us how they welcomed the motion, but the only inkling I got was a misunderstanding concerning Fine Gael's "New Era" economic stimulus plan. I have a difficulty with the "New Era" document but I do not have a difficulty with this motion because all it seeks is to frontload investment in domestic energy infrastructure. I have a difficulty with the approach of these two Government Ministers. They are so stuck in a rut that when a good motion comes forward outlining the essential problems we face in the pending energy crisis, they cannot bring themselves to accept it. If they were more seasoned and experienced Ministers they might have the good grace to adopt a good idea when they see one. I am sure Deputy Coveney would be happy to withdraw the phrase as outlined in Fine Gael's "New Era" economic stimulus plan, if it upsets the Minister, Deputy Ryan. We have a problem, however, in that the Green Ministers cannot let go of the idea that somehow they have the Holy Grail and that nobody else can think as well or as smartly about energy issues as they can.

May I tell the Minister of State, Deputy Cuffe, what he should be doing? If he has a problem with the number of roads being built in this country he should talk to his colleague, the Minister for Transport. I did not suggest an outer orbital route, but the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, did. He proposed to finish it before it got to County Wicklow, which would have isolated us and caused tremendous difficulties. If the Minister of State wants to promote buses and bikes, he should look at the record.

Photo of Ciarán CuffeCiarán Cuffe (Minister of State , Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Minister of State , Department of Transport; Minister of State , Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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Through the Chair, I have an issue with that.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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I did not propose it.

Photo of Ciarán CuffeCiarán Cuffe (Minister of State , Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Minister of State , Department of Transport; Minister of State , Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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I would like Deputy McManus to say how she is going to get it through the Wicklow mountains.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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I did not talk about the Wicklow mountains.

Photo of Ciarán CuffeCiarán Cuffe (Minister of State , Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Minister of State , Department of Transport; Minister of State , Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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Is she going to go through the Glen of Imaal or Glendalough?

Photo of Brian O'SheaBrian O'Shea (Waterford, Labour)
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The Minister of State should allow Deputy McManus to continue without interruption.

Photo of Ciarán CuffeCiarán Cuffe (Minister of State , Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Minister of State , Department of Transport; Minister of State , Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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The Deputy should name her route.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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I do not have to name a route.

Photo of Ciarán CuffeCiarán Cuffe (Minister of State , Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Minister of State , Department of Transport; Minister of State , Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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That is the beauty of Opposition.

Photo of Brian O'SheaBrian O'Shea (Waterford, Labour)
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We will have the debate through the Chair.

Photo of Ciarán CuffeCiarán Cuffe (Minister of State , Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Minister of State , Department of Transport; Minister of State , Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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I am sorry, Chairman.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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If we were simply using our position in Opposition to oppose, it would do a great disservice to what Deputy Coveney has done, and we would not see such a well crafted motion before us. It is a classic example of the dog in the manger, that the Ministers cannot accept this motion deals with a serious problem. It is about security of supplies and the difficulties we need to address. They have been overshadowed in particular by the banking crisis, which has been caused largely by the Greens' Government partners. That crisis has overshadowed everything and meanwhile there are issues such as peak oil and the uncertainty of energy supplies which need to be addressed. Nothing the Minister has said contradicts what is in the Fine Gael motion. That is why I have difficulty in understanding how small the Ministers' minds are that they cannot accept this motion. The strength of having a motion accepted across the House is not that the Opposition wins or scores a point; it is in showing that there is cross-party unanimity on a key issue that we face and which is not in the public consciousness. The public are mystified by its effects. For example, people are mystified why the price of petrol has gone so high, while the price of crude oil has not. It is about currency fluctuations and taxes, but it underlines the point that this is a very volatile market. We are at one in that we must find ways to deal with essential supplies, as well as ways to generate and use energy.

One of the really good things that came out of the Green Party's contribution was the establishment of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security. We all worked very well on that and will continue to do so, although it is a pity Deputy Cuffe is not there with us. That is the kind of thinking we must adopt if we are to meet the challenges ahead. It disturbs me that the old ways are now being adopted by the Green Party at a time when it argues, as we do, that we need to have new ways of dealing with this matter.

It is regrettable that this motion has not been accepted. It is not controversial but it is challenging in a good sense. It is not party political but it makes the point that this is a political issue. I am genuinely befuddled as to why it has not been accepted. We are all conscious of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil, which stated:

There is an emerging consensus that without structural changes in the oil supply market, oil price volatility and the consequent economic volatility will be the dominant feature of the foreseeable future. The targets for renewable energy, while visionary and to be welcomed, are not ambitious enough. A wartime response is required to head off this issue before 2020.

That is a stark statement from a body that is not particularly inclined towards sensationalism. The issues include protection of supplies, the shift from fossil fuels, and ways of conserving and reducing our energy usage. Much of it comes down to energy legislation, and I welcome the fact that the Minister mentioned that. I appreciate there are demands on a small Department but he has indicated there will be legislation and I look forward to that. I hope he can introduce it, but legislation on geothermal power has been already promised. I hope the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, gets home soon, wherever he is. He indicated that we could expect to see that legislation by February. We need to move on that. We are talking about self-reliance and self-sufficiency to a much greater degree than this 95% dependance on fossil fuels. We need to concentrate on achievable goals.

I was dismayed to discover when I opened the legislative programme that, according to the Government, there is no publication date for the climate change Bill. That is at variance with the trend that began when the joint Oireachtas committee produced a report on climate change legislation. I was the rapporteur for that report, which contained an explanatory memorandum and was well received. The Minister, Deputy Gormley, produced his own framework document, which was far less ambitious but at least it was an attempt. He presented it before we all went to Copenhagen. As I recall it, the approximate date for a debate on the final Bill was in June. I suggest to the Minister and Minister of State that the Government has some difficulty in this regard and will leave it on the long finger. Therefore, in the interest of the people who voted "green" at the last election, if I get the agreement of the Joint Committee on Climate Change to produce a Bill, will they give it a better hearing and more open attitude than they have given Deputy Coveney on his Private Members' motion tonight?

Photo of Martin FerrisMartin Ferris (Kerry North, Sinn Fein)
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I thank Deputy McManus and the Labour Party for allowing me ten minutes to speak. I support the general thrust of the motion, but have tabled an amendment regarding a crucial area that must be addressed if this country is to benefit to the maximum extent from any oil and gas that comes on stream in the future. Irrespective of what side of the House we are on, we are all conscious of how vulnerable we are for energy security and of how we are hostage to energy costs. We have seen this in the past, particularly in my part of the country where hundreds of jobs have been lost in the Tralee area due to energy costs.

My amendment introduces changes in the revenue system that applies to oil and gas companies in order to bring them into line with what pertains in other countries. I am aware the Minister has introduced some changes and commend him on these and am also conscious he inherited bad decisions of the past. However, I do not believe the level of change is adequate and the changes only apply to new rather than existing projects such as the Corrib project.

Norway is an example often cited with regard to the proper taxation and supervision of energy exploration. The role that state has played in the development of its natural resources and in accruing revenue through taxation and royalties has laid the basis for a strong economy outside of the European Union. It will be argued that Norway's offshore exploration sector has been well developed over more than 30 years, but the fact is that its system was in place from the beginning, and contrary to what some people here say, its tax regime and state oversight did not frighten away foreign companies. That fear was the excuse given here for the decisions to change the tax and royalties regime. I remember when the Minister was on this side of the House raising these issues and being told by the then Government we could not do as Norway had done because it would frighten off exploration. However, that has not been the international experience even in countries where multinationals have exerted considerable influence over the local governments. Obviously, a certain influence has been exerted here, given the ridiculously easy terms which have been handed to companies like Shell and others. Neither did the companies involved in exploration in Norway refuse to enter into partnership with the Norwegian State exploration company. It is ironic that because of the involvement of the Norwegian State company Statoil in the Corrib project, when that comes on stream, the Norwegians will benefit more than the people of this State.

The recent announcement that a substantial deposit of oil has been located in the Irish Sea, off Dalkey, underlines both the potential that exists and the need to change the regime pertaining to oil and gas exploration. The deposit there is estimated to be 860 million barrels, which at current prices would have a market value of €60 billion. On the issue of exploration, I worked on the Porcupine Basin for Phillip's Exploration 32 years ago. While I was there a number of finds were made at a depth of 1,600 feet, which at the time made the finds unviable and almost impossible to bring to the surface and to shore. I understand that technology has advanced so much now it would be capable of doing that. The resources are there. Am I correct that the changes the Minister made with regard to revenue will be retrospective in the case of any oil brought to the surface from the Porcupine Basin? We were led to believe at the time that there were substantial quantities of oil in the two finds made, but the wells were just capped and left.

The potential benefits from the Dalkey oil coming on stream, both in terms of meeting future requirements and revenue, do not need to be underlined, particularly at a time when ordinary people are paying a huge price through being forced to shoulder the burden of meeting the financial shortfall brought about by the economic downturn and compounded by the Government's bailing out of the banks and failed property speculators. This motion partly recognises the need for the State to take a closer hands-on approach in its reference to the National Oil Reserves Agency. However, the logic of that is that if the State is involved in the development of gas revenue reserves, it should also have a direct stake in the area. That has been the experience of all other developed countries, where the state, whatever its ideological complexion, recognises that exploration of expendable natural resources such as oil and gas are of a different character to multinational involvement in other parts of the economy. Finds should be regarded in some way as part of the agricultural land and fishery waters of this country, although the manner in which our fisheries have been handed over to external control would not be a good example to follow. There would be no question of the developed sovereign State allowing its agricultural land and food production be handed over totally to foreign companies. The same should apply to managing our natural resources.

The motion puts forward some good points with regard to future energy requirements and the need to ensure the country has a secure supply of the necessary fuel. A huge step could be taken in that direction when the oil and gas off our coast come on stream. However, the current situation does not guarantee this. If, for example, the Corrib field was to begin production, there is no strategy to ensure the gas is used to supply our needs or to ensure it is distributed and priced properly to ensure economic benefits here rather than allow distribution and price be dictated by the market and the companies involved, which will wish to sell their gas to the most attractive market. In light of the current revenue structures, the directing of the gas to overseas markets would constitute a double negative.

The motion also refers to renewable energy and the development of biomass as an alternative means of meeting future requirements and lessening our massive dependence on fossil fuels, which comprise 96% of our energy mix. When in Opposition, the Green Party used to highlight these issues as primary concerns, but in Government it has failed to create the pace of development it promised. Alternative energy sources are being developed, but not on the scale required to meet the targets set. Apart from biomass, there is massive potential in wind and tidal energy. Far more could be done in these areas to develop these sources, particularly along the western coast. Some excellent and ambitious projects are under way, but far more must be done if the potential is to be realised. I refer in particular to the Shannon. I have spoken in the past with regard to the use of reversible turbines in places with an eight knot tide, which offers huge potential. From Helvick Head in the south east to beyond Youghal there is also a strong tide that offers huge potential. I know some exploration work is being done in this regard. It is a way to develop clean energy for the future.

There have also been some interesting proposals, including from farmers' groups, on micro generation. There is potential, but the proper structures and incentives must be put in place. On one level, such projects only represent a drop in the ocean, but if there are sufficient numbers of such projects and they take off, the country would have the potential to meet a small but significant part of overall energy needs. These projects would also represent an environmental plus and provide a boost to the economy on a local level, both in terms of construction and where the energy created aids the development of local enterprises.

Planning is an issue which has raised some disquiet with regard to wind farms and there have been complaints that these are an eyesore. Much of these concerns could be addressed if the proper structures and guidelines were in place and if local communities were kept aware and fully informed of plans and provided with accurate information regarding these structures. It is essential that such communication with local communities exists to ensure the planning process can be delivered in a speedy way to the benefit of communities.

It should also be ensured that certain areas are not overburdened with wind farms just because they are believed to be particularly suitable due to their geographical location and incidence of regular wind speeds sufficient to ensure high levels of production. It has also been suggested that local produce could be encouraged at community co-operatives rather than being left to the initiative of private companies. Again, this would not only help to address the problem of meeting energy requirements but would also contribute to local economic development.

I support the overall intention of the motion and reject the claims made in the Government's amendment that all of the issues referred to are being adequately addressed. Clearly they are not and, as I stated in my amendment, there is the broader issue of the structure imposed on revenue that needs to be addressed and which a future Government needs to do if the full potential of our national mineral resources are to be realised to the benefit of the Irish people.

Debate adjourned.