Dáil debates

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

The following motion was moved by Deputy Simon Coveney on Tuesday, 20 April 2010:

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 five days to ten 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.

Debate resumed on 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."

- (Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan)

6:00 pm

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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I wish to make a number of points in respect of the climate change aspect of this debate. I am my party's spokesperson on the environment and, as such, this matter comes within my remit.

Those in government, particularly the Green Party Ministers, need to realise that one of the ways to begin to tackle climate change would be to bring about a greater level of income equality in this country. A great deal of research has been carried out which indicates that societies in which there is greater income equality perform better with regard to tackling climate change, conserving energy, etc. I am sure the Minister, Eamon Deputy Ryan, is aware of a book on this subject, The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, which was published last year. Its authors considered studies carried out over a period of 30 years in various developed countries and also examined the position in 30 American states. They compared countries on the basis of their levels of income equality or inequality and discovered that countries which have greater income equality and in which there is a smaller gap between those on high and low incomes do better across a range of indicators, including life expectancy and mental health. The authors also discovered that such countries do better in the context of their carbon footprints, in their performance on recycling and in various other areas.

In the context of the Green Party's policy on energy conservation and climate change, the central premise of the book to which I refer must be taken on board. Since they entered Government, the Green Party Ministers have done little with regard to tackling the issue of income inequality. It just does not seem to appear on their radar. They have agreed to the introduction of budgets which will widen the level of income inequality as the years progress. In budget 2010, for example, social welfare rates were cut. At one point the Minister spoke out against labour taxes, which are basically income taxes. He was echoing the line the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, has espoused for many years. The latter may have referred to them as taxes on work but her remarks on the subject certainly mirror those put forward by Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Ryan, who is quoted as stating that there is something wrong with labour taxes.

If those in government want to ensure that the tax system is fair, then they must ensure that taxes are based on people's incomes. That is why income taxes should form the core of the Government's taxation policy. Those opposite should do everything in their power to ensure that there are not significant gaps between people's incomes. That is the message put forward in The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better. This book states, in the context of climate change, energy conservation, recycling and so forth, that the members of societies where there is greater income equality and where large gaps do not exist between rich and poor are not as compelled to consume as much. People's status in such societies is not based on what goods or luxury items, such as jeeps or whatever, they own. In other words, they are much less focused on attaining status in society by means of consuming goods.

The authors of the book to which I refer also state that these societies do better in terms of their performance in respect of climate change and other environmental protection indicators because there is more solidarity among their citizens. People who live in such societies are more likely to work together on issues in their communities. An obvious example of where societies should work together is in respect of climate change and energy conservation.

I refer to this matter in the hope that the Minister, who represents the Green Party, will take on board the points I have made. Perhaps more could be done in future budgets to reduce the gap between rich and poor in our society.

There is another aspect of this matter to which I wish to refer, but I accept that it is probably more relevant to the remit of the Department of Education and Science. A great deal could be done to conserve energy and reduce carbon emissions by making school buildings more energy efficient. This is a matter over which the Government exercises a high level of control and in respect of which it can show an example and take the lead. As Members are aware, many school buildings are in a sad state of repair and have leaky roofs, poor quality windows and are not properly insulated. Large numbers of children are taught in prefabs, a large number of which are old and are not energy efficient.

If the Government were to front load investment in school buildings in order to ensure that they are properly insulated and that they are energy efficient, it would save money in the long term because the amount of money spent on heating such buildings would be reduced. In addition, carbon emissions would decrease and we would go some way towards addressing the issues that will arise in the context of peak oil. If the Government were to proceed as I have outlined, it would be good for the economy because people who previously worked in the construction industry and who are currently unemployed could obtain work on such school building projects. The Labour Party has been proposing a move of this nature for some years.

If the Government and the Green Party are serious about the green economy, they should proceed in the way I am suggesting. It would make sense to involve those who previously worked in the construction industry in erecting badly needed school buildings that are more energy efficient. This would provide an economic stimulus, while also being good for the environment.

Photo of M J NolanM J Nolan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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I wish to share time with the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Martin Mansergh, and Deputies Charlie O'Connor, Trevor Sargent, Peter Kelly and Timmy Dooley.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this timely motion. Many Members are interested in discussing the sustainability of Ireland's energy supply. This is an issue to which we must all pay attention, particularly when one considers that gas accounts for such a high percentage of the fuel required to meet our electricity generation needs. In view of the fact that the Kinsale gas field is seriously depleted - it only accounts for 4% of our needs - most of the gas we use is imported. The Corrib field is expected to be in production by 2012. Whereas we now import 96% of our gas from the UK, it is hoped that the Corrib field, when in full production, will be able to meet a large part of our needs.

It is important that we should continue to consider possible sources of renewable energy. In that context, we are well on track towards achieving the Government's target of meeting 40% of our electricity needs from renewable sources by the year 2020. It is also worth noting that we are investing significantly in our national grid. Due to the fact that we are at the end of the gas pipeline, we must consider how we might establish more secure interconnectors between Ireland and the UK, particularly Scotland, in order to ensure that there will be continuity of supply.

In January, a major increase in demand for gas supplies was experienced in this country and in the UK. We managed to navigate our difficulties in this regard. Even though the UK was subjected to the same cold weather as Ireland and experienced the same increase in demand on supplies, both countries managed to continue to meet the needs of domestic and industrial customers, particularly those who operate in the field of electricity generation. The fact the European Union is taking a serious interest in the security of supply for the European Community will also assist us. We all recall the difficulties when the Russian and Ukrainian problem developed and the impact that would have had on the gas supply for the European Union had it continued.

It is important we continue to look for sources of new gas. I was pleased to note recently that there is talk of a new find off the east coast. The Minister should continue to encourage prospectors to look for indigenous supplies of gas or other sources of energy.

I wish to make a couple of points on the two interconnectors between Ireland and the UK. The Commissioner for Energy Regulation is looking at the provision of a third interconnector and that should be encouraged and seriously considered.

The strategic storage of gas is an issue which has not been looked at to the extent it possibly should be. It costs five times more to provide storage for gas than for oil. Given our dependence on gas, we will have to consider that. If the Government is not in a position to fund such a serious capital investment, perhaps it is an area at which the commercial sector might look.

We are very reliant on the UK. Last winter we had a one year in 50 years cold snap, which we came through. That is to be welcomed.

I refer to the security of gas supply on an all-island basis. That is the only way we can look forward. The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources has given serious consideration to the grid interconnector. The interconnector between North and South is at planning stage. Every aspect of that planning application has been discussed by our committee and in the Chamber. I hope that will go through and that we will have a security of supply, North and South.

I commend the Minister and the Opposition for tabling this motion because there is not too much between us on this matter.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to make a brief contribution to this important debate. I could not see Deputy Coveney's expression when the last statement was made about him being close to the Minister on this issue. I would be interested if he would confirm that. I take the opportunity to compliment Deputy Coveney on giving us an opportunity to discuss an issue which is timely. I also wish the Minister well in regard to his issues.

I was in Tallaght this evening with Deputy Coveney's colleague, Deputy Brian Hayes.

Photo of John PerryJohn Perry (Sligo-North Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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That is a big surprise.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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It only took him 12 seconds to mention Tallaght.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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It is topical enough in the sense that we were guests of George Hook in the civic library in Tallaght. The reason I mention it is that the event is part of the Bord Gáis library opportunity which is being run throughout the country. George Hook made a point about the importance of energy supply. The nice managing director from Bord Gáis made the case for his supply, which was fair enough.

What sort of world would it be without energy or without electricity? I am old enough to remember a time when it was not always possible to switch on the radio or to have an electricity supply. A few weeks ago, Deputy Pat Breen and I went with the organisation, IAVI, to Entebbe in Uganda to evaluate an AIDS project. The reason I mention it is that sometimes one needs to go to places such as that which do not have radio, television or electricity and see the challenges that brings. That is relevant because people have asked me during the week if God is not happy. He may not be given the volcano and what has happened in our air space.

I often think about what it will be like in 50 or 60 years time, what we will do about energy supplies and what the challenges will be. I am genuinely pleased this Minister has shown a progressive attitude - I know everyone in the Chamber will agree with that - towards his remit. It is right that he does so, because it is a challenge.

The events of the past week, which have affected Europe and have had consequences throughout the world, prove that we need to look at the alternatives. I suspect there will be much debate about energy and other issues arising from what has happened, which is good.

I look forward to listening to Deputy Coveney conclude the debate because I am interested to know how close the Opposition is to the Government on many of these issues. There will always be a dotting of i's and a crossing of t's in Private Members' business but I hope, as we go forward, there will be a different kind of government in power and it is important we understand the alternatives. I am not saying what they should be and having listened to the Labour Party conference at the weekend, I am not sure how that will manifest itself but I look forward to seeing it.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick East, Labour)
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Will Deputy O'Connor conclude?

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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Do what?

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick East, Labour)
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The Deputy's time is almost concluded.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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Is my time up already?

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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Did the Deputy get to mention Tallaght?

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I mentioned Tallaght. I try to bring to my politics----

Photo of James BannonJames Bannon (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy did not mention Tallaght.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I did.

Photo of John PerryJohn Perry (Sligo-North Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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He mentioned it four times.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I mentioned Deputy Brian Hayes and Deputy Pat Breen, so the Deputies opposite might tell them that. I also mentioned the Labour Party. I am doing my best to take a positive approach.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick East, Labour)
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I am going to have to call the Green Party, so I ask Deputy O'Connor to conclude.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I was going to finish on the Green Party because I have made my views on the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, known. I hope my admiration for his work does not do him any harm politically. I look forward to the Minister tying together the points made in this debate. I suspect that my colleagues opposite will be constructive in that regard.

Photo of James BannonJames Bannon (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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Does Deputy O'Connor not think he has contaminated the Green Party?

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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I definitely welcome this motion on energy security and am very happy to have an opportunity to speak on it. I thank Deputy Coveney and Fine Gael for giving us that opportunity. From listening to the debate, there is clearly an awareness that we will have a problem to deal with if we expect to continue to consume energy at the current levels. That must be the starting point if we are to come to grips with the challenges we face.

We are currently enjoying - if that is the right word - an oil and gas bonanza which began approximately 150 years ago but which will finish a lot more suddenly than it began. Effectively, it was a windfall which allowed society to become quite complex. We have long supply chains. When I was Minister of State responsible for food and horticulture, an issue I dealt with all the time was the long distances our food travels before it reaches us. That is also the case for manufactured goods. They are just two of the many examples of this high energy consuming complexity.

Added to that is the very inconvenient truth, as Al Gore described it, of climate change which requires us resist the temptation to use every last drop of oil and gas, which is difficult for any human being, even if it was easily available and at an affordable price because that will send us over the edge in climate change terms and result in problems we have not even started to contemplate in terms of food security, emigration, immigration and general mass dislocation of society throughout the world, in particular in the poorest areas which is the greatest injustice.

Many measures have been taken for which the Government must be given credit. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, compared the position in Ireland with that pertaining in other countries, including the United States. Despite the recession, the evidence stacks up that we have taken this issue as seriously as the country's finances allow us. Home insulation schemes have been introduced, for example, and policies have been adopted on combined heat and power, micro-generation and renewable energies. While more needs to be done, a myriad of companies and research projects regard these initiatives as an opportunity to create employment and to improve our balance of payments. Work is being done on this issue and many projects are in the pipeline. Electric vehicles, which featured recently in news reports, is one such example.

It is important, in referring to good ideas and initiatives, that we also inject into this debate an overview of the current position. Industrial society is rapidly consuming the necessary physical prerequisites for its existence. If this process is not arrested, changed or adapted to, difficulties will inevitably arise and we will be asked to explain the reason we did not see them coming. The evidence is available and all of us, as representatives of communities, must take it seriously. Managing the predicted collapse, one for which there is good evidence, which will be a consequence of demand for energy suddenly outstripping supply, is a major responsibility.

In recent days, Conor Pope and others in The Irish Times have been trying to explain and rationalise the increase in the price of energy. The inevitable tension between demand and supply is growing apace. It is, therefore, imperative that before this tension overwhelms us and becomes impossible to manage, we have in place incentives to live more simply and reasons to be satisfied with a manageable and sustainable level of energy use. Rather than worrying about this requirement, we need to embrace it in the same way we embraced decimalisation and the euro. What we did in those cases was woke up in the morning, faced the reality and made the best of it. As a result, we had the Celtic tiger and so forth. In other words, we can take advantage of this change. To do otherwise would be to try to resist the inevitable.

I was pleased to have been present for part of last night's debate when I heard Deputies propose some good ideas. Deputy Doyle reported on the important progress made by the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security and referred to transport and energy generation. I would like the joint committee to place greater emphasis on food. The empty shelves caused by the aviation crisis serve as a warning that energy and food go together. Deputy Deenihan referred to Tarbert, while Deputy McHugh focused on space heating, Chancellor Angela Merkel's hydrogen ideas, an interconnector and the export of energy. While all these issues are important, contributions to this debate should include an overview.

I am sorry I did not have the opportunity to listen to Deputy Coveney's contribution, as I am sure he addressed the issue in a comprehensive manner. When I listened to the Minister, Deputy Ryan, I thanked God for the level of energy at the Cabinet table. The Minister pointed out that three tablespoons of oil is the equivalent of eight human hours of work and we are consuming ten pints of oil per person per day. The use of these figures and this imagery suddenly makes the position very stark.

It has been worked out that the energy lifestyle that is considered normal, a basic right and part of the American dream is equivalent to having approximately 150 slaves working 24 hours per day, seven days per week. Slavery may have been abolished 200 years ago but we must thank God we have oil as some people could be otherwise tempted to argue that slavery is preferable to the alternative. We are living in a bubble as regards energy use and a transition, to use a mild term, is required.

While I am pleased to note some people are present in the Gallery, this debate is of such importance that one would expect the Gallery to be packed. One of the challenges Deputies face is to make proceedings in the House gripping. The transition to which I refer is a little like a game of football. We are in half time and once the second half commences, everything will change. For this reason, we must put in place the necessary tools and mechanisms to play the second half and support those who are providing the essential services that will help us to play the second half. I refer, in particular, to those in the food industry who are trying to introduce combined heat and power to allow them to stay in business because their Dutch competitors are already using this technology as well as those who are trying to secure connections to the grid. Something of a catch-22 scenario has arisen because the popularity of wind technology has caused a backlog. As with the queues at the sea ports caused by people trying to get ferries in recent days, we need to tackle the queue for connections to the grid.

Under the current price structure, organic food is considered to be more expensive than non-organic food. When energy prices catch up on us, as they did in 2008 when prices peaked, I predict organic food will be cheaper than energy intensive, industrial production. We must be ready for this eventuality and open our minds sufficiently to anticipate a new price structure, a new energy reality and a new way of life. The challenge for all of us, to use the words of Mahatma Ghandi, is to live simply so that others can simply live.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate and thank Deputy Coveney and others for tabling a comprehensive motion on which an amendment has been tabled. As Deputies will have noted, there is little divergence between the contributions being made on all sides.

I recognise the role played by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, in his time at Cabinet. The Minister has brought to this area a particular focus, one which is clearly necessary to face the challenges of the decades ahead.

Photo of Ulick BurkeUlick Burke (Galway East, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy does not say that in his constituency.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Sargent outlined the position regarding oil. We are all concerned that reserves will not be able to provide for the future. This makes it incumbent on us to ensure security of supply of the energy we require. In that respect, I welcome the initiatives taken by Shannon Development and other State agencies. Shannon Development has focused attention on the idea of having a green energy park around the Shannon estuary. The objective is to develop technologies which will provide for future electricity generation through the harnessing of wind, wave and tidal power and the spin-off from such development. If these pilot projects can be developed into the next layer of technology in terms of energy generation, it will create potential for the country and region. Much work is being done on which we must build.

Discussion on the development of all-island gas security through support from the European framework for security in gas supply is helpful. An LNG plant has been proposed for Ballylongford. As well as providing for the storage of gas in the region, such a facility would add to our strategic gas reserve capacity. It would also provide considerable jobs in its construction phase. When trying to bring in a large project, we have to look at the road-blocks along the way. I understand there is a delay in the delivery of the foreshore licence, so there are issues we need to resolve as part of the delivery of critical infrastructure and we need to keep a focus on them.

There has been much talk about other elements of renewable technologies that need to be examined, especially in bio-energy areas such as oceanic energy. There is a considerable role for the Government to develop the micro-enterprises by assisting them in research and using the results to develop the companies.

The Government has also played a positive role in the conservation of energy. The various schemes that have been introduced such as efficiency programmes, home insulation schemes and the national retrofit programme are clearly designed to minimise the use of energy and thereby allow us to evolve as a society, using what we need rather than what we might have wanted in the past. That is a considerable challenge for society. We have to do our business in a different way.

I commend the Minister's efforts and I look forward to his continued direction of the various projects that have been identified. I commend his efforts to continue the debate on the necessity to conserve, reduce and eliminate where possible the waste of a very scarce resource, in order to ensure that we have the capacity to provide for future generations.

Photo of Peter KellyPeter Kelly (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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Ireland has come a long way on energy security and energy reform in a few short years. Fianna Fáil in Government, together with our partners in the Green Party, has introduced a wide range of initiatives aimed at enhancing conservation, supporting renewable resources and developing proper infrastructure. Faced with a peak in global oil production, it is not possible to sustain our national consumption of 165,000 barrels of oil per day. We must act now in order to ensure that we have a sustainable energy future, so what do we do?

We must ensure that we have enough oil in stock. That is why we have given the new National Oil Reserves Agency extra resources to create greater storage facilities. These will come on stream in the next three years.

Photo of James BannonJames Bannon (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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When we change the Government.

Photo of Peter KellyPeter Kelly (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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It will come on-stream in the next three years, one way or another. I am sure that the policy we are promoting tonight will be continued by the Opposition if it gets into Government, because we know we have its full support.

Photo of James BannonJames Bannon (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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I am glad the Deputy has admitted defeat.

Photo of Peter KellyPeter Kelly (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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As well as oil, Ireland is highly dependent on imported gas, especially for electricity. The Russia-Ukraine gas crisis, although it did not affect us directly at the time, provided a stark reminder of the potentially precarious position in which our dependence on imported gas puts us. The EU is currently developing a strategy to ensure that Europe is more united on the issue of gas provision. It is set to introduce statutory regulations for gas storage by this summer.

While it is imperative we develop proper facilities and methods for energy storage, energy conservation and the development of renewable energy are equally important. A number of concrete steps have been taken on this front.

Photo of James BannonJames Bannon (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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Will the Government put up Longford Barracks for storage?

Photo of Peter KellyPeter Kelly (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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New energy ratings for buildings have been introduced. We have provided unprecedented funding for energy efficiency programmes such as the home energy saving scheme and the warmer homes scheme. I must compliment Longford Warmer Homes Limited on the outstanding job it is doing. I am sure Deputy Bannon is well aware of it. In December's budget, we extended the national insulation programme to include a €50 million national retrofit programme. This should enable 50-60,000 houses to update their insulation systems.

There are also a number of schemes aimed at encouraging energy efficiency in businesses. In December's budget, the existing tax incentive scheme for businesses purchasing energy efficient equipment was extended into three new categories. This will lower energy costs for industry, give them a cash flow boost and help them to make the right purchasing decisions in the coming year. In developing our renewable energy sources, we are positioning Ireland as a future exporter of energy.

To achieve this we have committed to an accelerated development and deployment of renewable energy technologies including offshore and onshore wind, bioenergy and ocean. In order to have an efficient and effective energy sector here, we must ensure that we have the proper infrastructure to go with it. There has been substantial investment in infrastructure by the State's energy companies. EirGrid is investing €4 billion in Grid 25 by 2025 in developing Ireland's high voltage transmission grid. The ESB is investing €22 billion to decarbonise the national energy system. Bord Gais Éireann is also substantially investing in gas networks and energy supply. To get the best results from our energy sector, we must first understand what we are dealing with. In line with this, the Government is investing €12.9 million is energy research in 2010.

To help guide our actions we have set a number of ambitious but achievable targets. Ireland has committed to sourcing 40% of its electricity needs from renewable sources by 2020. We have also set a challenging target of delivering 20% of energy efficiency savings by 2020. A higher target of 33% of has been set for the public sector. We have decided that 10% of our car fleet should be electric by 2020.

While I welcome the opportunity created by Fine Gael to discuss these important issues, there are flaws in its "New Era" strategy. Chief among these is its proposal to sell off ESB and Bord Gáis. Ireland's electricity and gas infrastructure. These are of strategic national importance and should not be privatised.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy should read the document and stop relying on ignorance.

Photo of Peter KellyPeter Kelly (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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Divesting ourselves of these strategic assets at this time would compromise the security of Ireland's gas and electricity supplies.

Photo of Noel CoonanNoel Coonan (Tipperary North, Fine Gael)
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I wish to share time with Deputies Bannon, Breen, Perry, Burke, Crawford and Neville.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick East, Labour)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Noel CoonanNoel Coonan (Tipperary North, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the discussion tonight. I am bewildered by the comments from the Government Deputies who state that they welcome the debate and that there is not much between, yet they will not agree to the motion. We have just heard what Deputy Kelly had to say. We are debating an immediate set of proposals and policies to deal with what could soon become an energy crisis here.

If I stood up here two weeks ago and said that an unknown volcano with an unpronounceable name was to erupt and bring down air traffic from the skies of Europe, stranding thousands of Irish people far from home, then the Minister and the Acting Chairman would probably think I was mad. Unfortunately, this can happen and it did happen. The Venezuelan President declared a state of emergency two months ago, after the country had experienced its worst drought in 50 years and all the water in the damns dried up, leaving Venezuela without electricity. These are two examples of what can happen. Tonight we are encouraging and cajoling the Minister to take immediate action so that such occurrences cannot occur in Ireland.

I welcome the motion as proposed yesterday by my colleague, Deputy Coveney, who gave a comprehensive review. He covered a range of items that I do not wish to go back over, apart from mentioning two of them. One is that 95% of all our oil resources are imported and, second - which is most worrying - that we have 11 days' storage of gas supplies. However, as the chief executive of Bord Gáis has said, in reality that is seven days' supply. Some 60% of our electricity is generated through gas, which is worrying to say the least. If anything were to happen to those supplies, not only would jobs be affected but lives could equally be affected. We must take action and the first thing to do is protect the resources we already have. We must also increase those resources as well as increasing storage. We must also examine alternative energy sources with a view to developing them.

The smart, green economy seems to be the Minister's focus, but I am concerned that he is not dwelling enough on what we have already. The seas around our shores are reputedly rich in oil and gas reserves, but are we doing enough to get companies to explore and tap into those resources? If we struck oil or gas in our national waters, it would have a profound and positive effect on the economy.

The farming community has provided leadership on alternative energy and every piece of land in Ireland could be utilised to produce energy crops. For example, some weeks ago, Duggan Brothers in conjunction with young, modern farmers in the cattle and pig sectors, and Professor Gerry Murphy of University College, Cork, presented a proposal to the Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. It was entitled "Anaerobic Digestion in Ireland: the Problems and the Potential". The net benefit of this proposal would be to create 15,000 jobs in the construction, service and implementation phases. There would be no decrease in agricultural production. In addition, no capital injection would be required by the Government, while there would be a major reduction in greenhouse gases. That is an example of the entrepreneurship involved and the positive approaches that the Minister and his Government colleagues could tap into in order to alleviate our problems.

Photo of James BannonJames Bannon (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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I wish to congratulate Deputy Simon Coveney for bringing this important motion before the House. While conscious of our national vulnerability to fossil fuel disruptions because of our excessive reliance on imported oil and gas supplies, I would like to highlight the position of the midlands. In particular, Longford, Mullingar and other midland towns have still not been connected to the national gas grid. I am glad that the Minister is hear to listen to this debate. These locations are currently without the advantage of a coherent and co-operative energy infrastructural provision. The gas pipeline must be extended to Mullingar, Longford and other midland towns. This is something for which I have campaigned for a number of years and I have discussed the matter personally with the Minister. I have also discussed with him the patchy broadband service in the midlands.

Smart Grid, as proposed by Fine Gael, will be formed from the merger of Eirgrid and the ESB. I am confident it will provide a new energy infrastructure not alone for the midlands but also the entire country. It will take ownership of Ireland's electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure. Smart Grid, a merger of networks, will work on three broad sets of targets. These would include making Ireland a net exporter of energy by 2030. We should be producing 50% of our electricity from renewables by 2020. A nationwide infrastructure would see 50% of cars running on electricity by 2025 and 100% by 2030.

I welcome the recent announcement of a €5,000 grant to purchasers of electric cars. I think Deputy Peter Kelly has one on order.

Photo of Noel CoonanNoel Coonan (Tipperary North, Fine Gael)
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It is a hearse.

Photo of John PerryJohn Perry (Sligo-North Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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An electric hearse for a funeral director.

Photo of Noel CoonanNoel Coonan (Tipperary North, Fine Gael)
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In order to meet the needs of Longford-Westmeath, I want to see Smart Grid efficiency extended to the midlands as a matter of urgency. However, it is extremely important at this point to ensure that all cables are routed underground. This is imperative to protect the rural landscape and avoid unsightly interconnectors above ground, which would impact adversely on tourism and have the potential to affect health negatively. Our local economy depends on such provision and without a gas supply, broadband access and a sustainable source of electric power, we cannot compete on the domestic or world markets.

Renewables and interconnectors are the buzz words for our future energy requirements. However, I am deeply concerned at the intrusion of overhead cables on our rural landscape. As I have stated in the past, I strongly advocate the alternative of putting cables underground. In this case, it would be extremely shortsighted to be penny wise and pound foolish. It would cost more, but the long-term benefits should be a driving force for such an initiative.

About three years ago, the Government established a pilot scheme to grow elephant grass. This crop, however, has failed in many areas. A lot of farmers who ploughed up land to cultivate this product are now out of pocket as a result of the pilot scheme's failure. I met 20 or 30 of them in my constituency and they are devastated by the crop's failure. Those farmers should be compensated by receiving the funds they were promised. I would appreciate it if the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources could take that matter on board. I know the scheme was launched by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, but the Minister present, Deputy Eamon Ryan, also has a role to play in this regard. He should ensure that while people should be encouraged to get involved in pilot schemes, they need to be compensated if such schemes fail.

Photo of Pat BreenPat Breen (Clare, Fine Gael)
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Recent events are a stark reminder to all of us that nature is in control and that we have no power over acts of God. As an island nation on the periphery of Europe, we are dependent on fossil fuels, which are costly to supply and import. They currently make up 96% of our energy demands. If we are to restore the country's competitiveness and end our over-dependence on imports, we must develop indigenous energy sources. Natural gas currently accounts for 35% of primary energy demand in Ireland. As we know, Russia supplies a quarter of Europe's gas, some 80% of which is transited through Europe. In 2008, we all remember that Russia cut off gas supplies through the Ukraine, thus depriving many eastern bloc countries of heating gas during that winter's Arctic conditions. It caused terrible problems.

Ireland's annual requirement for heating oil is nearly 2 billion litres, which is enough to fill Croke Park three times over. The International Energy Agency predicts that by 2020 some 82% of Europe's gas will be imported from Russia and the Caspian Sea basin. Ireland is at the end of that pipeline and if anything happens to disrupt the supply we would be left very exposed. We do have the Corrib gas field, which at maximum output would meet 50% of our national demand, but there are only 16 years left in that.

Deputy Coveney's motion concerns our dependence on fossil fuels. We have the potential to develop renewable energy sources, such as wave and wind energy, particularly in my own mid-west region. I welcome the signing of the memorandum of understanding between the University of Limerick, Shannon Development, NUIG and Silicon Valley's Irish technology leadership group, which led to the development of the Shannon region as a major hub for renewable energy. We have a rich abundance of natural resources in the Shannon area and estuary, including wind, wave, tidal and solar resources. Algae harvesting can also be done off the coast. CO2 could be filtered through the algae and seaweed as it is very good for the seaweed. The seaweed could then be used as a biofuel. It has been suggested that Kilrush in west Clare would make an ideal location for the establishment of a research facility.

Deputy Coveney visited Moneypoint last year and saw for himself the environmental retrofit project being completed there by the ESB, which will lead to a significant reduction in carbon emissions. However, the lifespan of Moneypoint is short and it is expected to close by 2025. Therefore, we must be ready to harness alternative energy sources that can connect to the grid already in place. Wave and wind energy will come into play in that regard. There are opportunities to develop our marine energy technologies. The experts claim that marine energy could provide approximately 500 MW of power by 2020. The opportunities are there for us to develop our own indigenous energy resource so that by 2020 we can turn the tables around and make Ireland an exporter of energy. We have greater potential than many other countries in terms of developing renewable energy resources because we have ten times as much ocean space as land. What is required now is the necessary investment and technology and a Government commitment to drive this forward and create jobs. I commend Deputy Coveney for introducing this important motion and hope the Government supports it.

Photo of John PerryJohn Perry (Sligo-North Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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I congratulate Deputy Coveney on bringing forward this important motion on Ireland's energy resources. The availability and cost of primary energy resources are key factors in our economic prosperity and to the standard of living we can reach. Raising the standard of economic prosperity further will demand more energy resources. Electricity is a key component of the energy sector and of all forms of energy use. Few other industries provide services which are of such widespread national importance as electricity. Without electricity the economy suffers. It is not a form of primary energy, but must be generated from primary energy sources such as coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear energy, bio-energy and wind, etc.

The availability of adequate, reliable and economic primary energy supplies is of crucial importance to our national ability to generate electricity. In Ireland, carbon-based primary energy resources for electricity generation are limited. We had one significant natural gas find off Cork and recently we were lucky to find another natural gas field off the west coast. Perhaps the best we can hope for is that we will find a significant natural gas field every 25 years. The most significant primary energy resource available to us now is the Corrib gas field. It is of the utmost importance that the natural gas from this field be brought ashore as quickly as possible and distributed to as big a region as possible. The world is covered with natural gas pipelines, big and small and high and low pressure. There is nothing exceptional about the onshore gas pipeline from the Corrib gas field. It is time to set aside old-fashioned superstitions about technical progress and to complete the Corrib project as quickly as possible. It is important too that we get a connection to the north west, to gateway regions such as Sligo.

The part of this Fine Gael motion which calls for investment in an electricity interconnector with mainland Europe is the most important part. I would go as far as to say that a direct electricity interconnector to Europe is one of the most strategic elements of future energy policy. In the future, we must have the option of being able to import a substantial part of our energy requirements in the form of electricity directly from mainland Europe. Our electricity supply must come at a reasonable cost and must be reliable. The insurance cost of having the capability to directly import electricity is justified. It is especially important for businesses that we get value for money when importing electricity. Grounded aeroplanes are not the only pieces of technology that are stationary these days. The massive ash cloud over Ireland and the rest of Europe is not being dispersed quickly enough due to the lack of adequate and consistent winds. Whatever the underlying climatic reason, for the past few months wind generation has only been 20% of the installed wind turbine generation capacity. If a significant portion of our future electricity generation capacity is tied to wind resources and if wind energy disappears, as it seems to have done over the past few months, the only option available to keep our economy and society going would be massive electricity imports. If we do not have a major electricity interconnector directly connected to European grid, we will be in serious danger of grounding our economy, just as has happened with the crisis with flights out of Ireland in the past week.

The environmental and economic benefits of wind energy are not as great as the Minister and other proponents claim. I believe we must have a prudent economic approach to any proposal for further significant national investment in wind farms. Wind does not blow all the time and when it does, it may not be available during the peak electricity demand periods. Wind is an unreliable replacement for more dependable and more cost-effective nuclear and carbon-based energy sources. The implications from the failure of the wind generation capacity to deliver over the past few months must be addressed. I call on the Minister to address this specific point in his response to this debate and to respond to reports that on each of the five coldest days last year, electricity generated from wind was virtually zero.

8:00 pm

Photo of Ulick BurkeUlick Burke (Galway East, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate and thank Deputy Coonan for sharing his time. There is far greater recognition in 2010 that Ireland is in a very exposed position with regard to energy supply due to its over-dependence on imported fossil fuels for electricity generation. Our 96% dependence on such sources of energy, particularly imported fossil fuels, puts our supply in a precarious position, particularly during periods of high demand. All of our oil and 90% of the gas used in the generation of our electricity is imported. Some 60% of our electricity is generated from gas, but only 8% of that gas need is home produced.

Now is the time, as suggested in the motion, to front load investment in domestic energy as planned in Fine Gael's NewEra policy. We must safeguard our supply and find alternatives. We have many great resources on our doorstep, but our Minister and his predecessors have neglected to develop them. Wind energy can be part of the alternative, but access to the national grid is a serious problem for many in this area and has hindered development, particularly in the west where we have the greatest need and the greatest potential in the area of wind energy. It is wrong that there is so great a delay in providing access for many projects that already sustained high costs in getting planning permission, funding and paying research and consultant costs to establish the viability of the projects. The "gate" system currently operating does not work and adds to the delays. There are currently many projects in gate three that will never come to fruition. Other projects are ready to go but cannot even gain access to gate three.

It is essential the Minister takes action. He must bring the people and agencies responsible for these unnecessary delays together to release the potential and gain from the investment already incurred so as to generate an alternative source of energy. The current system must be amended if we are serious about meeting the targets set out for the next ten years. Excessive application fees are also being charged for grid connection. The justification for these fees must be examined or are they being put in place to hinder viable projects? EirGrid is making an effort to improve the grid structure, but it is often opposed by objectors.

The carbon tax announced in the budget will increase farm production costs by a staggering €16 million per year. This tax increase is particularly severe on farm diesel, with an increase of 8.7% in comparison to the increase of 4.4% on auto diesel. Farm diesel accounts for 40% of farm energy expenditure, or €128 million per annum. This is a new tax on farm production and will hit tillage farmers in particular and other contractors whose activities peak during summer demand. This carbon tax increase will cost €11 million on farm diesel alone and is a further burden after three bad years of farming, particularly for those involved in tillage and cereal production. It is unacceptable at a time of falling incomes and further high cost inputs. Why has there been a higher increase on agricultural diesel than on other fuels? I hope this increase will be postponed, as was done with home heating oil after the budget, and that the increase will be reduced to 4.4% as is the case with auto-diesel and other fuels.

Photo of Seymour CrawfordSeymour Crawford (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this very important motion and I congratulate Deputy Simon Coveney on tabling it. Deputy Coveney and other colleagues in my party have put a tremendous amount of work into the NewERA project. Tonight we are discussing security of power. Much of our power comes through one source in Scotland and that gas is used for the production of electricity and other purposes. We are extremely vulnerable and we saw what happened because of the volcano in Iceland this week. One never knows what will happen anywhere. The day we totally depend on one source for so much of our power is a very dangerous day.

We depend on the importation of oil and gas at such a level that it is extremely dangerous. We need to re-examine how we encourage the use of alternative energy. For years, I worked at trying to get various sources going, such as a biomass plant in Monaghan which would use poultry and mushroom waste. It was turned into an incinerator by people who were crazy, to put it bluntly. The raw material is now exported in lorry loads to be utilised in Scotland to produce cheaper electricity. After the BSE crisis, meat and bonemeal was stored for a while and was then exported to Germany for the Germans to produce cheaper and cleaner electricity.

Those who say we have come a long way have much to learn. Some people claim we have increased the production of natural electricity from wind farms over the past two years. I look at the wind farm outside Cootehill and think of all the years I spent with others trying to get it off the ground. It did not happen in the past two years; it happened over the past ten years with plenty of obstacles.

There are major pig farm structures in Monaghan, Cork and possibly other places, but in Cavan it is most serious. Not only are the pigs there but there is also a land structure which makes it difficult to use farm waste. There is no doubt this could be utilised by digesters if any thought was put into it by the Government to ensure capital aid was available and the structures whereby the ESB pays for it or allows it through its services were changed. An individual farmer or business person who wants to erect a windmill or another form of energy production must pay VAT. Other permanent structures erected on a farm are VAT refundable.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Seymour CrawfordSeymour Crawford (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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We are crazy. We speak much and hear many promises and commitments from the Government but we do not see anything materialising.

This country has an opportunity like never before. People understand and are prepared to take the alternative route. Last Monday night, I opened a seminar at which Deputy Simon Coveney spoke and more than 300 people from County Cavan attended. They were interested in alternative energies and ways of saving energy. The will is there but we need leadership and the sooner we get it the better.

Photo of Dan NevilleDan Neville (Limerick West, Fine Gael)
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I welcome this opportunity to contribute to the debate. Ireland is dangerously exposed to oil or gas price hikes or import disruptions. This has serious implications for business projects, company manufacturing and exports from the State and consequently job creation. The economic stability of the country is at risk in the event of electricity disruptions. The Government needs to address this insufficient energy storage capacity and develop indigenous energy supplies. The economic damage that can occur when systems taken for granted break down is extremely dangerous, and this has been highlighted by the current aviation crisis. Will the Minister address this? The amount of revenue lost in the current crisis would pale into insignificance if there were a sudden hike in oil or gas prices or long-term disruption to energy supplies.

We have to accept that 90% of gas and oil used for electricity generation is imported. This is a key statistic. There is no gas storage in Ireland and there is very limited storage of strategic oil supplies. Severe disruptions will occur in electricity supply within days of disruption to the import of fossil fuels. I welcome the fact that energy security is firmly on the agenda of Fine Gael, to pressure the Government into addressing our insufficient energy storage capacity. The Government must also further develop our indigenous energy supplies. We must be prepared to weather a crisis in the event of a sudden price hike. The Government is being reckless with the economic stability of the country by ignoring Ireland's energy security problems.

Between 1990 and 2007 there was an increase of 108% in imported energy. Gas has replaced other fuels such as turf and coal in the generation of electricity. Our indigenous suppliers of gas meet only 8% of our gas needs. Indigenous gas comes through Kinsale while our only gas storage facilities are depleted as part of the Kinsale field. Two connector pipelines from Moffat in Scotland import 95% of our natural gas. These are the only connections to European gas distribution. The interruption of gas supplies at Moffat would cause extreme difficulties for Ireland, with consequences for the economic opportunities of the country and jobs.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Minister of State with special responsibility for Equality and Human Rights, and Integration, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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I welcome that Fine Gael has tabled a motion highlighting issues of security of energy supply and I thank all the contributors. I commend the Government amendment, which I believe sets out the significant achievements already made in the area, and the Government's ambition to remove Ireland's dependence on fossil fuels.

Government energy policy provides a comprehensive and integrated approach to security of energy supply. It is inextricably linked to each of the three pillars underpinning policy in this area - sustainability, competitiveness and of course security. With this in mind, I would like to touch on the various energy policy strands, contributing to a better security of supply highlighted in the Government's amendment. As the Minister, Deputy Ryan, stated in the House last night, the first emphasis must be on radically improving the efficiency with which we use energy. The Government is providing financial support of almost €100 million to a range of energy efficiency initiatives from which householders and businesses are now seeing real results.

The critical goal for Ireland in improving energy security is to diversify the sources of our supply. This can be done in a number of ways, and I will come to the actions the Government is taking in this regard to conventional energy sources. However, to be truly sustainable and independent, we must maintain the momentum in renewable energy roll-out. While, as the Minister, Deputy Ryan, acknowledged, there is complexity involved, there is also consensus that it is the way forward.

We must work together to ensure the delivery of local solutions to achieve the grid development so vital to realising the potential of renewable energy, and to delivering economic growth and secure jobs. The Government is also to be commended on the scale and ambition of the investment strategies brought forward by State energy companies such as EirGrid, ESB and Bord Gáis. Despite the economic downturn, we cannot lose ground now and risk potential supply shortfalls and price surges when growth returns.

We all acknowledge there is no room for complacency given our almost total reliance on imported gas. However, our interconnection is with a mature, stable and liquid UK gas market, and we must therefore ensure that our action in this area is proportionate. We must also ensure that action is in line with EU policy on both gas security and the Internal Market. That is why the Government welcomes market interest in a number of commercial gas storage projects on the island and intends bringing forward legislation to provide the necessary regulatory regime for gas storage. That is also why the Government will be supporting forthcoming EU legislation on gas security, which will see a significant stride forward in measures to enhance the energy security of the EU. What is good for EU energy security is good for Ireland.

To highlight again the importance of diversity in our energy supply sources, the Government is to be commended on the progress being made on the east-west interconnector with Great Britain. This vital project has received €110 million in EU funding and is on target to be completed in 2012. The increase in resources available to the National Oil Reserves Agency to increase the oil reserves held on this island is very welcome. Within three years we will have increased the levels of stock held here by 25%.

It is a fundamental responsibility of the Government to ensure that the relevant bodies fulfil their responsibilities in the area of emergency planning and response. As well as the robust plans in place in the gas, electricity and oil sectors, we will also be looking at the potential of strategic oil stocks to provide additional secondary fuelling capacity for gas-fired generation.

It is of course a primary responsibility of Government to ensure that the appropriate legislative framework is in place for all the relevant policy areas. To that end, as already signalled in this debate, we will be working over the coming months to develop legislation for gas storage.

Tomorrow, we will debate the Second Stage of the Energy (Biofuel Obligation and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2010. The Minister hopes to introduce an amendment on Committee Stage of that Bill that will place a levy upon electricity generators. This will recover a substantial proportion of the gain made by them arising from the Single Electricity Market rule, which requires electricity generators to pass on the full opportunity cost of carbon into the wholesale cost of electricity.

Photo of Seymour CrawfordSeymour Crawford (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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Congratulations.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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When I asked the Taoiseach this morning, he did not even know that was happening.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Minister of State with special responsibility for Equality and Human Rights, and Integration, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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This is of course subject to final legal drafting. We will continue our engagement with generators on the implementation of this measure.

As clearly set out in the amendment, the Government is already acting to meet the challenge of security of supply in a coherent, structured and sustainable way. It is vital for the future generations of this country, both in terms of Ireland's energy security and climate change, that we end our over-reliance on imported fossil fuels. I commend the amendment to the House.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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I wish to share time with Deputies D'Arcy, and Coveney.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick East, Labour)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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We have heard much talk from the Government for the past three years without seeing any action. Again tonight the Minister of State has said that "we must work together". The Fine Gael motion is a simple motion that sets out things that any sensible Government would want to do with the support of the Opposition. What happens? We see old style politics. The Government rushed in with an amendment so that the Opposition would not get any credit for raising this serious issue. We will pass through the lobbies at 8.30 p.m. to have a vote on what? The greatest natural resource we have, our climate in terms of wind and wave, presents opportunities for jobs. We have 427,000 people unemployed and we have endless talk coming from the Green Party Ministers about the potential that exists. What action have we got?

I have the pleasure of chairing the all-party Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security. We are dealing with legislation that is out of date, the Foreshore Act 1933. When that Act was introduced nobody anticipated that one day we would have turbines out in the sea generating power. No preparation has been done.

We have had plenty of talk. We are talking about wave power, but we do not have a grid that is capable of carrying the power. We are talking about interconnection and yet we do not have an upgraded grid or any sign of forward investment that will bring about the grid to carry the new energy we will produce from our natural resource so that it can become an export. Instead of spending €6.5 billion on imported fossil fuels as has been stated by speaker after speaker, we could be exporting power and getting money into the country. We have a great opportunity to create jobs and be the centre for research and development because we are an island nation in the middle of the Atlantic at the west of the European Union, which has a population of 500 million and is crying out for power.

Nobody has shown me a proposal for ongoing infrastructure investment to allow all this development take place. It is not possible to export goods without having rail or roads in order to do so. It is not possible to export power without a grid to do it. Over the years we have seen our road network improve so that we can export the goods we produce here. However, while there is talk about improving our grid there is no sign of a plan for significant investment to enable it to be built in order to export the power we will produce. I am tired of listening to the plea for co-operation because when we try to co-operate we get back to old-style politics.

I shall give another example. The all-party committee went to the trouble of producing our own legislation for the Government, the offshore renewable energy development Bill. This was all-party legislation produced by a committee which I have the pleasure of chairing. We sent it to the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and got one visit from him on that subject nearly two years ago, but we have heard no more about it. However, the Government has made no alternative proposal on offshore development.

When Deputy McManus produced a Bill on climate change, we produced the heads on an all-party basis. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government told us that he was to produce his own legislation and so that piece of work done by the all-party went into the dustbin again. There is all of this talk about having co-operation. I would appeal to the commentators who from time to time give us lectures about the need to put away this inter-party rivalry and think about the country. When we do try to think about the country by producing a very sensible motion, we get the same old-style politics - we will march up the stairs and divide on this issue.

I repeat that we have an opportunity in this regard. I have met various business groups and associations, as have my colleagues on the committee. We are talking about a possibility of €16 billion of investment into this country but we do not have the infrastructure. Let us consider the opportunities we have. We are talking about a super-grid throughout Europe. We are an island nation and we need connection not only into Britain but also into the European continent. We should be lobbying and persuading Europe that there should be grants to help us develop our internal grid to carry that power into the interconnectors for export to Europe. All of this potential exists if somebody would do something about it. Let us stop the talking and have action.

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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I will begin where Deputy Barrett finished. We find ourselves in a ridiculous position. To add some detail to the points made by Deputy Barrett, I will use my county of Wicklow as an example - it is not too far from the home area of the Minister of State, Deputy Mary White.

The Arklow Bank project is a 500 MW, €1.3 billion project. It began before another Airtricity project which is currently at construction stage off the east coast of the UK yet we have not even got within a whisker of beginning construction on that 200 MW turbine project off the coast of Wicklow and Wexford. At some stage, somebody must say "For God's sake, stop trying to pull the wool over everybody's eyes", because it is not happening in counties Wicklow and Wexford.

Endesa purchased the heavy fuel station at Great Island, County Wexford, and this will be converted to a gas-fired station of 500 MW. At some stage, Airtricity will perhaps get its 500 MW offshore wind farm progressing on the other side of the county. There is 250 MW in wind energy either constructed or about to begin construction. However the Minister of State does her maths, that makes 1,250 MW in County Wexford yet there is just one 220 kV line running through the county. One does not have to be genius to know that does not add up to any version of a benefit for the people.

Bord Gáis is promoting a 500 MW interconnector to the UK via the south of County Wexford, as is another company, Imera Power. Bord Gáis is also promoting a 700 MW interconnector to the Continent. At some stage, somebody must tell the Minister to stop trying to fool the people. What the Government is doing is of no real benefit to Ireland. A previous speaker referred to €6 billion going out of the State with no benefit in return. What we need to do is promote those interconnectors, sell the product and get money into the State. We keep hearing from the Green Party-Fianna Fáil Government about the smart economy. To maintain the Arklow Bank project will benefit north Wexford and south Wicklow with 500 jobs. At some stage, somebody must get up off his or her backside and really get going on this. Some people naively thought the Green Party would do so. This should be up its alley but it is failing badly.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Minister of State with special responsibility for Equality and Human Rights, and Integration, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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The Deputy is not listening.

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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All that is happening is that the capital and equity from throughout the world is going into other projects. By the time we get ourselves in order, that capital and equity will be gone somewhere else.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I thank colleagues on this side of the House as well as colleagues on the other side for their contributions to the motion. This is not the first time I have brought a Private Members' motion to the House in the hope that we could set aside party politics and agree on a motion that was written in an attempt to get agreement from Government, and this is not the first time that effort has been thrown back in my face. I sometimes wonder, as Deputy Barrett said, if it is futile of Opposition parties to attempt to use Private Members' time to try to achieve consensus on major issues.

God knows, it is not difficult to kick the Government these days. We can use all of our time to do that, if we want to, but we have chosen not to do so this week because this party believes we need to issue a warning to this country. Due to a lack of strategic planning by Government over a long period, we need to reduce Ireland's exposure to a complete reliance on importation of fossil fuels to run our economy and our lives. We are over-exposed as a country and we have no control over the price we pay for our fuel or over its security of supply.

We are attempting in this motion to reduce that exposure as a bridging exercise until we can get to the time the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and others speak about, when Ireland will be producing 40% to 60% of its power at home, with renewable sources and homegrown, indigenous fuels. We will get there. We will help the parties opposite to get there if they are in Government, and I hope they will do the same when we are in Government. However, we are not going to get there tomorrow. Today, we have the risk of exposure to a potential cut-off of supply of gas should something happen to a single pipeline in Scotland or the three interconnectors - one into Northern Ireland and two into the Republic of Ireland - which are filling this country with the gas we need to power our lifestyles.

We had a long and very productive committee meeting today on this issue. Almost everything we discussed at that meeting, we are supporting in the motion we put before the House this evening. We are practically suggesting the exact same thing the Government is suggesting in its amendment - there is a slightly different emphasis in certain areas but it is more or less the same. For example, we need to increase storage, we need to encourage LNG facilities to spread the risk and we need to get gas from Corrib into pipeline infrastructure for security reasons. Let us not get distracted by taxation issues or other dividends for the State out of our own natural resources. Today's debate is about energy security and about ensuring that 60% of the electricity that is generated in our country to heat our homes and turn on the lights continues, that we can stand over this and that people who come to invest in Ireland can be told convincingly there is no risk in terms of security of supply of electricity, power, heat and all the other requirements, today and tomorrow.

What I am interested in is the bridging between where we are today, namely, hugely exposed to a potential price spike, which is less likely for gas but, in my view, a certainty for oil, and where we can get to in 2020 and beyond, when hopefully we will have achieved and exceeded the targets the Government has rightly set. However, for the life of me, I cannot understand why, when an Opposition party attempts to achieve consensus in a responsible way and does not look to point-score, the Government and the Cabinet in particular take the view that they must be seen to be the people who actually put on the table the motion that is finally agreed.

It is as if the Green Party feels it has to have ownership of this issue and it cannot share consensus with other parties who are not in Government with it. That is small mindedness. It is what we heard from the Minister of State, Deputy Cuffe, yesterday, when he chose to use his time to have a go at an Opposition spokesperson about an irrelevant road project and when he tried to punch holes in some of the work we have been doing to promote Green Party ideas on electric transport.

This is a genuine effort from Fine Gael to achieve political consensus on a major issue. We make no apologies for that and will continue to do so. All I can do in my frustration with the Government's response is to appeal to it to take on board the ideas we have set down in the motion and make them happen as soon as possible.

Amendment put.

The Dail Divided:

For the motion: 78 (Bertie Ahern, Dermot Ahern, Michael Ahern, Noel Ahern, Barry Andrews, Chris Andrews, Seán Ardagh, Bobby Aylward, Joe Behan, Áine Brady, Cyprian Brady, John Browne, Thomas Byrne, Dara Calleary, Pat Carey, Niall Collins, Margaret Conlon, Seán Connick, Mary Coughlan, Brian Cowen, John Cregan, Ciarán Cuffe, John Curran, Noel Dempsey, Jimmy Devins, Timmy Dooley, Frank Fahey, Michael Fitzpatrick, Seán Fleming, Beverley Flynn, Paul Gogarty, John Gormley, Noel Grealish, Mary Hanafin, Mary Harney, Seán Haughey, Jackie Healy-Rae, Máire Hoctor, Billy Kelleher, Peter Kelly, Brendan Kenneally, Michael Kennedy, Tony Killeen, Michael Kitt, Tom Kitt, Brian Lenihan Jnr, Jim McDaid, Tom McEllistrim, Mattie McGrath, Michael McGrath, John McGuinness, Micheál Martin, John Moloney, Michael Moynihan, Michael Mulcahy, M J Nolan, Éamon Ó Cuív, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Darragh O'Brien, Charlie O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Noel O'Flynn, Rory O'Hanlon, Batt O'Keeffe, Ned O'Keeffe, Mary O'Rourke, Christy O'Sullivan, Maureen O'Sullivan, Peter Power, Seán Power, Dick Roche, Eamon Ryan, Trevor Sargent, Brendan Smith, Noel Treacy, Mary Wallace, Mary White, Michael Woods)

Against the motion: 66 (James Bannon, Seán Barrett, Pat Breen, Tommy Broughan, Richard Bruton, Ulick Burke, Joan Burton, Catherine Byrne, Joe Carey, Deirdre Clune, Noel Coonan, Joe Costello, Simon Coveney, Seymour Crawford, Michael Creed, Lucinda Creighton, Michael D'Arcy, John Deasy, Jimmy Deenihan, Andrew Doyle, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Olwyn Enright, Frank Feighan, Martin Ferris, Terence Flanagan, Eamon Gilmore, Brian Hayes, Tom Hayes, Michael D Higgins, Phil Hogan, Paul Kehoe, Enda Kenny, Ciarán Lynch, Kathleen Lynch, Pádraic McCormack, Shane McEntee, Dinny McGinley, Finian McGrath, Joe McHugh, Liz McManus, Denis Naughten, Dan Neville, Michael Noonan, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Kieran O'Donnell, Fergus O'Dowd, John O'Mahony, Brian O'Shea, Jan O'Sullivan, Willie Penrose, John Perry, Ruairi Quinn, Pat Rabbitte, Michael Ring, Alan Shatter, Tom Sheahan, P J Sheehan, Seán Sherlock, Emmet Stagg, David Stanton, Billy Timmins, Joanna Tuffy, Mary Upton, Leo Varadkar, Jack Wall)

Tellers: Tá, Deputies John Curran and John Cregan; Níl, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg.

Amendment declared carried.

Motion, as amended, agreed to.