Dáil debates

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

12:00 pm

Photo of Pat BreenPat Breen (Clare, Fine Gael)
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Question 51: To ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his plans to promote electric transport apart from the capital grant of €5,000 recently announced. [16572/10]

Photo of Lucinda CreightonLucinda Creighton (Dublin South East, Fine Gael)
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Question 63: To ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the percentage of the electricity used at the recently unveiled electric car charge points that comes from sustainable resources; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16661/10]

Photo of Shane McEnteeShane McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
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Question 75: To ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on including plug-in hybrid electric vehicles for grants equivocal to those proposed for full electric vehicles; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16617/10]

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 51, 63 and 75 together.

The progressive introduction of electric vehicles into the road transport fleet is being promoted and supported in a number of ways in line with the Government target of 10% by 2020. These include the agreement with Renault-Nissan together with anticipated further agreements with other car manufacturers, the roll-out of infrastructure by ESB networks and the VRT exemptions for electric vehicles together with the tax incentive for businesses.

The VRT exemption for electric vehicles and the VRT reliefs of up to €2,500 for plug-in hybrid vehicles, which were due to end in December 2010, have been extended for a further period of two years. In addition, I recently announced the introduction of a grant scheme for up to 6,000 vehicles over a two year period commencing in January 2011. Those purchasing a full battery electric vehicle will be grant aided by up to €5,000, depending on the price of the vehicle. I also announced that grant aid of up to €2,500 is being provided for eligible plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

The electricity used in the on-street charging points comes from the grid and currently around 15% of this is produced from renewable energy. The proportion of renewable electricity in the system and, by extension, being supplied to electric vehicles will increase year on year as progress is made towards the target of 40% for renewable energy in electricity by 2020. The International Energy Agency recently forecast that approximately 30% of road transport vehicles will be electric by 2030. Research, recently published in the Energy Policy Journal, has suggested that electric vehicles using electricity from the Irish grid would use 50% less energy per kilometre than fossil fuel powered vehicles and would result in similar CO2 savings. The research forecasts that savings of more than 70% greenhouse gas emissions per kilometre travelled will occur by 2020 as the level of renewables in the grid increases to meet the 40% target.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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We are back to electric transport again. I refer to the Minister's target for 2020. He plans to have approximately 200,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2020, some 10% of the car transport fleet. Will the Minister outline to the House how he envisages the ramping up of the sales figures of electric vehicles between now and 2020? The date is ten years away. The Minister has already stated he plans to have between 3,000 and 5,000 electric vehicles on Irish roads by the end of 2012. That leaves more than 190,000 vehicles remaining to be sold in eight years. What is the plan or roadmap for the ramping up of sales of electric vehicles? When do we begin to get into serious numbers, or is the Minister leaving that to the marketplace?

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)
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I expect serious numbers in the second half of this decade. As I have stated all along, we are deliberately placing ourselves at the forefront of what is happening. There is an element of experimenting and learning by doing. No country knows exactly how this will progress because no one has done it yet. No country is ahead of us but there are several countries alongside us, including Portugal-----

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Denmark and Britain are there also.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)
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Britain, for example, is developing the idea in five cities. However, there is a world of a difference when one is only considering short runs in and out of a city.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Its numbers are miles greater than ours.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)
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Yes, but it is not providing a national network. We must consider the proportion or the scale of the country. I am satisfied that we will have approximately 2,000 vehicles next year. At that stage, we will have the crucial test bed in place that will allow us to learn how it will work and how to make it work. There are risks attached and there will be difficulties but by learning by doing, we will benefit from it.

Some people asked how we can be certain that this technology will work rather than the range of other technological solutions. One way is to look to every international car company. They are now going electric. The entire Japanese motor industry, most of the American motor industry and large chunks of the European motor industry maintain this is the way they see it going. I do not believe it is such a great risk for a country such as Ireland, which has a very large renewable resource into which we can tap and which has a small scale and a smart grid system. We have everything to gain.

Photo of P J SheehanP J Sheehan (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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How will the Minister get me to Dublin, a journey of 250 miles?

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)
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I suggest the Deputy stops for coffee half way.

Photo of Noel CoonanNoel Coonan (Tipperary North, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy could stop in Tipperary for coffee.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I call Deputy McManus. Please allow Deputy McManus to speak.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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All that caffeine might not be good for the Deputy. Generally speaking, we welcome the fact that there is now an incentive to buy an electric car and no one will take that away from the Minister. However, as Deputy Coveney pointed out, there is still a mountain to climb in terms of meeting targets. Will the Minister consider what has been described as a very attractive incentive, that is, to permit electric cars to travel in bus lanes? This would create a tremendous stimulus for the acquisition of electric cars.

The Minister was at the energy show I attended recently as well. I was very impressed by a company, which happens to be based in Wicklow. It is a very small company that has been able to convert a petrol-fuelled car to an electric car. The Minister should consider how we can use existing cars rather than building up a great stock of used cars that must be jettisoned to buy new electric cars. I do not know how far this technology can go but I would be interested to hear the Minister's views in respect of the conversion of petrol-fuelled cars and whether possibilities exist in this regard.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)
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I refer to the use of bus lanes by electric vehicles. I take the view "No, nay, never". Bus lanes are for buses.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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They are for taxis and Ministers' cars as well.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)
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Taxis and buses are identifiable. There is very good, disciplined use of bus lanes. If one started to break that by having vehicles that are not taxis or buses-----

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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Or Ministers' cars?

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)
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-----or Ministers' cars, it would break the cohesion around our use of bus lanes. As Deputy Coveney stated earlier, these electric vehicles will look like ordinary cars. They will look no different except that they will not have an exhaust running out the back and they will be blessedly quiet. If one sees a car whizzing up in a bus lane, one does not know whether it is electric. We cannot allow them in bus lanes. The bus lanes are working. Let us extend the network, but they are for buses, taxis and emergency vehicles.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The Minister might make the buses electric and that would solve both problems.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)
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That would do it. I was at the SEAI energy show and I was very encouraged. I believe a new economy is growing and more people are coming along. The Deputy is correct; several companies from Wicklow with which I was very impressed were present. The company to which the Deputy referred is from Delgany. This is the type of work we wish to see, involving small operations and creative people who seek to do something on the back of this. Who knows what way it will develop?

When we launched this initiative, I referred to the experiences dating back to when Henry Ford rolled out the first commercial combustion engine vehicles. An industry evolved around Detroit on the back of that development. His first business failed, but his first partners went on to establish Cadillac. His second business shared the storage space with the Dodge brothers who went on to form another car company. I believe there is an opportunity to develop electric vehicles here and I wish to see companies emerging to try out new products and services in conjunction with electric vehicles, including the services that would get Deputy Sheehan up from west Cork in an efficient, clean and safe manner.

Photo of P J SheehanP J Sheehan (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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I would hate to be propping up this Government if I were depending on an electric car to get from Goleen to Dublin.

Photo of Noel CoonanNoel Coonan (Tipperary North, Fine Gael)
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The Minister is concerned about bus lanes and bicycle lanes but he is penalising and crucifying farmers by putting a carbon tax on agricultural diesel. Those who should test these vehicles, especially cars and four-wheel drives, are the farming community who do not drive too far. They stay in their own area. Will the Minister consider giving additional subsidies and incentives to the farming community to test out such vehicles? This would allay the fears he seems to hold.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)
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The difference between Ireland and other countries is that we are considering this as a national infrastructure. I refer to the way I envisage it would work. In Schull, Goleen or half way between the two-----

Photo of P J SheehanP J Sheehan (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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The Minister is very familiar with my area.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)
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I am very familiar. Let us consider the Altar restaurant, which is half way between the two. The Deputy could stop there.

Photo of P J SheehanP J Sheehan (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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That is closed now.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)
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We will get it open again. His mobile telephone could inform him that there is a space available and he could call in for a cup of coffee as well. The opportunity comes from this combination of communications infrastructure with the electricity grid. I envisage this developing quickly, in the same way mobile telephone applications have developed rapidly.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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They exist already.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)
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It is there already, but it is here. It is actually happening here on the back of what we are doing. This is the economic benefit we have.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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I refer to the question I asked.

Photo of Noel CoonanNoel Coonan (Tipperary North, Fine Gael)
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The Minister has no time for the farmers.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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I raised a particular problem. The €5,000 incentive is for new cars. Presumably, the Minister would be interested in avoiding the manufacture of new cars if we could convert existing cars and give them new life as electric cars. Does the Minister consider it appropriate to widen the scope of the €5,000 to assist people who wish to convert their cars to electric cars in future?

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)
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As part of the detailed agreements, there is a mechanism within which the grant is paid via the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, through the dealership network. It is based on new cars rather than on conversions. The advantage of doing it in that way, and developing a charging system, is that those cars which are converted will have an infrastructure on which to operate.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Question No. 51 specifically asked what else the Minister can do in this regard, outside of providing capital grant aid for the purchase of electric vehicles. Has he considered the fleets of cars that are available to State-owned companies? The use of such cars would be an ambitious way of increasing the use of electric transport. An Post's delivery systems are very predictable, particularly in urban areas. Has the Minister spoken to representatives of An Post about the replacement of its fleet with electric cars, which could be charged at a central location? I have spoken to An Post about this idea, which seems sensible to me. In the case of Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus, what is being done to try to switch to carbon-neutral transport, for example using gas or electricity? To what extent is the State showing leadership, with regard to the fleet it controls, to give the public confidence in electric transport?

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)
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I agree that the use of electric transport by public fleets would be a good way of getting this system up and running. We have to take risks to get the public to buy vehicles and have faith and confidence in what we are doing.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Is that happening?

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)
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Yes it is, in a number of different ways. Last year, we provided grants to a number of companies through the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. Celtic Linen in County Wexford, for example, was given a grant for a ten-tonne electric vehicle, to be used to transport linen. We have working examples of how this system works - how charging happens, for example. We are doing it and we are supporting it. As I understand it, the ESB is seeking to purchase a fleet of vehicles for its own use to help it to learn by doing. I will continue to recommend to An Post, Bord Gáis and a range of other companies that they should look at alternative transport solutions in their own fleets. If we build a volume of vehicles to make it happen, we can test how it is happening and sell that expertise to the rest of the world.

Photo of P J SheehanP J Sheehan (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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It is interesting to hear the Minister talking about electric cars. I wonder if they will be able to run from Mizen Head to Malin Head. A recent article in a Sunday newspaper suggested that electric cars will need to be charged for three and a half hours after two thirds of the journey from Dublin to Cork. Apparently, when I start the last lap of my journey - from Fermoy to Goleen - I will only have to charge my car for 20 minutes.

Photo of Noel CoonanNoel Coonan (Tipperary North, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy can use a small bit of diesel.

Photo of P J SheehanP J Sheehan (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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How can that be the case, given that when I leave from Goleen, I am halfway to Dublin by the time I reach Mitchelstown but have not yet left County Cork? A map published in a reliable Sunday newspaper suggested that it will only take me 20 minutes to charge my car in Goleen, but three and a half hours to do so in Fermoy. I cannot imagine that will be the case.

Photo of Noel CoonanNoel Coonan (Tipperary North, Fine Gael)
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There is a lot of electricity in the air down there.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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There is no such thing as a reliable Sunday newspaper.

Photo of P J SheehanP J Sheehan (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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The Minister seems to be going back to the days 35 years ago when he used to cycle around Schull, Toormore and Goleen. He was a young athletic man at that time.

Photo of Noel CoonanNoel Coonan (Tipperary North, Fine Gael)
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He is still young and athletic.

Photo of P J SheehanP J Sheehan (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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He still is. What are the Minister's intentions about extending the national grid-----

Photo of Noel CoonanNoel Coonan (Tipperary North, Fine Gael)
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To Goleen.

Photo of P J SheehanP J Sheehan (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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No, no. He was raving about wind force energy when he was on television last night with Eddie Hobbs.

Photo of Noel CoonanNoel Coonan (Tipperary North, Fine Gael)
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That was hot air.

Photo of P J SheehanP J Sheehan (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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I cannot imagine how the Minister intends to tap into that natural resource, given that he will not extend the national grid to Goleen, Bantry and Schull.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)
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I am glad to say I do not have to think back to my days of athletic youth, as I was in Goleen for my Easter holidays just two weeks ago.

Photo of Noel CoonanNoel Coonan (Tipperary North, Fine Gael)
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Did the Minister not call in to see Deputy Sheehan?

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)
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There is a petrol station beside the lovely pub in the centre of the village.

Photo of P J SheehanP J Sheehan (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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The Minister did not have the courtesy to see me.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)
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I would love to provide for a plug to be located beside that pump. It could be done on a very simple basis. This new technology would allow me to get 80% of the power back over the course of 20 or 30 minutes. That would allow me to cover the more than 100 km between Goleen and Cork, where I could stop for a cup of coffee before continuing my journey.

Photo of Noel CoonanNoel Coonan (Tipperary North, Fine Gael)
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Would it be fair trade coffee?

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)
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This system will connect Goleen with the rest of the country. It is as important to me to get Goleen right as it is to get anywhere in Dublin right. That is what we are doing.

Photo of P J SheehanP J Sheehan (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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The Minister is dreaming.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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Perhaps the Deputies opposite could be plugged into the national grid.