Dáil debates

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Priority Questions

Alternative Energy Projects

2:00 pm

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Galway West, Fianna Fail)
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Question 48: To ask the Minister for Communications; Energy and Natural Resources when it is expected that approval will be given by the EU to the REFIT programme; the reasons for the delay in approving this programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37434/11]

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South West, Labour)
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REFIT 2, the next phase of the renewable energy feed-in-tariff, REFIT, scheme, is designed to support up to 4000 MW of onshore wind, landfill gas and hydro technologies. There is also a new REFIT scheme for biomass technologies, known as REFIT 3, which will support a range of technologies, including combined heat and power, CHP, and anaerobic digestion as well as for co-firing of biomass in the peat power plants.

Separate state aid applications were submitted to the European Commission in relation to these two new schemes. I am pleased to inform the Deputy that earlier this month my Department received the state aid clearance decision from DG Competition for the REFIT 3 biomass technologies application. Government approval is currently being sought to open the scheme and once this has been obtained, the scheme will be formally launched and open for applications. I am advised that the second state aid decision from the European Commission on REFIT 2 for onshore wind, hydro and landfill gas should be forthcoming shortly and, once obtained, I will immediately seek Government approval to proceed to open the scheme.

New renewable electricity generation is supported in every member state and is necessary to underpin delivery of the European Union's ambitious 2020 renewable energy and climate change targets. It also displaces imported fossil fuels in our electricity generation and improves our overall security of supply. The REFIT scheme was announced in 2006 for certain categories of renewable energy, including wind and hydro power. It received state aid clearance in 2007 and projects under the original scheme continue to build out. There is just over 1200 MW of REFIT supported generation included in the 2011/12 PSO decision.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The REFIT scheme was successful with Ireland achieving and marginally surpassing its 2010 renewable electricity target. Under the new renewable energy directive, 2009/28/EC, Ireland has been set a new legally binding target of 16% of all energy consumed in the country to be from renewable sources by 2020 across the transport, heating and electricity sectors. This is a more than a threefold increase on where we are today and will be challenging to deliver. As set out in our national renewable energy action plan, a large proportion of the mandatory target will be delivered through the electricity sector, and REFIT will play a key role in ensuring sufficient new renewable generation is built out.

The real challenge is to ensure that we are able to build out the necessary supporting grid infrastructure to enable the Gate 3 projects to develop. Grid reinforcement plays a key role in ensuring regions have a secure and reliable electricity supply. It is also necessary to strengthen the grid to be able to accept new renewable generation which is typically located in more remote areas that have weak grid systems. Our ability to get this infrastructure built is critical to achieving our renewable energy ambitions.

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Galway West, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the announcement by the Minister that approval has been given for the biomass REFIT. However, I am surprised that he has not yet got word on the refit for the onshore wind energy project. The Minister stated in the Dáil on 19 October that he expected to get that in a few weeks. What contact has he had with the Commissioner in charge of state aids to ensure this permission will be given expeditiously?

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South West, Labour)
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I have not had any contact with the Commissioner for state aids but I can tell the Deputy that I have raised it directly with Commissioner Oettinger, the energy Commissioner. I expected that we would have it by now. The Deputy asked me in his question to specify the reasons for the delay and to be honest with him. I do not know the reason it is taking so long. I am advised we have complied with everything that has been requested from us. The application is submitted and I presume the bureaucratic processing of these applications takes this length of time. When we got the approval for REFIT 3 in respect of the biomass technologies approximately three weeks ago or whenever, we were then orally advised that REFIT 2 would follow on immediately. As recently as yesterday it has not followed on.

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Galway West, Fianna Fail)
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Is the Minister not surprised that this Europe, with its Lisbon agenda of being a most efficient and forward-thinking Europe, is totally inefficient at its heart? The Minister might inform the House when the application was lodged and how long we have been waiting because it is important that this matter be put on the record.

I am surprised at the relaxed attitude here. I understand there is 1,000 MG of power ready to be commissioned if REFIT is approved which would create a lot of employment and, as the Minister stated, would ensure a huge amount of energy substitution from fossil fuels. Was the energy Commissioner concerned that we are not achieving our Kyoto protocol commitments because the Commission is holding up the whole process? What did the energy Commissioner say to the Minister as a justification for his colleague not getting on with the job and delivering these approvals in good time so that we can save the planet?

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South West, Labour)
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We are in compliance with the Kyoto Protocol. I would not boast about it because to some degree it is the step-down in economic activity that has produced that situation, but we are in compliance and it is important to say-----

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Galway West, Fianna Fail)
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We are pan-European.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South West, Labour)
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We are only responsible for this jurisdiction, for the moment anyway. I do not accept that there is any relaxed attitude on my part about securing sanction for REFIT 2 because that emphatically would not be the case. I went out of my way to raise it in Brussels directly. I do not have a date in my notes as to when it was submitted but I will get that and send it to the Deputy. There is no relaxed attitude-----

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Galway West, Fianna Fail)
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Will it be 18 months?

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South West, Labour)
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I do not think it will be 18 months.

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Galway West, Fianna Fail)
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It has already been a year.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South West, Labour)
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I will get the date and give it to the Deputy.

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Galway West, Fianna Fail)
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Will it be a year?

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South West, Labour)
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I will give it to the Deputy. REFIT 2, which relates to onshore wind, is a very important aspect of our policy on the build up of renewable capacity. The Deputy is right; there are some projects which are backed up but which I hope will proceed very quickly after we get sanction.