Thursday, 11 December 2014
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
White Paper on Energy Policy
Ba mhaith liom beannachtaí na Nollag agus athbhliain nua fé mhaise a ghabháil leis an Aire agus leis an Cheann Comhairle. Is í seo an cheist dheiridh atá agamsa sa Dáil an téarma seo. Ba mhaith liom an tAire a mholadh maidir leis an bhfeabhas mór atá tagtha ar a chuid Gaeilge. D'éist mé leis an díospóireacht a bhí ar siúl an Mháirt seo caite. Ba léir an feabhas sin.
I ask the Minister if the White Paper on Energy Policy will outline the funding mechanism for renewable energy.
Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis an Teachta as ucht a teachtaireacht dearfa agus guím Nollaig shona air fosta.
Work on the development of a definitive energy policy is continuing. More than 1,240 written submissions were received arising from the public consultation process by the deadline of the end of July last. The Department is continuing to consider these submissions and engaging, through a series of seminars, with citizens and interested stakeholders, to ensure all views are heard and understood. It is also seeking to ensure that the assumptions on which the final policy paper will be written are tested and accurate so as to produce a dynamic and responsive evidence based framework, which will allow us to achieve a balance between sustainability, security and competitiveness challenges and opportunities.
Our overarching energy policy objective is to ensure secure and sustainable supplies of competitively priced energy to all consumers. While fossil fuels will remain part of the energy mix for some time, progress is being made towards increasing the share of renewable energy. The 2009 EU renewable energy directive set Ireland a legally binding 16% target from renewable sources by 2020, to be achieved through electricity, heat and transport.
The REFIT schemes underpin the development of a range of renewable electricity technologies, including hydro, biomass combustion, biomass combined heat and power, landfill gas and onshore wind. To date, wind energy has been the most cost-effective renewable technology in the electricity market, contributing most towards the achievement of the 2020 target. Work on the design of future incentives for renewable generation will commence next year. Any incentives will ensure maximum value for the electricity consumer and an appropriate return to project developers.
It should also be noted that the building regulations support the uptake of renewable heat. The draft bioenergy plan recommends the introduction from 2016 of a renewable heat incentive for larger heat users to change to renewable source heating solutions. In the transport sector, the biofuels obligation scheme and grants for purchasing electric vehicles underpin renewable energy deployment.
I attended a briefing by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, last week at which it presented its annual report. The report contains a large amount of good information, including enough statistics to give a person a nose bleed. The SEAI probably needs to work more closely with the Commission on Energy Regulation because a key element was missing from its report, namely, information on the comparative costs per unit of the various forms of energy, including the public subsidy per unit.
While I accept that renewable energy is the way forward, it must compete with a hard-nosed fossil fuel industry. The level of subsidy and its cost to citizens must be reviewed. The people going cold this winter are not confined to those living on the streets but include many people who cannot heat their own homes because of fuel poverty.
We are moving into a new phase in which we must be ambitious about what can be achieved. Whether using biofuels or providing grants for electric vehicles, we must consider all options. I have here a statistic on the biofuel obligation which will give the Deputy an idea of changes taking place in this area. The biofuel obligation increased from 4% to 6% from January 2013 and further increases will be required in future years if we are to comply with the renewable energy directive. The requirement for increased amounts of biofuel will incentivise the sustainable growth of the Irish biofuels market, which will support indigenous biofuel producers and expand the sustainable indigenous production of biofuels. In 2013, for example, 150 million litres of biofuel were placed on the Irish market.
We must be ambitious and examine international best practice. Every politician in the House is in contact with individuals involved in the renewable energy industry or university research in this area. A forum is also required in the House to advance new ideas on renewable energy. Officials in the Department are open to having such an engagement.
While Ireland has obligations under the EU directive, our primary obligation is to provide affordable energy. I accept renewable energy is the direction in which we must move but we also require basic data that will allow us to compare the price for renewable energy vis-à-visthe price of fossil fuels, taking into account the public subsidy being paid and the price per unit of production.
The introduction of wind energy is having a direct effect on price and creating a more competitive market. The development by EirGrid of east-west infrastructure in recent years has also contributed to the energy mix and introduced more competition.
While final agreement has not yet been reached on the new INTERREG programme, it appears there will be a pillar focused directly on sustainable transport. This issue will affect the Deputy's constituency. Perhaps we need to have a conversation at this juncture about how the Department and Government can proactively feed into the INTERREG funding that will come on stream in 2015. The Deputy and I come from the same neck of the woods and our constituencies do not have access to sophisticated transport infrastructure. As we both come from the Border area, we will be in a position to target INTERREG funding under the sustainable transport pillar in the year ahead.