Thursday, 15 September 2022
Security of Electricity Supply: Motion [Private Members]
That Dáil Éireann:
recognises: — that SSE Airtricity has announced that it will increase prices for its customers on the 1st October, with electricity bills rising by over 35 per cent and gas bills increasing by 39 per cent;
— that in the space of 12 months there has been a more than €1,000 increase in both gas and electricity bills;
— that poorer households and families are hardest hit by electricity price increases as they account for a larger share of household expenditure;
— that a big part of these increases is due to wholesale gas price rises;
— the failure by the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications to publish an assessment on the use of the old Kinsale Head gas field for the storage of natural gas despite assurances having been provided to Dáil Éireann over the past 18 months;
— that Ireland is the only European Union country without any natural gas storage capacity;
— that despite the Government and the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) being aware since last April that the Public Service Obligation levy charged to electricity bills was unnecessary it has continued to charge every electricity customer an extra €26; and
— that the passage of the EirGrid, Electricity and Turf (Amendment) Act 2022 last July will impose a €40 per annum charge for three years to provide emergency backup of 650 megawatts of electricity; acknowledges that: — the cheapest barrel of oil is the one not burned, and energy conservation must be given the utmost priority by the Government and society;
— the Corrib gas field only meets 30 per cent of our natural gas demand; in 2006 the Southwest Kinsale gas field was converted to an offshore storage facility, with a storage capacity of 230 million cubic meters, with the last of the storage gas withdrawn from the reservoir in March 2017;
— the new Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS) has an inbuilt refund to the State where renewable wind turbines or solar farms make excessive profits, however, such a clawback was not incorporated into the Renewable Energy Feed-in Tariff (REFIT) schemes which support the vast majority of renewable electricity on our grid today; and
— the national grid has come under increasing pressure since the start of this decade, with a spike in the number of amber alerts which has gone from just 13 in the last decade to 17 already this decade; calls on the Government to: — accept the need to implement radical ideas outside the normal political playbook and declare the current energy crisis as a national emergency;
— draft and enact legislation to address the current supply deficit with an Energy Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act with a sunset clause after 36 months to:— ban any threat to turn off the electricity supply to domestic customers and critical social infrastructure, such as hospitals, schools and nursing homes;— establish an energy support scheme for businesses, as some businesses are experiencing a 200-300 per cent increase in utility costs forcing them to decide between staff layoffs or closure;
— reopen the 250 megawatts Midlands power plants in Lanesboro and Shannonbridge to burn biomass;
— suspend the licensing regime for the thinning and felling of forestry to facilitate the use of brash to fuel the Midlands power plants with biomass;
— direct data centres and other high demand electricity consumers to use their emergency backup generators when there is a shortage of supply;
— temporarily re-power Derrybrien wind farm and ringfence all profits for a local community and environmental benefit fund;
— set a national cap on the unit price of electricity, with the State raising a long-term loan to pay for verifiable surplus costs to power generators which would be repaid through electricity bills over a 15-year period;
— clawback excessive profits by energy companies, particularly in relation to renewable electricity generated under the old REFIT scheme, to help fund the cost of a unit price cap for electricity; and
— exempt planning for rooftop flush mounted solar photovoltaic (PV) panels on domestic, agricultural and commercial buildings;
— immediately commence an independent external review of all CRU and EirGrid actions which lead to increases in standing charges, to eliminate unnecessary spend and ban any increases in standing charges for all electricity customers;
— place a moratorium on the construction of additional data centres which do not have their own power source until such time as there is necessary capacity on the electricity system;
— conduct research on a one-off windfall tax for energy companies who have made supernormal profits because of soaring energy prices;
— allow for extra flexibility in the procurement of new electricity sources outside the RESS;
— immediately decouple the link between gas prices and electricity prices, which are inflating electricity prices, whether generated by natural gas or not;
— acquire through Gas Networks Ireland a floating liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal located in either Cork Harbour or the Shannon Estuary and ban the sourcing of fracked gas;
— prioritise investment in retrofitting fuel-poor households as a matter of urgency to clear the 2.5-year backlog in addition to an increase in the Fuel Allowance and an extension in the number of weeks it is payable each year, from 28 to 32 weeks per year;
— immediately approve applications received under the National Retrofitting Scheme, which are presently delayed by up to six months, if the homeowner has been fortunate enough to secure an assessment;
— address the cost of financing works under the National Retrofitting Scheme by introducing zero per cent long-term loans for retrofitting homes, whereby repayments are paid back through utility companies based on energy savings, including electricity micro-generation;
— expedite the rollout of the National Broadband Plan and the Government's National Remote Work Strategy, thus reducing the need to travel to work;
— increase renewable energy under the Biofuels Obligation Scheme (BOS) to 10 per cent in petrol and 12 per cent in diesel, effectively doubling the usage of biofuels in Irish transport as committed to in the Climate Action Plan; and
— encourage the use of hydrotreated vegetable oils in the transport sector following the model as outlined in the Swedish Renewable Transport Policy; and further calls on the Government to: — take decisive steps to reduce our medium-term dependence on fossil fuels;
— implement in full the Offshore Renewable Energy motion unanimously approved by Dáil Éireann on 8th December, 2021, and set out a clear policy strategy for the domestic production and consumption of green hydrogen;
— establish without delay a renewable heat obligation scheme similar to the BOS;
— support the development of indigenous biomethane production for use in heating and transport;
— direct Gas Networks Ireland to design and construct district heating systems in suitable towns and urban districts;
— implement, as a matter of urgency through Bord na Móna, a bioenergy strategy, including the use of fixed price contracts, to increase the supply of biomass for energy from our agriculture and forestry sectors;
— enact the Wind Energy Development Guidelines signed off by the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government and the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment in June 2017 to replace the outdated 2006 guidelines; and
— deliver its long-promised policy statement on geothermal energy and the requisite supporting legislation.
On behalf of the Regional Group Members of the House, I move this motion on the present energy crisis. In the course of the debate on this motion, my colleagues will address pertinent facts regarding the present critical situation. We will call on the Government to declare the current energy crisis to be a national emergency. We will further call on the Government to enact legislation to address the current supply deficit with a public interest Act to include energy emergency measures. Regional Group Members will propose workable and credible solutions to address the current crisis to protect and assist the people.
We aim to ban any threat to turn off the electricity supply to domestic customers and critical social infrastructure such as hospitals, schools and nursing homes. We will further suggest setting a national cap on the unit price of electricity, with the State raising a long-term loan to pay for verifiable surplus costs to power generators. This would be repaid through electricity bills over a 15-year period. The Regional Group Members will also put forward proposals to claw back excessive profits by energy companies. We propose to exempt planning for rooftop flush-mounted solar panels on domestic, agricultural and commercial buildings. We propose the establishment of an energy support scheme for businesses. Some businesses are experiencing up to a 300% increase in utility costs, which is forcing them to decide between staff layoffs or closure. Equally, there is a need immediately to decouple the link between gas prices and electricity prices. Currently, that link is inflating electricity prices, whether it is generated by natural gas or not.
These are just some of the decisive steps to be taken now to reduce our medium-term dependency on fossil fuels. However, the options do not end there. We are calling on the Government to implement in full the offshore renewable energy motion that was unanimously approved by Dáil Éireann on 8 December 2021. This motion set out a clear policy strategy for the domestic production and consumption of green hydrogen and the timely establishment of a renewable heat obligation scheme similar to the biofuels obligation scheme. We also call for the implementation through Bord na Móna of a bio-energy strategy, including the use of fixed price contracts, to increase the supply of biomass for energy from our agriculture and forest sector.
People in every corner of this country are living under a cloud of stress and anxiety. They are gripped by fear about what this winter holds for them. Homes, businesses, schools, farmers, nursing homes and healthcare providers are depending on the Government for help. No one underestimates the challenge that lies ahead for the Government. While direct financial help to pay bills is essential at this time, in truth it is merely a stopgap effort. We must take a wider and more long-term approach to solving the problem by exploring and revisiting our options for self-sufficiency. A recent and much-discussed report cites Ireland as the worst prepared country for the current energy crisis in Europe. This makes the work we need to do much tougher and more urgent.
A key setback is that Ireland no longer has gas storage facilities. Countries such as Germany have the capacity to store up to 100 days' supply during the summer months when demand is reduced. Austria keeps a full year’s supply of gas in storage. Ireland has no capacity whatsoever to store gas in preparation for the high demands of winter, never mind in an energy crisis. The gas field in Kinsale is not only empty but it has been dismantled. This leaves the sole survivor, the Corrib gas field, without a crucial backup. That diminishes our ability to amass gas supplies in off-peak months.
A solution we have is the burning of oil distillate as opposed to gas. However, this would involve the reopening of peat-fired plants in the midlands plus an extension of time for the Moneypoint coal-fired plant which is scheduled to close in 2025.
The reopening of the power stations in Lanesboro and Shannonbridge are also options to assist in the generation of power, as is the recommissioning of the Derrybrien wind farm.
There has been much negativity about the high demand for electricity from data centres. There is a proactive way to ease this issue through the implementation of maximum peak demand tariffs. The proven peak time during the winter months for domestic electricity usage is between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. If data centres and large industrial consumers were incentivised to come off the national grid during those times from November to February, and switch back to fossil-fuel generators, this would remove enormous pressure on demand and ensure that domestic needs can be met.
Exceptional circumstances demand extraordinary actions. Maintaining light and heat in the months ahead must be the paramount concern at this time. Tough times also demand courage. Government displayed courage and leadership in the fight against Covid-19. Difficult decisions had to be taken for the greater ultimate good. Similar strength and decisiveness are required now.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach Gníomhach. At the start of this month, I and some of my Oireachtas colleagues from the west of Ireland held meetings with IBEC and representatives of a number of multinational companies which employ tens of thousands of people in the west. The biggest issue that they have is the rising cost of energy. The meeting was a very productive one and showed how seriously worried they are about the effects of energy costs and the uncertainty about further increases in the future.
Also present at that meeting were representatives of small businesses, SMEs, who gave some examples of the extent of the cost rises over the past few months, particularly in supermarkets. One example was of a business that was paying €125,000 a year but is now facing a bill this year of €300,000, and rising.
I also listened with interest to “Morning Ireland” where the chief executive of a hotel group outlined the challenge that the group faced with its electricity bill last year which was in the region of €5 million and it expected that to be closer to €20 million this year. All of the groups at that IBEC meeting and the businesses to which I have spoken in recent times are asking for Government help and support for their rising energy costs.
This is going to have a negative impact on Ireland’s competitiveness. My fear is that many of these multinationals could start looking to the Far East where the crisis is not being felt as much. It could be a question then of instead of looking at the cost of labour, they will start looking at energy costs in making their decisions on where to invest.
I want the Minister of State to give a commitment to the Dáil today that there will be major support for businesses, hospitality and the SME sectors in the forthcoming budget because, if not, we could face a widespread shutdown of the businesses and industries over the winter, and a consequent loss of jobs as they will not be able to cope with their energy bills.
Every part of our society is being affected. I know of one farming contractor whose harvester was costing €300 a day to run. It is now costing in excess of €1,000 to run every day. That is just one machine. The same applies to all the other machinery involved in agri-contracting.
Schools are already feeling the pinch. I know of one school where the two-monthly bill was approximately €500 and the school expects that bill to be up to €1,600 and more. The school is simply not in a position to pay.
It is time the Government realised that this energy crisis is having, and will continue to have, a very significant knock-on effect on all parts of our society. Assurances need to be given also to domestic customers, especially the most vulnerable, the older population and those with chronic illnesses and disabilities, that they will not be left without electricity. Even before the current crisis we have all heard reports of vulnerable people switching off their lights and sparing their electricity usage to avoid running up big bills, even to the extent of taking to their beds during the day just to keep warm during winter months. If they were doing this before, what kind of winter lies ahead for them now?
There is a fear among older people that there are going to be electricity blackouts and that they will not be able to afford to heat or light their homes on a fixed income. It is particularly hard on those who live alone. The people who are most stressed and worried about these are the most vulnerable in our society.
I would like to see firm guarantees being given to people using vital medical equipment in their homes such as home dialysis machines, oxygen concentrators and artificial ventilators. They need to be sure that their supply will be under no threat.
Every single person in this country is affected by this crisis and is worried as they face into a winter of uncertainty. The Government has to act now. It must intervene to give businesses, and particularly the most vulnerable in our society, certainty and security as we approach the colder months of increased energy consumption, so that they will be able to turn on their lights and heat their homes.
In the context of doing everything we can to create additional electricity output, a related issue which has been raised with me concerns grant assistance for the provision of solar panels in homes. There is a grant available for the installation of solar panels on domestic dwellings, offering up to €2,400 off the cost. However, there is no grant assistance offered for the addition of a battery unit which comes into play at night time, providing electricity at a time when the solar panels have no sun to draw power from, or where the excess energy can be sold back into the grid. One of my constituents has been quoted almost €6,000 to add a battery to the system for a 5 kW storage.
I compliment those in my Regional Group, including Cait, our party administrator, who put this Private Members’ motion together. Our motion calls on the Government to take a series of steps and emergency measures to tackle the current crisis and among them is a ban on cutting off electricity supply to people’s homes. The Government should also press at EU level for the immediate decoupling of the link between the price of gas and the price of electricity which is increasing the cost of energy to electricity suppliers.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate and I thank my fellow members of the Regional Group for bringing forward this motion. The purpose of this motion today is to discuss energy security, including supply and demand, electricity generation capacity, plans to best manage supply and demand and, of course, to protect vulnerable users in the coming months.
At the outset, I would like to emphasise the impact the war in Ukraine is having on gas market prices and, in turn, on both gas and electricity bills, particularly over the coming winter and beyond. However thousands of households face choosing between eating or heating this winter. The current electricity crisis caused by the mismanagement of electricity supplies is causing significant financial hardship to families and businesses throughout the country and County Louth. Recent estimates from the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, indicate that up to 29.4% of households now spend more than 10% of their income on their home energy needs.
There are existing challenges, additional to the war in Ukraine, to the security of electricity supplies in Ireland. Concerns over supply risks have arisen largely due to the non-delivery of previously contracted capacity. Without capacity, with increasing electricity demand, and the increasing unreliability of some existing plants, what are we to do?
With regard to the security of supply of oil, the short- to medium-term outlook has stabilised somewhat, with petroleum products availability having improved recently. However a big part of these increased costs are due to the wholesale gas increases. With regard to the security of supply of gas, supplies from Russia to Europe have been severely reduced over the past year and continue to be a cause of concern for European energy security. This has resulted in natural gas prices that are at least ten times the levels seen just two years ago. On top of that, Ireland is the only EU country without any natural gas storage capacity. The Minister with responsibility for energy has not followed through on the publication of an assessment of the Southwest Kinsale Gas Field which was converted to an offshore storage facility with a storage capacity of 230 million cu. m for potential storage of natural gas.
On top of this, SSE Airtricity announced price increases to take place on 1 October, with electricity bills set to rise by over 35% and gas bills to increase by 39%. In layman's terms, it is costing the people over €1,000 for both oil and gas, over a 12-month period. These increases are unsustainable and frankly frightening.
With regard to prices, vulnerable constituents and energy poverty, my office is acutely aware that the exceptionally high wholesale gas price has led to the unprecedented increases in the electricity and retail gas prices faced by consumers. This has resulted in a significant increase in the number of people at risk of fuel poverty and will lead to hysteria if not actioned immediately.
I have had constituents calling me after being placed on the most expensive tariffs for electricity and gas, as more suppliers flee the Irish market. Panda Power, the latest victim of the energy crunch is understood to be on the verge of exiting the residential supply market, which has already seen three other suppliers pull the plug in this market. Panda has around 60,000 residential electricity and gas customers. When energy providers leave, their customers get transferred to other suppliers and are put on the most expensive standard tariffs. These are up to 30% higher than the best rates that can be obtained from energy providers by locking into an annual discounted contract.
Electricity prices are inflating, whether generated by natural gas or not. On those grounds, I, along with my colleagues in the Regional Group, request that the Minister with responsibility for energy, Deputy Eamon Ryan, secure EU-wide agreement at the upcoming European Council meeting of energy ministers for the immediate decoupling of the link between gas prices and electricity prices.
We also call on the Government to establish an energy support scheme for businesses. Emergency legislation needs to be introduced to ensure that electricity supply and prices are affordable for families and businesses this winter. Alongside the Regional Group Members, I propose that this legislation should incorporate a ban on any threat to turn off electricity supply to domestic customers, as well as any critical social infrastructure such as hospitals, nursing homes and schools.
It is more feasible to the everyday Joe Soap to pay a yearly gym membership, sometimes not even to go to the gym but, in fact, to use the washing and electrical facilities such as showers and hair driers to save on costs. A local gym owner contacted my office recently asking what can be done for small businesses to stay afloat this winter. Its bills have skyrocketed and it risks losing custom if it puts the membership price up.
We welcome the statement of the European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, yesterday which announced that the EU wants to introduce a cap on the revenues of companies that produce electricity at a low cost. It is wrong for them to receive extraordinary record profits and to benefit from war on the back of consumers. We also welcome the SME relief package proposed for doing business in Europe.
On behalf of the Regional Group, I thank our parliamentary assistant, Cáit Nic Amhlaoibh, for the work she has done on this motion.
We are in an energy security difficulty and an energy cost crisis. I want to read into the record commentary from the Irish Petrol Retailers Association. A station owner, Johnny Brady of Coolquay, recently received an electricity bill of €23,000 for August. He says that paying these bills is unsustainable. His electricity cost for the overnight rate has increased from 7 cent per kilowatt hour to 37 cent per kilowatt hour. He says he has nothing against data centres but wind turbines run overnight when the country's usage is at a minimum. He asks are the data centres also paying 37 cent per kilowatt hour for this overnight usage. Mr. Brady calls for the Commission for Regulation of Utilities to investigate urgently and let the country know that businesses and families are not being penalised unfairly for overnight usage. He also presented significant detail regarding the rates which are coming back from local authorities.
There are significant difficulties facing our business community domestically, of which I know the Minister of State, Deputy Smyth, is aware. I question the policy of the Government and whether it is reactive or proactive. I am thinking specifically in terms of green policy. I referenced in the debate last night the forestry sector. We know the green credentials around forestry and that we may want to increase forestry and carbon sequestration. However, at the moment, if we look at where forestry licences are going, 80% of them are for felling, not for planting, and most of that is going towards the public sector, not the private sector growers. That is just one significant disconnect. In the motion, we have called for the reopening of the Lanesborough and Shannonbridge power stations, to be fuelled by biomass, but that can only be achieved if we seriously look at the legislation we have for thinning forestry. It is not happening simply because of the amount of bureaucracy around this.
There was an article in theIrish Examinertoday showing that the Government did not make any application to the EU’s new REPowerEU programme, a €35 billion programme to try to ensure energy security, despite the fact there was a significant component that Ireland could apply for under biomethane and anaerobic digestion and, in fact, €800 million would probably have been our share. It is obvious that the Green Party did not support the Government looking for this because it is a supporter of anaerobic digesters. I believe this is a significant deficit in the country. The Minister of State, Deputy Smyth, can tell me I am wrong and I am sure he will do so, but we did not make the application and we left €800 million lying around, or that is what it looks like.
Solar PV is mentioned in our motion. Why can we not disregard planning permission for new solar PV? New barrier membranes are being developed in the Far East that will cover roofs; these are not solar panels but barrier membranes that can generate solar power. Surely this is something we should become active on. We gave a commitment to the agricultural sector over two years ago that we were going to provide significant grant-aid to farmers for deploying solar power but, again, we have no way of getting back to the grid for most farmers so they can only use it for their own purposes. This is no good when they have spare power that they could certainly put back into the grid.
We need to speak about the supports to households and to businesses. The Taoiseach has signalled that some of these supports will not be ready by the time the budget is approved in less than two weeks and that we have to wait and see what the EU is going to come up with. Can we not be more proactive in terms of trying to provide supports? We must give a signal to our domestic economy and to our SMEs as to how we are going to support them, given what is coming down the road. Otherwise, people will lose confidence exponentially. People are looking at their business models. I met people from a very large publican business in Waterford before the weekend who told me they are considering closing at the end of September or in October because their business is not sustainable. They think the best thing they can do is stay closed until February or March, with the loss of nearly 25 whole-time jobs.
I thank the Regional Group for raising this important motion. We are all too aware of the pressing matters of energy security, energy prices and protecting our vulnerable consumers and businesses. At the outset, I would like to emphasise the impact the war in Ukraine is having on gas market prices and, in turn, the impact on both gas and electricity bills over the coming winter and beyond. Europe has not faced an energy challenge like this since the 1970s oil crisis.
The Minster, Deputy Ryan, attended a Council of Energy Ministers meeting on 9 September to address the extraordinary situation of energy prices in the EU and to work on possible emergency measures to mitigate current high prices and support demand reduction for electricity to strengthen the EU's winter preparedness. These problems are being faced by all EU member states and a united, determined and immediate response is being taken by the European Union, as stated by President von der Leyen in her State of the Union address earlier this week. At the Council meeting, Ministers agreed that immediate action must be taken to ensure the EU's security of supply and alleviate pressure on customers, while maintaining consistency with the current efforts to reduce gas demand and the objectives of the European Green Deal and REPowerEU.
The Commission has proposed a number of short-term exceptional emergency measures in recent days. These include a proposal incentivising co-ordinated electricity demand reduction across the EU. Other proposals include capping the revenues of inframarginal electricity producers with low costs of production and introducing a solidarity contribution from fossil fuel companies to be used to mitigate the impact of high energy prices on customers.
The Commission's proposed legislation is already under urgent negotiation by member states in order to have agreement by the end of the month. Ireland believes a well-functioning EU electricity market remains crucial for the integration of our internal energy market and for providing the necessary investment signals for the integration of new renewables, which are essential ultimately to break our dependence on fossil fuels. We support the overall threefold approach being taken in the regulation to first, remove excess rents being earned by non-gas electricity production; second, to reduce electricity demand; and, third, to apply a solidarity payment from the producers of oil and gas. Nationally, the national energy security framework, NESF, which was approved by Government and published in April 2022, sets out Ireland's response to our energy security needs in the context of the invasion of Ukraine and our specific national circumstances.
The short to medium-term oil supply outlook has stabilised, with petroleum product availability having improved recently, and we have seen a slow softening of the international oil price. The National Oil Reserves Agency currently holds approximately 85 days of oil stocks, the overwhelming majority of which is in the form of physical product, with approximately 85% stored on the island of Ireland.
Gas supplies from Russia to Europe have been severely reduced over the last year and continue to be a cause for concern for Europe's energy security. This has resulted in natural gas prices that are approximately ten times the levels seen just two years ago. The continued supply of natural gas to Ireland has not to date been reduced or interrupted as a result of the war in Ukraine. The UK, from where 75% of our gas comes, is at a strategic advantage compared to other European countries as it has a diverse source of gas supplies. The European Council recently agreed a regulation on reducing gas demand by 15% this winter. This regulation requires all member states to put in place a demand reduction plan. As Ireland is not directly interconnected to another member state, it is not required to meet the mandatory reduction target in this regulation. However, preparations are under way to put the voluntary demand reduction plan in place in Ireland.
Separate to the war in Ukraine, there are challenges to the security of electricity supplies in Ireland.
Concerns over such risks had arisen largely due to the non-delivery of previously contracted capacity, increasing electricity demand and the increasing unreliability of some existing plants. The Commission for Regulation of Utilities, CRU, is managing a programme of work initiated in April 2021 and finalised in September 2021 to address this challenge, with the support of EirGrid and my Department.
There are challenges to the security of electricity supplies in Ireland. The system outlook for this winter is similar to last winter, when we fully met all demand, although this winter, imports from the UK may not be as readily available as it, too, faces tighter margins. Specifically for this winter, a range of measures are being taken. A large amount of maintenance has taken place over the summer to ensure our generation fleet is adequately prepared for the winter ahead. We have been working with the large-scale energy users, which have significant quantities of backup generation, to enable us to access that backup supply at times of system stress. The optimisation of grid batteries, the number of which is growing, will provide greater service during times of stress. We are also enhancing demand-side responses through a number of measures at domestic and industrial scale. Furthermore, I welcome that the CRU is reviewing the capacity remuneration mechanism to make sure it is fit for purpose. In carrying out this review, it is vital that we support the projects that have been rewarded contracts under the existing mechanism and that planned capacity auctions continue to deliver. In respect of the longer-term outlook for energy security, the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications is carrying out a review of the energy security of Ireland's gas and electricity systems for the period to 2030. I expect a consultation to launch in the coming days.
Members will be acutely aware that the exceptionally high wholesale gas prices seen since Russia invaded Ukraine have led to increases in electricity and retail gas prices faced by consumers. This, in turn, has resulted in a very significant increase in the number of people at risk of energy poverty. Recent estimates from the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, indicate that up to 29.4% of households are now spending more than 10% of their income on their home energy needs. The Government is keenly aware of the pressure on households facing these bills and has already implemented a €2.4 billion package of policies and measures to support energy customers. These supports included an electricity costs credit, which was applied to more than 2.1 million domestic electricity accounts, a reduction in VAT on electricity and gas bills from 13.5% to 9%, and increases to the fuel allowance.
The Government also greatly enhanced the home retrofit supports available to households. For example, the number of free energy upgrades for households at risk of energy poverty delivered each month is more than double what it was last year. In addition, a new 80% grant support for cavity wall and attic insulation was introduced as a response to the exceptionally high energy prices. These supports will help to protect homeowners from energy price increases in both the short and long term.
However, the Government recognises that more needs to be done as prices continue to increase. Therefore, additional measures to support households and businesses are being examined in the context of the forthcoming budget. I very much welcome the recent announcement by the CRU of a range of additional consumer protections under the national energy security framework. The Department also recently published a review of the strategy to combat energy poverty, alongside a public consultation that will help to inform the development of a new action plan to combat energy poverty. The new action plan will set out a range of measures to be implemented ahead of the coming winter, as well as key longer-term measures to ensure those least able to afford increased energy costs are supported and protected the most. It is intended that the new plan will be published shortly after the budget. The development and implementation of the plan is being overseen by a cross-departmental steering group, chaired by my Department.
In response to questions about anaerobic digestion and the planning exemption conditions on solar panels, without wishing to pass the ball, I will leave it to my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, to address that in his later statement.
I am sharing time with Deputy Tóibín. I welcome the opportunity to speak about the very worrying energy situation. I thank my colleagues and, Cáit Nic Amhlaoibh, our co-ordinator, for organising this debate.
Unfortunately, there were signs of this energy crisis emerging before any blame could be given to Putin for his invasion of Ukraine. We must look closer to home, at some of the failings of the Government, which have left us ever more exposed to the impact of the international energy disruption. In October 2007, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, who was then Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, warned us that 85% of Ireland's gas and oil was imported. He said:
This reliance on imported fuels from areas of the world that are geopolitically volatile contributes to price instability and vulnerability in Ireland. New domestic sources of oil and gas would ease the pressure.
He also said:
Ireland's oil and gas is a resource of the people. I want to ensure that our waters are fully explored and that we get a proper return to the State.
Even in 2007, there were reports of Russia threatening to cut off supplies to Ukraine. Fourteen years ago, the Minister was aware there was a need for domestic energy security and exploration, yet, in recent weeks, he has said he was taken by surprise by what has happened.
What action did he take in response? Aided and abetted by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, he introduced legislation to ban gas storage infrastructure from being built and he banned the issuing of new exploration licences. The Government is continuing on a path that makes our energy security even more perilous. It has created two types of problems. One is the short-term cost of energy, which is going to decimate businesses and put many households under serious pressure to pay their bills. The other problem is energy security in the long term. Reliable supply and as much homemade generation as possible should help to keep prices stable, but where is it? We had 14 years to prepare.
The short-term problems must be addressed now. In this motion, we call for energy support schemes for businesses and a ban on any threat to turn off the electricity supply to domestic customers and critical social infrastructure such as hospitals, schools and nursing homes. While those protections are in place, we need to start addressing the long-term supply issues. The current crisis surely necessitates a review of the path we are on with regard to energy. The Government must admit these problems have been caused in part by pursuing foolhardy policies that promoted moves away from fossil fuels before alternative supplies were secured. The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act sets the target of a climate-neutral economy by no later than the end of 2050. Unless this is revised, we will spend the next 28 years implementing damaging policy after damaging policy in an attempt to meet this unattainable target and paying massive fines to the EU for the privilege. We are simply not ready to move away from the traditional energy sources just yet. Surely the alternative should be fully ready and available before we try to abandon the sources on which we rely.
As stated in the motion, the national grid has come under increasing pressure since the start of this decade, with a spike in the number of amber alerts, which has gone from 13 in the past decade to 17 already in the two years of this decade. I received correspondence recently from a constituent who runs a successful retail business. That correspondence displays clearly how unprepared and disorganised we are when it comes to moving towards renewables. He states in his email:
We have looked to try and install solar panels to reduce costs but the system in place is making this very difficult because of the following. We would need to install a 150 kW system for the site. Currently, you need planning above an 11 kW system. The system would create an overall supply at certain times of the day and then this would spill back onto the grid - a positive for the grid but not for us as currently a system under 50 kW will get paid for anything passed to the grid but, over 50 kW, the grid takes it for free. The cost of installing the system is €170,000 and would cut my dependency on the grid in half but the upfront cost is difficult to raise. The grants for these systems are very low. The above system for our premises would get no grant. The other option is solar and a battery system but the cost of these is not affordable to my business.
Here we have a business owner who is willing to move to renewables and cut his reliance on the grid in half. He would even be in a position to sell back power to the grid. However, he and many like him are being put off moving to renewables by this cumbersome and prohibitive system. We have these great plans to achieve net zero by 2050 but we do not even have the basics right.
Not having the basics right and refusing to look at them in planning is how we have ended up with a housing crisis, while not addressing employment issues in the health profession is how we have ended up with a health crisis. Now, we have an energy crisis. At what point will we learn from experience?
Following on from my colleague's contribution, one of the biggest problems existing in the administration of this State is our glacial bureaucratic system. Anybody outside this Chamber will tell us that any time constituents try to do something right by their families, communities and the State, they find that they run into a bureaucratic wall when they deal with the State. The State is slow and cumbersome in dealing with issues.
I will give some examples. Some 70,000 people applied to the Be on Call for Ireland campaign to help during the Covid-19 crisis. Of those, only 400 were ever employed by the HSE. Equally, thousands of families have provided homes for Ukrainian refugees to stay in, but 85% of those homes have still not been activated today. When a job is given to this Government or to the upper echelons of the public service to deliver upon, the outcome is that it does not get delivered upon, it takes forever to do or it is completely rolled up in red tape and bureaucracy. The rest of Ireland gets on with executing its work efficiently because it has no choice but to do so. If that does not happen, the costs will come from the pockets of those involved. This State, however, takes forever to do anything because it can afford to do so as it is the taxpayers who are paying.
For me, the frustration around this issue stems from the fact that the Government has been aware of many of these problems for a long time, but it has failed to act on them. The issue that really jumps out at me is the microgeneration of electricity. The North of Ireland started a process 15 years ago of allowing people to put solar panels on their roofs, erect small-scale wind turbines and undertake biodigestion projects. Here we are this week, and correct me if I am wrong, and householders are just getting a tariff for the microgeneration of electricity. We are the last country in Europe to do it. Another example of how slow we are to do any reasonable job is that the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, met with other European energy ministers last week concerning the issue of offshore energy. He spoke about the seriousness of this issue. In 20 years, this State has seen seven wind turbines built offshore. Consider all the greenwashing photographs produced and all the glossy prospectuses and reports written, and this has been the output in 20 years. The endeavour has been disastrously, dangerously and expensively slow for the people of this country.
Then there is the issue of ideology. The first aspect in this regard concerns elements of the green ideology. I am an environmentalist and I believe strongly that we must protect society, but we must also take a common-sense approach to doing it. Being the only country without a gas reserve is dangerous and this is the direct result of this Government's policy. It leaves us as the country which is the most exposed in Europe to changes in the supply and prices of energy now, and this is the fault of the Government. The other aspect of this is the Government's instinct to blame the EU or at least to bow to it regarding fixing these issues. Therefore, while we have been pushing for VAT to be reduced on fuel, literally since Christmas, the Government has kept saying that the EU would not allow that to be done. Yet we have now seen that Spain and Portugal have secured a VAT reduction in the cost of their fuels. When I raised the idea in recent months that we should decouple the price of electricity generated by non-gas means from that which is gas-generated, the response from the Government was to say we should wait for the EU to do it. Was that the response in Iberia? No. Spain and Portugal have got a derogation and have been allowed to decouple their prices. I hear politicians talk about how rotten it is for energy companies to be charging gas prices for non-gas generated electricity at a time of such crisis, and yet it is the Government's system that allows that to be done. The Government is sitting on its hands and waiting for someone else to do it again.
Turning to carbon tax, it is absolutely a sin for the Government to be raising carbon tax year-on-year at a time when nearly 50% of the population is living in fuel poverty. It does not make sense, it is unfair and punitive and it must stop.
I thank the Regional Group for bringing forward this comprehensive motion. It allows us an opportunity to talk about the crucial issue of energy security. It is important to get into the weeds on this issue and to pick apart the details. I say this because, in many respects, the Government has tried as much as possible to confuse the situation and to wrap it up in the context of events in Ukraine, internationally or in the EU. I refer to the truth of all this, though, particularly concerning energy security and the risk of blackouts. We heard the regulator speaking on the radio this morning and again confirming that it cannot be guaranteed there will not be blackouts this winter. This is a direct result of policy failure by successive Governments. It is entirely in the gift of the Government and it is also an essential responsibility to ensure that we have energy security.
There was a complete mismanagement of supply and demand. The red carpet was rolled out for data centres even as electricity demand increased year-on-year. There was a 12% increase over five years. My county and others saw an enormous roll-out of these data centres. This was one aspect of the situation. Another aspect, however, is that to have done this at a time when the Government was also failing to deliver capacity on the supply side was reckless and dangerous. It puts lives and livelihoods at risk. This is an incredible failure of policy and of the business of Government.
At the request of Sinn Féin, representatives of the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, CRU, and EirGrid appeared before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action in recent weeks to discuss this subject. That was because over the summer recess people were reading on the front pages of their newspapers about leaked reports and details in reports of disaster planning scenarios that put the fear of God in them, to be honest. It was confirmed by the representatives of EirGrid that we are at a heightened risk of experiencing blackouts this winter. The Minister outlined some of the emergency measures being put in place to try to address this potentiality. There is a question mark over every one of those measures in respect of the existing back-up capacity and the ability of those batteries, optimised or otherwise. Therefore, there is risk and it is significant in this regard. This is something that can be laid entirely at the door of the Minister.
Something else that did not get much attention because it was technical legislation was the EirGrid, Electricity and Turf (Amendment) Act 2022 that was rushed through in an emergency manner just before the Dáil rose for the summer recess. In real terms, that was a rewriting of the rule book in respect of the procurement of back-up generation. It was a damning indictment of the CRU, EirGrid, the Department and the Minister and the capacity to deliver essential electricity supply. It came years after red flags had been raised and alarm bells sounded in this regard. We failed to deliver capacity for the winters of 2021 and 2022. As far as I can see, the regulator and the transmission operator were standing looking at each other, bickering and pointing the finger at each other. It is the responsibility of the Government and the Minister of the day to ensure that these systems operate and that these agencies and regulators are operating to a standard. All this falls back on a failure of Government policy.
We also see this in the context of the delivery of supply and the planning system, which is completely unfit for purpose. We have targets for 2030, and they have been increased. Every time the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, has to launch a document, I believe he wants to be able to say we are increasing our ambition in the area of renewables.
They fail to meet any one of those targets. That is what will continue to happen unless the Government invests in the planning and regulatory system. If one looks at An Bord Pleanála, and I spoke about it earlier, the applications that go in have a target timeline of 18 weeks but it is turning around decisions on planning appeals in 60 weeks. On strategic infrastructure development, SID, applications, the target time is 18 weeks but it is turning around decisions in 69 weeks. The system is completely broken. Those decisions that are delayed today will have an impact in winter 2027, winter 2028 and winter 2029. Will we still be wondering about blackouts in those years as well because of a failure of Government to deliver on its obligations?
It has been mentioned repeatedly in relation to microgeneration of solar. It is incredible. There are communities, whether it be the GAA, community centres or businesses, putting their hands up in the middle of an energy crisis to install solar photovoltaic, PV, and they have hurdle after hurdle put in front of them. I want to bring to the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth's attention a particular problem at this point in time, among all the other ones, with the better energy community scheme, and ask that he take a note of it. I have been on to the Department, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, and the Minister about it. There are a number of applications in to be assessed and as far as I can gather from listening to applicants, the goalposts are being shifted and the promise of updated regulations and updated exemptions in terms of planning puts a number of really important applications in jeopardy. It is something that needs to be reviewed.
Central to this debate in terms of energy security is the approach that successive Governments have taken in relation to the energy system. I look back to the 1916 Proclamation and at the ownership of our natural resources and the use of them for the people of Ireland. Successive Governments, largely Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Governments, have sold them off, often not even to the highest bidder. We look at the profits of the owner of the Corrib Gas Field. I stood at Corrib gas, with others and with the local community at that time. If one looks at the profits of Vermilion, it reported 267% increased profits last year. This year, it is reporting a 28% increase in profits. These are spectacular numbers. Those who will get the benefit of that are the company's shareholders, not, as it should be, the people of Ireland. That is all on the shoulders of successive Governments.
I thank the Regional Group for bringing this motion forward.
The Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, has been listening to many Deputies here in the House today. I have been talking to small business owners. I spoke to a lady on Thursday last who is absolutely terrified of what is coming down the road here when it comes to energy supply and energy costs. I also spoke to one business owner and he gave me a breakdown of his costs for a shop in the year to June 2022 and for the same period in 2021. There was a 94% increase on costs alone. His ESB bill went from €28,454 in 2021 to €55,239 for the same period up to June in 2022. There is no way he will compete. He will have to start letting people go. It is very worrying.
I heard a number of Deputies here a while ago speaking about microgeneration. In the previous term, we in Sinn Féin proposed microgeneration and it was dismissed as fantasy. We have businesses that have invested heavily in solar panels and are lucky enough to be producing enough power to run their own businesses, but yet they are still prohibited from selling the excess power to one of the providers. There seems to be no joined-up thinking whatsoever.
I am also worried about families, who were spoken about here, and businesses and schools. Then there are the more vulnerable, that is, those who would probably need oxygen supply on a regular or a 24/7 basis. I have seen them rationing oxygen previously but now we will be rationing power to pump that oxygen as well. That must be a terrifying scenario for these people. I hope the Government is ready. It should be ready to start addressing this immediately.
Another issue today is that an energy provider is leaving the market. I do not know what is happening there. If that is the case, we are starting to lose our grip on everything here.
We need to be moving faster towards renewables, green hydrogen, etc. I have spoken with people and had a briefing on hydrogen, and the by-product of oxygen. These people are willing to give the oxygen to the hospitals in this country for free and at the same time have enough capability to produce our own energy and export it.
I commend the Regional Group on bringing the motion before the House. I hope the Government takes everything that has been said here on board. It has to be addressed, not tomorrow but immediately.
Is dócha nach gcaithim é a rá mar go dtuigeann gach uile dhuine sa seomra go bhfuil an t-uafás brú ar theaghlaigh agus ar ghnólachtaí. Tabharfaidh mé cúpla sampla don Aire mar gheall air sin. Bhí mé ag caint le gnólacht áitiúil i mo cheantar féin atá ar cheann de na hoileáin atá ann. Léirigh sé dom go bhfuil sé ag úsáid phainéil ghréine agus go bhfuil an fuinneamh ar fad atá ag teastáil uaidh á fáil aige ó na painéil sin. Léirigh sé freisin dom go bhfuil cuid dó sin ag dul ar ais chuig an grid ach is é an rud atá á rá aige ná nach bhfuil an ceantar áitiúil in ann tairbhe a bhaint as sin. Níl an ceantar ag feiceáil an bhuntáiste sin. Is rud fíorthábhachtach é sin a gcaithfimid breathnú air. Táimid ar fad inár gcónaí i gceantair. Tá comharsana ann agus ba chóir go mbeadh an tairbhe sin ann.
As well as that, I have been speaking to some of the local businesses in my own area. I am talking about micro-businesses that are employing people in my area. They have all been saying that their electricity bills have increased by thousands of euro. This is not something new for this Chamber. We are all acutely aware of those difficulties that households and businesses are facing. Of the thousands of euro these businesses have seen in increases, many of them are saying that they have no certainty in relation to what is to happen over the coming months.
To be honest, I have asked people directly because it is important for us to hear exactly what people are thinking and exactly what people feel would help them. One of those micro-businesses suggested to me that we make it easier for those micro-businesses, which do not have much money to spare, to get their own solar panels. There is two examples. One of them is the ceann ar an oileán a bhfuil sé acu cheana féin agus an ceann nach bhfuil sé acu go fóill.
I have been contacted by a pensioner in Galway city who has just got a letter through her door from her landlord and who has been advised that her bills for heating and electricity will increase by 25%. She said that it is completely and utterly outrageous, and that there is no extra money for her at this moment in time. Therefore, we need to see that in the budget. What is extremely heartbreaking is a pensioner contacting me and asking what charities can she contact to get help. We need to see action from this Government. We need to see action to help those people, such as that pensioner, and make sure they can get through this winter.
I also thank the Regional Group for bringing the motion forward. The response of the Government to the crisis being inflicted on families and businesses across the country has been dreadful. Earlier this year, the Government was pushed to introduce measures to assist families and businesses but as the crisis increased, the Government refused to have an emergency budget, opting instead to take the summer off from making any decisions. This was a dereliction of duty. Families of people who have to use oxygen concentrators, for example, or dialysis machines, were left to bear the brunt all summer. Businesses and farms had to keep operating, and we have all heard the staggering bills they are faced with.
In June, the additional needs payment was announced, but 95% of current applications are taking five to eight weeks to be finalised.
That is no emergency response.
In October of last year the Government opposed proposals at EU level to decouple electricity prices from the gas market. Now we see a dramatic U-turn from the Government on the issue of decoupling gas from electricity prices. That is the problem with this Government: it has no vision and wastes time.
A study by the Financial Timesfound that Ireland is second-last among European governments in acting on the energy crisis. Yet the Government dismisses Sinn Féin calls to cap electricity prices at €1,000, inclusive of VAT and standing charges. Instead, people must wait up to two months for the emergency assistance the Government talks about.
We in Sinn Féin have also raised with the Government for months the need for a windfall tax on excess profits made by electricity suppliers. It is immoral to profit off the back of a war in Ukraine and the misery of struggling households.
That struggle is everywhere. Only today I received an email from a Tipperary constituent who had received a letter from a school asking that pupils bring in their own small towels because blue tissue has now become so expensive for the school. That is where we are: struggling schools looking for support from struggling parents. It is just not right.
This motion mentions the use of fixed-price contracts to increase the supply of biomass for energy from our agriculture and forestry sectors. The Government, however, is making it difficult when trees, dead due to ash dieback, are left to rot in the ground because of licensing delays.
The motion also calls for an external review of all CRU and EirGrid actions which led to increases in standing charges. Sinn Féin has called on the regulator to outline what it is doing to monitor standing charge increases by some companies.
When it comes to the threat to electricity supply, the figures speak for themselves. In 2017 the number of amber electricity alerts was one. In 2020 the number increased to three. This year, up to August, it was eight. It is not as though the Government has not had any warning of this. It just lacks the vision to deal with it.
The Government has mismanaged this crisis. That is why we are discussing this motion and why, yesterday, Sinn Féin outlined a package of measures to act in the interest of people in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis.
I thank the Regional Group for bringing forward this motion. It comes on the back of Sinn Féin's motion last night, in which we proposed a number of solutions. They included a reduction in household electricity prices, capping them at 2021 levels, and cost-of-living cash payments targeted at low- and middle-income households to support them with their rising energy bills. We in Sinn Féin are also calling for a double child benefit payment in recognition of the higher energy bills associated with larger families. The Government must also introduce a windfall tax in order that excess profits are not made during this crisis. It is immoral that companies should make excess profit from the suffering of the people of Ukraine and the misery of households struggling to heat their homes. It is time for the price-gouging to stop for good. Not only has this Government refused to act; it has actively worked against the interests of ordinary workers and small business owners and their families.
Unfortunately, that is nothing new. Last October the Government opposed proposals at EU level to decouple electricity prices from the gas market, which would have helped bring down the costs. The price of gas is dictating the price of all electricity, which is pushing bills to an extortionate level, even for renewable electricity. While we can produce electricity from wind and solar power at a relatively low price, the current system means that that energy is sold at the same rate as gas-generated electricity. As recently as June of this year, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, expressed his opposition to fixing this flawed system.
It is clear that the Government is prioritising the profits of energy companies ahead of the interests of citizens and their ability to afford to heat their homes during the winter. I now have small business owners in south Kildare telling me that their businesses will not survive this winter if something is not done soon. Some of these businesses have been on the go for over 100 years. They have survived recession, war and Covid, only to be killed off by an indifferent or, worse, malevolent Government. It is a Government that prioritises the properties and profits of energy companies over schools that are struggling to pay bills. It is a Government that prioritises data centres over the electricity need of the ordinary worker and family. Data centres now use as much electricity as all homes in rural Ireland combined. Last month, a new data centre in Ennis was approved. That centre will use the equivalent power of 200,000 homes. This is putting huge pressure on the grid.
Winter is coming and it is time to pull the plug. It is time to pull the plug on the Government now because it is an absolute shambles.
I thank the proposers in the Regional Group for putting forward this motion on security of energy supply. Clearly, this is a hugely pressing issue and very topical as we face into what can only be described as a bleak winter ahead, a winter which we know many households and many struggling families and individuals, are already in fear of. All of us are meeting people around the country, in our constituencies, who are really fearful about the winter ahead, the cost of energy and the consistency of energy supply. We therefore face a twofold energy crisis this winter. It is about not only security and consistency of supply but also the cost and the affordability of energy. That is very clear.
In the Minister of State's opening remarks he pointed out that, even separate from the war in Ukraine, there were challenges to the security of electricity supplies in Ireland already. That is absolutely true. My colleagues in Labour and I have previously been highly critical of the failure of this Government to ensure delivery of previously contracted capacity. I recently sat in on a climate committee meeting at which we heard representatives of EirGrid and the Commission for Regulation of Utilities speak about that unfortunate failure to deliver previously contracted capacity and the effect it has had in creating a greater risk to the security of our energy supply. I therefore agree absolutely with the Minister of State that there are challenges to the security of energy and, in particular, of electricity supplies in Ireland this winter. Some of those challenges, however, were already clearly evident in the failure to deliver the contracted capacity. I think we all acknowledge that those challenges have been massively exacerbated, the concerns have been exacerbated and the costs have increased hugely due to Russia's brutal invasion of Ukraine and Vladimir Putin's weaponising of gas supplies across Europe. There is no doubt about that, and we are feeling the impact here.
Having said that, we are all also very much aware that it is clear we are not as exposed to Russian weaponising of gas supplies as other European countries are. The Minister of State and the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, have previously pointed out that 75% of our gas is imported through the UK. Of course, we also have our own indigenous supply of gas in the Corrib gas field. I will speak about that in a moment.
I will speak first about a position that has been put forward by some. I know that the Minister of State did not refer to it in his opening remarks, but I am talking about the issue of storage and, in particular, suggestions in some quarters that we need floating LNG storage. I will say this on behalf of Labour. While we await the energy review report, to which the Minister of State has referred, we do not believe we need to see floating LNG terminals. I think any storage facilities could be contemplated only on the basis that they would be future-proofed. I think the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, has made that same point. In other words, such storage facilities would have to be capable of being repurposed for green hydrogen or renewables. Otherwise, the introduction of such facilities would be a highly regressive measure.
I think we are also conscious that the countries that need floating LNG most are those, such as Finland and Germany, that were heavily reliant on Russian gas and that have had to diversify rapidly and that we are not quite in that position. Clearly, however, what we really need for energy security is a rapid and urgent deployment of increased renewable capacity, in particular offshore wind. We have supported the Government's attempts and Government measures to introduce the necessary planning framework to ensure we can develop offshore wind rapidly, but we need to see a much speedier roll-out. I am conscious there will be a conference next week, I think, or in the coming weeks for those involved in offshore wind. What I hear from stakeholders and wind energy companies is a real readiness to get these offshore wind terminals built and a frustration at the slow pace of roll-out. That is a key issue with energy security.
The other energy security issue I wish to raise - I raised it yesterday in the Dáil also - is the Corrib gas field. I ask both Ministers present to consider seriously how we can address questions and concerns about security of supply through taking a new approach to Corrib and Corrib gas. It makes no sense that Corrib gas should be priced as if it were internationally traded. It is produced here, off this island, and nothing has happened to increase the cost of production or supply of Corrib gas. I have called on the Government to use existing powers under the Fuels (Control of Supplies) Acts 1971 and 1982. Those powers were first invoked during the oil shortages in the 1970s. The legislation was amended in the 1970s by Fine Gael, in fact, to extend its coverage so as to include natural gas.
The Acts give the Government the power that if the exigencies of the common good necessitate the regulation or control by the State of the acquisition, supply, distribution or marketing of fuels, the Minister may then make all the necessary orders. The test is the exigencies of the common good. What we hear from people around the country is that the common good now demands the sort of emergency measures that would, for example, involve the taking over by the State, temporarily, of Corrib gas output so that it could be sold to the State on a cost-plus basis. This would reduce the cost to consumers and would in no small way go towards addressing the hardship and fear of so many families and businesses as they face into a winter with uncertainty around supply and cost.
In the House yesterday we spoke on the cost issue but it is worth repeating. Small business owners whom I have met say that the cost of their energy bills is now equating to or greater than the cost of their rent. As we all know, rent is a significant cost for any small business owner. It is usually the greatest cost that has to be factored in, but now energy bills are reaching that level. We heard about the shocking figure of €21,000 for an energy bill for a business in Roscommon. Households face projected costs of energy bills of up to €6,000 per year, three times what was the expected average energy bill for households. This is at a time when other costs are also increasing.
The cost-of-living crisis is biting so many households and family in terms of food prices, childcare, and rents. Here in Dublin Bay South, in this constituency, people contact me because they have been told their rents are going up, or they have been given a notice to quit. They simply cannot find affordable accommodation. People have told me that they have made and sent literally hundreds of phone calls and emails to landlords advertising properties. People who are renting apartments have told me that they are inundated and flooded with requests to rent, if they put a property up for rent just because there is such a shortage and costs are so high. This is the cost-of-living crisis that is really hurting and affecting so many people, families, households, and businesses. Energy costs and uncertainty around energy costs are a huge part of that.
The Labour Party has called on the Government to introduce a windfall tax in order to curb excessive profits of energy companies. We have called for a cap on energy prices as well as an expansion of the eligibility criteria for the fuel allowance. Some €15 million would mean 16,000 more families would be within the fuel allowance criteria. That would be one way of addressing hardship for those most affected and most in fear as we face into this bleak winter.
I thank the Regional Group for bringing forward this motion. It is a far-ranging motion that touches on every element of the energy issues we are seeing, be it security of supply or price. We must be clear that they are two separate issues with two drivers behind them. The exorbitant prices being applied to people's bills are as a result of the problem in Ukraine, which could not have been foreseen. There is also the security of supply issue, which the motion also relates to.
On the security of supply issue, there is no one else to lay the blame with other than this and previous Governments due to their lack of planning. I found it laughable when the Taoiseach said that he was surprised when there were discussions and warnings about blackouts and brownouts this coming winter and how he would have appreciated more warning in that regard. The reality is that this and previous Governments were warned annually about the security of supply issues we are facing now. They were warned about the pressures on and the lack of investment in the grid. EirGrid's generation capacity statements, published every year since 2018, made it clear that we would face significant problems with energy security. Professor Brian Ó Gallachóir, of the MaREI centre, tweeted at the time that the centre's academics had issued ten warnings over the previous four-year period. Clearly, it was not an issue of a lack of warning; it was an issue of a lack of listening.
Last year, I brought forward a Social Democrats motion in respect of data centres and the need for a moratorium on their development, because of the pressure they put on the grid. During the debate on that motion, I raised the issues about security of supply, how this uncontrolled and unregulated growth of data centres was putting such pressure on the grid that we would face blackouts and that it would raise the cost of electricity prices for ordinary homeowners, which we have seen happen. It would also undermine the environmental message from the Government and those of us in the Opposition who want to see progress on climate change and environmental measures. It is difficult to tell an individual, who has their own bills and costs to deal with, that they need to retrofit their home or buy an electric vehicle. Regardless of the grants available, it is still a costly exercise. It is difficult to say that to individual homeowner while explaining it is for climate and emissions reasons, and for our energy security, when at the same time large corporations are allowed to use what power they want and build as many data centres as they want. In fact, this was encouraged and facilitated by the Government, that data centres were a key industry for us and there would be a free-for-all when it came to data centres. We are all paying the price now. This is not an anti-data centre discussion. This is a management of our grid discussion. It will do no one any good if we cannot put the lights on in homes or businesses across the country in the winter. That goes for the people who work in and build the data centres, as well as the corporations, and their employees, that own the data centres. The issues were are having with security come down to a lack of planning by the Government, and that is unacceptable because it is a government's primary function.
I refer to the price issue. I said earlier there are two issues and two drivers. I believe governments across Europe are scrambling to address that issue. Two approaches must be taken. There are the immediate needs. How do we help people now? How do we help people and businesses get through the winter? How do we make sure they can afford to pay their energy costs? How do we make sure they can afford to feed their children? How do we get them safely through this winter? I hope the Government will put a significant emphasis in the budget on those immediate needs. The Social Democrats party is calling for an energy assistance scheme that will put money into people's pockets and that it will be targeted. A fundamental principle for us is that we must make sure any financial supports or measures are targeted toward those who need it most, which is something we have repeated frequently. As a Deputy, I do not need €600 in support to pay my bills. My family and I will manage and there are many families who will manage. It will be uncomfortable but they will manage. There are hundreds of thousands of families for whom this could mean life or death or could become a serious situation for them.
I have spoken previously about a man in my constituency who ended up in hospital because he had an electricity bill to pay. He is diabetic and he could not buy the correct food for himself and ended up having an attack and going to hospital because he paid his bill instead. That is the situation some people are facing. We in the Social Democrats believe the focus of the Government should be on making sure targeted measures are introduced that are sufficient to help people through the winter.
Once people get through the winter we need to look at how we make people in businesses more robust against these types of price shocks in future. We cannot allow ourselves to continue to be as susceptible to what is happening in Europe. This comes down to making sure there are sufficient retrofitting schemes and grants in place. It is not only about the money. It is also about making sure that workers and the capacity are there to get it done. There is a two and a half year wait for those applying for the warmer homes scheme, which is not acceptable. These are our most vulnerable people. The solar scheme for vulnerable customers has not yet been put in place. It was meant to be put in place in the second quarter of the year. It was part of the national energy review. These simple measures are not being taken and they need to be taken.
One of the risks in this is the undermining of the environmental message. When people are focused on feeding their families and their very survival, it is very difficult for us to speak about emissions, carbon and addressing environmental issues. The Minister needs to make sure individuals and homes are helped enough so that we can also communicate the importance of these messages.
There is much in the motion with which we can agree but we cannot agree with its core. The heart of it is wrong. It is incorrect. More motions such as this will be tabled and so they should. Almost one year ago People Before Profit tabled a motion on the cost-of-energy crisis that was emerging. Nothing has changed. Unfortunately motions and Bills in the Dáil do not deliver, certainly not those coming from the Opposition. Whether we agree or disagree with it, how we really get change is through getting masses of people onto the streets to send a very strong message to the Government, as has been proved in the past. I want to give a shout-out to the public to get on the street on Saturday, 24 September, to unite together to force the Government to act in a meaningful way.
The motion starts correctly by highlighting the huge hikes in the price of wholesale electricity and gas. It correctly illustrates that what is happening is that poorer households and families are affected as they spend a larger amount of their income on this area. The motion immediately moves on to conflate gas price hikes with issues around our gas supply. This is a mistake. We do not have a gas supply problem. Other countries in Europe have gas storage and they also have a gas price hike problem. The problem here is profiteering. The problem is the fact that, just like Corrib, our wind energy is privatised and we pay the market headline price. The market is profiteering. The problem is not storage and neither is it the war in Ukraine. It is deeper and it lies in the liberalisation and deregulation that happened here and in Europe in the energy sector. We think back to how the ESB made massive breakthroughs in building a global state-of-the-art energy set-up with Ardnacrusha and later with Turlough Hill and exported it throughout the world to show how hydropower could be done. If we had been relying then on the competitive tendering, deregulated and privatised model that we have in energy now we would still be in the dark in this country.
We agree with the motion that we need windfall taxes and the decoupling of gas from renewable energy and oil. Behind the energy crisis we still have the climate crisis. To deal with both, quite frankly, we have to move away from the Thatcher and Regan neo-liberalisation that thinks the market will deliver the change. This is why we are pushing for the renationalisation of the energy market.
I am glad the motion mentions data centres. As has been said, they have been much debated in the House. The real problem is that new data centres being connected to the national grid this year and next year will gobble up a huge amount of the energy we need. The surge in demand from data centres is wholly unacceptable. We cannot continue to connect new data centres to the grid.
LNG goes to the heart of why we should start by saying we do not have a gas supply problem. The Brits will not cut off Moffat tomorrow. If a lightning storm struck Moffat then we might get cut off. Where is the scaremongering coming from? I believe the hysteria is coming from the fossil fuel energy sector itself which, since the war in Ukraine, has engaged in its own war. This is a war of disinformation for profits to ensure we lock the planet and this country into new fossil fuel infrastructure for decades. It is a war against the people because of the price hikes and profiteering. We do not need LNG, private or public. What we need is to remember we are witnessing record climate catastrophe at historic levels. If these are radical ideas then God help Ireland.
We are in the middle of a severe cost-of-living crisis. We are also facing a climate catastrophe and experiencing the sixth mass extinction event brought about by the unsustainable use of land, water and energy. These two crises are not unrelated. In fact, they are two sides of the same coin. The root cause of both is the capitalist system. In other words, it is the organisation of our economy and society around profit and maximising profit for the fossil fuel companies in particular, without any regard to people's needs, including people's need to live on a habitable planet. In dealing with the cost-of-living crisis we need to take measures that simultaneously tackle the climate crisis and avoid the catastrophe that is otherwise coming towards us.
Unfortunately, while there is much in the motion with which we would agree, a big part of its response is to go for a deeper entrenchment and reliance on fossil fuel infrastructure, tying us into more and more years of environmental damage and increasing carbon emissions. This is not the answer. Some of the solutions put forward in the motion include acquiring an LNG terminal in either Cork harbour or the Shannon Estuary, repowering the controversial Derrybrien wind farm, and reopening power plants in the midlands to burn biomass, with this biomass sourced from brash through suspending the licensing regime for the thinning and selling of forestry. It is utter green-washing to suggest that scraping out every last piece of organic material left from felling, which is environmentally damaging in its own right, will somehow represent green energy. It is destroying material that otherwise would be populated by fauna, filling in some of the destruction left by deforestation. Using brash to create biomass indicates a desire to leave a completely barren wasteland that would only make it easier for industrial machinery to come back to replant the next forest being grown to cut down.
The Derrybrien wind farm was built in 2003 without an environmental impact assessment. Excavation resulted in a landslide that caused extensive environmental damage, severe water pollution, changing the course of a river and killing approximately 50,000 fish, not to mention the impact it had on the everyday lives of locals since. Calling for an LNG terminal when we have just learned this week that global emission reductions would need to be at least seven times higher to have any hope of staying under 1.5° C warming seems to be the height of contradiction to some sort of environmental benefit. Instead, the sort of demands we need to see are eco-socialist demands that would reduce energy usage while improving people's lives. Such measures include free and frequent green public transport that is massively expanded to get cars off the road and bring down our reliance on fossil fuels as a matter of urgency and investment in full retrofitting for all homes in the country. Let us prioritise the roll-out of attic insulation at zero cost to people, giving them warmer homes and reducing energy use. Other measures include, as Deputy Bríd Smith said, taking the energy sector out of private ownership and bringing it into public ownership and running it on a not-for-profit basis to provide energy for people and to drive a rapid and just transition. We should not simply take the relatively minimal measures proposed in terms of data centres. We should say there will be no more data centres while we are in this crisis. A total of 14% of our electricity goes to data centres. We cannot go any further on this. We need to have a full stop on data centres now. The way to achieve all of these things is to get out, mobilise and put feet on the streets at 2.30 p.m. on Saturday, 24 September, in Parnell Square.
I compliment the Regional Group for bringing forward this motion. I was a bit surprised to see the Government has not opposed it. What is going on here? Parts of this motion, which I agree 100% with, is all for things the Minister, Deputy Ryan, is totally opposed to. He is just accepting the motion and he will have it raced and passed through here and do nothing about it. This is the greatest lazy and laissez-faireway of dealing with this parliamentary system. This is probably the tenth time in the past year the Government has done this. The Government's policies are the opposite to what is in the motion, but it accepts it because it does not have the gumption, guts or sense, or the trust in the backbenchers that it will vote with the Government in a vote. It is afraid of another humiliation and another few people overboard.
This is the greatest con job that ever hit this country because the Minister said in 2005 that we would have to use all of our natural resources of oil and gas because we were not sure of supplies from Russia and elsewhere. How did the Minister change so much over the years to follow what I call quite an evil strategy? He will have people without power in cold and dark in their houses. Small businesses cannot survive, on top of what happened during Covid The Government closed all the small businesses and let the big multinationals get bigger.
What master is the Government serving? Who is its master? The Minister could not have changed that much in 14 years. He recently said he was shocked by this energy crisis. He knew about it 14 years ago. I ask the Minister to come clean with us. I respect his integrity. What masters are he, An Taoiseach, Deputy Martin, and An Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, serving? The global interests.
There is another big conference coming up on the 21 September and more drastic and draconian decisions will be made with regard to human life and this planet. It is not anything to do with climate change. It is to do with control and greed and making big businesses bigger and big chequebooks for bigger people. That is what it is. The Minister should come clean with the people. Has it taken him 14 years to find out that we will have an energy crisis? His deliberate policies to penalise, perish and humiliate the Irish people are disgraceful.
Let me be frank, the current approach to energy policy and creation is an act of national self-sabotage. It is an absolute disgrace. Indeed the sense that people are getting is that our entire population has been taken hostage by a green hysteria and a demented level of ideological ruthlessness that is not grounded in any sense of proportion or rationality. It is wonderful to hear that many of those who were jumping up and down saying that green policies were not going far enough have now changed their tunes. It is grea.
It is also wonderful to see that people are copping on to this nonsense and that many of our turf cutters are back on the bogs where they should have been left all along. We are not listening to any more of the nonsense any longer in rural Ireland. If the lights go out this winter, the Minister should seriously think of resigning because businesses, households and working families cannot cope, nor should they have to, with these struggles because of the Minister's inadequacy and lack of ability to intervene with the electricity companies which are charging too much for bills. We know that and we see it.
I have met publicans who have seen their unit rate trebling. I have met farmers who have seen their bills go from €400 to almost €1,600. That is not sustainable. The Minister is responsible for this. He must intervene. I call on him to do so. If he cannot do so, then maybe he should resign. We would all breath a sigh of relief in rural Ireland because we are fed up. We have had enough of the nonsense. The so-called assurances provided by the Minister, Deputy Ryan, and this hapless and hopeless Government are dating so badly that they are beyond worthless. Nobody believes a word and there will be no comfort in the Minister's promises when bills of several thousand of euro drop through the inbox or on to the mat of many homes that are struggling to survive.
Instead of adopting even an interim approach with respect to fossil fuels and liquefied natural gas, LNG, this Government has decided to push ahead with unworkable, unsustainable and unforgivable policies that are damning our people to a perilous few years and for what? To reach some ludicrous international targets that have more in common with the sacrifices that a cult would demand, rather than taking any rational and proportional propose or using common sense. Where has common sense gone? Obviously it is not too common. People and rural Ireland have had enough of this nonsense.
The cracks are showing, are they not? I see the Minister's party colleagues are on radio saying that they believe the peat plants should be opened up again to provide power for the people who put them here to protect them. We all want to protect the environment and the universe but we put our people first and we work for the future. What the Minister has done to the people of Ireland is nothing but criminal. What his party has done to people of Ireland and the hardship it will put them through is nothing but criminal. Who pays the most? It is the people without infrastructure.
The reason the Minister cannot understand this is that he is coming from the place he lives that has infrastructure. Now people in the outer parts of Dublin are saying that they do not have the infrastructure either. He has caused inflation by all the different things he has done such as the insulation grants which are based on fossil fuels. He brought out a grant and it was eaten up by rising costs at a time when we needed to make sure that people were looked after.
The Government closed down Bord na Móna and peat. What has it done now? It is burning coal to keep the lights on. That is the reality because there is no infrastructure here. What it has been telling the people is that it will help them, it will reduce the VAT here and it will give them reductions. I have bills here going back to 2020. The unit costs and standard charges have gone up. What the Government forgot to mention to the people when it said it was giving money off and would help them was that as standard charges and PSO levies went up, it would charge the VAT on top of that. The Government's reduction is on the increase. It has actually given no reduction. The standard charges have gone up. Its VAT intake is still higher with what it is giving back from 2020 to 2021 to 2021. I have it all here. The Government has actually given nothing back. Its intake is the same.
I brought up Fossett's Circus previously and I must compliment it. Due to the publicity it got from that, it contacted me during the week. Would the Minister believe that it has given a couple of hundred tickets for a charity night in Limerick because of its name being put out there? The one thing people said to me was that the Minister was not fit to be in that circus and he was not fit to be here.
For the record, the last time I brought up that comment when the Ceann Comhairle and everyone else was here, not one person pulled me for that comment. That will tell the Leas-Cheann Comhairle what it means.
I would never be that way. I thank the Regional Group for bringing this motion forward which I support. A few corrections need to be made to what was said by speakers earlier who would not have done much homework. In 1997, Derrybrien, under planning number 973470, did a full environmental impact survey, EIS. It was because Ireland did not transpose the environmental impact assessment, EIA, directive that it was brought to court later on. We must get the facts right. When planning was being sought, the people looking for the planning did everything by the book.
When the slippage happened, it was nothing to do with the planning, for anyone who understands construction. It was where stuff was piled on top of stuff, and which never should have been. That was a mistake. No one will deny that, but the record needs to be clarified and put right. If the Minister has liathróidí, he will turn around and get Derrybrien opened regardless of European courts or any other court. I hear everybody on about renewable energy. This is an opportunity for that, and straight away.
In the current energy crisis we have seen EU policy has failed, to be quite frank. A state needs to look after health, energy and water. Those are three things and to be honest, given the madness going on in Europe with this climate agenda that is being pushed, within five years we could be without energy and without food. That is a big worry with the madness that is happening at the moment.
Let us look at what we can do. The first thing we must do, which the Minister has not looked at yet, is hydrotreated vegetable oil, HVO. There is HVO coming across from England right now and being used in homes. It is cutting the emissions by 90%. You change only a small part of the boiler. There are machines that are working on HVO. What has the EU done? It has banned HVO coming from America, for whatever reason. If the Minister wants a quick win on his so-called climate agenda, HVO is a win for him. On top of that, the ESB is playing every side of this fence at the moment. There is Lanesborough and there is Shannonbridge. I have talked to people in the ESB who have reliably informed me there are boilers that are needed and a few other bits required but the main infrastructure is there. Within six to eight weeks they could be up and running, according to people in the ESB who would know. We are exporting biomass at the moment, just in case people do not know, and we could have used it there. I am not saying we should use it forever but we need to take ourselves out of the storm we are in at the moment. There is obviously a quick win in LNG. We should do as the rest of Europe is and have a store for that as well. We should decide now that we are not going to listen to the civil servants who have brought us down these roads for years, that we are going to crack the whip and that above all that we are not going to listen to this agenda that has come out of Europe, which Europe now admits has failed and failed miserably.
Out there at the moment and in the budget the Government is bringing in, the Government talks about how it is going to look after the most vulnerable; and rightly so. There is the fuel allowance and all that, which we welcome. However, let us be very clear on this. There is a cohort of people in what I call middle Ireland who are above all these thresholds. You could say they are the people on between €25,000 or €30,000 and €50,000 or €60,000 and their tongues are out. They are paying mortgages, they have kids going to school and they have to drive to work in rural Ireland, in case the Minister did not know. These people are struggling and struggling badly. The Government needs to ensure those people are looked after. On top of that, we will have mass unemployment if the Government does not bring in a package for businesses so they can get solar panels and the like and puts money in their pockets to pay the cost of energy at the moment.
I thank the Regional Group for bringing forward this motion, which I support. I do not necessarily agree with the Minister on many points but I am willing to accept he sincerely holds those viewpoints and thank him for coming into the Dáil to debate this and other issues, because many Ministers do not. They all should do but they do not. It is important we debate. I have debated some of these issues with the Minister before.
There are obviously many good ideas in this motion for how we can increase energy supply in the short term. The Government's response, and indeed Sinn Féin's response, to the humongous rise in energy costs is a very short-term approach, whether it is a price cap to run until the spring of next year or universal credits that will end after the same period. However, I have not heard anybody address how we are going to meet the energy demands of this State in the medium to long term. I greatly look forward, as I am sure the Minister does, to the offshore wind energy of the Atlantic being harnessed but that technology is not there yet. Nobody is suggesting we are going to do that in the short term. We can have offshore wind farms off the east coast of Ireland but nobody is suggesting we will be turning wind energy into hydrogen in the short term anywhere in Ireland. How then are we going to meet those demands?
One of the first acts of this State was to guarantee energy security. I am sure the Minister is keenly aware of the project that was Ardnacrusha. In the 1980s, the State boldly moved forward and built a coal power plant. Of course, we now know nobody wants to continue with that into the long term but it was an attempt to meet the demands of this State. I have heard nobody explain how we are going to meet the demands now. I have heard people ruling out stuff. The Minister has ruled out an LNG base. Like him, I do not want to see fracked gas coming to Ireland but we must have gas storage, especially if our only source of energy when the wind is not blowing is going to be gas power. The gas we are not getting on boats is going to have to come through the United Kingdom, which has no requirement to treat us equally in the event of a shortage since it left the EU. I have heard the Minister rule out nuclear. The last time he was in government, he brought nuclear. I accept nuclear is not cheap but there is no cheap energy source available to us now. It is true that wind energy is cheap but it is only available to us when the wind is blowing. How are we going to fuel our industries, hospitals and schools? Indeed, how are we going to fuel this Parliament, for what it is worth to fuel it or keeping the lights on in? It is not worth keeping the lights on here if we cannot tell the Irish people how we are going to provide energy. If the first men and women who sat in this Dáil after Irish independence could clearly tell people how they were going to power the State and we cannot then we do not deserve to keep the lights on in here. I am asking the Minister to tell us how we will in the medium to long term. I congratulate the Regional Group on its proposals but they are a stopgap, by their nature. In the longer term, how will we fuel this State? Some of the Minister's colleagues are happy to import nuclear energy but not happy at all to discuss that we would generate our own and have a degree of self-sufficiency and energy security. I am not a proponent of nuclear energy but we must be realistic and examine all the options available to us.
To answer Deputy McNamara, we will power this State using our own natural resources. We will have to share and balance with our neighbouring countries in the north-west region of Europe but we will power our future. The most secure way, and the most competitive way, is through renewable power. It is through the immense renewable energy resources we have. They are technologically available now, are cheaper and cleaner, and we have them in abundance. The Deputy is shaking his head but the analysis, the scientific analysis-----
There is one within the possible development at the Sceirde Rocks off Connemara. The consenting of those will come, subject to the consent being approved, this month. They will go to auction this year, they will go to planning next year and into construction once out of that planning process. This is what every country in north-west Europe is investing in. This is the reality. This is where all the money is going. We had a meeting on Monday of north-west European energy ministers. We did a joint declaration, which included Germany, France, Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden and Norway. The UK is actually ahead of all the others, but this is the future. We are a country whose sea area is seven times our land area and it is the windiest part of the world. It is absolutely achievable. It will take huge effort and organisation but it is equivalent to Ardnacrusha; it is the Ardnacrusha of our day. It is a similar moment where we rely on our resources and our capability, and there is real capability. We heard from various people at the conference on Monday. An Irish company called Mainstream is one of the biggest developers in UK waters. That company is actually doing it. The ESB is doing it too at scale, so we have real ability.
There was an auction process this year in French waters with every company investing in it with the expectation that it will come down in price in the same way that fixed offshore wind has done. We will move, in the second phase, into southern waters as well as western waters and then further west. The advantage of this power supply is that we can convert it through electrolysis, a working mechanism, into hydrogen and ammonia which gives us the storage and transport and other fuels that can power our country. To answer the question on the medium-term prospect, it will be combined with solar, onshore wind and use of biomass but that is the primary source.
If I can again, there is an immediate response we have to do but what we are seeing is those stations starting to be converted to one of the other storage mechanisms of the future, which is battery storage, which will be a significant part. Bord na Móna, a company that is absolutely thriving at present, is expanding and investing and creating employment and using international resources, as is Coillte and the ESB. We have real skills and capabilities----
We are talking about a wind farm in the county that you are from, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, that could power the second biggest county in Ireland and we are talking about Europe telling us what to do. We can bring out an emergency order if a Minister wants to do it. It is so frustrating.
I will not engage. I will try to avoid that. I will just say to you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, you know as much as anyone that the rule of law is important and gives us all protection. Being a member of the European Union has massively benefitted our country. We do have to adhere to the law.
All three will benefit from the green revolution that is taking place here and around the world. To answer some of the Deputies who asked earlier if we will see the development of photovoltaics, PV, absolutely, yes, and the changes to the planning system which make it easier for Irish households, farmers, schools and businesses to apply PV. That is happening right across the country.
To answer a direct question from Deputy Bacik or Deputy Whitmore, this month we will start the process of introducing that scheme for the most vulnerable households to give them power in this difficult and vulnerable time. Also to answer one of the Deputies who asked, on the commitment made this July in respect of anaerobic digestion, we will introduce the mechanisms where that becomes a new income for farmers and for us a new source of security. That too is part of the mix. It can provide some 15% of our gas needs by 2030. We will deliver that as every other European country has done. It is not rocket science. We just need the political commitment here to make it happen. My experience is that the Irish farming community knows that is where future income is coming from. That is something where they can be part of this energy future.
On secure power, yes, we have a tight situation in our electricity markets primarily because the auction in 2019 did not deliver some of the backup generation we need. We are resolving that by procuring and purchasing the capacity that did not come through in that 2019 auction. Yes, we will need storage as part of a balancing system. We will publish the CEPA report on Monday which outlines the options and I think it will show, and I certainly have the view, that this should be State-led and not led by corporate interests. We can do that in a way that gives us security but does not blow our carbon budgets and is future-proofed and able to take and use that hydrogen power which is coming this decade. That is why the Dutch Minister was in Cork on Tuesday signing an agreement with the Port of Cork. They believe this is deliverable and can happen. That is why the German Government is similarly signing memorandums of understanding with us that it is the future and they want to be part of it with Ireland.
On affordability, this challenge at the moment is more significant than the other two immediately for our people by a factor of ten. We are exposed because energy is being used as a weapon of war by Putin. Every Deputy in this House has the interests of the Irish people at heart when we address that challenge. We are under attack and this Government will defend our country and our people to the best of our ability.
----developing our own fuels. Lastly I say to those who talked down the need for us to take climate action seriously this summer, say that to the people in Kenya, Somalia and Eritrea. Say that to the people in Pakistan.
Deputies, I understand frustration and I understand passion but this is downright rude. Please, we will have some respect for the Chair and the speakers. We will go to the Regional Group to reply and conclude, with respect for each speaker please.
I thank the Minister for his closing remarks. One of the advantages of being in the EU is that we get to benchmark ourselves against the other countries on the Continent. Sometimes we are ahead, sometimes we are behind. One glaring anomaly that stands out is that this country of all the 27 has no strategic gas reserve storage facility and no strategic gas reserve. It is a major red flag and we should have alarm bells ringing in all our ears. A second advantage of being in the EU is that from time to time we get good Directives that make a lot of sense. They are binding. We got a good Directive about 25 years ago when Ireland like all the member states was told to set up a National Oil Reserves Agency, NORA, and keep a minimum of 90 days' oil reserves in the country for a crisis. It was set up 25 years ago and we now have hundreds of millions of euro worth of oil in reserve. The moral of the story for me is that if we are compelled and obliged to do something, we will. That is what happened from an oil perspective. However, if we are not obliged, as we are not in respect of gas, we do not do it. That is a major concern.
I know the Minister is Minister for Transport, officially. He is also Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications. I do not envy his portfolio. I think it is too large and too broad. Correct me if I am wrong but I do not think we have a dedicated Minister for energy. There is no Cabinet Minister or junior Minister with energy in his or her title. We have no Department of energy, for instance. It is no wonder we are in this blind spot. It is no wonder we are now reaping a bitter harvest. The motion is not about complaining or being negative, it is actually quite the opposite. We are trying to encourage the country to be ambitious, bold and daring.
Deputy McNamara quite rightly pointed out Ardnacrusha. I know we have had the conversation before that this country needs a second Ardnacrusha moment. However, we do not even need to go back to 1928. We can go as far as 1940, when our grandparents, in my own constituency, built Pollaphuca. They evacuated, rehoused and compensated an entire village. They flooded 5,500 acres of land. They built a brand new artificial lake and a mighty hydroelectric dam in Pollaphuca that is still giving off renewable energy. I am not for a minute suggesting that we should repeat and do exactly what our grandparents did. However, I am suggesting and, indeed, we are all recommending, that we match the scale of their ambition, because that is what is required.
I will focus on three specific recommendations. First, we need a gas reserve facility. I spent many days and nights on the Kinsale Head gas field when there were gas platforms over the alpha and bravo caverns. The caverns work. Up to 2017, they were buying gas in the summer when it was cheap, pumping it into the caverns and extracting it and selling it on the market in winter when the gas was expensive. The concept is sound and makes sense.
Second, I refer to liquified natural gas, LNG. I appreciate the Minister and his party have concerns about LNG but I think those concerns are surmountable. We can put in check and quality control mechanisms to ensure that it is not shale or fracked gas. I do not care, and I do not think any of my colleagues care, whether the gas comes in by ship or by pipeline. It is still gas. It is about the quality of the gas; not how it arrives on the shore.
Third, our big concern is related to offshore wind. I was fortunate to get a ferry across the Irish Sea this summer and I saw with my own eyes that we only have seven offshore wind turbines, and they were built 20 years ago. When they were built, it was ambitious. It was one of the biggest wind farms offshore in the world. However, Ireland has not added a single offshore wind turbine in the past 20 years. That reflects very poorly on successive Governments.
In summary, we are calling for Ireland to be ambitious. We rightly admire our grandparents, who built Pollaphuca, and our great-grandparents, who built Ardnacrusha. We believe that the best way to honour their memory is to seek to emulate them. We think it is possible and we should do it. We should match their scale and ambition. I am glad that the Government is accepting this motion. However, we certainly insist, recommend and focus on the fact that we need immediate and urgent implementation. A very good statement of intent would be to dedicate an energy minister at Cabinet. It has to be done immediately – as soon as possible – but certainly before 15 December when the reshuffle takes place.
I want to thank everyone who contributed to this debate. I also want to thank all my colleagues in the Regional Group for the work that went into this. In addition, want to acknowledge the work that Deputy Naughten, who is not here today, put into it, as well as Ms Cáit Nic Amhlaoibh in our office.
Some people get passionate about things we believe in. I believe that we put much effort into tabling a Private Members’ motion that sets out things that can be done in the short, medium and long term. We all have ambition but it has to be turned into reality. We can and need to do that as a matter of urgency.
The fact that the Government is accepting our motion and is not tabling any amendment to it reflects the fact that the motion is reasonable, practical and that things can be done. As for what needs to happen, a mindset change is required. It is relation to, for instance, Derrybrien. It is what we can do there, as opposed to how we cannot do something. As legislators, it is incumbent on us to make sure that we do something there to make sure that in the interim, as an emergency measure, that resource, which is green energy, is brought back into production in the short term. We have capacity and potential in the two power stations to convert them to biomass. There are practical things but they will not get done as quickly as Derrybrien. My understanding is that Derrybrien has to be switched on again but it needs a legal footing to do that. This is where we should do that. We did many things during Covid, so I think we should be able to do this.
For our future and the future of foreign direct investment, FDI, in this country, we need to demonstrate that we have the capability of having an energy security that matches any place else in the world. Heretofore, FDI companies were looking at our education, workforce and reliability. However, because of what is happening at the moment, I think there is a new element in the equation of where people are deciding to locate, namely, energy supply. It is important for us to make sure that we remain as best in the world in terms of attractiveness for foreign direct investment.
A shop in Roscommon had an ESB bill of more than €6,000. It was reported in the news yesterday. It is not fake news; it is real. Basically, it has now gone up. Over the year, it will cost an additional €148,000 to retain a small retail shop employing 35 people, some on part-time and some on full-time. That is in a rural area. That is the life and blood of rural Ireland. We cannot let that type of situation just be followed by policies and things we are talking about into the future. We need to make sure that we actually account for ourselves.
Deputy O’Donoghue raised the issue of standing charges with the ESB and PSO levy charges. In fact, what is happening is there is more tax taken out of the ESB, even though we gave a little rebate back that cost €2.5 million. We cannot be taking a step forward and one or two steps back. The country needs to see confidence coming back into what we are doing.
I welcome the fact that the Minister mentioned offshore energy and how that will develop and he spoke about the medium term. I agree with him. Coming from a construction background, I would love to see the programme by which that will work, whether a monthly or even a quarterly basis. We will say what day we are turning on the switch so that we can look out from Galway Bay and see the turbines twisting.
That is the future. However, right now we have a problem. I would offer this Private Members’ motion as a framework by which we get resolutions to what is out there. We cannot keep saying, “No, we cannot do this or that.” We have to make sure that we take immediate measures in order that people will see that we are on a course and trajectory where we will get to the day when we will have energy security and green energy. We will be producing it ourselves from our own resources, as the Minister said. I commend him on that vision. However, in order to get that vision enacted and make it a reality, we need to work together. The debate is finished this evening, but that is it. I hope that this document is on the Minister’s officials desks in order that they can get working on what is needed to be done on it. That is the spirit in which we have offered it and I hope that is the spirit in which the Minister has accepted it.