Seanad debates

Thursday, 24 January 2019

10:30 am

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister. I listened attentively to what he had to say on the television in my office and I thank him for his statement. I believe its content and his success rate in previous Ministries, especially jobs, gives us great hope for serious progress in this area. I have repeated a few times that the Minister is right that people want to change but we need to make it easy for them to do the right thing, not make it harder. People are interested in adopting carbon neutral approaches to their daily lives.

The Minister admitted that we are laggards on this and will not meet our targets. I understand that last year, 200 diesel buses were ordered, at a time when Amsterdam was getting rid of its last fossil fuel buses. It has a completely electric fleet. The bus recharges on an electric plate at every stop while passengers are alighting from and getting onto it. We have to make real moves and show leadership in this regard.

The Minister mentioned plastics. This is a really serious problem which we see on television, relating to our oceans. I commend the Government and Minister on banning the use of single-use plastic cups but we have to do much more than that. The plastic bag tax which Fianna Fáil brought in was very successful but we need to tax the production of plastics in a way that does not get passed on to the consumer. We have to stop so much plastic from being produced and tackle the supermarkets head-on about their obsession about covering everything with plastic. Farmers would much prefer not to have to do it. They are producing the goods. What happened to the biodegradable brown paper bag? There are many small things to address. The Netherlands takes the lead here with its supermarkets. There is a supermarket in Amsterdam with no packaging. One brings one's own bag. I have mentioned this before to the Minister and other Ministers. I know it does not relate specifically to the Minister's Department. We need clear regulations for a whole-of-Government approach. People are interested in building solar farms. Several local authorities have refused permission on the basis that there are no national guidelines. Some will argue that there is no need for a national guideline but we need to give very clear instructions to local authorities either to that effect or else we need to produce guidelines.

With regard to farming, the Minister has mentioned biodigesters before. This is a brilliant idea for people who are excellent at grass production and may not see the beef industry as offering the opportunity that it did before. We know that it faces challenges. If one takes out 280 acres of grass and feeds it into a biodigester, that is a hell of a contribution to the environment and one can also make a living from that as a farmer and protect the environment. I reject the idea that farmers are not aware of their environment. They are concerned and know it is in their interest to maintain it. Why is there a limit on the area of a roof on a shed, which I have often spoken about elsewhere, and in regulations from the Department on new houses, that can be covered in photovoltaic or solar panels? The same goes for all the farm sheds in the country. In Germany, there are solar farms where one can farm underneath the solar panel, where there is only a 10% loss in agricultural production but a significant gain for the farmer.

Talking about making the right thing the easy thing to do, I would like to go on the night rate. Many of our machines in our homes have a delay such that one can start it hours later, after one has gone to bed. Yet if one goes for a night rate, one has to pay an extra standing charge. What is that about? Are we not supposed to be encouraging people and is it not in everybody's interest for people to use the night rate and take the demand off the daytime high peak rates? They are penalised for it. Battery development will come in for tractors, and if a farmer's tractor could be powered by photovoltaics and electricity, I am sure there would be a clamour for it.

I will discuss willow, which fixes carbon, heavy metals and other harmful substances in the air quickly. Willow grows rapidly. It can be coppiced and used to fuel biomass burners. We have an expert on wind power in Skerries who I would love the Minister to meet. There is a long history there of producing power from wind.

I could address all the issues relating to education buildings, hospitals, etc., but there are two important matters to mention. Microgeneration is all over Germany. We need to encourage people and make it easy for them to contribute to the grid. As I said at the outset, people want to contribute, so let us make that easy. The Minister spoke earlier about walking the walk instead of talking the talk. I am taking the delivery of an all-electric vehicle, a Hyundai Kona, either tomorrow or early next week. I have spoken to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI. There is a ten-day turnaround to get the grant so the car would not be released until that is in order but apparently the car has to be taxed before the provider will get the grant. That seems to be another barrier to people wanting to pursue electric cars. We doubled the numbers last year and the SEAI tells me that we have tripled the sales in January.


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