Seanad debates

Thursday, 9 March 2023

Environmental Protection Agency (Emergency Electricity Generation) (Amendment) Bill 2023: Second Stage


Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

9:30 am

Photo of Paul DalyPaul Daly (Fianna Fail)
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We open our debate with a contribution from the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Ossian Smyth. The Minister of State has eight minutes.

Photo of Ossian SmythOssian Smyth (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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I thank the Acting Chair and Senators for the opportunity to present the Environmental Protection Agency (Emergency Electricity Generation) (Amendment) Bill 2023, which I am grateful to introduce to Seanad Éireann.

Although many Senators will be familiar with the exceptional energy security challenges that face us, as the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, spoke about these matters when we were debating the Development (Emergency Electricity Generation) Act late last year, which I will refer to as the Act of 2022, it is important to take this opportunity to reiterate the complex situation that we find ourselves in. Against this backdrop, I will also describe the sections of the Bill in detail and, with regard to its main provisions, set out the background and why they are needed. However, my overarching message today is that it is essential that this legislation is passed swiftly to deliver the supply that we need in time for winter 2023-24 and, therefore, I seek the support of Senators to achieve that.

First, I will discuss the generation capacity shortfall that exists and which the provisions in this Bill seek to alleviate. Second, I will reaffirm the urgency of this Bill in order to enable delivery of emergency capacity to maintain a secure electricity supply for customers. Finally, I will outline the Bill.

The legislation before Senators today is part of the overall legislative package required to facilitate delivery of the required 450 MW of temporary emergency generation capacity identified by the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities, CRU, as urgently required to mitigate the security of supply risk for winter 2023-24 and for subsequent years. The recent Act of 2022 provides for the disapplication of the planning and development Acts and of requirements under the environmental impact assessment, EIA, directive, for designated developments comprising the installation of up to 450 MW of temporary emergency electricity at the specified sites at Shannonbridge and Tarbert, or at alternative appropriate sites, on the grounds that they constitute exceptional cases for the purposes of Article 2(4) of the directive, and that the application of the directive to these projects would adversely affect their delivery.

This Bill intends to ensure that legal provision is made for the processing of industrial emission licence applications under the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992, in respect of activity involving the designated development at Shannonbridge and Tarbert, in the context of Article 2(4) of the EIA directive, and to ensure that such applications can be processed in a timely manner. This is to facilitate generation, if the applications are successful, in time for winter of 2023-24. It is the next step in the legislative package that is needed.

In the normal course of events, an applicant for a licence for an activity that is likely to have significant effects on the environment would be required to submit an environmental impact assessment report, EIAR, to the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, for its consideration of the application and the agency would be required to carry out an EIA to feed into its licence determination. The process of producing an EIAR is lengthy and has a number of seasonal components that cannot typically be accelerated. In the normal course of events, the likely timescale for EIAR preparation for power station developments of this type is approximately 12 months, depending on site-specific factors. Not addressing the requirement to have a full EIAR accompany a EPA licence application for these designated developments, with the associated EIA required to be carried out by the EPA, would mean that licence applications could not be submitted until the third quarter of 2023, at best, resulting in a situation where the agency would have insufficient time to consider the licence application, in order to issue a final decision by the end of winter 2023-2024.

Just as was done in respect of the development aspect previously, under the Act of 2022, it is now necessary to provide for the exemption under Article 2(4) of the EIA directive that the Oireachtas has already deemed appropriate, now in the context of the consideration of the industrial emissions licence applications, and to review the current licensing processes provided under the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992 for designated development, in order to give the projects the opportunity of receiving a final determination on their licence applications to facilitate, subject to acquiring the necessary consents, generation in the fourth quarter of 2023.

On 17 February 2023, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, received applications from the ESB for designated development at Shannonbridge power station site, County Offaly, and from SSE for a designated development at Tarbert power station, County Kerry, under section 4 of the Act of 2022 for an approval under section 7 of that Act. As is required, the Minister, Deputy Ryan, has arranged for An Bord Pleanála to carry out the required assessments under sections 5 and 6 of the Act of 2022. On Monday, 20 February 2023, the public consultation opened, and this will continue until Thursday, 23 March 2023, inclusive. These applications are subject to the most comprehensive environmental assessment possible, using the information available at this time, so that the overarching objectives of the EIA directive are met in a manner that will achieve the delivery of the projects in time. The timeframe for the delivery of significant temporary emergency generation is still on track for the end of the year 2023. However, this further legislative change is required in terms of the licensing of the temporary emergency generation plants.

I am now going to provide a section-by-section summary of the Bill. There are nine sections in the Bill. Section 1 is a standard provision providing for a definition of the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992, for the purpose of the Bill. Section 2 proposes to amend section 3 of the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992, or the Act of 1992, to include in its definitions the Development (Emergency Electricity Generation) Act 2022 - the Act of 2022 - a definition for "designated development" and assigns a meaning for an application for a licence that forms part of a designated development as a "designated application".

Section 3 proposes the insertion of section 82C in the Act of 1992 to state that the exemption under section 5(1) of the Act of 2022 applies to an application under Part IV of the Act of 1992 in respect of activity relating to designated development. Furthermore, section 3 provides, by way of inserting section 82D, that the agency is performing its function in respect of designated development, and that it shall do so in a manner consistent with the plans, strategy, framework and objectives referred to in section 15(1) of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015, to the extent that the agency considers practicable, taking particular account of the said exceptional circumstances and urgent compelling necessity.

Section 4 proposes to amend section 83 of the Environmental Protection Agency Act. Section 83 concerns the determination of applications for licences and the amendments proposed. It inserts a definition of the alternative assessment and associated environmental report that form part of that process. Provisions proposed in this section disapply, in the case of designated developments, certain provisions of section 83. Section 4 also provides for an alternative assessment to be carried out by the agency and for designated applications to include the environmental report prepared in accordance with of the Development (Emergency Electricity Generation) Regulations 2022. The process and format for alternative assessment will be set out in regulations under section 89 of the Act of 1992. This is provided for under section 8 of the Bill.

Section 5 proposes to amend section 87 of the Environmental Protection Agency Act to disapply, in the case of designated applications, provisions of section 87 that relate to planning and environmental impact assessment. Instead, a new provision, 87A, is proposed to be inserted for designated applications at section 6. In addition, it is considered appropriate and necessary, given that the timeframes associated with the existing procedures and the requirement for a decision to be made on the licence application to facilitate generation in the fourth quarter of 2023 are incompatible, to replace the current two-step decision process of issuing a proposed determination and a final decision with one consultation period on the licence application and associated documents. This provision will only apply to licence applications from designated development. It is worth noting, separately, that there will have been two rounds of consultation on the specific project to deliver the approximately 450 MW that is required, taking the assessment of An Bord Pleanála into account.

Section 6 provides for a new provision for designated applications, section 87A, to be inserted into the 1992 Act. The intention is to ensure the agency does not grant a licence in respect of a designated development unless the Minister has approved the designated development in accordance with section 7 of the Development (Emergency Electricity Generation) Act 2022.

Section 7 proposes inserting a further new provision, section 88A, after section 88 of the 1992 Act. Section 88A proposes procedures for the agency to take alternative assessment into account before making a decision on a designated application. These procedures will be set out in regulations. Section 88A(2) enables the agency to incorporate as a condition to a licence any feature of the project or measure envisaged to prevent, produce or offset significant adverse effects on the environment. Section 88A(3) ensures that the agency incorporates into its decision documentation relating to the alternative assessment as may be prescribed for the purposes of ensuring the objectives of the EIA directive are met. Section 88B is provided for to oblige the agency to inform the public and other persons of its decision in respect of a designated application.

Section 8 proposes an amendment to section 89 of the 1992 Act to enable matters to be prescribed in relation to the alternative assessment procedures for consultation to be carried out by the EPA. It includes a provision that as part of the alternative assessment, the agency is obliged to assess the impacts, if any, on natural habitats, fauna and flora. That is in accordance with Council Directive 92/43/EEC, as amended, including the requirement to consider whether there is a need for a derogation for the purpose of Article 16 of that directive in respect of a designated development.

Section 9 comprises the Short Title and Commencement provisions.

I have outlined the main provisions of this emergency measures Bill and provided additional detail on the sections. I want to clarify that by passing this legislation, the Oireachtas would not be approving or providing consent for any licensable activity. Rather, it would be providing that as a result of the predetermination that an exceptional case exists for the purposes of Article 2(4) of the EIA directive, an alternative environmental assessment can be carried out to support an industrial emissions licence determination. It further provides for streamlined and accelerated consenting procedures relating to those licences. I wish to stress again that these proposals are confined to licence applications associated with designated development sites, and would only be operated if and when they are required for emergency purposes.

I hope this is of assistance to Senators. I am looking forward to an informed and meaningful debate and to working constructively with Senators on all sides of the House.

Photo of Paul DalyPaul Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State for his very comprehensive contribution.

Photo of Pauline O'ReillyPauline O'Reilly (Green Party)
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I thank the Minister of State for joining us today. I also thank his officials for providing a briefing for Senators on Monday. However, I have to say I was the only Senator who turned up to that briefing. I also want to thank the officials for briefing us last week at the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action. Perhaps the Senators who are in the Chamber today availed of last week's briefing and had the information they required, and so did not need a further briefing this week.

Having listened to the Minister of State's introductory remarks, it is fair to say that this is a very technical Bill. He has made it quite clear that it does not mean there is no environmental assessment. As a Green Party Senator, I would rather not be approving more fossil fuel development. I know this is an exceptional circumstance, and the likelihood is that it is not going to be needed. However, we cannot tell the public that we do not think it is going to be needed and then do nothing. We need to be prepared for next winter and that is ultimately what this Bill is about. It is also what previous legislation was about. We would not be in this situation, with such a reliance on fossil fuels and with people's bills skyrocketing, if the Green Party had been in government before this current Government. Having said that, I know that the Government has put a huge amount of investment and funding into this area.

Today is not about the cost-of-living issue; it is about electricity supply. I believe Ireland is in the top three countries for onshore development of wind. We are seeing upwards of 40% to 45% of our electricity produced through renewable means. We need to get to 80% in order for this measure not to be needed as well. I do not want to be coming back here next year or the year after and having to do the same thing. The only way we can do that, and be able to reliably say to the public that we are not going to need these emergency Bills, is by investing now, with people getting behind a green future for Ireland. It is good for people. It is good from an air pollution point of view but it is also good when it comes to our economy.

There is not much I need to say about the technicalities of the Bill because, as the Acting Chairperson has said, the Minister of State has gone into exceptional detail today and we have had the briefings. I am going to be supporting the Bill. I reiterate that I would rather not have more development but hopefully we can ramp up the renewables and we will not need this again.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank him for his ongoing briefing. From my perspective and that of my party, we have absolutely no problem with the provisions of the Bill. We would find ourselves in a potentially difficult situation without putting in place this temporary generating capacity. There was a lot of concern that we might be caught this winter. Thankfully, that did not happen. It is prudent to put in place the appropriate level of capacity to address those cold winter days when the wind is not blowing and we require backup from fossil fuels.

Like my colleague here and I am sure most colleagues in this House, I would prefer to see us having moved much further along the way in generating electricity from cleaner sources. The Government has a bit to do to address the offshore potential, particularly the floating offshore potential. Concerns have been expressed to me by various companies that are prospecting in this area about the difficulties they having in securing investment. It is not that they believe there is a lack of interest in the generation of this form of electricity, but that they do not think the Government is moving quickly enough and giving enough certainty to invest right now. That is a reality.

I think we have reached a saturation point, quite frankly, on onshore wind. When onshore wind projects began, lots of wind turbines were constructed in the area I know best in County Clare without any protest. Now, planning permission for every turbine is contested. Rather than digging in with onshore wind, we need to look at the offshore potential. I am completely happy with this legislation. I totally understand the necessity for it and I fully support it. In order to ensure we are not here again in a couple of years, we need to stand back and look at what has happened. We can blame many extraneous issues, but the simple reason we are in this situation is due to the procurement process that was put in place in 2019. The design of it was an unmitigated disaster and it failed miserably. It allowed bidders into a process who had no clothes, so to speak. They were not ready to deliver. We have gone through this at the joint committee with the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities, CRU, and the wonderful people who work there. They were misguided in their approach because it left a situation where companies made bids for the delivery of capacity and then failed to deliver. They made low bids, won the contracts and paid the penalties for not delivering. That is fine; some of them may have had commercial reasons for doing so. The process allowed them to do that. They are now back in the marketplace and are winning this emergency capacity at hugely inflated costs over and above what they bid previously - multiples of it. I do not want to blame anyone as I do not believe anybody from the CRU did anything other than their best. However, in an effort to drive towards lower cost, they failed to see that the bid process could be played. I have no doubt with everything that I have seen that the system was played. It does not mean anybody did anything wrong.The companies saw opportunities and effectively ended up blocking others getting into the marketplace. We now have to pay massive amounts of money for the emergency capacity. We have to set aside environmental principles, which we would not normally want to do. All I want is assurance but perhaps the Minister of State cannot give it. I wonder what has changed in the way in which we manage our big process to ensure we or whoever will be around in a couple of years find ourselves in the same situation again.

It is about recognising where we are, understanding how we got here and ensuring we have a policy platform that is fit for purpose. We need a bid process that is a hell of a lot more robust and ensures that those who get into the final bidding have all their ducks in a row and all their permissions. It is not good enough for them to say the technology they used would not get an EPA licence or their planning permissions did not come through. Those should be prerequisites. They must have all their permissions; in other words, they have to be shovel-ready. The auction in 2019 was a T-4 auction, which ultimately meant that the capacity would not be coming on until four years later.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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Unfortunately, Senator McGahon, who is our spokesperson in this area, had to leave. I will provide cover. Like many other countries, we did not scale up renewables when we should have. We have golden opportunities, especially as an island nation, in offshore energy and so on.

My understanding is that this is technical legislation to protect us in case there is an energy supply issue next winter. That is critical because we need to forward plan. Essentially, we do not want to have a convoluted, difficult, complicated and lengthy application process for getting a licence. A streamlined assessment is appropriate, given the circumstances we find ourselves in with the situation in Ukraine and the potential problem that could arise with energy.

The Minister of State will correct me if I am wrong but essentially this legislation is forward planning to next winter. It is ensuring the State agencies are able to respond in real time if an issue is identified. However, as part of that forward planning, we need to do our calculations and estimations. We do not want a situation to arise similar to what happened last December when the HSE rang around private hospitals on a Saturday morning looking for beds for Sunday. We cannot be in that situation. If it means that licences have to be given well in advance to enable companies to be in a position to step in if needed, that should happen. The Department should be proactive and engage now to ensure we are not in caught on the hop, as such.

This is an important area and one I am interested in. Living in Clare, Senator Dooley and I know the huge potential and value of Moneypoint and what can be achieved with renewables there. Perhaps the Minister of State will come to the House in the not-too-distant future for a debate on this issue and provide us with an update on what exactly is happening with Moneypoint power station. I presume it is operating now at full capacity, given the fact that there is an issue there. If it is not, it should be. In the medium to long term, Moneypoint should become a centre of excellence for renewables. We should be benefiting from offshore generation. We have the raw material to do that, being an island nation. We do not have gold, silver or any of the various chemicals that other countries have. However, we have wind and the Atlantic Ocean. We could and should be using that to its full potential.

The Green Party had its think-in in Ennistymon last September. What is happening in a hotel there is phenomenal. Its electricity bill was hundreds of thousands of euro. Its electricity bill is now essentially zero and it is supplying electricity back to the grid. It went through a long, arduous process to achieve that but with energy costs increasing the way they are, it is now in a fortunate position. We should be encouraging other hotels located on rivers to do exactly the same. We should be providing financial incentives for them to do it. That is more of a medium- to long-term process. It is a shining example of what can be done medium to long term. In the short term, this is an important Bill from a national security and an energy security perspective. I am certainly very supportive of it and I hope it gets support across the board.

Photo of Paul DalyPaul Daly (Fianna Fail)
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The Senator was well briefed in a short space of time.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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I do not know about that.

Photo of Lynn BoylanLynn Boylan (Sinn Fein)
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Sinn Féin will not oppose this Bill but we will put on the record a deep frustration with the process. It is not good to rush through any legislation but especially legislation that dilutes environmental protection measures. It is shocking that we found ourselves in such a spectacular mess when it comes to electricity generation and demand.

We had an interesting private meeting of the joint committee. Other Senators also attended. I will not name the person who said it but there are times when I would like people to put their hands up and say mistakes were made. Regarding this legislation, I would love an admission that we have facilitated unfettered demand through large energy users without having a strategic plan to manage the capacity of the grid to accommodate that demand. That is why we are in the mess we are in. It would be nice to hear an admission. It was the previous two Governments that put us in that position but it would be nice if there was at least an admission of that.

More important, I would like an admission of the reason we are here today. It is clear mistakes were made with this legislation. Pre-legislative scrutiny is important for members of the Opposition because we are not members of the Government parties that may have access to more information from Ministers. The point of pre-legislative scrutiny is to have adequate time to tease out the legislation, ensure it is compliant with EU and environmental protection law and identify any gaps so that it is fit for purpose. This is the third time we have been asked to waive pre-legislative scrutiny and rush through all Stages to keep the lights on next winter. Nobody wants the lights to go off but this is the third time we have been asked to come in and do this.

When I raised concerns with the Minister of State in October he said he was sure I would not thank him for coming back a third time. Here we are a third time and I am not thanking him. He repeated what we heard in the briefing, namely, that this is a package of legislation. If this is a package of legislation, why was that not flagged when he brought a Bill through in October? Why was it not put on the record that we will need further legislation to address this shortfall in electricity generation? Why the rush if it was considered a package? It is interesting that the legislation in October was introduced in the week before a recess and here we are with this Bill in another week before a recess. There was no advance warning other than what we found out earlier this week about the legislation.

The last time the Minister of State was here, I also asked him whether we were compliant with EU legislation and if we had made contact with the European Commission on the need for this emergency legislation. I ask him to answer a couple of questions. What has happened between October and now that we are again rushing through legislation? What changed and why the rush?Has the European Commission been in touch? Has the Attorney General flagged concerns? We have a new Attorney General now. Is it that we are facing a judicial review? Are competitors in the market threatening to take legal action? In the briefing, we were told the Bill is to put us on a very sound legal footing. I want to understand why we felt we were on a sound legal footing in October but now feel we are not. What has changed? Perhaps it has to do with the subject of the recent Business Postarticle that stated data centres have been in touch with the Minister, Deputy Coveney, about how long it is taking to get EPA industrial emissions licences for their emergency backup generation. Are we freeing up the EPA so it can focus on these industrial emissions licences? There are many questions that would have been teased out during pre-legislative scrutiny. Maybe the Minister of State can shed light on them in his response.

One of our amendments will be ruled out of order, as it certainly was in the Dáil, but we must acknowledge the CRU has confirmed there are 11 data centres either connected to the gas grid or awaiting connection and energy companies in this country that have a secure gas supply and are following the mantra of “If you build it, they will come.” Data centres have been built without even having tenants. We need a strategy to address demand-side reduction, the increasing demand by the large energy users and our grid’s capacity. I ask the Minister of State to answer some of these questions. He should not thank me for coming back for the fourth time. We really do not want to be back here a fourth time.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
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I have many questions. However, since I have only five minutes, I will not spend too long on the process, except to say it is unacceptable. What has happened has now happened on three occasions. It does not look like an emergency but a question of the actual strategy. Therefore, with great respect, I disagree with Senator Conway, who talked about planning. If there had been planning, we would have had proper engagement well in advance. We had only 45 minutes between being given the Bill and being asked to waive pre-legislative scrutiny. We were given it only when we pressed to get a copy. Actually, we were asked to waive pre-legislative scrutiny even before we saw the Bill. That is extraordinarily bad parliamentary practice. It has happened three times. At this point, it has become a pattern. It becomes unacceptable if we see this time and again. I hope that, in another area of government, we do not expect the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, for example, to introduce his planning proposals to the Seanad in the last week of July and tell us it is a big emergency again. We have seen these patterns emerging. The Government is doing no service to our democracy or public confidence therein by establishing habits and using measures to short-circuit proper scrutiny. This leads to poor decisions and legal uncertainty. This is the situation in which we find ourselves, dealing with something we were told had been done in October. This is not doing a service to democracy, the Government or the outcomes, and it is certainly not doing a service to the parliamentary process.

Regarding the specific proposals, there is a giant chain of elephants in the room, namely the large energy users, specifically data centres. They are deeply relevant in this context. On the same day we met officials, we received a briefing from the Department on energy security separately. The Department, in referring to energy security and demand, stated last week that large energy users will continue to necessitate growing levels of dispatchable generation capacity to be available on days with low wind and interconnection availability. Therefore, the Department is telling us it is large energy users that need dispatchable generation. Here we hear about the lights going out and get the examples of civic services and the hospitals but we must be clear that we are being told why there is increasing energy demand. In that context, it is very relevant for us to ask what is being done about demand management in both the short term and medium term. The CRU, with the Government’s agreement, actively chose two years ago not to place a moratorium on data centre development until provision had been made. A moratorium was one of three options considered but it was rejected.

Our second amendment was useful but was ruled out of order. Maybe the Minister of State can address the issues it was to cover. We were told in the briefing that, in each instance, temporary generation capacity is meant to be used only where there is emergency demand and where no other way can be found to address it. Maybe the Minister of State will confirm that. We were told there would be a suite of other measures – for example, demand reduction measures that might be sought before seeking to dispatch additional, temporary emergency energy. However, we have no information on what that consists of. For example, will large energy users be asked to pause or limit their use of energy temporarily? Will they be required to do so? Why do we not have legislation requiring large energy users to abate their demand on our energy at key points?

Another part of the puzzle, which comes through again, relates to a huge gap. Just this week, the CRU gave us an answer on backup generators in data centres. We asked whether these generators would use diesel or gas. We were told the centres simply required backup generators but the fuel type for dispatchable generation was not specified. Again, the CRU is choosing not to find out what kind of backup generation data centres will have, and the Government is not requiring it to do so. In that context, we have a huge blind spot that we refuse to look at and that will have a massive impact. Let us be clear that it is not a brilliant solution if a centre starts using a diesel generator for backup and we do not even know it, seek to know it or measure it.

What specific measures will be applied each time temporary energy is dispatched? How will the associated demand be measured? Will we know what drove it and what ameliorating measures were tried? Could the Minister of State comment on Article 7 of the environmental impact assessment directive and how that directive will be complied with, including in respect of the measure relating to other citizens across Europe who get to be considered even as Irish citizens are short-circuited in the process?

Photo of Maria ByrneMaria Byrne (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for attending to discuss this all-important Bill. I agree with my colleagues that we do not want the lights going off. The ESB has submitted two applications, one in Offaly and one in Tarbert. It is not the case that the floodgates will be opened and that every site will be looked at. I understand that specific sites will be covered by the legislation in terms of companies that are currently generating power. It is not that the legislation will give a right to many companies to come in and go about matters the wrong way.

I understand that in order to have the provisions in place by quarter 4 of 2023, this Bill needs to be passed today. I support it. It is important that we put emergency measures in place for the grid to ensure that people do not have their lights turned off. I understand that, on foot of thorough investigation, the licences are to be special licences, so it is not a case of people qualifying without having the specific measures in place. I welcome the legislation and thank the Minister of State.

Photo of Ossian SmythOssian Smyth (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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I thank Senators for their contributions. I will go through them, beginning with that of Senator Pauline O'Reilly. She and Senator Dooley both pointed out that the long-term solution here is more renewables. However, when there is a short-term problem, you do what needs to be done to keep the lights on.

Senator Dooley spoke about what went wrong with the 2019 procurement. Regretting the past is obviously not helpful, but if we do not learn from the past, we are condemned to repeat our mistakes. An independent review was commissioned by the Department and carried out by Mr. Dermot McCarthy. Its purpose was to ascertain how the present situation arose. That review has been completed and received by my Department and is under consideration. It will be brought to Government as part of a wider energy security review package and published thereafter. The question then is what happens the next time we have to commission capacity.

I welcome everybody who is in the Gallery to listen to this gripping debate on energy security. Just so our visitors know, we are passing an emergency law to ensure we do not have power cuts next winter and we are debating the right way to do that. We have these so-called capacity auctions and the idea of such auctions is to ensure there is enough electricity capacity to make sure the lights stay on and that our electricity system works even in the most difficult of circumstances when we do not have any wind power and a number of our generation stations have broken down.

What we are looking for here is backup, facilities that will operate for a short period every year or possibly not at all. We hold an auction and people bid and say how much it is going to cost. I have my own views about what went wrong but it would be wise of me to wait until the McCarthy report is published rather than giving my opinions on what went wrong. There are more auctions coming. An auction for capacity to be delivered in 2023 and 2024 will be held in July and the results published in September. This will have a focus on batteries. An auction for capacity to be delivered in 2026 to 2027 will be held in March and the results published in May. An auction for capacity to be delivered in 2027 to 2028 will be held in September and the results published in November. Those auctions and that process will be informed by experience and the McCarthy review to ensure we learn and do not end up here again. As Senator Boylan and other Senators pointed out, we cannot keep coming back here again and again. That is the situation we are in and how we are going to learn from the past.

Senator Conway asked whether Moneypoint is operational. I understand parts of it are. I think a number of turbines are running and a number are not. That changes with maintenance schedules and so on. As for the future of the station, it has a huge connection into the electricity grid and is, therefore, an ideal location for installing new electricity connections. It is also has a port and there is all the experience the ESB has, as well as a huge amount of wind blowing over that part of south Clare. Moneypoint is likely to become a major location for offshore wind, hydrogen generation and possibly hydrogen export. The Dutch and German governments have approached me about buying our hydrogen in future. There is, therefore, a bright future for Moneypoint. Whatever happens, the grid connection at the station is likely to mean there will be major investment there in our green economy. I am hopeful about that.

Senator Boylan said she is not opposing the Bill and I thank her for that. She asked the reasonable question of why this was not flagged. This is the third piece of emergency generation legislation and the Senator wants to know why we did not say, last time around, that we would need this legislation. Based on the advice we had, we expected to be able to do this through secondary legislation. However, we received advice from the Attorney General in January that we would need primary legislation and that is why were are here. As Senators can imagine, I would prefer not to do this. Another question posed was whether we are doing this to free up the EPA to work on other licences. That is not the answer at all. We are doing this because we believe we legally have to do it.

Senator Higgins asked questions about an amendment she tabled that she suggests has been ruled out of order, namely, amendment No. 2. It proposes:

The Minister shall, within six months of the passing of this Act, commission and publish reports on— (a) the level of increased demand by large energy users in the period 2017 to 2022,

(b) a breakdown of large energy users that participated in demand side reduction mechanisms during that period,

(c) a critical appraisal of existing demand side reduction strategies, and

(d) a comprehensive plan to ensure the prioritisation of demand side reduction measures over increased electricity generation into the future.”.

The main thing about these matters is that they are outside the scope of the functions of the EPA. That is why they do not belong in this Bill. They may be reasonable things to do and I am happy to correspond with the Senator on that and see if we can get the information she requires. Energy demand is of course an important thing to measure and manage but it is not appropriate to have it in this legislation because it is EPA legislation. Did Senator Higgins ask whether there will be a transboundary consultation?

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
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My question was in the context of Article 7, which involves transboundary consultation. The consultation in Ireland seems to be curtailed, but I understand Article 7 will still apply. On the dispatchable energy piece, it is specifically relevant, rather than being a general thing. I was quite specific that I was asking what demand-side measures will be taken in each instance when the decision is being made to activate emergency energy generation. We were told there were other measures that would be considered before emergency generation, and that is in each instance. If we have a day with low wind, what do we do?

Photo of Paul DalyPaul Daly (Fianna Fail)
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We are not having statements.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
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The Minister of State asked for clarification on the questions and I would like that matter addressed. It is not an abstract question about large energy users. It is instead specific to the instances to which this Bill is conceived as being applicable. Will data centres be asked to turn down or minimise their demand before we start producing extra energy?

Photo of Ossian SmythOssian Smyth (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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I thank the Senator. I have heard from EirGrid and the CRU, which are answerable to the environment committee the Senator sits on, that large energy users and data centres will be the first to have their power turned off in the event of an electricity shortage. That is right and it is why they are being required under the new guidelines to provide 100% backup of their systems. As the Senator can imagine, they are not happy about that.

On transboundary consultation, the proposed legislation provides that there be a further consultation process on the industrial emissions licence application, including the alternative assessment proposed to be undertaken by the EPA. It is currently open to anybody to make submissions to An Bord Pleanála until Thursday 23 March, inclusive, to inform the board's assessment of the project. I do not want to prejudice that assessment or any other further alternative assessment. However, documents available online on the assessment currently being carried out by An Bord Pleanála do not indicate there are any transboundary issues.

I thank everyone for contributing to the debate. There were useful contributions on all sides. My main message to Senators is that while the provisions in the Bill are part of a broader programme of actions, it is critical this legislation is passed in as short a time as possible to provide for a critical step in the process of providing temporary electricity generation. I therefore seek Senators' support to achieve that. The most immediate factor affecting security of electricity in the coming years is the potential generation capacity shortfall, which was identified in EirGrid's all-island generation capacity statement. The State needs to react to the unprecedented situation that it has been presented with over the past year. This is an electricity emergency. and emergency powers have been used to address it. The Bill is being introduced to provide a pathway, in the fastest time possible, for the EPA to consider, consult and make a determination on applications received from designated developments. Delivering this legislation will ensure that due process in protecting the environment is followed so that the operation of the plant, if consented to, can commence in good time for next winter.

Many of the matters relating to the provisions of the Bill were debated and approved by the Oireachtas when we approved the enactment of the Development (Emergency Electricity Generation) Act 2022. These matters include the fundamental principle that the provisions of Article 2(4) of the EIA directive, which recognises the appropriateness of carrying out an alternative assessment in exceptional circumstances, apply to designated developments. The second principle is that the provisions of the Planning and Development Act 2000 do not apply to designated developments. Both principles were set out and approved by the Oireachtas under the 2022 Act and form the cornerstone for the proposed amendments in the Bill to amend the EPA Act.

The third principle is that the focus of this legislation is on proposed activities at two specific designated sites, namely, Shannonbridge and Tarbert generation stations, which are required urgently for the purpose of ensuring and protecting security of electricity supply by winter. These projects are critical and time sensitive, as are the decisions on their licence applications.

What is being proposed is not new to the Oireachtas. The Bill seeks to utilise the exemption under Article 2(4) of the EIA directive for the purpose of licence applications to the EPA in respect of designated development. The amendments proposed in the Bill ensure that the EPA carries out an alternative assessment when it receives a designated application and that it consults appropriately with the public about that application. This process of alternative assessment and consultation is in addition to the existing assessment and current consultation process being carried out for these projects under the 2022 Act by the board. The difference here is that the application for a licence to carry out this activity is being made to the EPA as the independent and consenting authority for industrial emission licences. Therefore, the Bill provides for a new and separate process for the EPA to consider applications from designated development, carry out an alternative assessment and arrange for an open and transparent consultation process for these applications.

By passing this legislation, the Oireachtas is not approving any licence. Rather, it is providing for a predetermination that an exceptional case exists for the purposes of article 2(4) of the EIA directive and providing for streamlined and accelerated decision-making procedures for the agency. Many of the provisions set out in this legislation have been debated and delivered by the Oireachtas. This is simply another important independent consenting element in the process.

It is important to note that this legislation will not impede any of our plans for renewables, interconnection, batteries, demand-side response or energy efficiency. This emergency generation does not replace our long-term ambitions in terms of renewable energy, which will continue at pace. What I am asking the House to approve is the technical amendments to the EPA Act that relate specifically to applications for licensed activity from designated developments and for alternative assessments to be carried out by the EPA on these applications in line with Article 2(4) of the EIA directive.

I thank Senators from all sides of the House for their contributions today. I stress again the urgency of the situation. We are doing all that we can to ensure security of supply for next winter and we are willing to take these exceptional measures to do so. The support of this House for the Bill's provisions is most welcome. I look forward to early consideration of the Bill at the next Stage and to working constructively with Senators on the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Paul DalyPaul Daly (Fianna Fail)
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When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Photo of Paul DalyPaul Daly (Fianna Fail)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.