Thursday, 28 November 2019
Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment
Bord na Móna
14. To ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if he has been briefed on the recommendations in the cross-party report on climate change specifically relating to the future of Bord na Móna; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43657/19]
I welcome the focus given by the Joint Committee on Climate Action in its report to the future of Bord na Mona and the Midlands region.
The Committee correctly identified that, while all sectors face challenges transitioning to a low carbon economy, immediate interventions must be put in place in those locations and for those sectors imminently under threat, such as those whose livelihoods are dependent on Bord na Móna peat extraction activities. The Committee also highlighted the importance of exploring opportunities to green existing jobs, and create new jobs in areas such as energy retrofitting for buildings, sustainable forestry and peatland restoration.
The Government has responded to this challenge in its Climate Action Plan, and subsequently with funding allocated through Budget 2020 and the appointment of Just Transition Commissioner for the Midlands.
The Climate Action Plan identifies the need to plan appropriately to ensure that those most affected by our transition to a low-carbon, climate resilient society are supported and equipped to contribute to this transition.
The Plan sets out a number of actions to support this objective, including:
- a programme of analysis to assess the economic and employment implications of the transition to a low-carbon economy
- the establishment of a Just Transition Review Group under NESC working group structures to advise the Climate Action Delivery Board
- supporting the work of the Midlands Regional Transition Team, the Midlands Regional Enterprise Strategy and the Midlands Regional Skills Forum
- identifying sources of funding that could be used to support the transition to a low-carbon economy and society, including inclusion of peat in the EU Coal Platform on transition.
Building on the actions in the Climate Action Plan, Budget 2020 allocated funding to support a Just Transition in the Midlands region, comprising:
- €20 million for a new energy efficiency retrofitting scheme with the social housing stock in the region at its core, but enabling private homeowners to opt-in
- €5 million for peatland rehabilitation
- €6 million for a dedicated new Just Transition Fund, with ESB agreeing to contribute an additional €5 million to this fund bringing its total value to €11m.
My Department is in discussions with the European Commission with a view to making a state aid application for PSO support for an enhanced peat land restoration and rehabilitation scheme in the midlands. This is currently being processed through the State Aid pre-notification procedure.
The Government has appointed Mr Kieran Mulvey as the Just Transition Commissioner to facilitate discussions and work with stakeholders to develop, mobilise, and deliver opportunities for the Midlands. The Commissioner will collaborate with, and build on the work undertaken by, the existing local taskforces to ensure that locally generated ideas and projects are brought forward for consideration for funding from the Just Transition Fund. I published the terms of reference for the work of the Just Transition Commissioner on 19 November 2019.
16. To ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the actions he is taking to secure employment for Bord na Móna employees who are the first staff to lose their jobs as a result of the decision by the ESB to cease the operation of west Offaly and Lough Ree power plants. [49068/19]
The managed transition out of peat envisaged by Bord na Móna has been significantly impacted by the An Bord Pleanála decision to refuse planning permission for ESB's West Offaly Power station beyond the end of 2020 and the subsequent ESB decision to withdraw a planning permission application for the Lough Ree Power station.
Government has already taken significant steps to ensure that a just transition for the Midlands is adequately supported. This includes:
- €6 million for a Just Transition Fund, targeted at the Midlands, to support the retraining and reskilling of workers and to assist local communities and businesses in the Region to adjust to the low carbon transition.
- Following the announcement that ESB intends to cease operations at the two plants at the end of 2020, ESB has committed to contributing an additional €5 million to the just transition fund, bring the fund to €11m.
- €5 million for a National Parks and Wildlife Service bog restoration and rehabilitation programme to restore 1,800 hectares of bog to their natural habitat, ensuring the return of these bogs to carbons sinks once again and creating 70 to 100 jobs; and
- €20 million targeted at the Midlands, to deliver a new model to group housing upgrades, as set out in the Climate Action Plan, which will support an estimated 400 direct and indirect jobs, as well as significantly upgrading the social housing stock in the region.
Mr Kieran Mulvey has been appointed as the Just Transition Commissioner to co-ordinate Government’s response to an accelerated exit from peat for electricity generation.
Following proactive engagement by my Department and Bord na Móna, including a request from myself to Commissioner Cañete earlier this year, the Midlands Region was accepted into the Coal Regions in Transition Platform in July. Membership enables the Midlands Region to avail of the support of a dedicated Country Team to assist with the development of strategies and projects for the region, focusing in particular on the employment challenges faced by workers.
My Department is also in discussions with the European Commission with regards to the use of a Public Service Obligation to fund an extensive bog rehabilitation programme. This would provide Bord na Móna with the funds necessary to rehabilitate their industrial bogs above and beyond the legal requirements under their EPA licences.
An interdepartmental group led by Department of An Taoiseach has been established to develop a just transition plan for the Midlands. Clearly this work cuts across a number of Government Departments, including my own Department, Public Expenditure and Reform, Business, Employment and Innovation, Rural and Community Development, and Agriculture, Food and the Marine.