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 Header Item WRITTEN ANSWERS
 Header Item Written Answers Nos 1-78
 Header Item Post Office Network
 Header Item Renewable Energy Projects
 Header Item National Digital Strategy Implementation
 Header Item National Broadband Plan Implementation
 Header Item Biofuel Obligation Scheme Implementation
 Header Item Oireachtas Joint Committee Reports
 Header Item Renewable Energy Projects
 Header Item National Gas Grid
 Header Item Renewable Energy Generation
 Header Item National Postcode System Establishment
 Header Item Energy Schemes Data
 Header Item Energy Regulation
 Header Item Energy Prices
 Header Item Digital Television Service Availability
 Header Item Industrial Development
 Header Item National Broadband Plan Implementation
 Header Item Telecommunications Services Provision
 Header Item Radio Spectrum Management
 Header Item National Digital Strategy Publication

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 806 No. 1

First Page Previous Page Page of 134 Next Page Last Page

WRITTEN ANSWERS

Written Answers Nos 1-78

The following are questions tabled by Members for written response and the ministerial replies as received on the day from the Departments [unrevised].

  Questions Nos. 1 to 14, inclusive, answered orally.

  Questions Nos. 15 to 51, inclusive, resubmitted.

  Questions Nos. 52 to 59, inclusive, answered orally.

Post Office Network

 60. Deputy Denis Naughten Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte the steps being taken to support the maintenance of the post office network; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27786/13]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte Operational matters and the role of developing commercial strategies for the post office network are a matter for the management and Board of An Post and one in which I have no statutory function. As shareholder, however, I have a strong concern in relation to the ongoing commercial position of the Company and I regularly liaise with the Company in this regard.

An Post has many strengths and has the largest retail presence in the country. I have impressed on the Company the need to further exploit its unique position in this regard and have been supportive of its attempts to diversify its income streams and to win a wider range of commercial contracts offering higher margins. I am also, however, conscious that An Post faces a difficult financial position. The efforts by the Company to generate new income streams are most welcome. Equally, An Post must ensure that it has a competitive costbase. In this context, I recognise the efforts of the Company, in co-operation with its workforce to ensure constraint in operating costs, especially payroll which is such a major component of the Company’s fixed costs.

I recently addressed the annual conference of the Irish Postmasters’ Union and emphasised the intrinsic strengths of the network and the opportunities for new developments. Having invested in the computerisation of all post offices, An Post is well positioned to become the front office provider of choice for Government and the financial services sector.

I welcome the Joint Oireachtas Committee’s ‘Report on Promoting a Sustainable Future for the Post Office Network’. I have read and considered this report and found it both positive and ambitious.

An Post has made much progress towards diversification with its enhanced arrangement with AIB and its agreement with Aviva for the transfer of Aviva Ireland’s branch offices personal insurance business book to One Direct. Recently the opportunity to pay the local property tax via An Post outlets was secured.

In the context of the public sector transformation agenda I will continue to engage with my colleague the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in relation to consideration, as appropriate, of the post office network for transactional elements of the business of Government Departments and Agencies and have stressed to my Government colleagues that the network is ideally configured for over the counter transactions. Overall, it is Government policy that An Post remains a strong and viable company, in a position to provide a high quality, nationwide postal service and maintain a nationwide customer focused network of post offices.

Renewable Energy Projects

 61. Deputy Brian Stanley Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte if he will give details of the State investment in the Mount Lucas wind farm project, County Offaly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26706/13]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte    The wind farm project currently under construction at Mount Lucas, Daingean, County Offaly, is a commercial development being progressed by Bord na Móna. The financing of the project on a commercial basis is an operational matter for the company. The project has not received any direct Exchequer support. The development of the Mount Lucas project is a key component of Bord na Móna’s diversification and growth strategy and represents a very substantial investment by Bord na Móna in the renewable sector. The Mount Lucas project is also important in demonstrating the potential which the Midlands holds for the future generation of renewable power.

  The potential for job creation in renewable power generation is an important factor in Bord na Móna’s transitioning away from dependence on the declining market for peat and towards a more sustainable future for the company. The project, which is currently under construction, is supporting approximately 100 to 150 jobs. The project will support a further 12 long term jobs when the wind farm is in full commercial operation, which is expected to be in June 2014.

  Bord na Móna recently received approval for acceptance of the Mount Lucas project into the Renewable Energy Feed in Tariff, REFIT 2, which is the primary support mechanism for renewable electricity. The REFIT scheme is designed to provide certainty to renewable electricity generators by providing them with a minimum floor price for each unit of electricity exported to the grid over a 15 year period. The REFIT Scheme is open to all prospective generators, whether private sector or commercial State companies.

National Digital Strategy Implementation

 62. Deputy Barry Cowen Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte the impact the EU e-commerce action plan will have here; his views on the proportion of Irish on-line sales which go to non-domestic retailers; the way he will assist small businesses to sell more goods on-line; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27842/13]

 505. Deputy Dara Calleary Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte his views on whether Irish firms are not yet fully exploiting the potential of online commerce; the way the situation can be improved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24420/13]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte I propose to take Questions Nos. 62 and 505 together.

There are a range of measures in the EU Commission’s e-Commerce Action Plan 2012-2015 and these span the areas of responsibility of a number of Departments.

I welcome the focus in the plan on practical actions that will provide more clarity for those trading in the online single market. In particular I believe measures that provide guidance and training for online traders will assist them in providing the levels of service expected by online consumers – which will be beneficial to traders and consumers alike.

In Ireland, Irish consumers spend almost €4bn per annum online – with most of that spend going offshore. Most small businesses in Ireland do not trade online. The proportion of SMEs trading online is estimated to be as low as 23%.

That means many small Irish businesses are being missed by consumers when they go online to source products and services. Those not trading online are also missing out on the opportunity of markets and customers abroad.

That is why we will be focusing in the forthcoming National Digital Strategy on encouraging and assisting more small businesses to do more online and ultimately to trade online. To address this, a set of integrated actions have been identified in the National Digital Strategy and the 2013 Action Plan for Jobs. The objective is to encourage more Irish-based small and medium businesses to become active on-line over the next two years.

As a first step towards this objective we will pilot a voucher scheme that will provide upfront funding for small businesses to help them develop an online trading platform. Beyond the pilot it will be our objective to roll out the scheme nationally aiming to get some 2,000 small businesses trading online over a 12 month period. To add impetus to NDS objectives I appointed David Puttnam as our first national Digital Champion. Working with the Department, he will be engaging with the various sectors – including industry - over the coming months, with a view to driving the digital agenda and specifically pursuing some key goals that will be set out in the National Digital Strategy.

National Broadband Plan Implementation

 63. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte the degree to which modern high speed broadband is likely to become available in all areas throughout the country in the short and medium term with particular reference to those areas currently experiencing inadequate, inferior or intermittent service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27354/13]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte The Government’s National Broadband Plan, which I published in August last, aims to radically change the broadband landscape in Ireland by ensuring that high speed services of 30Mbps are available to all of our citizens and businesses, well in advance of the EU’s target date of 2020, and that significantly higher speeds are available to as many homes and businesses as possible.

The Plan aims to deliver high speed broadband to all parts of Ireland through two principal means: (a) by providing a policy and regulatory framework that assists in accelerating and incentivising commercial investment, and (b) by providing a State-led investment for areas where it is not commercial for the market to invest. Since the publication of the Plan, investments by the commercial sector are underway in both fixed line and wireless high speed broadband services. There is evidence that industry is investing beyond the targets to which they committed in the Plan with investments of up to €1bn underway. ComReg has put in place a new regulatory regime for fixed line Next Generation Access and for service bundles, both of which are designed to incentivise the rollout of services by service providers. ComReg’s multiband spectrum auction, completed in 2012, is also enabling the rollout of advanced mobile broadband services.

Some of the key developments in the short and medium term are as follows:

- eircom launched its next generation broadband services on 16th May last, with speeds of up to 70Mbps, immediately available to over 300,000 premises. By the end of this year, eircom aims to reach more than 600,000 homes and businesses. It has a target to pass 1.2m premises by June 2015;

- UPC is continuing with its investment in the cable network, which should see 750,000 homes able to access services at data speeds of at least 150 Mbps by 2015;

- Other fixed operators also continue to invest in Local Loop Unbundling (LLU). BT Ireland now supplies broadband access to both Vodafone and Sky Ireland, and along with other operators, is also investing in fixed infrastructure;

- Mobile wireless operators are making plans for the rollout of 4G services later this year. The operators are obliged, under the terms of the licences, to cover 70% of the population;

- ESB is currently considering the prospect of utilising its distribution network to rollout fibre broadband services.

In tandem with these commercial developments, intensive work is underway in my Department to progress a State-led investment to secure the countrywide introduction of next generation broadband access. In order to progress the State-led investment, a full procurement process must be designed and EU State Aids approval must be obtained. A comprehensive mapping exercise of the current and anticipated investment by the commercial sector is being undertaken to identify where the market is expected to succeed and fail in the delivery of high speed broadband services over the coming years. The results of this mapping exercise will inform the level of Government interaction that may be required and the areas that need to be targeted in the State-led investment so as to deliver on the targets for high speed broadband contained in the National Broadband Plan.

Intensive technical, financial and legal preparations including stakeholder engagement will be ongoing throughout 2013 with a view to the launch of a procurement process in 2014. Through the implementation of the National Broadband Plan, we are committed to increasing the availability of next generation speeds significantly, with a view to ensuring that all citizens and businesses can participate fully in a digitally enabled society.

Biofuel Obligation Scheme Implementation

 64. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan Information on Maureen O'Sullivan Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte if Irish Aid was consulted in advance of his decision to increase the biofuels blending obligation; the developmental, environmental, consumer or motorist organisations that were also consulted in advance of his decision; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26632/13]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte The 2009 EU Renewable Energy Directive set a binding target on all Member States to achieve at least 10% renewable energy in transport by 2020. The increased deployment of Electric Vehicles will help in this regard but, it is clear that the primary means of meeting this target for all Member States will be by the increased use of biofuels.

The Biofuel Obligation Scheme was introduced in July 2010 and works by obligating large road transport fuel suppliers to bring a certain amount of biofuels to the market. From the start of this year, I have increased the obligation on fuel suppliers to include at least 6% by volume biofuels in their overall annual disposal of road transport fuels from the initial obligation rate of 4%. The legislative basis for the obligation itself is provided for in the National Oil Reserves Agency Act, 2007 (as amended by the 2010 Energy (Biofuel Obligation and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act). I did not directly consult with Irish Aid in the issue of the increased obligation.

Under Section 44D of the Act, before amending the rate of obligation, I was required to consult with the Minister for Finance, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, the National Oil Reserves Agency, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Standards Authority of Ireland and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. I also consulted with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform as well as Biofuel Obligation account holders and motoring organisations such as the Automobile Association (AA) and the Society of the Irish Motor Industry (SIMI). Before I made the order to increase the rate, a draft of the order was posted on my Department’s website for 28 days with an invitation to interested parties to make representations on the proposed increase.

I would stress that I do share the concerns that biofuel production, unless properly regulated, can have a negative impact on food production, and on food prices. All biofuels counted as part of the scheme must comply with the sustainability criteria set out in the Renewable Energy Directive.

Oireachtas Joint Committee Reports

 65. Deputy Andrew Doyle Information on Andrew Doyle Zoom on Andrew Doyle asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte his views on the May 2012 report entitled Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration produced by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Natural Resources and Agriculture; his views on the eleven recommendations contained in this report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26629/13]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte The Joint Oireachtas Committee’s report represents a valuable contribution to the debate on how Ireland should manage its indigenous oil and gas resources, to ensure the best result for the people of Ireland.

  I am aware that the former Joint Committee members invested considerable time in the gathering of evidence, consideration of such evidence, and preparation of the final report. In that regard I would like to pay tribute to the members of the Committee for their efforts. I have requested the Chief Whip to arrange for Dáil time to be allocated to statements on this important report during this session.

  The 11 recommendations included in the report reflect the broad nature of the report and address a number of themes.

  The report recognises the importance of Ireland’s legislative and strategic policy approach being fit for purpose. It brings a focus to specific aspects of the non-fiscal regulatory regime. It considers interactions involving the public in general, as well as those relating to the communities of areas where development activity is planned. The theme, however, that has generated the greatest level of comment relates to the tax terms that should apply in the case of future commercial discoveries.

  In relation to the recommendation that the 1960 Petroleum and Other Minerals Development Act should be reviewed, I would point out that in the period since it was enacted a broad body of legislation at national and European Union level that is of direct relevance to petroleum exploration and production activities has also come into being. This includes planning, safety and environmental legislation. Against that background, my Department is currently engaged in a review of the 1960 Act.

  With regard to the recommended need for a clear strategy governing Ireland’s approach to petroleum exploration, our overall strategy in this area is to seek to maximise the benefits to the people of Ireland from our indigenous natural resources.

  In respect of the recommendations relating to the maximisation of production from a commercial field, the principle of unitisation and the issue of flaring of gas, I believe that these issues are already addressed to a considerable degree by the existing licensing terms, together with the Department’s own industry-specific rules and procedures.

  As regards public consultation, the existing statutory obligations requiring public consultation in the case of petroleum-related projects are very detailed and extensive. It is possible that the circumstances which gave rise to a focus on public consultation predate the enactment of the Strategic Infrastructure Act which provides for a more holistic, transparent and strengthened approach to the assessment of applications for development consent for major transport and energy projects.

  The “community gain” concept discussed in the report is indeed interesting. As a concept it is clearly not industry-specific. It is also complex, as communities are not homogenous and as a result what some may consider a gain, others may consider a loss. An Bord Pleanála, in granting planning consents under the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act, has included specific “community gain” conditions in some cases.

  The Government is fully supportive of a community gain approach in the delivery of energy projects. This is explicitly referenced in the Government Policy Statement on the Strategic Importance of Transmission and Other Energy Infrastructure published in July of 2012. The Policy Statement stresses the need for energy project developers to examine appropriate means of building community gain considerations into their project budgeting and planning.

  The question of introducing a specific community gain provision on a statutory basis is a far broader question and would of course have implications well beyond the subject matter of the current report.

  As regards the recommendation for an almost doubling of the existing tax rate applying to petroleum production, I would strongly argue that this particular recommendation is not underpinned by the facts and analysis contained in the Committee’s own report.

  I also struggle to understand how Ireland could be expected to have Norwegian style tax rates without also having Norwegian levels of commercial discoveries. The fact remains that there have been only four commercial natural gas discoveries since exploration began offshore Ireland in the early 1970s, and no commercial discoveries of oil to date.

  In my view, Ireland’s focus should be on how to encourage an increase in the level of exploration investment and exploration drilling in particular. This is what is needed if we are to establish the true petroleum potential of the Irish offshore.

  The joint committee signalled clearly in its recommendations that it considered a review of the fiscal terms would be appropriate. It was also very clear that any adjustment to the fiscal terms should not be retrospective. I am completely in agreement with this latter point. I am conscious that long-term investment decisions on exploration expenditure would benefit from the maximum degree of certainty on the stability of the fiscal regime.

  With that in mind, and having regard to the fact that the last review of the fiscal terms was in 2007, I intend to listen to the views of deputies through the course of the Dáil debate that commenced last month and then, following conclusion of the debate, will seek some further independent expert advice on the “fitness-for-purpose” of Ireland’s fiscal terms. Such expert advice would focus on what level of fiscal gain is achievable for the State and its citizens; and the mechanisms best suited to produce such a gain. Certainty as to fiscal terms is a pre-requisite to attracting oil and gas exploration investment to Ireland. In that regard, and particularly in the context of planning for the next licensing round, it would be my intention to bring my consideration of this matter to a conclusion before the end of this year. That would ensure that the next licensing round could be launched against a backdrop of regulatory certainty and encourage much needed new investment in exploration in our offshore.  

Renewable Energy Projects

 66. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte if his Department has received submissions on the proposed wind farm in Dublin Bay; and his views on whether Dublin Bay is a sustainable location for wind generation. [26636/13]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte The development and operation of wind farms in Ireland require planning permission from the relevant planning authority and, in the case of offshore wind farms, a foreshore lease from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. They also require an Authorisation to Construct a Generating Station and a Licence to Generate from the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER). In addition, a grid connection offer from EirGrid or ESB Networks is required to become operational.

The issue of planning and foreshore leasing are in the first instance matters between the developer of the windfarm and the planning authority subject to the Planning and Foreshore Acts, which include requirements for public consultation. I understand the developer of a proposed project for the Dublin Bay area is currently consulting the public on the proposal.

The consideration by the relevant planning authority of individual applications for approval for the building of energy infrastructure is also informed by strategic energy policy objectives. To that end my Department is currently finalising an Offshore Renewable Energy Development Plan.

This plan takes as its starting point the findings of a Strategic Environmental Assessment carried out to establish the capacity of Ireland’s offshore to accommodate renewable energy development without significant adverse impact on the marine environment. This SEA has been supplemented by an additional Natura Impact Statement to take account of the new Special Areas of Conservation designated in 2012.

In addition, individual offshore renewable projects will also be required to produce an Environmental Impact Assessment to ensure they are environmentally sustainable.

National Gas Grid

 67. Deputy Mick Wallace Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte further to Parliamentary Question No. 5 of 31 January 2013, if he has been in contact with Dublin City Council in order to check if they are satisfied with a high pressure gas main being installed at a depth of 1.2 metres along main residential areas in Dublin city; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26751/13]

 86. Deputy Mick Wallace Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte in view of the fact that Bord Gáis is placing a high pressure gas main at a depth of 1.2 metres along main residential areas in Dublin City, if he will consider seeking an external expert opinion on the potential implications for public safety of this project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26752/13]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte I propose to take Questions Nos. 67 and 86 together.

The matters raised by the Deputy are operational matters for Bord Gáis Éireann (BGE). The company operates in accordance with the safety framework established by the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER), which has statutory responsibility for gas safety. In addition, in accordance with section 39A of the Gas Act 1976, as amended, the CER has responsibility for the assessment of applications to construct transmission pipelines. I have no function in these operational matters. Enquiries by officials of my Department have confirmed that while local authorities have a role in regard to agreeing the route of a gas pipeline they have no role in deciding the depth at which the pipe will be laid. Pipelines are laid in accordance with the relevant standard.

BGE owns and operates the national transmission and distribution gas network. BGE and the CER have advised that all transmission pipelines, including those in residential areas, are designed, constructed, tested, operated and maintained in accordance with Irish Standard 328:2003, Code of Practice for Gas Transmission Pipelines and Pipeline Installations.

I understand that pipelines in suburban and urban areas are constructed using high grade steel pipe and are laid with a minimum depth of cover of 1.2 metres throughout. In some circumstances and over short sections, where existing major services are located and cannot be moved, it may not be possible to meet this depth of cover. In these cases, additional pipeline protection measures, such as concrete impact protection, are put in place in accordance with Irish Standard 328:2003 Once commissioned, a scheduled routine maintenance and inspection programme is applied to all pipelines.

Following completion of construction, the consent of the CER will be required before BGE may operate the pipeline. This consent is subject to a review of all relevant data and test records by a CER commissioned independent consultant. Safety is BGE’s first priority and the company is committed to ongoing development and maintenance of the gas networks and systems to ensure safety and to deliver continuous safety improvement and performance. I have every confidence in BGE’s priority commitment to safety.

I understand the Deputy is referring to the Santry to East Wall gas pipeline. In regard to that pipeline, the consent of the CER to BGE’s undertaking of these works was informed by the advice of independent consultants engaged by the CER. This advice dealt with matters such as the pipeline’s technical compliance with design requirements, including minimum depth specifications, and compliance with the relevant Irish Standard 328:2003.

I repeat my previous offer that if the Deputy wishes, I would be happy to request BGE to contact him directly in relation to this matter.

Renewable Energy Generation

 68. Deputy John Halligan Information on John Halligan Zoom on John Halligan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte if he has considered using the ESB to develop our wind resources; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27877/13]

 509. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte if he has considered using the ESB to develop our wind resources. [26650/13]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte I propose to take Questions Nos. 68 and 509 together.

The Irish energy market, including power generation, is a commercial market, regulated as appropriate by the Commission for Energy Regulation, and one in which I have no function. I understand that the Generation and Wholesale Markets arm of the ESB operates a mixed portfolio of generation using both fossil fuels and renewable technologies, in Ireland, the UK, and Spain. I also understand that ESB Generation and Wholesale Markets’ renewable strategy is to grow from its existing base of 560 MW, 190 MW of which is wind generated, to 1800 MW by 2025, with a view to achieving a net carbon neutral portfolio by 2050. ESB investment in the renewable energy area is a matter for the Company itself which must act on the basis of a commercial mandate. I am supportive of ESB investment in renewable energy.

National Postcode System Establishment

 69. Deputy Martin Ferris Information on Martin Ferris Zoom on Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte if there has been any update in the possible introduction of postcodes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26710/13]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte I wish to reiterate the strong commitment of the Government to introducing a national postcode system.

A national postcode system is in my view a vital part of the national infrastructure. Apart from providing efficiencies for postal delivery it will positively impact on deliveries of public and private services.

The procurement process for a national postcode system has proven to be more complex and protracted than originally envisaged. As the Deputy will appreciate it is crucial that the postcode system to be put in place delivers the optimal level of service whilst providing full value for money for the taxpayer.

Since the procurement process commenced in 2011 intensive work has taken place on what is an extremely complex national project. It is expected that the final tender will be issued to all qualified bidders by the end of June.

The proposals in response to that tender will, in turn, be evaluated by the postcode evaluation team, a preferred option will be chosen and a recommendation will be made to Government in September.

The final decision to proceed with implementation of a national postcode will be one for Government and will be based on appropriate financial, technical and operational considerations. I cannot give a precise date on when this decision will be made but I intend that it will be no later than the third quarter of this year.

Energy Schemes Data

 70. Deputy Charlie McConalogue Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte the number of persons who have availed of Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland grants for home insulation to date in 2013; the total number in 2012; the way this compares with previous years; his views on the operation of the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27850/13]

 88. Deputy Michael Colreavy Information on Michael Colreavy Zoom on Michael Colreavy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte the number of homes planned to be retrofitted this year through State schemes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26705/13]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte I propose to take Questions Nos. 70 and 88 together.

  The Better Energy Homes and the Better Energy Warmer Homes schemes are administered by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) under the Better Energy Programme.

  The Better Energy Homes scheme provides support to homeowners towards the installation of attic and wall insulation, and heating system upgrades including solar thermal with the works being undertaken by privately appointed contractors.

  The Better Energy Warmer Homes scheme delivers a range of energy efficiency measures to low income households vulnerable to energy poverty. The scheme is delivered through a combination of SEAI appointed Community Based Organisations (CBOs), augmented by a panel of private contractors in order to ensure national coverage and via an area based approach. Measures available include; draught proofing, attic insulation, lagging jackets for hot water tanks, low energy light bulbs and cavity wall insulation and are free of charge to the customer.

  The following tables outline the number of homes completed and the value of the grants received for both schemes in 2012 and in 2013 up to 31 May. Also included are figures for 2011 for comparison purposes.

Better Energy Homes No. of homes completed Value of applications drawn down (€m)
2011 47, 716 57.6
2012 26, 185 28.9
2013 (to end May) 6, 267 5.6


Better Energy Warmer Homes No. of homes completed Value of applications drawn down(€m)
2011 20, 388 20.2
2012 12, 175 20.5
2013 (to end May) 4, 266 3.8


  It should be noted that in relation to the Warmer Homes scheme the bulk of expenditure is disbursed in the second half of the year.

  Since the start of 2012, there has been a decrease in applications across all measures under Better Energy Homes. It is the view of the SEAI that the downward trends in activity are primarily linked to the mildness of the weather across winters 2012 and 2013, which has created a reduction in the demand for energy efficiency related measures. There is also evidence to suggest that the volume of householders with savings available to spend on energy efficiency upgrades is diminishing and impacting demand for the scheme. Furthermore the bulk of early movers seeking to avail of energy efficiency measures under the scheme may now have been addressed.

Exchequer funding of €18 million has been allocated to the Better Energy Homes scheme for 2013 while Exchequer funding of €17 million has been allocated to Better Energy Warmer Homes. The target for 2013 is to carry out energy efficiency upgrades for a total of 30,000   homes across both schemes. Despite the current economic challenges this funding will have a lasting impact on homeowners who receive the energy measures.

  With regard to the future operation of the schemes the National Energy Efficiency Action Plan and the Programme for Government include a commitment to roll out a Better Energy Financing energy retrofit scheme for domestic buildings after 2013. The Better Energy Financing (BEF) model proposes that the current suite of Exchequer funded grants for energy efficiency measures, excluding the low-income housing retrofit programme, will be replaced by a new financing scheme open to households and commercial operators. The key benefit to the homeowner of such a financing mechanism is that the scheme will allow them to secure upfront financing for energy efficiency upgrades to their homes, and in the process remove one of the key energy efficiency barriers. It would also be an objective of the new model that savings arising from the energy efficiency measures will contribute to the repayment of the funding provided.

Energy Regulation

 71. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte the costs incurred to date on implementing the single electricity market here; the benefits that have accrued from it; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27858/13]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte The regulation of the electricity and gas market is the responsibility of the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER). The Electricity Regulation Act 1999 provided for the establishment of the CER as an independent statutory regulator. Since its establishment, there have been a number of changes to the regulatory framework, and CER’s functions, in line with the continually evolving energy policy landscape and partly as a result of EU obligations.

With a view to meeting policy objectives, the CER has played a pivotal role in the development of the Single Electricity Market (SEM) which has been operating in Ireland and Northern Ireland since November 2007. It represents one of the first cross-jurisdictional markets of its kind in the world.

The all-island Single Electricity Market (SEM) is the combination of two separate jurisdictional electricity markets in Ireland and Northern Ireland and is governed by the SEM Committee (SEMC). The SEMC currently consists of a membership drawn from the CER in Ireland, the Utility Regulator (UR) in Northern Ireland and an independent member, who also has a deputy.

Independent analysis has indicated that the market has worked well since its introduction in November 2007 and continues to deliver benefits to consumers through the use of efficient generation plant to meet demand across the whole island. The SEM model of setting prices in a transparent and cost reflective manner is not only assisting to promote competition and attract new investment, it has also contributed to improvements in the availability of generation plants. The structure of the SEM has ensured that generators, including new players, have invested in the market, thus ensuring security of supply.

This is evidenced by recent decisions to invest in the Irish electricity market by a variety of market players. Bord Gáis opened the 440 Mega Watt (MW) Whitegate power station in 2010 and ESB commissioned the 435 MW Aghada power station in the same year. The East West Electricity Interconnector (EWIC) commenced operation in 2012 with a capacity of 500 MW. Scottish and Southern Electricity (SSE) is currently constructing a 460 MW gas-fired power station at Great Island, Co. Wexford, and expect the plant to be operating from 2014. The SEM has also facilitated the connection of over 2,400 MW of renewable energy to the grid.

The SEM project was developed by both regulators. The allowed project costs incurred in its establishment were paid for by both regulators and were ultimately borne by electricity customers in the Irish and Northern Irish markets.

The SEM will continue to evolve in line with European electricity market developments, bearing in mind the primacy of the electricity customer when considering market evolution.

Energy Prices

 72. Deputy Michael Moynihan Information on Michael Moynihan Zoom on Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte the way the creation of the European Internal Energy Market can be used to reduce energy prices for consumers here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27856/13]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte The Third Energy Package, agreed in 2009, aimed to fully implement the EU Internal Energy Market. The objectives of the internal energy market are the achievement of better outcomes for EU citizens through contributing to economic growth and jobs, by providing secure energy at an affordable and competitive price, and through sustainability in energy use. On 4 February 2011 the European Council declared that the internal energy market should be completed by 2014. This goal was reaffirmed at the European Council of 22 May 2013. The creation of the internal energy market in wholesale and retail electricity and gas markets helps put downward pressure on energy prices not least by promoting generation competition.

While considerable progress has been made, the European Commission considers that obstacles remain to the achievement of a fully functioning internal market in electricity and gas across the entire EU. Accordingly, on 15 November 2012, the European Commission presented a Communication assessing progress towards achieving the internal energy market. The Communication provides a timely stocktake on progress towards a single market in electricity and gas and aims to address the remaining obstacles on the road to full implementation as well as reflecting on how the Internal Energy Market can fulfil its considerable potential and deliver real benefits for all EU energy consumers, specifically households, business and industry. The Communication referred to the formation of the All-Island electricity market in Ireland as a positive contribution to the construction of the internal market.

The Communication proposes a detailed set of actions, under the heading of an “Action Plan for Europe” to ensure the successful implementation of the internal energy market by 2014. The Action Plan identifies four main challenges and accompanying actions which, if implemented across the EU, would enable Member States to meet various sub-goals resulting in achievement of a well-functioning and effective internal energy market. In this regard I am pleased to inform the House that last Friday, under our EU Presidency of the Energy Council, I secured the agreement of my energy Ministerial colleagues to the Energy Council’s Conclusions on the Communication. The Conclusions set out Ministerial views of the tasks and actions necessary to make the transition to the internal energy market.

Foremost among the actions I mentioned earlier, necessary for the implementation of the internal market, I would highlight consumer empowerment. The European Commission estimates that across the EU consumers could save up to €13 billion annually by switching to the cheapest supplier. This is a timely reminder that in a competitive market consumers can, and should, shop around to get the best possible price and service deal from suppliers and switch supplier, if necessary, bearing in mind that all suppliers can and do offer competitive prices and products.

In the Irish market there are a number of suppliers competing in the retail market in both electricity and gas and offering various prices and products to domestic and business consumers. In addition, electricity prices are no longer regulated. In this environment consumers can readily access prices offered by suppliers and easily switch if they wish to do so. Switching is continuing in both the electricity and gas markets with switching rates of 16.97% for gas and 11.27% for electricity reported by the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) for 2012.

Digital Television Service Availability

 73. Deputy John McGuinness Information on John McGuinness Zoom on John McGuinness asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte the number of households that have yet to sign up to Saorview; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27841/13]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte RTE has built, owns and controls the Saorview TV network and is responsible for the roll-out, coverage and operation of that network. This is in accordance with Part 8 of the Broadcasting Act 2009, which provides that the development of the RTE network is an operational matter for RTE. In relation to the Deputy’s query, figures published by ComReg for Q4 2012 indicate that approximately 36% of TV homes had Irish Digital Terrestrial Television. As with the analogue terrestrial network it replaced, Saorview provides access to the national Irish TV channels on a non-subscription basis, i.e. free-to-air, to 98% of the population. As it is free-to-air, there is no requirement to sign up to this service and relevant households only require a compatible Saorview television or set-top box to be able to receive the service.

In addition to Saorview, RTE has developed SAORSAT, a free-to-air satellite service to ensure the free-to-air RTE television services are available to 100% of the population. This is the first time free-to-air Irish TV is available to 100% of the population.

It is also worth noting that Irish TV channels are also available on subscription TV services such as UPC (over cable or MMDS) or Sky (over satellite).

Industrial Development

 74. Deputy Michael McGrath Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte his views on the ability of Ireland to become a leading exporter of home insulation products and skills; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27853/13]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte The market for technologies and services associated with sustainable energy and decarbonisation is growing rapidly. Internationally, the International Energy Agency estimates that governments will need to spend $180 billion in 2035 alone on sustainable energy measures to achieve climate change targets. Ireland is ideally positioned to sell the skills of the domestic ICT sector, to test technologies and to develop export industries from our sustainable resources.

The energy retrofitting of homes is an established industry in Ireland, primarily on foot a number of major government interventions in this sector. The Better Energy Homes scheme administered by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) provides grant support to homeowners wishing to upgrade their home insulation and heating systems. To date over 140,000 homes have been upgraded through this scheme with grant aid of €240m and matched private investment of over €270m. The Better Energy Warmer Homes Scheme funds the direct provision of insulation upgrades to vulnerable energy poor homes, with almost 97,000 homes completed to date. More recently the introduction of energy efficiency obligations on energy suppliers is stimulating additional energy retrofitting activity, further enhancing momentum in the sector.

The installers operating under the aforementioned schemes are all subject to very demanding registration terms in respect of technical competence and professional practice. They are also subject to the rigour of SEAI’s quality assurance scheme. This focus on quality is intended to transform the sector, give consumers confidence, prepare the sector for further growth and opportunities to export the expertise to countries where demand is stimulated. The export opportunities for the sector are twofold, namely the insulation and heating products and the skills and expertise of the professional installers.

SEAI are already engaging with a number of industry stakeholders and enterprise agencies to consider opportunities for packaging the skills and expertise within this sector specifically for export to other jurisdictions. It is not without its challenges however, given that insulation is a worldwide industry with all players seeking international markets, where standards can vary by country and demand being tied somewhat to the building industry.

The Department of Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation which has general policy responsibility for sustainable job creation has informed me that following rapid contraction of the Irish construction market witnessed in 2007, the Irish insulation market prioritised a twofold strategy of UK (and European) market development coupled with an investment programme of new product development. Enterprise Ireland has worked in partnership with the sector on both strategies and through a series of market entry supports, R&D incentives, promotion of management development programmes, the sector has rebounded strongly and is now entering a new phase of growth. Currently, the Irish insulation sector represents circa 14% of the UK insulation market with established defined routes to market and developed recognised international brands. In parallel with the market entry of insulation manufactures to the market, a sub-sector of Irish insulation installers has developed a presence in the UK market. The sector is ideally poised to supply innovative solutions to the recently launched UK Green Deal.

The expansion of the sector has also extended to near European markets with market penetration witnessed in Benelux, France and Germany.

More generally Ireland has a reputation as an early mover in advanced energy management, as illustrated by the development of the Irish energy management standard, IS 393, in 2006, which informed the development of the EU standard and in turn informed that of the global standard, ISO 50001. The market for this global standard, and associated services, is expected to be considerable. This creates the opportunity to export expertise and services in a fast-growing international market.

Finally, there is considerable interest in the ICT sector in the applications in energy relating to smart infrastructure, technology and control. A transition to smarter infrastructure, with greater use of software, sensors and controls, has already started, and this plays to Ireland’s strengths in this sector.

National Broadband Plan Implementation

 75. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte if the national broadband scheme will link up with private companies already involved in broadband roll-out to provide greater coverage; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [26707/13]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte The Government’s National Broadband Plan, which I published in August last, aims to radically change the broadband landscape in Ireland by ensuring that high speed services of 30Mbps are available to all of our citizens and businesses, well in advance of the EU’s target date of 2020, and that significantly higher speeds are available to as many homes and businesses as possible.

The Plan aims to deliver high speed broadband to all parts of Ireland through two principal means: (a) by providing a policy and regulatory framework that assists in accelerating and incentivising commercial investment, and (b) by providing a State-led investment for areas where it is not commercial for the market to invest.

Since the publication of the Plan, investments by the commercial sector are underway in both fixed line and wireless high speed broadband services. There is evidence that industry is investing beyond the targets to which they committed in the Plan with investments of up to €1bn underway.

ComReg has put in place a new regulatory regime for fixed line Next Generation Access and for service bundles, both of which are designed to incentivise the rollout of services by service providers. ComReg’s multiband spectrum auction, completed in 2012, is also enabling the rollout of advanced mobile broadband services.

In tandem with these commercial developments, intensive work is underway in my Department to progress a State-led investment to secure the countrywide introduction of next generation broadband access. The National Broadband Plan commits the Government to investing with the private sector to deliver high speed services to areas, which are not commercially viable and will not be provided by the market alone.

In order to progress the State-led investment, a full procurement process must be designed and EU State Aids approval must be obtained. A comprehensive mapping exercise of the current and anticipated investment by the commercial sector is being undertaken to identify where the market is expected to succeed and fail in the delivery of high speed broadband services over the coming years. The results of this mapping exercise will inform the level of Government intervention that may be required and the areas that need to be targeted in the State-led investment.

Intensive technical, financial and legal preparations including stakeholder engagement will be ongoing throughout 2013 with a view to the launch of a procurement process in 2014.

Through the implementation of the National Broadband Plan, we are committed to increasing the availability of next generation speeds significantly, with a view to ensuring that all citizens and businesses can participate fully in a digitally enabled society.

Telecommunications Services Provision

 76. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte the steps taken to ensure that project Kelvin is marketed and developed on an all Ireland basis for the benefit of all the communities along the Border. [24459/13]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte The Kelvin Project provides direct international telecoms connectivity between the North West of Ireland and North America, and improved telecoms connectivity to Europe, via a transatlantic submarine telecoms cable which was brought ashore at Portrush in 2009. The IDA uses the benefits of the transatlantic link provided by Project Kelvin to promote the North West and Border region as an attractive and viable location for new inward investment opportunities, and to secure additional projects from existing international investors.

All of the IDA marketing information re: telecoms connectivity at a Regional, National and International level includes details of Project Kelvin. In addition, the IDA utilises the services of a telecoms consultancy to provide technical support in direct meetings with client companies where appropriate.

The IDA has launched a number of regional promotional initiatives in Border Counties - the Invest and Connect marketing programme - and is currently working on the following initiatives to promote the North West of Ireland as a location for international FDI:

- The launch of the Letterkenny Connect and Investment portal which will profile Letterkenny in terms of investment and associated infrastructure etc. This should launch before the end of June 2013 and will include details on project Kelvin;

- A case study of an IDA client company based in Letterkenny which is utilising Project Kelvin with significant benefit in term of latency, bandwidth and cost.

Hibernia Networks (HN), the company which operates the Kelvin network, works closely with IDA representatives on the promotion of Kelvin, including the promotion of the North West region together with the IDA. The agreed approach is to target FDI companies in the space of data analytics and they are working on a marketing pack to jointly present to FDI companies. HN also promotes Project Kelvin at large international connectivity shows in both Europe and the US.

The IDA will continue to work with Hibernia Networks and other stakeholders to build the benefits of Project Kelvin into its sales messages and identify new opportunities to promote the North West and Border region as a whole, as an inward investment location.

In the past 5 years the North West region has seen investments from a range of existing companies across all sectors and most notably Abbott, Elanco, G Bruss, Mirror Controls International, Pramerica, Stiefel, United Health Group and Zeus Industrial Products.

Radio Spectrum Management

 77. Deputy Sean Fleming Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte when 4G telecommunications will be available here; the benefits that will accrue to the country; the way that he plans to support these developments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27845/13]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte The management of the radio spectrum is a statutory function of the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) under the Communications Regulation Act, 2002 as amended.

In November 2012 ComReg announced the results of its successful Multi-Band Spectrum Award (MBSA) process which resulted in a total licence yield of €855 million to be paid over the duration of the terms of the licences (from 2013 to 2020).

These spectrum bands are highly suitable for advanced mobile services due to their excellent propagation properties, which allow for wide area coverage and improved in-building reception.

It is a condition of a Liberalised Use Licence that a minimum 70% population coverage obligation is to be achieved by a licensee within 3 years of its licence commencement date. I am advised that ComReg considers that actual coverage levels are expected to exceed this obligation given the competitive nature of the market and the limited risk of roll-back of coverage from current higher levels.

While the four Liberalised Use Licences of the Mobile Network Operators commenced on 1 February 2013, the timing and extent of each of ‘4G’ (Long Term Evolution (LTE)) network rollout is, with the exception of the above coverage obligation, a matter for the operators themselves. I understand however that some operators have plans to commence services later this year.

National Digital Strategy Publication

 78. Deputy Dara Calleary Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte when he will publish the National Digital Strategy; if he will outline the way in which Ireland can best capitalise on the digital economy; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [27832/13]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte It is my intention to publish the National Digital Strategy over the coming weeks. The Strategy will complement the significant investment in broadband infrastructure envisaged under the National Broadband Plan and will complement and assist in achieving goals set out the National Payments Plan, The eGovernment Strategy and the Action Plan for Jobs.

In order for Ireland to capitalise on the digital economy we need to focus in particular on increasing the levels of digital adoption. The Strategy will focus initially on increasing overall levels of digital engagement within Irish society, particularly in the areas of eLearning, digital entrepreneurship, citizen and SME engagement. The first phase will incorporate the findings of recent research commissioned by my Department into the economic value of digital to Ireland’s economy. This will show clear evidence of the important and growing contribution digital is making to Irish economic activity.


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