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Lawless, James

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Energy Bill 2016 [Seanad]

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Energy Bill 2016 [Seanad]\Second Stage
Bills\Energy Bill 2016 [Seanad]\Second Stage

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Energy Bill 2016 [Seanad]

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Senator


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Deputy James Lawless

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James Lawless

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Snippet Contents:

I wish to see the Bill through to the next Stage, but I am aware that there are some time constraints in that regard. As I sit on the relevant committee, I am aware that we are due to receive it tomorrow. I, therefore, hope it will proceed smoothly this evening. I have a number of comments to make on the energy sector as a whole and the Bill also.
Sustainable energy and energy security are desirable and targets to which we all aspire to achieving. They are targets we can and should do more to achieve. Before I deal with that issue and the Bill specifically, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge concerns in the energy sector that have arisen not only in my own constituency but in others also. This is not necessarily directly pertinent to the Bill but more so to the energy sector as a whole. It is a good opportunity to air them in the House.
There appears to be an over-concentration in this country and others on a single form of renewable energy, wind energy, wind turbines in particular. Their prevalence in the midlands, along the western and the north-west coasts, etc, has been controversial and many applications have been refused as a result. I refer, in particular, to the Emlagh wind farm in County Meath and also the O'Grianna case on the west coast in which various court decisions led to an overturning of the decision. The Emlagh case went to the High Court in which the objectors won their case.
Some legitimate concerns have been raised and I do not necessarily agree with all of them. Some of the concerns expressed about the wind energy sector, in particular, are grounded in reality. Set-back distances remain a concern in many areas. The question of efficiency has been raised as regards whether a spinning reserve is required. Is there a need to depend on a fossil fuel, a non-renewable form of energy, to keep turbines in action at times when the wind speed is not sufficient to power them. The provision of turbines has been extremely divisive within communities. That is a fact we can all acknowledge.
Public consultation has been lacking in many cases where wind energy project developers - the "big wind" as it is termed - have arrived in communities under the cover of a notice in a less well accessed publication. I saw this happen in Johnstownbridge in the Hamlet Court Hotel when, on a dark Tuesday night in November, a public consultation meeting took place about which nobody had heard, before or since. That is regrettable and not the way to engage with communities and secure their goodwill. I saw it first hand in the case of the Macken wind farm and the Maighne wind farm. The other point of note is that sometimes wind farms tend to span more than one county or local authority area. It can be difficult for county councils if there are three turbines in one county, four in another and five in yet another in close proximity. It can mean that there are multiple applications being dealt which, in some cases, end up being referred to An Bord Pleanála. What seemingly is unprecedented, in the case of the Maighne wind farm with which I am most familiar, is that An Bord Pleanála has repeatedly deferred making a decision. Initially it was due to be made last September; then it was due to be made in February or March and now it is being deferred again. I did not realise the legislation gave An Bord Pleanála powers to do this, but obviously it does or it is being done in any case. I flag these concerns to the House.
While we all wish to embrace renewable energy, it is important to diversify and scatter what is in our basket beyond one source. I refer to the guidelines. It would be a gesture of good faith on the part of the Department and the Minister if they moved ahead with new ones. We are aware that the guidelines are outdated. Anyone with even the faintest knowledge of the sector will be aware of this. New wind turbine guidelines are long-awaited. The technology is very fast-moving and always has been. If we want to embrace the sector and the concerns of communities, it is very important that we move on the guidelines as soon as possible as a positive step, to put communities out of their misery and win buy-in among the wider community.
I will briefly discuss the positives. For four days solid in early May Portugal ran on renewable energy sources. Electricity stations were powered entirely by solar, wind and hydro power sources for a 107-hour period from 7 to 11 May. That is an extremely positive example of how well it can work. Elsewhere in the European Union, Germany achieved an even more impressive feat also in the month of May. Prices were in the negative for a while, something I am sure householders here would welcome. The renewable energy sector needs the right framework to compete with fossil fuel plant operators to make it competitive and place it in a context in which it can bypass fossil fuel plant operators on efficiency and competitive grounds also. I look forward to the Bill moving to the next Stage.