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Stanley, Brian

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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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Deputy Brian Stanley

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Brian Stanley

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Snippet Contents:

Any legislation introduced through the House must ensure the people of the country are the primary beneficiaries. Sinn Féin welcomes many aspects of the Bill, but we must ensure any regulatory body under the State's watch acts in the best interests of the people, not solely the energy companies.
Whatever regulatory commission is in place - I note there will be a name change, as well as other changes - it must have the powers it needs to do its job effectively. As we have seen in the past, it was not an absence of power but a refusal of the CER to exercise its powers that allowed market forces to run rampant and destroy the lives of many people.
I congratulate the Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten, on his appointment. This is my first opportunity to address him formally in the House in his role as Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and I wish well.
The enhanced powers of the Commission for Energy Regulation are to be welcomed, but these powers alone will not be enough to dissuade bad practices, unless we also have a board which will consistently put the welfare of citizens first. The previous Government, unfortunately, allowed large energy companies to drive energy policy, particularly on the use of green energy. This was done without putting proper regulations in place, particularly for wind farms. It resulted in haphazard wind farm developments throughout counties such as Laois, Kildare, Meath and Westmeath blighting the landscape and causing problems for homeowners. Will the Minister address this issue as a matter of urgency?
Sinn Féin is committed to developing renewable energy sources and supporting efforts to do so. We must have the maximum use of such sources. We must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and imported energy supplies which account for 89% of our energy needs. In our focus we have been over-reliant on wind energy, almost ignoring other renewable energy sources. We want to see a mix of resources being brought onstream such as tidal, solar, hydro and biomass.
The semi-State bodies must take the lead in developing our renewable energy sources. We have identified the ESB, Bord na Mona and Coillte as having a central role to play in renewable energy production, with a proper focus by the new Government and the entire Dáil on the potential to create jobs, produce energy and ensure a balanced and secure supply.
With its additional powers, will the commission bring real savings or will the energy suppliers continue as before and tell the regulator where to go, as happened in the case of the banking sector? To date, the CER has failed to ensure suppliers pass on savings to customers. We have had a huge collapse in energy and oil prices, but the benefit has not been passed on. What guarantees do we have that the revamped agency will do better? We need to address this issue.
It is also imperative that we recognise the difference between sole traders and large companies with regard to installers which are dealt with in the Bill. The risks for small sole traders who are gas and electricity installers in taking on contractors are much higher, but the registration fees and red tape are the same. Sole traders must be given an equal opportunity to participate in the market, but the high fees give an unfair advantage to the large companies. Will the Minister address this issue?
What is also absent from the Bill is equality with regard to fines. A range of fines and penalties will be imposed on semi-State energy suppliers, but they are not the same as for retail companies. In Britain the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets, Ofgem, has the power to impose substantial fines on retail gas and electricity suppliers, but this is noticeably absent from the Bill before the House. We need to address this issue.
The Bill also contains amendments in respect of the single energy market. We have all-Ireland integration in the electricity market. Wholesale electricity is traded on an all-Ireland basis. Last Thursday's decision by England and Wales - it was not a decision made by the North of Ireland or Scotland - to leave the European Union means major changes to the electricity market. Supervision on foot of this must be in place to deal with the changes. With Britain out and Ireland still in the European Union, how will this affect the all-Ireland electricity market? Will retail electricity prices be affected? Is there provision to sustain, if possible, the model in place or a similar model? Work needs to be done on this issue.
Changes to the electricity market will stem from within the European Union on wholesale energy trading. What does the future hold in this regard? There are ongoing proposals for common arrangements in the supply of gas. The future is now also in doubt because the pipelines run through Britain to here. Major changes are ahead for the energy market in Ireland. There may be a short timeframe and, given what has happened, it could be a very short timeframe within which to make changes and put proposals in place.
The North-South interconnector is a key component of the single electricity market and its completion is crucial to efficient energy provision for people throughout the Thirty-two Counties. It makes practical and economic sense to have one supply grid for all of Ireland and we must maintain it. I call on the Minister to ensure the necessary steps are taken to ensure this.