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Broughan, Thomas P.

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Energy Bill 2016 [Seanad]

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Bills\Energy Bill 2016 [Seanad]\Second Stage

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Energy Bill 2016 [Seanad]

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Snippet Contents:

The Minister and I have a lot in common. At that time, I drew attention to the levels of energy poverty and constituents I knew who put on their top coat at night and would not put on the gas, desperately trying to keep the price down. We are all familiar with this and it is something we need to attack. There were some very cold months in the winter gone by and this is something we need to address. When I was energy spokesperson previously, the figure for the population suffering in this way was approximately 10%. When we have instances of seniors wearing their coats indoors to keep warm in December, January and February, we as a nation have a serious problem.
While there has been a 37% decrease in wholesale gas prices since May 2015, the CER has now called for a 32% increase in the PSO levy. I read its report closely. I realise there is public consultation on this proposal, but this proposed increase will completely counteract all the recent falls in energy prices across the market. The CER has estimated the PSO levy pot will need to rise from €325.3 million to €440.9 million to ensure security of supply, but the PSO has skyrocketed since 2011, and if the proposed new levy of €441 million is approved, it will have increased by nearly 400% since 2011-2012 when the levy raised approximately €92 million. Domestic consumers will be hard hit individually, with the annual amount in their bills jumping from €60 to just under €80 per customer. This is a very significant part of each hard-pressed householder’s annual bills.
Section 15 of Part 5 covers the wholesale energy market and transparency and provides for the increase of penalties for breaches of REMIT, the EU regulation on energy market integrity and transparency. These provisions seem very welcome, but I worry they are just administrative sanctions and will not be a sufficient deterrent for bad practice or even criminal malpractice. The Minister might say this would be covered under company law and other areas of our legislation, but given the price gouging that has happened in recent years, we need to send a very strong message directly in energy legislation. This section also refers to the possibility of forum shopping and market manipulators. How will this be policed having regard to the all-Ireland and EU wholesale market?
There are a number of miscellaneous amendments to various Acts provided for in the Bill. Part 6 covers amendments to the Sustainable Energy Act 2002. Section 17 provides for amendments to the 2002 Act regarding appointments to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAl, board. Section 20 of Part 7 covers amendments to the National Oil Reserves Agency, NORA, Act 2007 and inserts a new subsection 43A, which provides for the exchange of information on oil data and payment of NORA levies. Section 22 of Part 7 discusses biofuel obligation account holders, certification and the publication of determinations on NORA's website. Section 24 provides for an increase to the deadline for NORA issuing notices to 75 days from 35 days, therefore increasing flexibility. Most of these changes seem welcome enough.
An important element of the Energy Bill 2016 is the reference to our cross-Border trade in electricity as per Regulation (EC) No. 714/2009 regarding such exchanges. Part 4 of the Bill amends the Act of 1999 to provide for such changes to the single electricity market in the Republic and the North. Of course, in March 2009, we had an historic moment when EirGrid purchased System Operator for Northern Ireland, SONI, which is the transmission system operator, TSO, in the North. This is something many of us interested in energy during the 2000s thought might happen, and this was ultimately good for energy security on the entire island. Together, they operate as the single electricity market operator, SEMO, throughout the whole island. The question must be asked as to whether the Department has been tasked with examining what impact Brexit might have on this. This is something we will have to watch very closely because there have been many important initiatives to increase energy transfers between North and South and between the two islands. Quite clearly, it is a core concern that we retain the security we have at present. What impact will Brexit have on the single electricity market for the island of Ireland?
I welcome the inclusion of section 16 in Part 4 relating to an energy strategy statement. This provides for the submission of a three-year energy strategy statement to the Minister, which must be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas and subsequently published on the commission's website. The area of energy is something in which most citizens have quite a strong interest. It is a very interesting portfolio. The former Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, is sitting behind me. Constituents have drawn to my attention the achievement of Portugal in running on its own power for a particular period and how it had joined other EU countries in having had its major power grid powered by domestic renewable energy. I believe other countries have passed this milestone. This will be a big challenge for the Minister with regard to his climate change designation.
Another issue which has been raised, and to which the Minister might refer, is when he will become the Minister for bins. As somebody said, he has been given a hospital pass by the Government scrum-half, the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney. That rugby ball is now heading across to his hands. I was asked by the Department today to refer issues to the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney. Perhaps the Minister might give us an indication as to when he will catch the ball.