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 Header Item Election of Leas-Cheann Comhairle (Continued)
 Header Item Energy Bill 2016 [Seanad]: Second Stage

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 911 No. 3

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An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl That means we have failed to elect a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I suggest it is perhaps now a matter for the party Whips to discuss how we move forward. There has been a very significant delay to date in electing a Leas-Cheann Comhairle and I express the personal hope that the matter could be attended to by the interested parties as a matter of some urgency.

Energy Bill 2016 [Seanad]: Second Stage

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Denis Naughten): Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I commend the Energy Bill 2016 to the House. On my first occasion addressing the energy part of my portfolio in this House, I am pleased to have this opportunity to present the Energy Bill 2016. Today, as everyone is aware, we will have the Second Stage debate on the Bill. This is the time to have a general discussion about the Bill and its various individual elements which I will set out later.

I will open the debate by describing the sections of the Bill in detail and regarding its main provisions set out some background and why they are needed. Given that there are quite a number of sections and that many of them are quite technical legislative updates, I hope my approach will help us all focus on the Bill's new and important elements.

Since this is my first time addressing an energy issue in the House, I first intend to take the opportunity to refer to the energy and climate change aspects of the programme for Government. I, as Minister, and the newly-framed Department face into a very challenging period as our remit will expand to include what is arguably one of the biggest global issues, that of climate change. Our programme states that "climate change is the global challenge of our generation, and requires radical and ambitious thinking to respond to a changing environment." The policy context is both domestic and international. Domestically, our climate change and energy policy frameworks have been set out in the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act and the White Paper on energy. The programme for Government sets out the key sectoral and cross-government priorities that will drive the Department's agenda for the period ahead. As we implement the programme for Government and the White Paper, balancing the three pillars of energy policy - sustainability, security of supply and competitiveness - will continue to be the key challenge in the energy sector and for all of us as policy-makers. In the coming years, Ireland's energy system will be driven by the need to decarbonise towards a more sustainable future, thus addressing climate change challenges.

Having reiterated our energy and climate policy challenges and noting that the Bill does not deal with these big picture issues, I will devote my remarks to the Bill's subject matter. The Bill was on the previous Government's legislative programme from summer 2014 when it was entitled the Energy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. Its subject matter is in the public domain since then. It is designed to revise, consolidate, update and expand energy legislation in a number of certain, specific and well defined areas. Given that intention, it should be clear that the Bill does not set out to revise or recast the energy regulatory framework in an all-embracing or comprehensive way. Whether such wider and more comprehensive reform is required will be addressed by the review of the legal and institutional framework for the regulation of electricity and natural gas markets, including the Commission for Energy Regulation's mandate. The review is a specific commitment in the White Paper.

The Bill is important in its own right and in the overall context of the further development of Ireland's energy regulatory sector. The provisions on administrative sanctions and on the wholesale electricity market are major and significant elements, as I will explain later. There are many sections in the Bill. There are four elements in it that perhaps we need to focus on, namely, a new administrative sanctions regime for the Commission of Energy Regulation, CER; a change to the legal definition of an all-Ireland wholesale electricity market, the single electricity market, known as SEM; a provision for access rights along the route of the Galway-Mayo telecommunications duct; and the Commission for Energy Regulation's renaming as the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities, CRU. As Members will note, there are plenty of acronyms involved in this portfolio, particularly in the energy area. The Bill also contains amendments to specific provisions of existing energy legislation to make enforcement more robust and to restate in primary legislation provisions currently in secondary legislation.

Before I proceed to outline the detail of the Bill, section by section, I will spend some time explaining the background to the four elements I listed, namely, the administrative sanctions regime, the CER's renaming, the change in the statutory definition of SEM and the provision for access rights along the Galway-Mayo telecommunications duct. I will start with the proposed administrative sanctions regime for the CER. The CER's role has expanded considerably since its establishment in 1999. For a regulator to be effective in the performance of its duties it should have available to it sufficient powers to ensure that its decisions, properly taken in accordance with the law and the objectives of EU and national energy legislation, are implemented. The International Energy Agency, in its most recent review of Ireland's energy policy in 2012, stated that Ireland should ensure that the CER's powers are enhanced as necessary in order to ensure that market and competition rules are strictly adhered to and that the interests of consumers are protected. The 2013 Forfás report on sectoral regulation stated that regulatory sanctions are an essential feature of a regulatory enforcement toolkit and are central to achieving compliance.

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