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 Header Item Water Services (Amendment) Bill 2016: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)
 Header Item Water Services (Amendment) Bill 2016: Referral to Select Committee
 Header Item Energy Bill 2016 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed)

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 915 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney] Who knows, in the not too distant future, Fianna Fáil or Sinn Féin may be in government and it will be their responsibility to try to ensure we deliver an improved water provision each year and make sure fewer people will be subject to boil water notices and fewer families will be affected by public health issues that are impacted on by pollution and poor water quality.

When we look at what Irish Water is planning to do in dealing with leaks between now and 2021, its targets are clear. It aims to move from a figure of 49% to 38%. This can only be done over a phased period. All of the leaks cannot be plugged overnight. It is hugely expensive, but Irish Water is committed to continuing that process. Not only that, we will essentially have an observation body which is also being set up as part of the nine-month process and which will report quarterly to the Oireachtas to ensure the targets which are being set in the business plan for Irish Water and on which the regulator is insisting are being met. We will have an independent monitoring body to report to the committee and the Oireachtas to make sure that will be the case. That is part of what we are trying to do in creating an acceptance and an understanding of the challenges Irish Water faces and how it is responding to them on behalf of the State which will continue to own it into the future.

I look forward to hearing what Members will have to say on Committee Stage. I ask Members to try to facilitate the movement of this legislation as quickly as possible. Let us not forget that we are effectively introducing a freeze on water charges from 1 July, in a few days time. By the time the legislation is finalised and enacted, it will effectively be retrospective for a number of days or a week or two. That is fine and there is nothing extraordinary about it. However, the sooner we get it through, the sooner we will provide certainty. It will allow the commission to get on with its work and allow the process to begin to, I hope, resolve some of the issues that have been the source of a lot of frustration for Members opposite. It will allow us to move on from this issue, as I think many of us would like to do, and focus on the many other challenges that the Government and the House have to face.

  Question put and declared carried.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney Unanimous support.

Deputy Eoin Ó Broin: Information on Eoin Ó Broin Zoom on Eoin Ó Broin All six of us.

Water Services (Amendment) Bill 2016: Referral to Select Committee

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Simon Coveney): Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney I move:

That the Bill be referred to the Select Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government pursuant to Standing Orders 82A(3)(a) and 126(1) of the Standing Orders relative to Public Business and paragraph (8) of the Orders of Reference of Select Committees.

  Question put and agreed to.

Energy Bill 2016 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed)

  Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy I understand two Fianna Fáil Deputies - Deputies James Lawless and John Brassil - will now make their contributions, but there may be a third. If that third Deputy arrives, the three Deputies will have to share their time accordingly.

Deputy James Lawless: Information on James Lawless Zoom on James Lawless 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.

Deputy John Brassil: Information on John Brassil Zoom on John Brassil I wish to quote a conclusion made by the Minister in his contribution on the Bill:

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.

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