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

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 915 No. 3

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Deputy Denis Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten I prefer the round ball.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan Okay. The three-year energy statement is very welcome and will be very interesting and helpful for Deputies and citizens. It documents objectives, outputs and resources. These statements must also include reviews of the effectiveness of the previous strategy. This will provide an opportunity to engage in reflection and seek improvement, if implemented correctly.

It is heartening, as I mentioned, to learn of developments in renewable energy provision, especially in northern Europe, and the manner in which several states and major cities have become independent of fossil fuel imports. Clearly, the invigilation and regulation of wider energy markets across Ireland, Britain and the European Union are critical to energy independence and security. I hope the Minister will be able to address this challenge closely in his period in government. He said earlier this month at the launch of Engineers Ireland's report, The State of Ireland 2016, that "the over-dependence on fossil fuels challenges all of us to work together to find a balanced and sustainable energy mix." Climate change and sourcing alternative, sustainable energy supplies is a huge challenge facing the country and the planet. Not only do we have targets to meet under the European Union's renewable energy directive and the United Nations COP 21 agreement, but we also have the reality of dealing with more extreme weather events that climate change is bringing to our daily lives. Citizens around the country suffered horrendous flooding a few months ago.

Engineers Ireland's report helpfully had a focus on energy and made some useful recommendations, including implementation of the recently published energy White Paper, the retrofit programmes for homes and public buildings and conversion of the national bus fleet and Ministers' cars to hybrid, electric or compressed natural gas, CNG, energy vehicles. Significant investment is required to tackle the impact of our energy usage on climate change, but it is now a matter of proactive investment to lessen the possibility of reactive costs such as fines and clean-up costs after increased severe weather events. I hope the Minister will have in his period of office and with the redirection and renaming of the Department a tremendous focus on the challenge posed by climate change.

Sustainable Energy Ireland has stated €35 billion is required in the coming 35 years to reduce the levels of carbon consumption in dwellings. Targets set for Irish hospitals to halve their carbon emissions by 2020 simply will not be met without significant investment. I ask the Minister to take this example on board. I believe he will soon be publishing the energy research strategy. Does he agree that the time has come for action and implementation of best practice in reducing carbon emissions and energy consumption? The Government can have any number of White Papers and research strategies it wants, but without key political leadership and action, there will be no change. We will continue to miss our targets. Climate change does not wait for any one of us or the nation. We clearly need to link this action with the budgetary process and restore the practice of carbon-proofing annual budgets. The Minister knows that a number of us are involved in the Committee on Arrangements for Budgetary Scrutiny. I think other Deputies agree that one practice to which we should go back is the carbon-proofing of budgets. I know that I have been highly critical of the Green Party's involvement in Fianna Fáil-led Governments in the past, but it was interesting to see the former Minister, Mr. John Gormley, and Deputy Eamon Ryan coming in with a statement on carbon-proofing. Perhaps that is something the Minister might try to do in the case of budget 2017. As I said, one of the few benefits in 2007 was the addition of a carbon-proofed budget.

I am strongly opposed to the inclusion of water services in the Bill, which suggests the Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael agenda remains to privatise the domestic water supply. The administrative sanctions and fines included in Parts 3 to 5, inclusive, while welcome, do not go far enough to combat and stamp out market manipulation and malpractice. I sincerely hope this Energy Bill marks a significant improvement in energy regulation and will inform our conversations on renewable energy and the changes we need to make urgently.

Deputy Gino Kenny: Information on Gino Kenny Zoom on Gino Kenny I apologise for the mix-up earlier.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl That is fine.

Deputy Gino Kenny: Information on Gino Kenny Zoom on Gino Kenny The lasagne in the canteen put me off.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I hope the Deputy means that in a positive rather than a negative sense.

Deputy Gino Kenny: Information on Gino Kenny Zoom on Gino Kenny Positive. The food is very good.

  I have a few issues with this Energy Bill. First, regarding the duration of membership of the board of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, it must be kept in mind that the mission of the authority is to play a leading role in transforming Ireland into a society based on sustainable energy. Given this, I would have hoped the board would comprise a mix of people from different backgrounds, including communities and environmentalists involved in the sustainable energy sector. In fact, the Minister will find it is made up overwhelmingly of people with a background in government, consultancy and law firms and especially from the world of business, including, for example, consultancy firms working for gas and oil exploration companies such as Veolia in the energy sector of Ireland. A board member of Veolia stated in the past:

In an increasingly environmentally sensitive marketplace, water is seen as a strategic asset which needs to be managed appropriately. This reality has prompted Veolia to develop a new metric [system] to help industry and local authority [areas] alike to grasp the obvious and hidden cost of water so they can make sustainable business decisions while ensuring long-term profitability.

Why does this board have no environmental campaigners or persons outside academic circles with expertise in the area of promoting sustainability?

  I am also concerned about the proposed name change for the CER to reflect the economical management of water. The CER facilitates competition in the energy industry; I argue that it seeks to limit the role of State companies and help the private sector in the interests of competition. Would its role in the water sector be similar in theory? Is this to facilitate its role in encouraging future charges and private companies to enter the water industry?

  Considering the very strong opposition in this country to any attempt to introduce water charges or the prospect of water services privatisation and the attempts to make a commodity of a precious resource like water, can the Minister understand these small, slight changes ring alarm bells for people that the SEAI is full of businesspeople who in past lives were concerned with making money from water services or oil exploration? Also of concern is the idea that an energy regulator that in the past facilitated private interests in making money from energy generation will now be tasked with encouraging the same competition and profit-making in water services.

  I also want to comment on the biofuels obligation levy and what seems to be, again, a minor accountancy change in how the National Oil Reserves Agency, NORA, deals with the companies under the scheme. It is worth pointing to how the scheme, despite its supposed green credentials, actually wiped out many of the small indigenous firms involved in the biofuels sector in Ireland. It was introduced in 2011 by my colleague, Deputy Eamon Ryan, who claimed it would allow "the market ... to find the most efficient way of delivering the volumes of bio-fuel to the market, minimising the effect on consumers and the Exchequer." The market found the most efficient way to deliver profits for some firms, but it did little to put it on the road towards the sustainable and indigenous use of biofuels. The scheme favoured big industry and the importation of biofuels by larger companies and firms. Some 78% of liquid biofuels were imported in 2013. Nothing in the Bill will help to change this or see us invest in a serious manner to produce biofuels locally. Despite some guarantees, the switch to biofuels internationally is having a huge impact on the developing world's poorest, resulting in land grabs and rising food prices in commodities on which poor people depend. Even with a large proportion of transport fuels now comprising biofuels, it has not seen any decline in the overall volume of oil, etc., used; therefore, there has been no reduction in CO2 levels in Ireland. Ireland is still not on target to decarbonise or reduce CO2 emissions. We are already woefully behind in meeting the targets we need to reach to decarbonise the economy in terms of the investment in renewable energy sources and power generation and to hit our commitments under the Paris Declaration.

  Is the Minister not concerned about the lack of ambition or vision in the Bill which proposes changes to the energy sector in this country? It is amazing that an energy Bill is brought to the Dáil that does not hint at the serious, catastrophic consequences of climate change and shows no real innovation in how we should tackle this issue, other than making slight changes to the board of the SEAI and the manner in which we audit biofuel use.

  On the public service obligation, an issue on which Deputy Thomas P. Broughan touched, it is quite extraordinary that in 2011 the levy was €19.33, excluding VAT. It currently stands at €60 which the commission wants to hike to €90, including VAT.

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