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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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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Michael Collins: Information on Michael Collins Zoom on Michael Collins] It opens up a global market to rural tourism interests and small artisan producers. It is also a huge resource for schools, private homes and organisations. Without broadband, expensive electronic equipment such as white boards bought by primary schools is undermined, while efforts by Age Action to promote computer literacy among the elderly are thwarted. Irish Rural Network estimates that up to 10,000 jobs are lost in rural areas every year because there is a poor broadband service or none at all. Our cities have world class Internet speeds and distribution but rural areas rank among the worst served regions of Europe. Rural broadband is no longer a luxury but an economic necessity. There is no more important issue in terms of economic infrastructure and the future prospects of rural Ireland. Broadband will make rural Ireland sustainable into the future. Since 2004 there have been four Government initiatives to improve broadband, all of which have worked to a point, but major problems remain. Broadband has become faster and more places than ever are served, but 40% of the population and, geographically, 95% of the Republic still lacks commercial coverage. Ireland has some of the most pronounced two tier coverage in Europe. High speeds in urban areas have obscured poor coverage elsewhere.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl The Deputy is taking advantage of my generous nature-----

Deputy Michael Collins: Information on Michael Collins Zoom on Michael Collins I know, but it is a hugely important issue.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl -----by exploring an area that is not really within the remit of the Bill.

Deputy Denis Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten Perhaps the Deputy is talking about smart metering.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl We will let the Deputy continue if he does not go too far.

Deputy Michael Collins: Information on Michael Collins Zoom on Michael Collins That is appreciated. Only 35% of Irish premises have broadband speeds of 10 Mbps or higher. More significantly, only 69% of Irish homes have broadband faster than a modest 4 Mbps. Ireland ranks No. 42 in the world in the distribution of fast broadband services. Commercial companies advertise broadband speeds of 240 Mbps in cities and towns, while those in rural areas subsist on speeds of 1 Mbps to 2 Mbps. The digital divide has become a chasm. Some areas of west Cork have never had a broadband service. In areas such as Ballylicken and Skibbereen, subsequent to the merger of 3 and O2, many who had a broadband service have been left without one. To have a bad broadband service is one thing, but to be left without a service is absolutely unacceptable in this day and age. For some, having been a customer of 3 for five years, their Internet service was taken and they were told they would no longer have a service within the scope required to pick up 3G broadband. These are very important issues which have huge consequences for affected businesses and individuals who are unable to work from home. People have been left isolated. The lack of a Internet service makes life extremely difficult. I call on the Minister to ensure a comprehensive investigation by ComReg to examine the reasons behind this and to ensure those who have lost their broadband service will have it reinstated as soon as possible.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan I was glad to hear the contributions of Deputies Michael Harty and Michael Collins. This is a subject close to my heart. It is hugely important and complex and requires time and consideration. My interest stems from the belief the electrification of the economy will be one of the main ways in which we can meet the climate change challenge we face. There is not a wide understanding among the public of the nature and scale of that challenge. What we committed to in Paris, which is what we need to do according to the scientists, requires us as a developed country to completely decarbonise the energy system by the middle of this century, not by the end of the century, as the previous Government's White Paper indicated as the timeline. That will not meet what the scientific analysis states we need to do. There will be challenges in the areas of food production, industrial production and waste management. In the energy sector it is an opportunity. I will set out why we should grab it and how the Bill fits into that overall picture.

One is always taught that energy policy is a trilogue, that one has to balance the three competing interests of a competitive energy supply, security of supply and looking after environmental objectives. Some people add a fourth consideration - the balance of payments and developing the economy. Such is the scale of the challenge that the environmental considerations trumps all. We have to guide our development of energy sources towards decarbonisation. To a certain extent, that comes ahead of competitiveness and security of supply because the science is certain. The issue of competitiveness can be addressed in a variety of ways. We could become much more efficient in order that we do not need as much energy or we could turn to other energy sources. There is a variety of approaches to take. It is the same with security of supply. There are no choices on the decarbonisation path, but there are choices between various decarbonisation systems. We have to do it if we are to avoid the planet tripping onto a very dangerous runaway of climate change that will affect all of us, our children and grandchildren in an incredibly adverse way.

It is uncertain exactly which technologies will work. We should acknowledge this. We have to do it in an iterative way. No one knew ten years ago that shale gas in the United States would provide a major technological breakthrough. No one knew that the cost of photovoltaics would fall by 50% in the past five years. We should admit to uncertainty. Things change and we will learn by doing. The best analysis of what energy transition will involve recognises that electricity generation will play a central part in the transition we need to make. Some might say there are hydrogen fuelled vehicles that could be developed. In that regard, we would probably be creating hydrogen from electricity through electrolysis. In moving away from fossil fuels, electricity generation will be the way to go. Increasingly, it seems that renewable energy sources will play a central part globally. Some argue that it will be nuclear energy, but that is not happening globally; the investment is being made in renewables. In Ireland our market is small; we have little expertise in the area of nuclear energy and there are still risks in terms of security of supply and waste problems. Therefore, it makes more sense for us to go with renewables. This is happening all over the world and far more quickly than we thought. The transition will be about electricity generation and renewable energy sources which will give us a competitive advantage. The amazing opportunity we have as a country is that we are actually good at this and we could be really good at it. We need to be ahead of the game because it will allow us to sell our capability to the rest of the world. Only yesterday the US Government, with the Mexican and Canadian Governments, committed to ramping up the scale of their ambitions in order that by 2025 half of their energy supplies will come from a new clean low carbon system. We can sell into these countries. In China, if one looks at the statistics, it has overtaken the European Union and America in terms of the investment made.

I will be sharing my time with Deputy Catherine Murphy which will stop me in my tracks. Therefore, I had better hurry up. I was really warming to my task and the prospect of entering endless fields of figures.

There is an opportunity for this country. As I said, we are good at this and can excel at it. We can sell our expertise to the rest of the world and it will make us secure. It is our power supply. No one will ever go to war over a solar panel or a wind energy source. There is security in the fact that it belongs to everyone and there is a source everywhere. We just need to switch it on. It is far more secure than having to rely on imported Russian or Saudi Arabian gas; therefore, we need to make the switch and we can do it competitively. It is already happening.

People are rightly concerned about domestic prices. We have to address that issue. The biggest electricity consumers in the world are data centres. They are coming here in numbers because they know that we have a competitive, clean pitch. They cannot have a high cost carbon fuel supply. We cannot burn coal. If we claim leadership in this area and want to be competitive and secure, we cannot keep burning coal and adding wood to it will not work. Let us go to Kilrush in County Clare and have a good debate on it and look at the facts, but we cannot keep burning fossil fuels. It is as simple as that. The alternative can be clean. It will be a combination of renewable power sources and gas as an interim technology because we have more than enough gas plants which are sitting idle. They are much more efficient than the coal burning ones. We need to use them as interim technology to balance the variable supply. We also need interconnection.

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