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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 Shane Cassells: Information on Shane Cassells Zoom on Shane Cassells] He stood up for the people of Roscommon and was very principled and brave. I am asking him to take the same stand for the people of Meath, Cavan and Monaghan. He should not believe the line that the officials are peddling to him, namely, that there cannot be intervention in this regard. There most certainly can be intervention. A directive can be issued to put the cables underground. I appeal to the Minister one last time to work with the people and ensure that these cables are buried underground. Let the project proceed on that basis. What is being said is not gospel; the Minister should not believe it. He should stand with us and ensure the cables are run underground.

Deputy Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne I wish the Minister well in his new role. It is certainly an interesting brief and will attract a lot of political attention, particularly at local level. We are all in favour of green energy but the community needs to be brought along. That has not happened to date.

I agree with everything Deputy Cassells said about the North–South interconnector. When this project was first proposed publicly in 2007, almost nine years ago, we were told that if it were not completed by 2010, the lights could go off in County Meath. That never happened. The project did not go ahead and the lights did not go off. Therefore, I question the rationale for the project. I certainly question the necessity to have the cables above ground. It is worth examining this matter. Numerous studies have been carried out and if the Minister examines the files, he will note we have come from a position in which only overgrounding was technically possible to a position in which undergrounding is technically possible. All of those involved agree on that, even EirGrid. What is not agreed is the cost. EirGrid does not seem to want to put the cables underground.

One of the key factors driving the cost of these projects is the delay in the planning process. The cost is probably unquantifiable in terms of the delay affecting the project because of the uproar among the general public. Under the previous Government, special consideration was given to the west, particularly the Taoiseach’s constituency, and the south. We in the north east, that is, those of us in Meath, Cavan and Monaghan, were not afforded the same treatment. This is because our Deputies at the time simply did not have the clout and did not show they were able to deliver like their counterparts in the west and, in particular, the area towards Kilkenny, where former Minister Phil Hogan was based. The latter Deputies certainly did seem to have the clout to effect change. We in the north east are left with what has been proposed.

Owing to the advent of wind farms, some communities in my constituency will effectively become international energy hubs. This has been foisted upon them. There is a huge amount of hardware of considerable size, including pylons and wind turbines, proposed to be located in certain communities. These are lightly populated areas in the overall scheme of things but there are still very many people affected. The Minister will have to reconsider this, both in respect of the North-South interconnector and the turbines.

I assume the North-South interconnector is at least being considered in the context of Brexit. When the Department considers everything that needs to be to dealt with regarding Brexit, I hope the interconnector will be included. Deputy Eamon Ryan alleged we are trying to stop the formation of a united Ireland in terms of electricity supply; we are not because we want to achieve it. Given that the project is being driven by an EU initiative based on projects of common interest and by funding at EU level, what is its status in the context of Brexit? I do not expect the Minister to have an answer but I do expect that he will be examining this very closely in the coming months. This could be an opportunity for the project to be reconsidered. I reject utterly what Deputy Eamon Ryan said. We want a united Ireland, with the consent of the Unionist people, of course. A united electricity market would be an extremely useful step towards that. Quite a number of practical steps would have to be taken, but that would be one of them. In the context of Brexit, serious doubt must be cast on this project.

Serious doubt must also be cast on all wind farm projects. While it is claimed they are for the purpose of providing electricity to the local market, their scale would suggest they are to provide electricity to the export market. What is the position on wind farms in the context of Brexit?

There is a proliferation of proposals for solar farms in my county, and planning permission is being sought for them. There are no guidelines at national or local level. Work has to be done on this. Solar farms are certainly not as intrusive as wind turbines but there is public concern about them. The idea of solar energy is good and is certainly to be supported but planning applications are being made with little or no community consultation, although there have been a number of public meetings involving some of the interested parties. However, these meetings are not a statutory part of the planning process. They really have no status in the strategic infrastructure process, of which they are not part.

The deadline for the REFIT scheme was extended but it seems to be the case that some are claiming the scheme will apply to a new wind farm project, at Castletownmoor in County Meath, which is a variation of a project in respect of which planning permission was refused. Planning permission has been sought again this year after the deadline, and those concerned believe that because the application is a variation of a previously refused application, it might qualify for planning permission. I would like the Minister to confirm the position regarding applications of that sort. I do not expect him to comment on the individual project. Planning permission was refused for the project in February. The application is now to be resubmitted under a different guise. It has not yet been made but there have been pre-planning consultations with An Bord Pleanála. Can those concerned apply under the REFIT scheme?

I urge the Minister to think about the proposed name for the Commission for Energy Regulation. If it is to cost a significant sum of money to change the name, I suggest that it not be changed. However, if it is to be changed, there must be a more user friendly name than the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities. The United Kingdom has Ofgem, which is a buzzword. Such organisations become known for what they do. The proposed name is dreadful. There must be a more user-friendly form. After all, the regulator is supposed to be acting in the consumer interest. It should be given a better name, a name to which the public can react and in respect of which it can have a sense of belonging. The public should understand the body is on its side and is looking out for it rather than the companies or industry. There has to be better name if the money is to be spent on it. I am not suggesting that the Minister do so.

Deputy Anne Rabbitte: Information on Anne Rabbitte Zoom on Anne Rabbitte I wish the Minister, Deputy Naughten, all the best in his role. From having listened to the debate all afternoon, I do not know what sort of role he has been given. I noted the wishes of Deputy Eamon Ryan and those of my three colleagues in front of me, and now I am going to come with my bag of wishes.

Deputy Denis Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten It is Knock I should be going to.

Deputy Anne Rabbitte: Information on Anne Rabbitte Zoom on Anne Rabbitte Absolutely.

Needless to say, this Bill is very technical. I will not comment on the technicalities other than to echo Deputy Thomas Byrne’s point that the proposed name of the regulator is not the most user-friendly. If we are to do something for the consumer, perhaps we should consider a better one.

When I read the Bill, I was struck by the concept of the Galway-Mayo communications duct. It then struck me straight away that Athenry is 1 km from where the ducting is occurring. It has been waiting for some time to gain access to it. Access to Athenry opens up a completely new world involving reduced costs for schools and business development. The railway goes right through the area, and there would be benefits at domestic level. Most of the houses that were built during the boom were kitted out with gas so they are ready to go. If the Minister could consider this matter at some point, the people of Athenry and the surrounding areas would really appreciate it.

I saw the rest of the Minister’s brief. With regard to energy, some 2% of the grid output is from Ardnacrusha. Since we have floodwater from the Shannon in the middle of winter, from 9 December, and the grid gains by only 2%, is there any way in which we can support the ESB, by means of legislation or a directive, in dropping the level of the Shannon a little earlier to help deal with the flooding issues?

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