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Sustainable Energy Bill, 2001 [ Seanad ] : Report Stage (Resumed).

Wednesday, 6 February 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 547 No. 4

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Debate resumed in Committee on amendment No. 1:

In page 3, line 10, after “IRELAND” to insert “; TO AMEND THE GAS ACT 1976, TO AMEND THE ELECTRICITY REGULATION ACT 1999,”.

–(Minister of State at the Department of Public Enterprise)

Mr. Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton We were dealing with amendments Nos. 1, 43, 44, 45 and 46 together. I raised the question of the need for the new power stations and asked how long the peat might last. The Minister of State suggested 15 years but was unsure, and Deputy Stagg disputed that estimate. Perhaps he has now received full information and could clarify that.

I also mentioned the necessity to investigate the possibility of converting peat powered stations to timber powered stations in the not too distant future and we discussed the technology that exists in other countries. What are the Minister's views on that? The Minister suggested that taking the timber from forests here might be difficult. However, technology in Scandinavia makes [1493] it possible to cut trees into very small pieces, in other words chipped. It is then taken out using tractors and trailers to a nearby power point and could then be used for domestic heating systems as well as for power generation. There are all kinds of possibilities. The Minister made the point that in Ireland we have lots of forests that could not be used for commercial purposes, but they would be ideal for this purpose. Deputy Bruton was concerned about sustainability, and Deputy Sargent mentioned pollution. Converting peat – powered stations to timber would be an important compromise if it could be reached. It would also mean Bord na Móna could expand and develop in this area and give employment in Laois, Offaly and other places where there are forests and where other enterprises may not be flourishing. I would like to hear the Minister's views on that as it was so strongly debated earlier.

I will deal with amendments Nos. 44, 46 and 56 in more detail later. I realise the importance of putting the PSO in place. However, we must also bear in mind the importance of the environment and the difficulties we may face if we do not get our act together soon. We welcome this legislation and will support Sustainable Energy Ireland as much as possible when it is set up. I also ask the Minister to ensure resources by way of personnel and otherwise are made available in his Department to ensure this entire area, which is very important, gets the attention it deserves.

A conference is due to take place in early March in Austria on sustainable energy and I wonder whether Ireland will be represented at it. It is important that we have representation at conferences such as this so that we know what is happening and can learn from best practice in other countries.

I also raised the question of whether or not the consumer will have to pay more for electricity. I do not think that is the case. Perhaps the Minister would clarify that. The Minister alluded to it but there was no clear response.

Minister of State at the Department of Public Enterprise (Mr. Jacob): Information on Joe Jacob Zoom on Joe Jacob Deputy Stanton asked about peat resources. I am glad I did not give a definitive answer earlier. I have now had the opportunity to check. Bord na Móna estimates that the following peat resources are available: 65 million tonnes in the five developed locations that serve the existing peat-fired power generating stations; and 25 million tonnes at the east midland bog group which serves Ireland's newest peat-fired power generating plant at Edenderry. Based on current usage, it is estimated that the available resources can service power generation for at least 30 years. Without a PSO levy the peat plants would not be economically viable. It is the ESB's view that when the period of PSO is completed, peat-fired power generation plants will be closed.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg Zoom on Emmet Stagg They will outlive even Deputy John Bruton at that rate.

[1494]Mr. Jacob: Information on Joe Jacob Zoom on Joe Jacob Deputy Stanton also raised the possibility of using peat-firing technology to produce electricity from renewable sources such as wood trimmings and wood waste. I agree with him that this is a very exciting prospect. As far as I am aware the same technology now being contemplated for the new peat stations will also be able to burn wood to produce electricity.

The issues that arise are costs in relation to harvesting, transport and disposal of waste. The latter is quite a problematic issue as I have learned from discussions with people in other countries. This is one of the new areas of possible development that the new authority will be able to examine and report on. It was my great pleasure on Monday last to draw to the attention of a roomful of renewable energy developers the fact that the Irish Energy Centre has produced a document for public consultation on research and development into renewable energy. The Renewables Research and Development Programme has funding of €16.25 million up to 2006. There are, therefore, plenty of financial resources to be used for forward planning and the important area of research and development.

The Deputy mentioned Sweden. Comparing our timber resources to those of Sweden is like comparing apples and oranges because Sweden has such huge resources. Notwithstanding that, we have resources here, and should have in the future. Our land area under forest is between 7% and 9%. That was certainly the case four or five years ago when I was particularly involved and it may have increased by a couple of percentage points since then. At that time the European average was about 25%. Sweden has huge resources and harvesting timber there is tantamount to a mining operation. They just go in and extract the timber. What is positive is that the Swedish Government has taken the decision to withdraw from nuclear energy production and to major in biomass and other forms of energy production. As Deputy Sargent will know, it has 12 nuclear plants. It has just completed the decommissioning of one of those plants. The timespan for doing that was something like three years and there is a 30-year timescale for decommissioning its entire nuclear plant. That is a positive move and we can take example from countries such as Sweden in this regard.

The scale of the PSO levy is the final matter to which Deputy Stanton referred. The indicative amount to be recouped by way of levy for the PSO up to 2019 is €617 million. I have already mentioned that figure. It represents no more than the additional cost incurred by the ESB by comparison with the cost of a best new entrant. The PSO levy will be calculated by the CER on an annual basis in accordance with the methodology approved by the EU Commission.

For illustrative purposes, initially the overall level of PSO is likely to average 3%. PSO levy amounts may be approximately as follows: domestic account holders, €2 per two months; small non-domestic account holders, €7 per two [1495] months; medium and large account holders, €1.47 per KVA. It is estimated that industry would be likely to pay a PSO levy in the range of 2% to 3.3% on average. However, it is important to emphasise that the cost of peat and AER generation to be included in the PSO order is already embedded in the ESB's franchise tariff.

The CER will ensure that the costs already allowed in the franchise tariff are offset against the PSO levy we have introduced so that, essentially, there will be no net overall increase in electricity bills. That is what the Deputy wished to be reassured about. The PSO levy element will be separately identified and explained in each electricity bill.

Amendment put.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent Vótáil.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison Will the Deputies who are claiming a division please rise?

Deputies Sargent, Gormley, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin and Healy rose.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison As fewer than ten Members have risen, I declare the amendment carried. In accordance with Standing Order 68, the names of the Deputies dissenting will be recorded in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Dáil.

Amendment declared carried.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg Zoom on Emmet Stagg I move amendment No. 2:

In page 3, line 13, after “Energy” to insert “Ireland”.

Mr. Jacob: Information on Joe Jacob Zoom on Joe Jacob On Committee Stage a number of amendments were tabled to change the Short Title of the Bill. I was not prepared to accept a similar amendment on Committee Stage which proposed the insertion of the word “Authority” after the word “Energy.” The Short Title is sufficient as it stands. The amendment would add nothing to it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton I move amendment No. 3:

In page 3, line 19, after “section 3” to insert “to be the establishment day for the Authority for the purposes of this Act”.

This is a technical amendment that appears in other legislation and which we want to insert for reasons of clarity. It may not be necessary, but we have retabled it in case the Minister for State has changed his mind since Committee Stage.

Mr. Jacob: Information on Joe Jacob Zoom on Joe Jacob This amendment deals with the definition of “establishment day.” On Committee Stage I accepted the Deputy's amendment deleting the words “as such” from the definition. My [1496] position on this amendment remains unchanged as it is unnecessary and would make the wording of the Bill cumbersome.

Mr. Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton I wanted to give the Minister of State the opportunity to consider the amendment a second time. He has done so and I accept his explanation.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon As amendments Nos. 35 and 36 are related to amendment No. 4, they may all be discussed together.

Mr. Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton I move amendment No. 4:

In page 3, between lines 20 and 21, to insert the following:

“‘household' means the partner, father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, stepfather, stepmother, son, daughter, stepson, stepdaughter, grandson, granddaughter, brother, sister, half brother or half sister;”.

We felt on Committee Stage that this area needed to be tightened up. As the word “household” was mentioned in the Bill and not defined, we sought to include a definition. I am pleased to see the Minister of State agrees and has tabled his own amendments that clarify the situation. On Committee Stage we alluded to an ongoing court case because of which the legislation in question had not been clarified. I am satisfied with the Minister of State's proposals.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison Amendments Nos. 5 and 11 form a composite proposal and may be discussed together.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent I move amendment No. 5:

In page 3, between lines 20 and 21, to insert the following:

“‘the lean economy' means an economy independent of finite and increasingly scarce imported fossil fuels and tailored to maximise energy conservation and rely primarily on renewable energy sources;”.

It is important that the Minister of State has had time to think about this amendment, which seeks to insert a definition of “lean economy” given that it would be logical for a sustainable energy authority to be aware of and articulate views on the steps needed to ensure economic activity can thrive without impacting on the finite energy resources which are currently being depleted and giving rise to enormous problems with greenhouse gases. Has the Minister of State had time to reflect on the idea of a lean economy? The term has been used by economists, FEASTA, the Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability and Dr. David Fleming from London, who recently spoke at Trinity College on this topic.

[1497]The Minister of State said our Kyoto Protocol obligations were suffering on account of our economic activity. Does he recognise that the achievement of other countries, such as Germany, is such that they are able to continue to have vibrant economic activity without growth in the consumption of fossil fuels? They have decoupled their growth in the consumption of fossil fuels from growth in the economy. Does the Minister of State not recognise also that this should be a central part of the Sustainable Energy Authority and that it should advise on this aspect to ensure economic growth will not always be paralleled with growth in the consumption of fossil fuels, as has been the case in this country?

In view of this, the definition of a lean economy should be incorporated in the Bill. It is set out in amendment No. 5 which reads: “‘the lean economy' means an economy independent of finite and increasingly scarce imported fossil fuels and tailored to maximise energy conservation and rely primarily on renewable energy sources.” We should work towards this ideal before we are forced to face up to the reality of no other choice in the matter. I ask the Minister of State to recognise that this aspiration should be before all of us, especially the Sustainable Energy Authority, if it is serious about bringing about sustainable energy in a sustainable economy.

Mr. Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton This was debated on Committee Stage when we strongly supported a similar amendment. It is important to have an ideal to work towards. This is one such ideal. I ask the Minister of State to accept the amendment.

Amendment No. 11 provides that an additional function of the Sustainable Energy Authority should be “to promote the concept and development of lean economies, especially in Ireland.” There was a criticism that this would mean us interfering in the economies of other countries. However, given that we are living in a global village, what happens in other countries impacts on us. If we can encourage other countries to use sustainable energy resources and move away from fossil fuels, it will be beneficial for us in the long-term.

I see nothing but good if the concept of a lean economy is promoted in Ireland. It should be included in the Bill. The lean economy means an economy independent of finite and increasingly scarce imported fossil fuels and tailored to maximise energy conservation and rely primarily on renewable energy sources. That is an idea we should strive towards. It would strengthen the legislation and put down a marker that at the start of this century this Parliament recognises the importance of moving away from the use of fossil fuel and reducing our dependence on it. I urge the Minister of State to accept these amendments. It would be a good day's work were he to do so.

Mr. Jacob: Information on Joe Jacob Zoom on Joe Jacob These amendments were moved on Committee Stage. I did not accept them then and my position has not altered. Their thrust is [1498] already covered by the functions of the new authority, which, among other matters, are to promote and assist energy efficiency and renewables. Inserting the concept of a lean economy would add nothing to the Bill.

In the course of debate on Committee Stage mention was made of the new authority and how it should have a responsibility to outline ways for society to be truly sustainable. The concept of sustainable development is about much more than energy efficiency and renewable energy. It should also include poverty eradication, sustainable agricultural methods and so on. As it is not part of the authority's remit to cover such issues, I, therefore, consider this proposal is too broad for inclusion.

It was suggested on Committee Stage that the Government was taking a minimalist approach to this issue. I again reject this, especially in view of the Government's commitment to provide €222 million under the national development plan for the promotion of energy efficiency and renewable initiatives and our continual implementation of the Green Paper on sustainable energy and the national climate change strategy. Recent announcements of substantial moves forward on renewables emphasise this point. The announcements on activity in the offshore and onshore wind areas are examples. Ireland will play a lead role in the area of sustainable energy in a very short period of time and it is important that we do so. The proposed amendment to section 6 could involve the authority in promoting such concepts outside Ireland, which would take its remit beyond what is envisaged in the legislation.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent I hope the Minister of State is right when he says Ireland will take a leading role in renewable technology in the future. That is what I had in mind when I drafted amendment No. 11, which calls on the authority to promote the concept and development of lean economies, especially in Ireland. This would enable us to promote ourselves as a country that does not just consider the mechanics of renewable energy, but also deals with how they can be integrated into an economy which has a quality of life and is vibrant, healthy and sustainable.

I do not see what harm can be done by including both amendments. Given that many others will be involved in integrating economic strategy, I am merely seeking to ensure the Sustainable Energy Authority is included in the network of agencies and would have a role, even as weak as an advisory one.

It is strange for the Minister of State to say this is already covered in the legislation. It cannot be addressed by a subtle inclusion of general issues under a broad remit. The amendments would do no more or less than provide a context in which sustainable energy should be developed. I ask the Minister of State to reconsider.

[1499]Mr. U. Burke: Information on Ulick Burke Zoom on Ulick Burke The Minister of State referred to substantial moves forward. That would be fine if it was real.

Mr. Jacob: Information on Joe Jacob Zoom on Joe Jacob It is real.

Mr. U. Burke: Information on Ulick Burke Zoom on Ulick Burke That may be so, but let me outline a specific case for the Minister of State to consider. The west, especially County Galway, faces a power deficit. The Government states that renewable sources of energy are required.

That may be a wish but the reality is that the planning department of our local authority will not allow it despite the Department having hinted that realistic consideration be given to any proper proposal that comes before it. A major project for wind energy was proposed in County Galway. It was unusual in that landowners combined to put forward a major investment themselves. It involved alternative land use which had been encouraged by Government and local authorities but it was turned down because of the presence in the site area of two hen harriers. If major projects to facilitate the development and supply of additional electricity to the west have to be curtailed, restricted and denied because of the possible impact on two hen harriers, is the Minister of State using grandiose jargon and clichés without any serious input on it? On the issue of renewable energy there has to be a change and one arm of the State, in this instance Dúchas, because of a minimal impact not proven, cannot deny a major investment in the infrastructure in the west. This is a situation where the Minister of State needs to take stern action to ensure Government policy is adhered to and implemented to the letter of the law, taking into account the importance of wildlife, the impact on visual amenities and so on. It is time the Minister of State took a handle on these proposals. I hope, when other projects intended to eliminate the energy deficit in the west come on stream, his encouragement will be evident and that he will not allow such small incidents to stifle growth.

Mr. Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton The Minister of State in regard to the development of lean economies said other countries would be outside the remit of the Bill. That is an arguable point. However, there is a provision in the Bill at section 6(2) that the authority shall be involved with:

(i) the exchange of information with organisations outside the State and participation in international activities;

(j) representation of a Minister of the Government at meetings of international bodies where requested to do so by the Minister,

The new authority will be involved in the international arena as it should be. When taking part in such activities, it could promote the development of lean economies. There is not anything wrong with that. It is not impossible and it is not broadening its remit too much. It is something it should do at home and abroad, where possible. [1500] We live in a global village. If other economies are not going down the route of this country, we will all suffer in the long-term. Global warming is a reality. This is an ideal that should be taken on board and it would not take from the Bill. I ask the Minister of State to accept these amendments and not to divide the House.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent I wish to press the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison Amendment No. 6. Amendment No. 38 is an alternative. I propose that amendments Nos. 6 and 38 be discussed together by agreement.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg Zoom on Emmet Stagg I move amendment No. 6:

In page 4, between lines 6 and 7, to insert the following:

“5.–The Freedom of Information Act 1997 shall apply to the Authority.”.

Having seen amendment No. 38, I am happy to withdraw my amendment No. 6. I thank the Minister of State. In all the legislation we have dealt with in five years this is the first time the Minister of State has accepted such an amendment. I thank him for that.

Mr. Jacob: Information on Joe Jacob Zoom on Joe Jacob As this is Report Stage I did not have an opportunity to respond to Deputy Burke. I would be happy to discuss the issue with him, perhaps off stage.

In respect of amendments Nos. 6, I indicated on Committee Stage that I would bring forward an amendment on Report Stage to ensure that the authority is subject to the Freedom of Information Act with effect from day one. My amendment No. 38 does that by including the new authority in the First Schedule to the Freedom of Information Act, 1997. I am advised this is the most appropriate way to do this.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton I move amendment No. 7:

In page 4, between lines 6 and 7, to insert the following:

“5.–The Authority shall, subject to the provisions of the Act, be independent in the exercise of its functions.”.

This amendment arises from the Committee Stage debate. We were anxious “That the Authority shall, subject to the provisions of the Act, be independent in the exercise of its functions”. This appears to be a standard provision in many Bills. We wished to give the Minister an opportunity to have a look at it and to consider it for Report Stage. I am interested to hear his response. The question was raised, independent of whom and of what. Certainly it would stand alone and other agencies, other bodies, would not interfere with it except by way of legislation, [1501] which is provided for. That would strengthen the hand of the authority. It would make it independent and it would be seen to be independent. There are many powerful organisations, national and international, involved in energy provision, supply, transmission and generation. Some of these organisations have huge resources and power – pardon the pun. It is probably implicit in the Bill that the authority is independent but the amendment would make it explicit by having it written into the legislation. It would not take from the Bill but would put into words what we are trying to do by setting up a statutory agency. I ask the Minister to consider it and to accept it.

Mr. Jacob: Information on Joe Jacob Zoom on Joe Jacob As I indicated on Committee Stage I am not disposed to accepting this amendment. The thrust of Deputy Stanton's argument on Committee Stage centred on endeavouring to guarantee that the new authority should be statutorily independent in order to go about its business without interference. I am satisfied the authority's independence is enshrined in the Bill already and that this amendment is superfluous. The authority is an independent legal entity bound by the provisions of the Act.

Mr. Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton It would be useful to have this stated explicitly in the legislation. Including it would not have diminished it in any way. I will not press the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg Zoom on Emmet Stagg I move amendment No. 8:

In page 4, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following:

“(a) to provide a working definition of sustainable energy and to update the definition on a regular basis having regard to developments in available technology;”.

We discussed this amendment in detail on Committee Stage. If my memory serves me correctly, the Minister of State indicated he would consider it before Report Stage.

Mr. Jacob: Information on Joe Jacob Zoom on Joe Jacob There is no point repeating the contribution I made on this issue during the Report Stage proceedings in the Seanad and on Committee Stage. I considered the matter very carefully in the light of those debates. In past debates I outlined my definition of “sustainable energy” which is a product of a range of policies and measures, which, while not exhaustive, includes energy supply, energy efficiency, renewable energy, electricity market reform, security of energy supply, sustainable transport, the Kyoto flexibility mechanisms for greenhouse gas reductions and a host of other factors.

It is my expectation that the new authority will concentrate on the implementation of policies which encompass energy efficiency and renewable energy. It will be expected to publish strategies, propose programmes and set targets in [1502] respect of such policies and report on progress. By concentrating on its remit to promote energy efficiency, renewables and energy research and development, the authority will meet the spirit of the amendment through the nature of its work. I remain convinced of the view I expressed on Committee Stage, namely, that sustainability does not need constant redefining, but depends instead on ensuring we constantly assist and promote the use of best available technology and best practice to achieve the sustainability goal. It is a function of the authority to ensure this occurs.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton I move amendment No. 9:

In page 4, line 11, to delete “and economically”.

We were anxious on Committee Stage to highlight the link between sustainable energy and the economy. We were also concerned that one of the functions of the authority will be to promote economically sustainable production, supply and use of energy. Energy could be subject to all sorts of provisions such as budgetary and taxation measures. Economic sustainability is, therefore, something of a movable feast. We want to make a distinction. While it is obvious that something is not sustainable if it is uneconomic, at the same time, attention should be drawn to the fact that success is very often the result of drive and promotion.

If something is economically feasible, it will be successful. If not, it will fail. In this context, the big issue is who decides if it is economically successful. Finance Ministers could assume this role using tax measures. The price producers receive for sustainable energy, which is determined by Governments, Ministers, the European Commission and so on, is an issue. We are anxious to break any link which could lead to the promotion and development of sustainable energy becoming totally dependent on economics. It is a complex argument, but it is important to bring it to the Minister of State's attention again.

The Minister of State has informed me several times that biofuels such as ethanol derived from sugar beet are not economically viable and are not, therefore, promoted or developed here. Why are they not viable? The reason ethanol has not been successful is the failure to introduce tax and other measures to make it viable. As reliance on economic factors could knock or stop something, it is important we are aware of their role in this area.

Mr. Jacob: Information on Joe Jacob Zoom on Joe Jacob On Committee Stage I undertook to consider this issue further. I endeavoured to explain the reasons behind my resolve to retain the word “economically” in this subsection and remain convinced they are valid. As I have argued, the authority must have regard to cost issues, which does not mean it must be preoccupied with penny-pinching, but rather, as Deputy [1503] Stagg stated on Committee Stage, a concern with value for money.

On Committee Stage it was also argued that the authority would not be able to assist or promote renewable electricity generating technologies such as wave or tidal energy. It is important to note that it can and must promote and assist such technologies under section 6(1)(a) and (e) on the basis that they are both renewables and research and development technologies. There is no economic consideration or constraint attached to the provisions of the section. The authority can, therefore, assist under two of its functions.

Technologies which initially may not be cost effective, but have the potential to become so over time, including those to which Deputy Stanton referred, come well within the remit of the authority. Under section 6(1)(a) it can promote and assist the likes of combined heat and power plants, which are environmentally sustainable and economic in comparison with other thermal generating plants. The section, as drafted, meets the requirements of Deputies in all respects. I hope I have clarified the matter to their satisfaction.

Mr. Deenihan: Information on Jimmy Deenihan Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan I welcome the Minister of State's reference to the capacity of wave and tides to generate energy. In my county a debate is taking place on the issue of energy. With regard to wind, wave and tidal energy, we need to receive clearer definitions from the Department. There is considerable confusion in County Kerry regarding wind farms. One application was recently refused on the grounds that there were no clear directives from the Department. Although the county council is in the process of drafting a wind policy, I still believe it is inadequate.

Mr. Jacob: Information on Joe Jacob Zoom on Joe Jacob Is the Deputy quoting the local authority when he indicates it does not have clear directions regarding wind farms?

Mr. Deenihan: Information on Jimmy Deenihan Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan Yes. The local authority is drawing up a policy in which, I hope, it will decide which parts of the county will be suitable for wind energy or perhaps even energy generation from waves.

Mr. Jacob: Information on Joe Jacob Zoom on Joe Jacob We have asked all local authorities to do that.

Mr. Deenihan: Information on Jimmy Deenihan Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan The sooner, the better. Having said that, there does not seem to be a national, cohesive policy on this subject. I know it is new but there is much confusion at the moment. We are talking about the economic value of energy here and there is a conflict in Kerry between tourism and the generation of wind power or, even if to comes down to it, of wave or tidal power. In the future, there are bound to be applications for the generation or the harnessing of the mass capacity for wave and tidal power given the potential we have in a county like Kerry which has so many inlets. There seems to be a total lack of direction [1504] and advice available to people promoting wind energy or, in the future, wave and tidal energy.

The Minister of State said a national policy is being followed but I would like clearer guidelines. The conflict in Kerry is between the visual intrusion on the landscape by large turbines and selling the county for tourism purposes. At a recent county council meeting one of the councillors from Killarney, which depends so much on tourism, said a turbine should not be allowed in the county and that we should rule out wind energy completely. How can the Minister of State sustain that argument? The councillor was from his party as well. How can he reconcile that argument with reaching our national quota in the development of wind energy and harnessing the potential of the natural advantages a county like Kerry, with such high wind speeds, has?

Although he has probably done so on a number of occasions, the Minister of State might give his views on the balance between the preservation of the landscape and the environment and reaching the targets for wind energy production and the generation of energy from renewal sources. That is a very important point. It is very much about the economy of the west because we are trying to balance the growth of tourism with the production of energy from renewal sources.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg Zoom on Emmet Stagg I rise briefly to support the points made by Deputies Ulick Burke and Deenihan. It never ceases to amaze me how the Department of Public Enterprise has policies adopted by the Government which the planning authorities at local level seem to be able to ignore but that when a policy is espoused by Bacon and adopted by Government, it then becomes nearly an absolute for local authorities to impose the Bacon guidelines for instance on housing. I would like to see the same force of law or authority given to the policies adopted by Government, the Department and the Minister in the matter of renewal energy. I was frustrated no end in my previous existence in that Department by having very good policies and many proposals to be implement but having them turned down one after the other by local authorities.

It should be said that a modern wind turbine is quite a beautiful structure. The idea of it raising its arms to the heavens to extract energy without doing any damage whatever is such a good idea that we do not promote it well enough. One will notice that if there are photographs promoting areas and how well they look and if there are wind farms about, they will be photographed. People are attracted to them in a very strange way. Where wind farms operate in Ireland – we have a few now – the promoters had to provide accommodation at them for the visitors who come to see them. The modern wind farm is not noisy, does not pollute and does not kill birds – hen harriers and otherwise. In fact, if bogland is disturbed during the construction period, there will be 15 times more flora as a result of disturbing the top of the bog than if the bog had [1505] been left alone. Some disturbance is a great gain to flora.

I strongly support the point made by other Deputies that the Minister of State should try to get his policies across to local authority planners in the same way as the Department of the Environment and Local Government is capable of telling local authority planners that something is Government policy and that they must abide by or have regard to it. I would say to Members who may be members of local authorities is that if that does not work, use section 4s. The authority is in the hands of members then.

Mr. U. Burke: Information on Ulick Burke Zoom on Ulick Burke I plead once more with the Minister of State to use his good offices to communicate with his colleague, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Deputy de Valera, and the officers of Dúchas. As Deputies Stagg and Deenihan have said, there is an urgent need to reconcile the two arms of Government so that we can have a cohesive policy. There is no point blaming the local authorities for rejecting a recommendation when another agency of Government tells them to reject it. While habitats and wildlife may exist in a location, it is time we got real about the impact of something which, as Deputy Stagg said, with proper design can be very acceptable. People who want to object go to another agency of State, Dúchas, where they find a ready facility and vehicle by which to torpedo something which is much needed. Will the Minister of State contact his colleague in the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Island and rectify this? Inevitably, the majority of these installations will be found in sensitive areas around the country, whether in Donegal, Kerry, Connemara, Galway and elsewhere. These are sensitive areas and they are entitled to a sensitive response but there is no point in overreacting. That has happened in the past and great injustice has been done, and I have spoken of the energy deficit in County Galway.

Mr. Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton Getting back to the amendment and economically sustainable production, it is useful that the Minister of State put on record that the work of the authority would not be bound by economics. In future years when people read this debate – I am sure many of these debates are read by many people – this will be noted and the wise words of the Minister of State will be taken into account. It is a pity he would not put something in writing but he said it on record. That is good enough for me and I will withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Jacob: Information on Joe Jacob Zoom on Joe Jacob I welcome the opportunity to reply. I agree totally with the sentiments expressed by the Deputies who talked about the need to promote this technology – wind energy – and the constraints which have been there in terms of planning. There has already been a sea-change. Quite often planning refusals stem from public aversion, complaint or reaction to something, [1506] although in this case we are talking about wind farms and wind turbines. We had four competitions up to last Monday or four announcements of offers to wind energy promoters. Following those competitions we have approximately 124 megawatts of wind energy from 22 commercial wind farms.

On Monday last I announced offers to 40 wind farms across a good geographical spread but predominantly along the western seaboard, all of which have planning permission and will produce approximately 350 megawatts of wind energy incorporated in large and small scale wind farms. I specifically included in the conditions for the competition that the applicants must have full planning permission before applying so that we could commence building once the announcement was made. There are still constraints, however, but I emphasise what Deputy Stagg and others said. This is clean, green, renewable energy. The downsides have been projected in the past by a major proportion of the general public who had fears about the visual and noise aspects. There is virtually no noise emanating from these wind farms. The technology has caught up with that aspect. I, too, am intrigued by them, although I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Environmentally speaking, the advantages of this technology greatly outweigh the disadvantages and the public's attitude to them has changed dramatically. The proof of that is the fact that 40 wind farms will be put in place immediately, all with planning permission. We will move immediately to AER VI, which is the next measure, to ensure that the target of 500 additional megawatts by 2005 is reached. We will shortly put out an offer to similar applicants with the planning permission condition obtaining. As we all know, planning is a matter for local county councils and An Bord Pleanála is available to hear appeals; one can even go beyond that if one has a large wallet.

There has been a sea change in this area. Problems still exist but we are endeavouring, in conjunction with my colleague, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, to work with planning authorities to devise a policy that will be more acceptable and which will allow this technology to be used without ruining our countryside.

Mr. Deenihan: Information on Jimmy Deenihan Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan The Minister's problems are only beginning in that people are becoming increasingly concerned about the intrusion on the landscape caused by these turbines. I am talking from first-hand experience of them in Kerry. There are two aspects to this problem. There is the wind farm itself and where it will be sited. An application was submitted recently for a wind farm on the Tarbert-Ballylongford land bank to which there was strong local opposition because it was sited near a school.

I do not agree with the Minister of State that there is virtually no noise from these wind farms. There is noise emanating from them depending [1507] on the direction of the wind. I know people who live near a wind farm and they are very concerned about that aspect.

Mr. Jacob: Information on Joe Jacob Zoom on Joe Jacob Is it an old turbine?

Mr. Deenihan: Information on Jimmy Deenihan Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan If four or five years is described as old—

Mr. Jacob: Information on Joe Jacob Zoom on Joe Jacob So it is a number of years old. The present technology has caught up with that.

Mr. Deenihan: Information on Jimmy Deenihan Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan Their lives have been affected by it. Apart from the wind farm itself, the other aspect is the transmission of the electricity to the power station. People are becoming more concerned about the intrusion of the electricity lines and the proximity of pylons to their houses. The ESB is proposing to provide a new line between Tarbert power station and Tralee because of the need for power in Tralee but the local farmers are forming a group to oppose this line due to its intrusion on to their land. Future Ministers will have to be ready to meet these kinds of objections and to allay any fears that might exist rather than just dealing with them on a case by case basis.

Kerry County Council is in the process of producing its draft plan which I understand will be brought forward at our next meeting. Some of the officials from the Department – there is a well-known Kerryman sitting beside him—

Mr. Jacob: Information on Joe Jacob Zoom on Joe Jacob Very well known.

Mr. Deenihan: Information on Jimmy Deenihan Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan —who is a good friend of mine; we played football against each other on one occasion – should travel to Kerry to speak to the council about every aspect of renewable energy because there is strong opposition to turbines being sited in the county, especially from members who live in tourist areas. If the Minister of State wants to kick-start the whole process in Kerry, these concerns must be addressed because the sooner these matters are clarified, the better.

Mr. Gormley: Information on John Gormley Zoom on John Gormley I listened with interest to the exchange, but the modern turbine is not noisy. Measurements taken by wind engineers indicate that the background noise is often much louder than the actual turbine. One can carry on a conversation beneath a wind turbine because there is no noise, and I would like to allay people's fears in that regard. That is important because from this country's point of view we have enormous potential to drive this process forward. I have heard the argument about noise used over and over again. We have to kill that myth and the way to do that is by sending out the message from this Parliament that in terms of noise, people have nothing to fear from the modern wind turbine.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.[1508]

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon Amendment No. 10 is in the name of Deputy Stagg. Amendments Nos. 14 and 16 are related so it is proposed to discuss amendments Nos. 10, 14 and 16 together, by agreement.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg Zoom on Emmet Stagg I move amendment No. 10:

In page 4, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following:

“(e) to propose legislative and fiscal measures to achieve the objectives stipulated in the foregoing subparagraphs of this subsection;

(f) to prepare and publish annual reports on the relative performance of the State and each of the other member states of the European Union relating to sustainable energy objectives;”.

We debated this issue at some length on Committee Stage and got a strong reaction against my proposal from the Minister. He appeared to think I was proposing to set up a new Dáil at the energy centre and a new Department of Finance as well, but that was not the intention. My intentions are better stated in amendments Nos. 14 and 16 so I am happy to withdraw my amendment No. 10 and examine the wording in Nos. 14 and 16 in the names of Deputies Stanton and Sargent.

Mr. Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton Are we discussing amendments Nos. 10, 14 and 16 together?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon Yes.

Mr. Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton Amendment No. 14 is concerned with preparing and publishing reports “on the relative performance of the State in terms of achieving energy efficiency and sustainable energy measures by comparison with other EU member states,” which is an important thing to do, although it is possible that the authority will do it anyway. As we need to know how we are doing internationally, it is important that the authority's functions are extended to provide us with this information. I said earlier that the authority's functions should involve international conferences, meetings and debates, as we need to take account of best practice around the world, especially within the European Union.

Amendment No. 16 proposes to insert the words “the recommendation of fiscal or other measures to Government which would assist in the achievement of the Authority's objectives.” This is another means of ensuring the Sustainable Energy Authority acts as an adviser to the Government. As we said earlier, fiscal measures can often dictate the success of certain energy types, as happened when various Ministers for Finance sought to tweak the provision of energy types by changing taxation requirements in past budgets. The authority will be in an ideal position to advise the Government on these matters. If it is intended that this should be part of its remit in any event, perhaps the Minister of State will [1509] make this clear. I look forward to hearing what he has to say about the points I have outlined in relation to these amendments.

Mr. Gormley: Information on John Gormley Zoom on John Gormley These are important amendments. We need to learn from the experience of the Environmental Protection Agency, which was established about ten years ago and is clearly under-resourced. I have asked the agency the reason it has not publicly stated that it is inadequately resourced. It is quite clear that if we had an objective assessment, we would know immediately the fiscal measures and assistance required. Similarly, we know from the recent visit of Margot Wallström that the EPA has been underperforming in comparison to other countries. It has not lived up to the standards that we would like to see. It would be an advance to provide for a report showing how the Sustainable Energy Authority measures up to similar authorities in other countries. The Minister of State should take this on board if the authority is not to slip backwards, as happened to the EPA. This is far too important an issue to allow that to happen.

Mr. Higgins: Information on Jim Higgins Zoom on Jim Higgins (Mayo): Amendment No. 14 seeks to facilitate assessment of how we are performing in this area, relative to other countries. We should not be afraid of self-assessment, as if we are doing well in comparison to other countries, we will applaud and if we are not, we will set goals and objectives for improvement. We need to be constructively critical about where we are on the league table. We have been slow in entering the sustainable resources marketplace. While I applaud the Minister of State in relation to the wind licence agreements and the impressive figures for the AER VI proposal, we have not achieved all our goals. We are still trying to catch up with other countries in terms of wind energy and have made no progress in relation to wave energy, apart from a little research. A few pilot projects represent the only progress made on solar energy, which does not need blistering sunshine to be harnessed. We are in the slipstream of other countries.

We should be honest with ourselves in relation to producing an ongoing assessment of where we are compared to our European colleagues and the rest of the world. I do not accept that it is not feasible and cannot accept the argument advanced on Committee Stage that this cannot be done for a relatively modest cost. Modern communications should be used to explore what is happening in other countries and produce a frank assessment. The amendment does not specify an annual report and assessments may be carried out every three or four years, but there needs to be some means of examination.

Section 24 states that the authority will lay its annual report before the Oireachtas and the authority will be amenable to a committee of the House. In that context, I cannot see the reason there cannot be a regular appraisal of where we are in terms of our achievements, performance [1510] and success or otherwise relative to other countries. I do not accept the Minister of State's argument, advanced on Committee Stage, that this amendment would lead to an excessive cost. Equally, I do not accept the idea that the requirement we are advancing will be met when the authority liaises with bodies in other countries. I urge the Minister of State to accept amendment No. 14 which has been proposed in the most constructive spirit possible. A regular appraisal of Ireland's performance in relation to sustainable energy would make sense.

Mr. Jacob: Information on Joe Jacob Zoom on Joe Jacob I will deal with the first part of amendment No. 10 and then with amendment No. 16, about which we had an interesting debate on Committee Stage.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg Zoom on Emmet Stagg On a point of clarification, I intend to withdraw my amendment No. 10, which is too strong for the Minister of State to accept, but I support amendments Nos. 14 and 16.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon As we are discussing amendments Nos. 10, 14 and 16 together, we should allow the Minister of State to speak on all three.

Mr. Jacob: Information on Joe Jacob Zoom on Joe Jacob These amendments appear to endeavour to make it a function of the authority to propose legislation and fiscal instruments, but I maintain that these are matters strictly for the Government of the day.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg Zoom on Emmet Stagg That is true.

Mr. Jacob: Information on Joe Jacob Zoom on Joe Jacob Fiscal measures are a matter for the Minister for Finance. The authority's role in relation to legislation and fiscal issues is to advise Ministers as appropriate. I am satisfied that this is already provided for in section 6(1)(f), which gives the authority the role of advising Ministers on all matters related to its functions. There may be a concern that the Government might not act on the advice of the authority, but that is the right of Ministers as representatives of the people.

Mr. Higgins: Information on Jim Higgins Zoom on Jim Higgins (Mayo): Of course.

Mr. Jacob: Information on Joe Jacob Zoom on Joe Jacob The Freedom of Information Act, 1997, which applies to Departments, will apply to the authority as a result of an earlier amendment. This will ensure details of its advice to Ministers under section 6(1)(f) will be available to everybody.

As Deputy Stagg has stated he intends to withdraw amendment No. 10, I will address amendment No. 14, which proposes that the authority be required to prepare and publish a report on the performance of the State, relative to other EU member states, on energy efficiency matters. We had a full and frank exchange on this matter on Committee Stage. I thought I satisfied Deputies that it is about the function of the authority under section 6(1) and its power under section 6(2)(a) and (b) to prepare statistics and [1511] report on its objectives. However, I still have a difficulty with the proposal that the authority should make comparisons with other states. From where would it obtain the figures for such a comparison? How could it ensure it was comparing like with like even if it had the figures?

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg Zoom on Emmet Stagg It could carry out benchmarking – that is the in thing.

Mr. Jacob: Information on Joe Jacob Zoom on Joe Jacob There is also the problem of the authority being required to put resources into an activity which we cannot be sure will provide a worthwhile return. On Committee Stage I stated that the EU and the International Energy Agency publish statistical reports on programmes and measures implemented by various states in the fight to reduce noxious emissions. My Department contributes to a number of EU fora which discuss energy statistics and relative indicators and I do not see much point in duplicating the work of these organisations. I am not inclined to accept the amendments.

Mr. Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton If the Minister of State listens to what he said he will agree he contradicted himself. He stated that the authority would face a problem obtaining the figures, but then stated the EU publishes them and that they are available. He also referred to the issue of duplication. The figures are available or they are not available. The Minister of State said they are available and he can access them on the Internet.

We are proposing that the authority should take account of what is happening in other countries and compare those measures with what we are doing. The Minister of State knows that many other countries are well ahead of Ireland in this area. Solar energy is the norm in many parts of Austria and burning wood pellets is the order of the day in Scandinavia. We have to make comparisons with other countries to see how we are doing. There is no point in putting our heads in the sand and suggesting that everything is okay in Ireland. The figures are there and we are proposing that the authority should research them and put them in an Irish context to see how we are doing in comparison with other countries. This is all about targets and trying to achieve the best possible result. The authority should be doing this anyway, but we wish to insert this provision in the Bill.

The Minister of State said the Minister and the Government should have the right to determine fiscal measures. I agree and we are not suggesting the authority should dictate policy to a Minister or to a Government. That would not happen. We are proposing that the authority should be able to recommend fiscal or other measures to Government which would assist in the achievement of the authority's objectives. It is the Government's prerogative to reject such suggestions if it so wishes. What does it matter if someone is able to carry out research under freedom [1512] of information legislation and organise a debate? Any Government which rejects this kind of advice would be prepared to defend that decision. Why is the Minister of State anxious to hide such decisions? He has not put forward a strong argument and I urge him to accept these worthwhile amendments.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 11 not moved.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon Amendment No. 12 is ruled out of order as it involves a potential charge on the Revenue.

Mr. Gormley: Information on John Gormley Zoom on John Gormley A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, can you explain how political action can involve a potential charge on the Revenue?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon The amendment would involve a potential charge on the Revenue so it cannot be introduced. That is the case with all legislation and not just this Bill.

Mr. Gormley: Information on John Gormley Zoom on John Gormley With respect, I do not understand how dismantling all aspects of the EURATOM Treaty, which is a political action, would involve expenditure. That does not make sense.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon If the Deputy reads the amendment he will see that it would involve a charge on the Exchequer. If he requires further details he should call into the Ceann Comhairle's office. There is a long-standing precedent that amendments are not introduced where there is a potential charge on the Exchequer. We will move to amendment No. 13.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg Zoom on Emmet Stagg On a point of order, dismantling all aspects of the EURATOM Treaty would bring about a saving as we would no longer be contributing to it.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon The Ceann Comhairle has ruled on this issue.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg Zoom on Emmet Stagg Perhaps he was misinformed as there would be a saving.

Mr. Gormley: Information on John Gormley Zoom on John Gormley We contributed to the treaty under Deputy Albert Reynolds.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg Zoom on Emmet Stagg We contribute €500,000 to the treaty every year.

Mr. Gormley: Information on John Gormley Zoom on John Gormley We are helping to keep Sellafield going and we would make a saving under the amendment.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon The Ceann Comhairle has ruled that the amendment is out of order. I suggest to the Deputy that he discusses the matter in the Ceann Comhairle's office. We cannot debate the matter on the floor of the House.

[1513]Mr. Gormley: Information on John Gormley Zoom on John Gormley An explanation should be forthcoming when amendments are ruled out of order.

Amendment No. 12 not moved.

Mr. Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton I move amendment No. 13:

In page 4, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following:

“(g) to prepare and publish annual reports on the performance of Government departments, agencies and local authorities in achieving energy efficient measures and targets.”.

It is bizarre that we are prevented from discussing the previous amendment. The Minister of State can vote us down if the Government does not agree with us, but it is bizarre that we cannot debate the matter in the Chamber. I have had to withdraw amendments because of this daft rule which we should examine.

Mr. Jacob: Information on Joe Jacob Zoom on Joe Jacob Is the Deputy referring to the format for Report Stage?

Mr. Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton Yes, the situation is daft and it is stifling debate.

Amendment No. 13 proposes that the authority should prepare and publish annual reports. I do not know whether this amendment is in order as the authority would spend money on such reports which might constitute a charge on the Exchequer. This highlights how bizarre the rule is, but I better shut up or I will rule myself out of order.

Departments, Government agencies and local authorities use a lot of energy and it is important that a mechanism is inserted in the Bill to encourage State agencies to achieve energy efficient measures and targets. They should set such targets and work to achieve them. In the past number of years we have lost sight of such an objective. So much money has been floating around that many State agencies have become lax in the area of energy conservation and efficiency. The amendment proposes that the authority should prepare and publish annual reports on the performance of Departments. There are 15 such Departments and each would be required to produce a report regarding the energy efficiency targets it has set and how it works to achieve them. The same would apply to local authorities.

The Minister of State suggested that there were many Departments and local authorities, but so what? We are talking about efficiency and saving money. It will be all the better if local authorities, Departments and State agencies can be encouraged to set these targets and to work towards them. This authority would then gather all these reports together and publish an annual report, as the Ombudsman or the Comptroller and Auditor General prepares reports on various Departments. We are discussing energy efficiency and sustainable energy, so it should be part of the remit of this authority to put pressure on Depart[1514] ments and State agencies in this area and to bring to their attention that it is important to switch off the light in the office when there is nobody there, to turn down the heating when it is not required and to ensure that motor vehicles are running at their optimum performance, that the ones in use are the most efficient and least wasteful possible and that they are not overused – that no unnecessary trips are taken.

There is a great deal in this amendment. It is not just about preparing annual reports but about what the Bill is trying to do and the purpose of an authority such as this. I hope the authority will have some kind of impact on Government and State agencies because these are huge users of energy, probably the largest in the State. To give an example, when I first came into this House one of the first things I noticed – and it is still going on – was all the paper that was used. In this House alone, the amount of paper is colossal. Envelopes are often used only once. I put down parliamentary questions about the matter and now we have a recycling system for envelopes.

However, we still need to cut back on waste. A mind set has developed in our society whereby we use something once and then throw it away. This uses up energy. If paper is being used unnecessarily or perfectly good envelopes used once and dumped, somebody is paying for it. Consider the energy required to produce the paper and the trees that are cut down. By requiring Departments, agencies and local authorities to take account of their actions and inaction by preparing reports, setting targets and working to achieve them, we would achieve a great deal. I hope the Minister will accept this amendment. Perhaps he has alterations in mind, although it is now very late, or perhaps he can tell us about some other ways in which we can achieve, in other parts of the Bill, what I am trying to articulate. I do not see anything of the kind. It must be explicitly stated that Departments, State agencies and other such bodies must cut down on waste and especially waste of energy. It is vital that this happens and that some auditing takes place to show how they have set and achieved their targets.

We are not just talking about the direct use of energy but about avoiding waste through such means as insulation, conservation of heat, double or triple glazing, placing buildings to gain the maximum benefit from available sunlight, heating from the sun and so on. This is crucially important. I ask the Minister to consider this amendment seriously. I hope he already has. It is important and I look forward to his response.

Mr. Higgins: Information on Jim Higgins Zoom on Jim Higgins (Mayo): In this Bill, we intend to set up an authority to establish prescriptions for all and sundry in relation to efficiency, energy economy and so on. If we are serious about this and about people taking the role of the authority seriously, surely Departments, State agencies, semi-State agencies and local authorities should be leading the way. Deputy Stanton mentioned [1515] the huge volumes of paper which are not recycled and the lack of vision and clear policy on the issue until relatively recently. I am sure Members of the House would agree that when we were all housed in Leinster House before the new office block was built people complained regularly about the stifling atmosphere, the inability to control the heating system, the heating being on during the spring and summer and the lack of air conditioning. That is the experience in many Departments, some of whose buildings pre-date the foundation of the State. They are old and antiquated and their systems are not very efficient. Deputy Stanton already mentioned, for example, the lack of insulation.

We should apply the same rigorous standards to ourselves, in other words the Oireachtas, Departments, semi-State agencies and local authorities. The matter should be considered from the point of view of the buildings, the operation of the buildings and the equipment. One of the contentious proposals shelved temporarily by the Government is the proposed Government policy on decentralisation. It has been deferred until after the election because of the tug-of-war that went on within the Cabinet between vying Ministers and within various constituencies in relation to whether the organisation should be situated in town A or town B. It could not go ahead because there were simply too many snouts in the trough, but it will go ahead and when it does new buildings will spring up all over the place. It is important that we as legislators set the highest possible standard.

As Deputy Stanton said, we are not asking for the authority to do any policing or patrolling. Instead it should make sure that each of the agencies, Departments and local authorities presents a report which will then be collated with the others. We should set the highest standards for ourselves. We should not and cannot preach from the high tower of Oireachtas Éireann about what people should do if we are not prepared to lead the way by setting a good example.

Mr. Jacob: Information on Joe Jacob Zoom on Joe Jacob This amendment is a repeat of the amendment debated on Committee Stage. I thought I had satisfied Deputies on that occasion that the resources needed to achieve this statutory requirement would be substantial and there would be no guarantee of value for money. The problem is that if we place a statutory requirement on the authority to carry out audits each year, those audits must be done regardless of whether it is worthwhile. Unfortunately, the consequence of the amendment would be the authority's needing the resources to audit each Department, agency and local authority on an annual basis. This clearly involves resources above and beyond what is currently contemplated. However, it is part of the new authority's mandate to assist such bodies in meeting targets, establishing benchmarks and providing information. Publishing annual reports is an onerous [1516] task, in terms of auditing and resources, which may not produce the desired results. Colleagues may also be aware that the Comptroller and Auditor General carries out value-for-money audits from time to time on areas of expenditure including energy.

The concerns of the Deputies about the proposed amendment are in part, as I mentioned on Committee Stage, addressed by the reporting requirements as laid out in the Government decision of 3 July 2001. In it, the Government decided that all Departments and State bodies should be required to include in their annual reports to Government and the Oireachtas measures to reduce energy usage in the buildings they occupy. Deputy Jim Higgins referred to efficiency measures for buildings in relation to conservation, use of sunlight and so on. We recently launched the Irish Energy Centre's public sector programme. It involves design study, support and model solution support for large public sector buildings. The authority is aiming and targeting, in the first instance, public buildings. This is innovative stuff and is very effective. It has substantial resources to do so.

I have considered the amendment carefully and do not see a reason for accepting it. We should remember that we are talking about a comparatively small authority. There are some 40 people there at the moment and it will probably expand to a workforce of 50. It has hugely important work laid down for it and a large budget but it cannot be all-embracing either.

Mr. Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton The Minister of State appears to be contradicting himself. He tells us that it is very difficult for this authority to produce all these reports, carry out audits and so forth, but he told us on 3 July last that the Government brought in a requirement that all Departments and State agencies and so on would make a report anyway. Who is to receive this report? Are we to have any kind of objective assessment of these reports?

This amendment would allow the sustainable energy authority to act as an independent examiner of these reports.

Mr. Jacob: Information on Joe Jacob Zoom on Joe Jacob That is not what I am saying. I am not contradicting myself.

Mr. Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton These reports will be made available so would it not be logical for the authority to take them on board to analyse, assess and report on them. There could be dramatic savings achieved across the State sector if this were to happen.

Mr. Jacob: Information on Joe Jacob Zoom on Joe Jacob Would the Deputy put this huge auditing onus on this authority?

Mr. Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton If what the Minister of State says is true, the reports are required anyway from all these agencies, authorities and Departments, but perhaps I misinterpreted what he said. These reports are to be made available and we are say[1517] ing they would be handed over to the authority for an overview as to what could be achieved. It would be very desirable if that were to happen as it would keep these authorities on their toes. Great savings are possible and the Minister of State has admitted that there is huge waste in the State sector where energy is concerned. We should do everything possible to cut back on that waste and achieve efficiencies and savings. It is bizarre that the Minister of State is resisting this kind of activity. Surely the whole purpose of a Bill like this is to achieve savings of energy and the conservation of energy. The Minster of State is resisting a very good amendment which would go some way towards achieving these savings. The point has been made that this is a small authority but I am sure the savings would be so considerable that extra staff could be taken on and it would become even more efficient.

As my colleague, Deputy Higgins of Mayo said, the State sector and the Departments would lead the way in energy efficiency and conservation and this is what we want to achieve by this amendment. I am disappointed the Minister of State has not been a little more courageous in accepting this amendment or changing it slightly to fit into his own thinking. If he does not accept it an opportunity will be lost.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 14 not moved.

Mr. Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton I move amendment No. 15:

In page 4, line 38, after “distribution” to insert “, conservation, efficiency”.

We are happy with the powers of the authority as laid down, but one of the issues we wish to highlight is that in addition to the powers of compilation, extraction and dissemination of information and projections relating to energy production and use, including implications relating to the sourcing, transmission, transformation, distribution and emissions thereof, it should also be involved in the compilation, extraction and dissemination of information and projections relating to conservation and efficiency where energy is concerned. We wanted to highlight that to add those two words into that section.

The Minister of State has already indicated that the efficient use of energy and its conservation is important. It would add to the Bill if this amendment is accepted.

Mr. Jacob: Information on Joe Jacob Zoom on Joe Jacob We discussed this amendment at length on Committee Stage. The power under section 6(2)(b) relates to the new authority compiling benchmarks and statistics in regard to energy production and use. The definition within the brackets, where the subsection refers to applications relating to energy production, transformation, transmission, distribution and emissions, relates to the production of electricity. In a situation where the electricity market is liberalised and there are a num[1518] ber of electricity generators, the new authority will need to develop and provide statistics on emissions from all of these. This role would have been carried out by the ESB in the past. In the context of measuring the implications of such activity, conservation efficiency is not readily measurable and would be impracticable. The authority will have the power under section 6 (2) to measure, compile, extract and disseminate information in relation to any of its functions as set out in subsection (1) of this section.

Mr. Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton I am sure the Minister of State will correct me if I am wrong, but I believe one of the projects the Irish Energy Centre is involved in at the moment is boiler efficiency. There is a national competition and they give awards throughout the country in respect of boiler efficiency. It is a very laudable project. How can the Minister of State say one cannot measure efficiency when it is being done already.

The section refers to energy production and use. Use includes efficiency and conservation. It is a vitally important part of it and it is already doing the work. I cannot understand why the Minister of State appears to be resisting the area of conservation and efficient use of energy every time it is brought up. His focus appears to be on the production of energy but I stress that the other side of the coin, which is conservation and efficiency, is equally important, if not more so. Sustainable energy is not just about production it is about use as well, and use implies conservation of energy. Insulation has also been mentioned.

Debate adjourned.


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