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 Header Item Renewable Energy Feed in Tariff Scheme Funding (Continued)
 Header Item Alternative Energy Projects

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 901 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Alex White: Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White] However, it has been demonstrated that to bring forward the new renewable technologies and investments, that subsidy is required. Other countries have discovered this also. I have had this debate before about solar energy with one of the Deputy's colleagues. Strategic decision-making is always necessary in terms of the extent to which, and when, new technologies should be subsidised. Perhaps if one held back from the subsidy, as other countries in Europe are discovering in the case of solar energy, it might have happened anyway without it because the market would have delivered all of these changes. That may well be so, but, ultimately, we will review the question of wind energy. I do not want the Deputy to imagine that I think our renewable energy portfolio should be confined to onshore wind generation; it definitely should not. It has proved to be successful, but it should not be confined to it.

Deputy Michael Moynihan: Information on Michael Moynihan Zoom on Michael Moynihan Many countries in mainland Europe have been pulling away from wind energy generation which they view with a jaundiced eye at this stage, although we seem to be embracing it from a policy viewpoint. There are a raft of issues involved, with communities up in arms over it. Planners are now saying houses should not be built alongside wind turbines because such turbines are noisy and grant planning permission elsewhere. All things being considered, has the Minister factored what is happening in mainland Europe into his policy statement, the White Paper on energy? Given that many other countries are moving away from wind energy generation, should we not be doing likewise and look at alternatives such as solar energy?

The Minister mentioned the regulator setting the PSO levy. Is he satisfied that the Commission for Energy Regulation has the correct legislative tools to carry out its job into the foreseeable future? The commission was founded ten years ago, but is it not time to re-examine the legislation governing it? It should have new powers, not alone to set prices but also to reduce them.

Deputy Alex White: Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White There are periodic reviews of the regulators. If it is determined or believed at any stage that the legislative environment is not adequate, of course, the Government can review it. If the Deputy has a view of a particular aspect of the legislation that he thinks is deficient, I am keen to hear what it is in order that we can debate the issue. However, I have no reason to believe the legislative environment in which the regulator is operating is problematic.

I keep hearing people say countries all over Europe are pulling away from wind energy generation, but that is simply not true. There are some countries which believe, understandably, that they have reached a certain level in onshore wind generation as a percentage or proportion of their renewables portfolio and that they do not need to, or cannot, go any further. I know that decisions have been made in the United Kingdom recently, but it is simply not true to say there is a generalised abandonment of onshore wind generation. I support the Government's onshore wind energy policy, but I remind the Deputy that the policy was put in place by the previous Government. It showed great foresight and I think we are right to carry it on.

Alternative Energy Projects

 39. Deputy Michael Colreavy Information on Michael Colreavy Zoom on Michael Colreavy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White if the Environmental Protection Agency's study of hydraulic fracturing could be compromised in the public's opinion owing to the close relationship of some of the participants with hydraulic fracturing interests.  [44986/15]

Deputy Michael Colreavy: Information on Michael Colreavy Zoom on Michael Colreavy My question concerns the Environmental Protection Agency's study of hydraulic fracturing. Every time its representatives appear before the Joint Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources further serious concerns are raised about the independence of the study which the public very much regards as compromised. Will the Minister of State stop the practice of fracking?

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Joe McHugh): Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh I acknowledge the Deputy's consistent approach to this matter which he is keeping live. I also acknowledge the work done by him and his constituency colleagues, Deputy Tony McLoughlin and Senator Michael Comiskey, who have had regular meetings with me to discuss this important matter.

No doubt we will get into the Deputy's last question in a supplementary reply, but, first, I wish to respond to his initial question. I understand the contract for the unconventional gas exploration and extraction research programme was awarded following a robust evaluation process. The evaluation panel included personnel with the capacity to make informed decisions on the six tenders received. The constitution of the evaluation panel was approved by a broadly-based steering committee.

The evaluation panel found that the tender led by CDM Smith Ireland Limited provided the best response and a contract was awarded to the consortium in August 2014. The consortium includes commercial consultancies, academics, a geological research institution and a legal firm, each offering a particular specialism required by the project's scope, as was detailed in the terms of reference.

The project team was expected to include members with a comprehensive understanding of geology and hydrology, as well as an in-depth knowledge of a range of legal, environmental, health, socio-economic and technical issues, with a knowledge of mineral and fossil fuels.

I am aware that there has been some comment on the fact that, internationally, CDM Smith has provided expert advice for oil companies involved in the development of unconventional gas resources. I should point out that it has also provided advice for State bodies and regulatory agencies across its area of expertise. As I am sure the Deputy will appreciate, it is common for a broad range of parties to seek to draw on the specialist expertise available from a firm such as CDM Smith. The fact that disparate entities seek to draw on such expertise is generally seen as an indicator of a company's recognised experience.

Deputy Michael Colreavy: Information on Michael Colreavy Zoom on Michael Colreavy One of the reasons I came to the Dáil was to have fracking banned anywhere in Ireland. The area most at risk from this pernicious technology is where my children and I live. It is where my grandchildren and great grandchildren will also live. Because I am not seeking re-election, I have the luxury of taking on this issue without political considerations. People are doing tremendous work in identifying weaknesses in the Government's approach. The EPA study is fundamentally and fatally flawed. It is one thing to say the EPA will recruit a firm with knowledge of the oil and gas industry but it is another when the company engaged to lead the project held an international symposium extolling the virtues of hydraulic fracturing. That was a bad choice and it will mean a bad study and a bad result. People will have zero confidence in the study which should be stopped.

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh Ireland is a small country.

Deputy Michael Colreavy: Information on Michael Colreavy Zoom on Michael Colreavy Yes.

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh This is a small island and I am on the record as having expressed my own reservations about this industry. It is also important to point out that this work was initiated in 2011 by the previous Minister, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, who wanted to find out what was best practice. There was consultation and the Deputy knows the history. Timeframes were set. I want to highlight a couple of important items. The first stage of the research programme is to conclude by the end of January 2016. It is a significant piece of work on the first phase. The plan was that, with work on the second phase, it would feed into a single report to be presented by July 2016.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt I thank the Minister of State.

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh No; this is important, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. It is important to point out that that is not going to happen within the timeframe set. As the tendering process for the second phase of the research programme has not commenced, there cannot be a final report by 2018. I will ask the steering committee to publish an interim report on the significant findings made at the end of January.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt I will come back to the Minister of State.

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh It was not envisaged and was not part of the original plan, but I will ask the steering committee to produce at an early date interim findings on the significant body of work done. No decision will be made on the tendering process until that work is carried out.

Deputy Michael Colreavy: Information on Michael Colreavy Zoom on Michael Colreavy I thank the Minister of State. That is very wise. Will the interim report be placed before the Joint Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources for its consideration before any decision is made? Will representatives of the EPA be brought before the joint committee again in advance of any decision being made on the second tender?


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