Deputy Dillon in the course of his oration last night returned to his age old attack upon turf producers in this country. I do not know what the unfortunate turf producers did to Deputy Dillon that he avails of every conceivable opportunity to launch a fierce onslaught on them. He told us that he does not know what the price of turf is, and he could not give us any indication of what price coal is likely to be for the coming year or what price imported fuel oil is likely to be. He is, however, very determined that the turf producer must be put out of action at any cost. It has often seemed to me that Deputy Dillon's one guiding principle is "burn everything Irish except Irish turf." He has followed that principle all through his political life and he managed in some way to impose that policy on the progressive Labour Party and the progressive Clann na Poblachta Party which always talks about developing our resources.
I believe it is essential that we should get our cost of production down to the lowest possible level and I would go all out in pressing on the Minister to seek all the ways and means at his disposal to bring down the cost of turf production as turf is an essential raw material for electricity development. Anything that can be done to make turf production more economic and more efficient should be done. There is a good deal of waste all along the line in regard to the production of turf even where it is mechanised. There is need for further mechanisation and there is need for covered storage for turf wherever it has to be stored for use. By ways such as these we can increase the value of this native raw material.
I am very much in favour of the steps indicated by the Minister for the further development of hydro-electric power. It is recognised that until development of atomic power reaches the stage that it can be utilised water is perhaps one of the cheapest sources of power available. I am not looking forward with any enthusiasm to the day when water power will be supplanted by atomic power. I am glad that the Electricity Supply Board decided to investigate and are in the course of investigating the possibilities of some of our Wicklow rivers.
I have often felt that the fast-flowing mountain streams and rivers of Wicklow are a potential source of electric power. I am glad that the Avonmore has been selected for investigation. We all know that that river must offer, by reason of its gravitation, very considerable possibilities. I have very often thought also that the Avonbeg river should offer possibilities for development. Of course it is impossible for any person without engineering experience to express an opinion on a matter of this kind.
I am hopeful that any scheme of development in this respect will not infringe on or interfere unduly with the life of the people in the villages and towns in the areas affected. I am hopeful in particular that the beauty spots of Wicklow which are in close proximity to the Avonmore river will not suffer as a result of this development. We know that Glendalough has almost a world-wide reputation and is one of the beauty spots of Ireland. We know, too, that the Meeting of the Waters, and the Avonmore and the Avonbeg have always been very highly spoken of, and so I sincerely hope that the Electricity Supply Board will not do anything to incur the displeasure of the late Thomas Moore by interfering with the beauty of Avoca's Vale where these two celebrated rivers meet.
I often feel that there are possibilities with regard to the development of electric power from fast flowing rivers, even though it may not be possible to do much in the way of providing storage. I have often wondered why electric turbines could not be installed on rivers where there is a fast current of water so as to use that power, even where it is not possible to erect a storage reservoir. That power, though it might fluctuate from season to season or from month to month or from week to week, would, at the same time, be useful in supplementing our national supply. Deputy Dillon referred to the possibility of actually turning the course of a river and forcing it to descend as in the case of the River Moy. I would not be one of those who would scoff at any proposal of that kind. It is a matter that could, at least, be examined by those qualified to do so, and even if, after a brief examination, it was found that the proposal was unworkable there would be no harm done. Any proposal designed to develop our resources and to utilise unused water power, tidal power or any other type of power, should be applied with the utmost vigour because we, as a nation, both industrially and economically, suffer a disadvantage by reason of a dearth of mineral resources, and particularly of mineral fuel resources. It is only right, therefore, that whatever resources are available to us should be harnessed and used to the maximum extent.
With regard to rural electrification, I think there is not much room for complaint as to the rate of progress which has been made in extending the system. I think that the Electricity Supply Board is doing a comparatively good job of work. While complaints may be made, and can very well be made, as to the small districts, or even large districts, which are put back in the order of priority, I think it is well to remember that, eventually, all of them will be reached. There is a case in certain areas for dealing with, perhaps, a smaller area than the 25 square mile area. I think that if a particular district offers possibilities and appears to be economic, even though it may not be as large as the regulations of the Electricity Supply Board demand, work could be undertaken in such an area.
There is one matter about which I have always been inclined to be rather puzzled, and that is why the Electricity Supply Board concentrate on obtaining the main portion of their revenue from fixed charges. We know that one of the problems which the Electricity Supply Board has to face is that, once a large portion of the country is linked up, there is a tendency at times, particularly when there is a shortage of supply, for the demand to exceed the supply, and so appeals have to be issued in the public Press to consumers requesting them to use the current more sparingly. I think that the whole system of charging is an inducement to consumers to use power extravagantly. If, for example, a consumer gets his premises linked up he has to pay a substantial flat rate charge. It may be £2 or £3 each two-monthly period. Having paid that substantial charge, he gets the electric current at a comparatively low rate of charge per unit. In these circumstances, having been compelled to pay a high flat-rate charge, there is a natural anxiety on the part of that person to get and to use as much power as possible so as to offset the heavy flat-rate charge. I think that if the charges were on another basis, that is a reduced flat-rate charge, with the charge per unit a little more, there would be a real incentive to practise economy in the use of the current.
That incentive does not exist at the present time. As a matter of fact, under the present arrangement, the incentive is to use current as extravagantly as possible in order to get as much benefit as possible from the high fixed rate of charge. I think that the Electricity Supply Board should consider the question of reducing the flat-rate charge and then, if necessary, compensate themselves by increasing the charge per unit. I think that one of the desirable developments in regard to the use of electricity is the low rate of charge for current used off the peak periods, that is, during the night-time. I think that is a very good thing. It enables current that would otherwise go to waste to be utilised, and it provides an amenity for people by enabling them to heat bedrooms and spare rooms so that the effect of dampness and cold may be to a certain extent mitigated. I think that is a good development. I am of opinion that the extent to which electricity could be used to improve the standard of living of our people is almost unlimited. For that reason, I think it is only right that the Dáil should be unanimous, and I think it is unanimous, in supporting this measure.
I hope that one of the things to which the Minister will turn his attention in particular is the cost of the money to finance this project. I feel very strongly on this matter and I regard it as a matter of very grave importance. There is no truth in the allegation, which I know is frequently made, that the present Government are against intensive development of our resources by the investment of capital in them, so as to make our country more productive. Everything that has happened during the past few months since the change of Government has indicated a determination to go ahead as quickly as possible with development of every available resource in the country and the development of electricity is fundamental to all other development because it produces a source of power for our industries—I will not describe it as cheap, but it is a native supply—and also produces an amenity for our people in their homes, whether in rural or urban areas. For that reason, the Minister will be complimented on every effort he makes to push this electricity development scheme forward as quickly as possible.