Electricity Regulation Bill, 1998: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Before the debate adjourned I said the ESB should be far more conscious of the structures it puts in place, particularly in urban areas. These are crude structures that need to be integrated into the landscape in some way. Many power lines throughout the country can be described as seriously injurious to the landscape. The most recent one stretched from Moneypoint through County Galway and across the midlands to the east coast. It is one example where there has not been any sensitivity to the landscape. It goes across amenity areas like the Slieve Aughty mountains and right through the midlands. The planners in the ESB should be more sensitive about the installations in urban areas. In addition, the jury is out on the safety and health risks associated with high voltage power lines, which are often placed next to residential areas or individual houses in rural areas. I hope the controversy in Cork is not repeated. The ESB seems insistent that pylons will be located in Cork harbour. The associated power lines will be very intrusive in the area's visual amenity.

The introduction of competition into the generation of electricity should mean cheaper prices for the consumer. However, if demand continues to grow at the current rate of 6 per cent per annum, it is unlikely the consumer will get cheaper power. If the ESB is partially privatised, control will be lost. Governments will not be able to act as previous Governments have on many occasions in asking the ESB to hold back on price increases unless the Minister retains the power of pricing for the ESB. That would be a severe blow, because if profit is the motive for those buying into the service, they will seek price increases. It is worth pointing out that as oil and coal prices have levelled off recently – and substantially reduced in some cases – the ESB has not passed on a subsequent reduction in price to the consumer. Great vigilance is needed to regulate price increases if privatisation is to take place.

What is the situation regarding job losses, particularly with the electricity generating stations in the midlands which are coming to the end of their lifespans? What safeguards are there for the workers in those plants, who have given sterling service over the years to the ESB? I pay tribute to the ESB at all levels for the excellent service provided through the years often during unsocial hours and in dangerous conditions, particularly last Christmas when the west experienced severe storm conditions. Due to the efficient service provided by the ESB most areas were not without electricity for more than one or two hours. Will that level of commitment continue in the event that certain sections of the ESB are handed over to outside interests? If we are about to dismantle the present structure we must be careful about what will take its place.

New electricity connections in rural areas are very expensive. When supply has to be provided to a new house, the ESB refurbishes existing transformers and replaces the old power line. The cost involved is passed on to the new customer, usually a young couple. In addition to the high price of a new house the young couple have this extra expense which cannot be financed through a housing loan and they are indebted twice over to some lending institution for the high cost passed on. While the ESB gives an undertaking to refund the original applicant some of the cost if further supply is needed in the immediate vicinity, that does not always happen at the appropriate time. I wonder whether the ESB would consider introducing a charge which could be included in the billing system to alleviate the hardship caused by the initial cost of connection.

Many speakers mentioned the potential for renewable resources. I have referred to wind farms in the rural landscape, which are obtrusive and a cause of concern to many isolated communities. Has the ESB investigated the potential for wave or tidal power along the coastline, which is extremely long relative to the size of the country? There must be some location where electricity could be produced from wave or tidal power. This source of energy would be renewable, economic and eliminate the concerns of many people regarding the continuous burning of fossil fuels. The burning of such fuels has been a source of concern to many people concerned with health issues, particularly those living in the vicinity of Moneypoint. I am aware from my contacts at Moneypoint that the ESB has spent enormous sums in upgrading its facilities for the treatment of emissions from the plant into the atmosphere.

An elderly friend in County Wicklow cannot understand why a location such as Laragh, County Wicklow, is not investigated as a potential site for a hydroelectric power station. It is a natural valley which has many inbuilt and ready made characteristics suitable for the development of such a power station. That would be a valuable asset and would eliminate the need for the burning of fossil fuels.

The public has legitimate fears that if the ESB is privatised certain areas will lose out. In the past CIE provided a rural bus service. When the more commercial aspects of the company were highlighted, slowly but surely it withdrew from the non-profitable routes, leaving many areas without a service. I fear a new operator will apply double standards, that urban customers will be prioritised while the rural isolated areas will be ignored. In the past, the ESB has treated all its customers equally. I would be seriously concerned if that practice were to change.

With your permission, I wish to share my time with Deputy Michael Ahern.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I congratulate the Minister on introducing the Bill. I welcome the fact that from February 2000, 28 per cent of the Irish market will be open to competition. This is the era of competition and liberalisation in the market. It is the first step along the road of change in the ESB. The uncertainty is beginning to be lifted and a way forward has been mapped out by the Minister.

Many speakers have referred to the rural electrification scheme. Hand in hand with rural electrification was the concept of group water schemes. Those two innovations were important for rural Ireland, leading to economic growth and a demand for increased power supplies. As a Deputy elected in the mid-1970s, I know it was difficult to complete rural electrification. Places like Ballycastle, County Mayo and the Black Valley in County Kerry were unable to get a supply because it was so expensive. Various Ministers and Governments and the ESB worked hard to ensure rural electrification extended to the whole country.

Another welcome development was the introduction of a grant system to provide electricity to rural homes and for farming activities. That scheme was one of the best available and helped to keep farm families in rural areas. I am glad the ESB has continued to improve its service in rural Ireland, as there is even more need for electricity supplies.

On the costs of the new regulations and commission, Mr. Ken O'Hara said:

The ESB starts off with a number of basic cost disadvantages. It has a range of public service obligations, most particularly the obligation to maintain peat fired and alternative energy stations. It also suffers from a number of historical disadvantages, in so far as it has a range of older generation plant, much less efficient in many cases than the modern equivalent which a new supplier can start off with.

I was glad Mr. O'Hara mentioned costs at peat fired stations because, as a rural Deputy, I am extremely interested in those stations. There are hundreds of acres of bog in the Galway-Roscommon area but turf cannot be cut from some of them because they are designated as special areas of conservation. The turf and milled peat harvested in those areas have been transported to various power stations and briquette plants in the midlands. Last year, 50,000 tonnes of milled peat were harvested in the Derryfadda bogs of Galway and Roscommon which I understand are to go to Lanesboro. In the past, milled peat from those bogs has been transported to Shannonbridge power station and Blackwater, County Offaly. Will milled peat from Derryfadda be brought to the new peat fired station which has been promised for the midlands? In many ways I hope the answer is "no", because I would like to see a peat fired station in Derryfadda, where a site is available, with a new road and lighting.

There must be an election coming.

It would be an ideal location for a peat fired power station but if that does not happen the site is available for industry. That issue should be addressed by the Government.

I pay tribute to the dedication of ESB workers at all levels. For the last two Christmases, when we experienced severe storms and flooding, the outdoor workers came off Christmas break to provide a service to people whose supply had been cut off. As a public representative I have been in touch with the ESB about these matters and have been told that transformers have broken down or are out of order, or cables have blown down. I am sure other Deputies have heard the same.

This raises the question as to why we have so many overhead cables. In many towns and cities there are moves to install underground wires, a development which has been favourably received by the National Tidy Towns Committee. It may sound simplistic but we should move from overhead cables to a more modern system. In many towns which are installing sewerage systems or where Telecom Éireann is working, underground cabling is being installed at the same time. This is welcome because I do not advocate the wholesale digging up of roads in our towns. A lot of money is spent on roadworks and water and sewerage schemes. Surely underground cabling could be laid then.

Other speakers mentioned renewable energy resources. Those involved in small hydro-powered or wind-powered schemes wish to know how to feed into the national grid, and they should be helped. There are difficulties with wind turbines in high amenity areas. Deputy Burke mentioned that in south Galway, there was concern about the erection of 69 turbines in a rural community. The development was granted planning permission by the county council and upheld by An Bord Pleanála, but wind turbines should be located away from populated areas. Many people live in rural Ireland because of the peace and quiet. Noisy, unsightly wind turbines should not be near houses and centres of population.

Wind turbines are about as popular as communications masts or superdumps, which leads me to the topic of incineration, part of the waste management strategy. Three places in east Galway are mentioned as possible landfill sites. As part of the process an incinerator will be provided near Galway city; it is argued that the incinerator should be near an industrial centre because the energy provided by waste incineration can be used in industry. Every county has a waste management strategy and the EU is considering regional strategies for waste disposal. Incineration is also part of the energy question and is promoted in every country in Europe but we lag considerably behind.

There is also emphasis on recycling – some houses in Europe have three or four bins for separate disposal of bottles, cans, paper, etc. This exists on a small scale in parts of the country. In New Inn, County Galway, pig farms have a heating system which runs on methane gas from waste. This is not new, but we are looking at other issues which impinge on energy.

Competition is most important. Mr. Aidan O'Regan, the head of regulatory affairs in the ESB, said that in many EU countries domestic consumers subsidise business users. The opposite is the case in Ireland. The challenge we face is ensuring that the cost of domestic electricity supplies remains low.

There is also the question of energy provision throughout the island. There should be North-South co-operation in this area. This issue is particularly relevant now given that it arose when we discussed the Good Friday Agreement. The Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, and her counterparts from the United Kingdom have had many discussions on this matter and I hope it will prove a practical way to bring people, North and South, together. We also face a challenge in respect of the cost of electricity supplies North and South.

The ESB is one of our best run State companies. However, it would be the first to admit there are too many breakdowns in the service. I refer to the difficulties which occurred during last Christmas and the Christmas before when small dairy farmers, in particular, suffered a great deal. I am baffled that if a transformer breaks down the entire surrounding area can lose electricity supply. The ESB is aware this problem must be tackled. People who operate larger farms may have their own generators and can continue with their work during a blackout. However, that is not the case for small dairy farmers who are dependent on the ESB for their electricity supply.

With regard to renewable energy, an issue to which Deputy Burke referred, we should carry out further research into the use of wave power. This country may not get adequate hours of sunshine to promote the use of solar energy and, as already stated, there have been difficulties in respect of wind farms, both from the point of view of planning and the construction of structures to withstand strong winds, but wave power is available on all our coasts. It may be difficult to harness this source of energy but its viability should be researched and developed.

I have already complimented the staff of the ESB, particularly those who work outdoors. I also compliment the staff of ESB International. Three years ago I travelled to Tanzania with the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and visited some of the projects on which ESB International had worked. I was amazed by what I saw. For example, ESB International was involved in many agricultural projects in Tanzania. It has been involved in projects in Croatia since 1995 and in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, where it has five contracts, since 1996. The company has worked with a range of contractors from across the globe in the latter location. Many of its consultants have returned to Ireland and become involved in consultancy work. The company is widely known and its work, particularly in developing countries, is to be commended.

In the past the ESB trained apprentices and I hope it will continue to do so. The education and training it is providing in Third World countries is second to none. I will conclude on that point to allow Deputy Michael Ahern to contribute. I welcome the Bill, I congratulate the Minister and I applaud the ESB for the work it is doing to facilitate the establishment of the new commission and the regulator.

The Electricity Supply Board has served the country well over the years and has brought light into the darkness. I praise the company's staff, with whom I have direct contact, who have given outstanding service to the country. This was evident during the past two winters when their selflessness and bravery was witnessed by all and sundry.

During my time as a Member of this House, my dealings with the ESB have been friendly and fruitful. Its officials have always been receptive to representations in respect of problems experienced by customers. They always made every effort to solve those problems. However, times are changing for every sector in society and the ESB is no exception.

The powers that held sway in the ESB a number of years ago foresaw the onset of change and prepared the company for diversification. Deputy Michael Kitt referred to the work of ESB International but the company also saw that telecommunications and information technology would be important driving forces and influences in the years ahead. I understand the ESB invested more than £200 million in establishing a system throughout the country to prepare it for the telecommunications boom. It was successful in doing so and found a suitable strategic partner to further its aims.

One of the few complaints made to me in the past regarding the ESB relates to its attitude towards planning. People believed they were not treated fairly by the company when it decided to erect supply lines in certain locations, irrespective of the views of the general public.

At present, a large problem is looming in my constituency in respect of the erection of approximately 49 pylons on the 11 to 12 mile stretch from the station at Aghada to Rafeen. The new line will run from Aghada to Saleen, across the island of Cobh and the River Lee, to Monkstown and on to Rafeen. The area is already well serviced by ESB lines – between six to eight of them already transverse the island of Cobh. The planning for this began six years ago but it only came to the notice of the general public and local landowners two years ago. Since then there has been a great deal of opposition to the plan. Many meetings have taken place between local representatives, Deputies and councillors, and a local group which is opposing the plan. The previous Government refused to meet the local opposition group. The Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, is to be congratulated, however, because in her first week in office she travelled to east Cork and met the group. She met its representatives on a second occasion in Dublin and the Taoiseach also met them. On behalf of my constituents, I thank the Minister for the help she has given within the limits under which she operates. I also thank the Taoiseach.

An independent investigation was commissioned by Cork County Council, the findings of which supported the view that the cost of placing the line under land and water would be prohibitive. The ESB is willing to place it under water but would like the Government to pay for it. That would have a knock-on effect throughout the country. The ESB has sufficient funds; it spent between £200 million and £300 million on putting a telecommunications system in place. Was it allowed to do this under the relevant statute? Should it have used the money on the service it was established to provide?

The main purpose of the Bill is to provide a regulatory framework for the introduction of competition in the generation and supply of electricity. I have heard on the grapevine that there are a number of bodies interested in providing an alternative generating station in the Rafeen area of Cork South-Central. This would remove the necessity to erect pylons from Aghada to Rafeen. I do not know the reason this project is not proceeding. Is it being blocked by forces which do not want competition? I understand the bodies concerned are reputable and have the necessary funding and expertise.

Last week an attempt was made to erect the pylons, but the ESB was ejected from the site on which it was working. I do not know the up-to-date position, but there is a considerable number of people – responsible, respectable and upstanding members of the community – who feel so strongly about the issue that they are willing to go to jail. There will be severe trouble in the area if the ESB proceeds. A solution acceptable to both sides has to be found. The solution might be to allow the bodies mentioned to proceed with the provision of an alternative generating station.

I commend the Minister on introducing the Bill which provides for the introduction of competition. There is a need for a regulatory framework to ensure no section of society is left in the dark.

I welcome the Bill. The ESB is the last monopoly in the State. This is now being broken in accordance with the terms of the EU directive. During the years it blackguarded young couples building their own homes. In 1973 when I was in a low-paid job I was asked for £900 to erect a transformer on a site I had purchased. I was informed that I would get some of this back within seven years if somebody else sought connection. I am still waiting. The ESB has not treated its customers with respect. It did and charged what it liked. Whenever a reduction was sought for young couples it gave the two fingers. It will now have to compete in the marketplace. The sooner competition is introduced the better. Industry has also been impeded in terms of the prices charged for electricity.

On a positive note, I compliment the ESB on the work it did during the Christmas period to repair the damage caused by the severe storm in the west. The people of Erris suffered more than most, they were the first to lose power on Christmas Eve and the last to have it restored. This was followed by further cuts as a result of a less severe storm. I have as a consequence asked the ESB to place lines undergound. It cost it a small fortune to transport staff from other areas during the Christmas period. It has had to do this for three years in a row. It would be more cost effective to place lines underground on a phased basis. I know the Minister will do everything in her power to help.

I welcome the introduction of competition. I am aware of cases, the details of which I have sent to Deputy Currie, where the ESB asked young couples for between £6,000 and £8,000 to provide a service. Once the Minister announced the introduction of the Bill there was a new ruling and the charge was reduced to £700 or £800.

A uniform cost.

It is called competition.

I welcome the Bill because there must be competition in the marketplace, although I hope there will not be "hello money" following its introduction. I was in business for many years and saw how that operated, especially among the big players. I am glad it is coming out into the open.

The ESB was not a friend of rural people nor of young couples because it did not assist them in any way. I am not very popular with it because I have told it what I think of it.

The Deputy was popular with the voters.

The voters have to pay. It is terrible that a young couple who, after buying a site and building a house, get a bill and are then told the ESB can do nothing for them.

It is wonderful what competition can do. The ESB will undergo many changes when it has to compete in the marketplace. Initial competition will be introduced in 2000 and more will follow in 2003. It is also welcome that prices will fall over a short period. Industries have been calling for this move because they have suffered at the hands of the ESB. Competition will make a difference.

I would appreciate if the Minister could examine the position in Erris. Is there a possibility that the board could put some of the infrastructure underground? I do not expect it all to be done in one year, but if a commitment were given it would make many people happy. The people of Erris have suffered, even in the summer time, because when there is a storm the ESB has to be called out. They have received a very poor supply of power over many years. Like myself, the Minister will pursue a matter if she takes it on. I know, therefore, that if she agrees to take up this matter with the ESB she will do so.

I welcome the Bill. I also welcome competition in this area and the disappearance of another monopoly. The ESB, like others, will have to compete in the marketplace. It knows it can no longer charge what it likes. Those days are gone. The sooner the new structures are implemented the better.

I also welcome the Bill; it is long overdue. When I was first elected to the House the then Minister for Energy, Deputy Molloy, was attempting to regulate the ESB, especially with regard to its retail outlets where there is unfair competition.

Deputy Ring is known, affectionately, as the Mary O'Rourke of Fine Gael, which is a compliment.

I do not know whether to take that as a compliment.

He is not as good looking as the Minister.

I will take that as a compliment.

By all means.

One positive aspect of the ESB is the way its crews have worked over the past couple of winters to restore power following bad weather in the south-west and north-west. They returned supply to these areas often in terrible weather conditions.

However, I welcome the introduction of competition because the ESB has enjoyed a monopoly for far too long. My family and I are involved in the business of selling white goods and electrical supplies. The ESB has an unfair advantage here in the way it can utilise billing, etc. It is difficult for the private sector to compete on a fair playing pitch. Following deregulation in the coming years, the ESB will probably realise it is no longer in its interest to stay in that business because the private sector will give the same deals to consumers.

Leitrim County Council provided demountable dwellings, to single men in particular, over the last number of years in relatively isolated areas. In one instance such a dwelling was provided 18 months ago, yet the occupier is still waiting for the ESB to supply electricity. It is horrendous that anybody should have to wait that length of time for an electricity service. It is the only service the occupier is entitled to. The council is prepared to pay for it, yet the ESB is unable to supply it. This is unbelievable and it should not happen.

With the advent of competition I assume local authorities or private individuals will be able to approach competing providers and not have to wait as long for supplies. They currently have no choice. Young people who built homes and sought an electricity supply did not know what price they would be charged. It could have been anything from £2,000 to £6,000 depending, for example, on the number of poles to be erected. While the introduction of a uniform cost by the Minister is much fairer, the ESB must now live in the world of privatisation and competition. That can only be good for the consumer.

Since its establishment, however, the ESB has done excellent work on behalf of consumers and businesses in providing proper supplies. It has also improved in leaps and bounds over the last number of years. Nevertheless, as we approach the 21st century, it is imperative that the consumer has a choice. I, therefore, welcome the Bill.

I welcome the Bill. Over the last decade the privileged position of a number of monopoly service providers has come to an end. The consequences have generally been positive, especially for the consumer. I acknowledge the role of the Minister in ending the monopoly of Telecom Éireann, which has had startling and positive consequences for the consumer. The framework to be established by this legislation will have the same beneficial consequences for electricity consumers.

The potential for further liberalisation of other service monopolies is extensive. For example, the monopoly enjoyed by Iarnród Éireann should be examined. It would enable the necessary capital to be provided to improve the railway line infrastructure. State ownership of railway lines, but with a number of transport companies competing to operate them, combined with the privatisation of Iarnród Éireann could generate the substantial capital necessary to improve the railway lines, especially the one from Dublin to the west, about which we hear most. The recently published report on rail safety highlights the need for a considerable amount of money to be spent to bring trains up to an acceptable standard and to provide fast intercity transport as we face into a new millennium.

We must improve our infrastructural capacity, particularly our transport system, if we want to maintain our competitive edge. Over the past decade we have put great faith in our ability to attract international investment. We have probably exhausted that resource, so we need to invest significant amounts of money to maintain our competitive position.

We have a great deal of catching up to do in terms of our infrastructure. We have spent a great deal of money on our road infrastructure but we are running to stand still. While the volume of traffic and freight has increased because of our successful economy, journey times are not efficient. The railways offer another opportunity to significantly add to our competitiveness.

While there is an element of competition in the bus service, it is hugely inadequate, particularly in the cities. The public is abandoning the ageing bus fleet in Cork city on a daily basis. We should remember that every public transport user who becomes disgruntled when buses fail to arrive, or when they are driven past them because they are full is a potential car owner. Although it would be costly to provide subsidised public transport, it would pay for itself in a number of years.

I agree with the thrust of the Bill which is preparing the ground rules for competition. Perhaps we should also look at the other opportunities which exist.

The debate on whether to put electricity power lines on pylons or under the water in the harbour area of Cork is causing significant controversy. The future growth and development of the economy of Cork, particularly of the lower harbour region, should not be compromised by the failure to resolve this problem. Unless it is resolved within two years, questions may be asked about whether the power supply will be able to meet the demand in that area.

A substantial argument about the proliferation of ESB poles and telegraph lines, to which Deputy Ring referred, is being made on environmental grounds. They are a visual obscenity but they are necessary in a modern economy and industrial society. We should re-examine the proposal for the Cork harbour area given its natural beauty, with a view to choosing the underground option. My primary concern is that the matter be brought to a swift conclusion because we cannot jeopardise the future economic development of that area. I ask the Minister to bring this debate to a conclusion. The long-term planning of the region requires an assurance that there will be adequate power.

When the voluntary health insurance market was opened to competition, the principle of community rating applied. I come from a rural constituency which has many remote regions where the ESB charged individuals excessive prices to provide a service, although it may not have met its capital costs. The ESB will soon face competition. A mechanism must be built into this Bill which reflects the principle of community rating that applied when the health insurance market was liberalised so that people who want to live and work in remote areas of rural Ireland are not disadvantaged in terms of the cost of providing electricity. I know the Minister's heart is in the right place, so I ask her to ensure that all competitors in the market adopt such a policy.

I wish to mention alternative energy sources and the 2 per cent target we must meet, which is exceedingly low given our excessive dependence on imported energy. The interconnector means we will probably buy nuclear or oil generated electricity. We have an abundance of sites suitable for tapping alternative energy sources. There is a minor controversy in my constituency about a wind farm development. Although wind farms are not particularly attractive, this is outweighed by their environmental advantages in terms of non-renewable sources of energy. It is unfortunate that many wind farms will be located in elevated and sparsely populated rural areas.

Many companies are granted licences to construct wind turbines in local communities and they make money hand over fist without being obliged to give anything back to communities which bear the consequences of a scarred landscape. I would like the licences to state that there must be a link between local communities and the providers of alternative energy supplies. I have spoken to one provider who did not get a licence in the last round of applications but who was willing to enter into an arrangement with the local community whereby it would receive a percentage of the net profits or a once-off payment on an annual basis. It is only right that these companies are seen to give something back to local communities if they want to generate goodwill. At present, companies take everything but give nothing back to the local communities. I ask the Minister to factor that into the terms of the licences.

I welcome competition because it is good for consumers but there is a national security interest also, which is that we should not be left without a significant generating capacity under State ownership. I am not somebody who is ideologically driven about privatisation or State ownership, but in terms of such a fundamental part of day to day life and a successful economy, it is important to retain some degree of control over our own sources of electricity. We should not be entirely dependent on imported or privately owned energy and it is important that we retain both.

Privatisation is generally good for the consumer and I welcome the fact that under the Bill new competitors will be allowed enter the market and sell electricity. It is important also that the State should retain a role in terms of generating electricity.

Since its inception, the ESB has served the State well. We are facing a new millennium and many services we took for granted are feeling the competitive winds of change. I mentioned deregulation in telecommunication services and other areas where competition could be introduced such as rail transport and public transport generally. The ESB employees throughout the country have provided a service in all kinds of weather and we owe them a debt of gratitude. The staff currently working in the ESB should not fear competition because they have shown a capacity over the years to be innovative and to respond to change. This is probably the biggest change they are facing.

This is an exciting time, particularly for consumers who face the prospect of cheaper energy, but it is equally a challenging time for the ESB workforce. I have no doubt, given the resilience and innovation they have shown in the past, that they will be equal to the challenge.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. The importance of electricity cannot be understated. Last Christmas and the Christmas before that, when many people in rural and urban areas were without electricity, those of my generation and younger saw for the first time how people lived without electricity in the past. I compliment the ESB workers who did not think about their own families or their Christmas dinner but went out to restore electricity supply to the people who needed it. One wonders how the hospitals and other essential services were able to continue operating. I am sure that without electricity, we could not survive today.

I have a difficulty with some aspects of the Bill. I want to bring a matter to the Minister's attention which affects my own rural constituency. We are all aware of the rise in house prices in urban areas and people are being forced to move further away. I was in Sneem last weekend and met a group of people who spoke to me about the provision of electricity in the mountains. They told me that because of the millennium bug a large number of foreigners are going to live in the mountains and they need electricity. Apart from that, many people have to move out of urban areas and the difficulties being experienced in Kerry are the same as those in Dublin in terms of house prices.

A small number of farmers living in remote areas cannot afford to provide electricity for themselves. I dealt with a case some years ago of a man living on his own who did not have electricity because he could not afford the cost of the poles required to conduct electricity to his house.

I ask the Minister to bear in mind that there are certain areas without electricity, particularly in the mountains. We should also be mindful of the workers in the ESB who had a difficult task in completing the electrification scheme. The terrain in which they had to work was extremely difficult, and tribute should be paid to those workers.

The purpose of the Bill is to implement the EU directive on electricity and to change the law to allow for competition. What is the policy for the commercial State sector? The Minister has not given any indication of what she intends to do with the resources she will have following the sale of the ESB.

I will not have any.

Hopefully the Minister will have resources and something productive will be done.

I have difficulty with the option the Minister has taken, particularly in regard to the security of the workers' jobs. This should be done in such a way as to maintain Government control over the industry, which is vital to our economic well-being, rather than vesting the power in foreign interests. There should be clear, democratic accountability on the part of those responsible for policy and the regulation of the industry. Workers in the new companies to be introduced should enjoy the rights of the existing employees, particularly the right to join a trade union of their choice and to have that union recognised. That is a fundamental right for any worker. Domestic customers in remote areas should be guaranteed a supply of electricity at an affordable price. A wide range of choices was available to the Minister but the road she is taking will damage the integrity of the industry, the workers in that industry and the customers, both domestic and commercial.

We had a difficulty some time ago in regard to the turf-burning station in Cahirciveen and I have a concern in regard to that. What is the position in regard to Tarbert which has a large number of workers from Kerry, Clare and Limerick? I fear for the security of their jobs and the types of jobs they will have in the future.

I am concerned also that we will have difficulty with the guarantee of supply. The commitment of the ESB workers is second to none. If the same problems arise in the future that occurred last Christmas and the Christmas before, will the workers have the same level of commitment in such an emergency? Will they work in an environment where they will be willing to go out like they did last Christmas? Conditions for workers in the ESB are very good and they have a great pay structure. Can the Minister give a commitment that privatisation will not spell disaster for ESB workers?

It is dangerous that decisions concerning the ESB will not be taken in this country, but perhaps at boardrooms in New York, Tokyo or Berlin. We will have no control over an essential service. That is one of the main difficulties I have, particularly concerning the workforce. The Minister should re-examine the matter to make sure that when she goes down this road, workers will be the number one priority. It is also important for customers that the price of electricity will not shoot through the roof. When the electricity service goes into private ownership we will have no control over it. I would be very careful before signing the deal.

As regards the type of fuel the ESB will use, there will be a heavy reliance upon imported gas. Even though it is cheaper than other fuels, it is not very desirable because of the insecurity of supply. A diversity of fuels should be used, including gas, oil, coal, peat, water and wind power. We should not confine ourselves to using imported gas because, although it is cheap, where would we be if it dried up?

I oppose the Bill.

I am grateful for the opportunity to make a brief comment on this important Bill. Listening to the debate, it is hard to believe that rural electrification has still not reached some parts of the country, although this is not something I can complain of in my constituency.

The Minister is laying down the ground rules for introducing privatisation and competition in the electricity sector. I have no objection to that but what concerns me is how one goes about doing it.

I appreciate the great work the ESB has done. Rural electrification brought a whole new aspect to life in many places we thought would never have the benefit of an ESB supply. I recall, as a young boy, seeing workmen manually bringing electricity poles to remote areas. It was work that would not be undertaken in such a manner now because the unions would not allow it. However, those men did it and took pride in the fact that they were bringing electricity to people in remote areas. They must be complimented for having done so.

In this House we are often swift to criticise semi-State bodies and State agencies but the ESB can stand shoulder high, having provided an excellent and efficient electricity service. It has done a good job.

That commitment to work practice was seen in the best light during the recent storms last Christmas when falling trees, poles and other objects brought down ESB lines. The commitment that was shown in the 1950s and 1960s when rural electrification was being established, was clearly demonstrated again when ESB crews went out in the winter storms to restore power supplies. I pay tribute to the ESB staff in County Cavan, who provided a 24-hour service at their Moynehall depot. Because of the number of calls coming in there it was not possible to ring through, so I went out to the local head office. I was highly impressed by the efficient manner in which the person in charge was in touch with his repair crews around the county.

The ESB responded immediately to requests from people whose lines has been broken the previous night. Power was restored as quickly as possible on a temporary basis and crews returned later to make full repairs. That work should be recognised. It is service one would not get from private enterprise. ESB crews worked 24 hours a day, including Saturdays and Sundays, putting their lives at risk. During the winter storms, one ESB worker was seriously injured when cutting a tree that had fallen across power lines. It shows that ESB personnel take risks for us, but it is something we tend to take for granted. I appreciate the service the ESB has given and the work that has been done.

I cannot fathom how the Minister will go about privatising the ESB. Perhaps she can tease the matter out a bit more for us. I know what private enterprise will do. The people involved will look on the ESB sell-off as an opportunity to take over areas of greatest demand for electricity where the best returns will be made, but who then will provide the service nationally?

It is a balancing act because it is not as economical to provide electricity to remote areas. It is more profitable to provide such a service to villages, towns and cities, and to large industries. Having control over semi-State bodies, we must ensure that the ESB supply is available nationwide at all times, and at the same cost to everybody.

In that regard, will the Minister consider a problem I have come across recently, although it does not occur very often? That is where somebody wants to upgrade an industry in what would probably be considered a remote area. To upgrade to three phase, the ESB must put down about ten or 15 poles from the nearest transformer. In such a case, the ESB requests a contribution of £15,000 from a small industrialist, which is unfair.

That is not helping the small man, at all.

No, that is the point I am making.

Deputy Boylan without interruption, please.

The Deputy was not here, although he was supposed to be.

Yet, if that plant was on the outskirts of a large town or city, where industry is already established, there would be no such cost. It is unfair to that person and I am sure it is not a unique case. It is wrong to expect a small industry – providing a service and creating local employment – to accept that to upgrade the availability of power – which is necessary to develop and expand the business – the ESB can seek a contribution in the region of £15,000. No grant aid is available for this cost. If a grant was available, either through the Leader scheme or some State agency, it would lessen the cost and go some way towards helping the person to provide that service. However, it is not eligible for grant aid and has to stand alone. That is not acceptable to me. The ESB should provide this service, irrespective of where the industry is established, to ensure that jobs are created and maintained in rural areas. We all speak about the drive to create jobs, but this is one positive way in which the Minister could make a contribution towards ensuring that we do so.

When the original plans were being drawn up to provide rural electrification, it was to areas of greatest demand at the time. We now have a demand for housing from people who wish to establish holiday homes in remote parts of the country, including my own county. We should promote and encourage this nationwide development which is bringing people into rural areas where agriculture, which was the backbone of rural industry, is in decline. While some people are getting out of farming and young people are moving away, others are interested in enjoying the peace and quiet of rural Ireland and they wish to establish holiday or weekend homes. They are people from towns and cities, as well as emigrants who wish to establish a holiday home here.

Debate adjourned.