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.