Energy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2011: Report Stage

Amendment No. 1 is in the name of Deputy Ferris.

Would Deputy Ferris permit me to correct a minor typographical error under the clerk's correction procedure? It relates to the correction of a second "that". In accordance with Standing Order 140, the Chair should direct the clerk to make a verbal correction to the text of the Bill on page 29, line 12. I request the Chair to direct the clerk to remove the word "that" at the start of the line.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Amendments Nos. 1, 5 and 6 are related and amendments Nos. 2, 3, and 7 are consequential on amendment No. 6. Amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, and Nos. 5 to 7, inclusive, will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 33, line 12, after "("Fund")." to insert the following:

"The Fund shall be integrated into the fuel poverty programme and all measures proofed to ensure compliance with the objectives of that programme.".

Every Member of this House is aware of the number of people caught up in fuel poverty at this time of the year. Many people go without adequate fuel provision and there are consequences to this, particularly for elderly people living in rural and isolated areas who find themselves unable to provide adequate fuel to heat their houses, themselves and their families. If the amendment was made, it would be a commitment that people who need heating urgently and are in dire circumstances will be compensated accordingly. I hope the Minister will accept this amendment in the terms in which it is meant. It is intended to help elderly people, low-income families and those on social welfare and on old age pensions who find themselves in these circumstances. This would provide certainty.

I welcome the proactive approach of the Minister to accept suggestions made by the Opposition. I regret that his colleague, Deputy Phil Hogan, is not as interactive as Deputy Rabbitte. If he was, we would have resolved the issue of septic tanks long ago. I compliment the Minister and thank him. I accept amendment No. 6 and I will withdraw amendments Nos. 4 and 5. I want to get back to the Committee Stage of the Water Services (Amendment) Bill. I support the Minister in respect of amendment No. 6.

I acknowledge what Deputy Ferris said about the importance of fuel poverty. I appreciate what Deputy Ó Cuív said because we debated these issues on Committee Stage and I undertook to accommodate what Deputies Ferris and Ó Cuív were trying to do if I could. We have come up with a reasonably clever way of meeting them. For that reason, I cannot accept Deputy Ferris's amendment, No. 1, or Deputy Ó Cuív's amendment, No. 5, which he intends to withdraw.

Section 14 provides for the creation of an energy efficiency fund, which is provided for in order to allow contributions from energy suppliers to be reinvested in energy efficiency and meet the specific objectives set out in subsection 5. On Committee Stage, Deputies Ferris and Ó Cuív suggested that section 14 be amended to provide for a mandatory obligation requiring that the proposed energy efficiency fund shall provide for specific measures for the alleviation of fuel poverty. On Committee Stage, I offered to accommodate the Deputies while stating that I did not want to be overly prescriptive. In order to accommodate the Deputies, I am proposing a number of amendments, which have been drafted following discussions between my Department and the Office of the Parliamentary Council. The key amendment is No. 6, which provides that the energy fund be used for the alleviation of energy poverty. The wording of the section has been agreed by the Office of the Parliamentary Council and that is as far as I can go. Amendments No. 2, 3 and 7 are minor, technical amendments that are required in view of amendment No. 6.

With regard to fuel poverty, I launched the affordable energy strategy in November 2011, which sets out the range of tangible, time-bound measures to tackle and alleviate energy poverty in a cohesive, cross-governmental approach. Moreover, there is already a Better Energy, Warmer Homes scheme in place, administered by the SEAI, which has provided energy efficiency improvements in over 80,000 homes since it was launched in 2006. The 2012 allocation for the energy poverty strand of the better energy programme amounts to just over €17 million, which will enable some 17,000 low-income homes to be retrofitted this year under the warmer homes scheme. The programme for Government signalled the Government's intention to move away from grants by the end of 2013. The proposed pay as you save scheme is considering the issue of how to incentivise people on low incomes, who typically fall into a definition of energy or fuel poor. I intend, in the near future, to bring a memorandum to Government on the issue of pay as you save.

I thank the Minister for his reply. In light of what he has said, particularly with regard to amendment No. 6 which covers much of what I have been talking about, I am prepared to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 33, line 23, to delete "and".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 33, line 25, to delete "measures." and substitute the following:

"measures, and

(c) to promote energy audits and financial instruments for energy savings.”.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 not moved.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 33, to delete lines 26 and 27 and substitute the following:

"(6) Without prejudice to the Fund's objectives, the Fund may be used for the alleviation of energy poverty (within the meaning of a document entitled "Warmer Homes - A Strategy for Affordable Energy in Ireland" published by the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources).".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 33, to delete line 33 and substitute the following:

"insubsection (5) or for the alleviation of energy poverty or both.”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 8:

In page 48, line 19, to delete "or" and substitute "and".

This is a purely technical amendment. It substitutes the word "and" for "or". The amendment corrects a minor error in section 20 which was inserted into the Bill on Committee Stage. Section 20 enables the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to dissolve by order certain non-trading statutory subsidiaries of Bord Gáis Éireann, BGÉ. Bord Gáis Éireann is seeking to wind up these subsidiaries in the interest of the good corporative administration of the BGÉ Group and in doing so remove an unnecessary administrative and corporative compliance burden.

The amendment substitutes the word "and" for the word "or" at the end of paragraph 2(a ), as it is intended that both the rights and liabilities of the non-trading statutory subsidiaries would transfer to BGÉ on dissolution of these subsidiaries.

Amendment agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.
Bill, as amended, received for final consideration.

When is it proposed to take Fifth Stage?