Wind Turbine Regulation Bill 2014: Second Stage (Resumed) [Private Members]

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

The Technical Group has ten minutes remaining. Deputies Richard Boyd Barrett, Mick Wallace and Thomas Pringle are sharing time.

It is good news that the Government is not opposing this Bill, and I commend Sinn Féin on its introduction. For the most part it is a tribute to the people in the midlands - in Laois, Offaly, Westmeath and elsewhere - who have campaigned and forced this issue onto the agenda. Neither they nor I are opposed to the development of renewable energy resources, but major questions arise in the development of those resources about the impact on local communities, about proper public consultation with those communities, about health and safety issues and about the efficiency and viability of this industrialised, corporatist approach to developing renewable energy resources. The bottom line is that the Government has not done its homework in these areas in order to establish the case for these things, to set out a regime which ensures proper environmental protection, proper consideration of local communities and indeed, the business case for the real environmental efficiency of these huge turbines. I learned the simple fact today that a wind turbine requires 200 tonnes of concrete to construct it and every tonne of concrete results in one tonne of carbon dioxide. Given the relatively short life span of wind turbines, even there one can see there will be serious problems, not to mention construction and transport costs and the infrequency of wind. These are major issues that need to be considered.

This is true not just in the midlands but also for the Dublin Array project - that is, the plan to put one of the biggest wind farms in the world a very short distance off the coast in Dublin Bay in a way that could be seriously detrimental to that bay as an amenity. It could well be a case of cutting off one's nose to spite one's face, because the damage to a tourism amenity and a piece of heritage could far outweigh any supposed or spurious economic advantage. I am ringing alarm bells about the corporatist and industrialised approach to developing renewable energy resources. That is not the way to go.

One of the players in this is Element Power, previously owned by the person who owned SWS Energy, who got the interconnector rights for wind energy into the national grid from, as I understand it, Noel Dempsey. He got them for a song - a few million euro - but recently sold them to Bord Gáis for half a billion euro. The company happens to be owned by someone who was a former Fine Gael candidate or somebody very close to Fine Gael. This is the sort of information that needs to be examined. Was a tender in place for those interconnector rights? Was there an open competition? Is this another case similar to that of Eircom, in which people are plundering natural resources for their own profit and not for the benefit of our economy, our society or our environment?

I welcome the fact that the Government is not opposing the Bill. Hopefully the reason is genuine and is not connected to the local elections. Its agreement to the set back distances and the provisions relating to noise and shadow flicker are welcome. We do not seem to have a developed energy strategy - not that it is easy to have one, given that so many things have been changing so fast in the past few years. Before we proceed with building more wind turbines on land in particular, we have to give serious consideration to other options, given the concern about the volatility of wind power. In view of the fact that we are on an island with 3,000 miles of Atlantic to the west, it is strange that we consider wave power as something beyond affordability. It deserves further research.

There is little doubt that the Aarhus Convention was contravened with regard to the proposed wind turbines in the midlands. The convention demands access to information, public participation in decision making and access to justice. The level of consultation in this process is very weak. It would be nice if the Government were to change its stance and give people more say in what happens in their communities. The same topic is relevant to the EirGrid project. Too often, significant decisions seem to be made and one wonders if the Government believes what it is doing is for the best, as it appears sometimes to be driven by pressure from big business. This is not always the case, but in this case there are some grounds for concern. More thought needs to be given to this project rather than giving in to the pressure of some serious players.

Another issue is the engagement of Statoil and Norway in the wind project. They are doing some work with Scotland. They are working at sea using a process that does not require the turbines to be anchored to the sea bed, which is an expensive system. We have a significant resource in the seas around the west coast, and this project should be considered before we destroy the landscape for all and sundry.

I congratulate Sinn Féin on its introduction of the Bill. It is interesting and welcome that the Government has indicated that it will not oppose this legislation. It should be noted that not opposing a Bill is different from accepting it. The fact that it is not being opposed might have something to do with the timing of the debate.

The guidelines and the policy of the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, have not been finalised as yet.

That is convenient. I am sure it will be another few months before they are introduced. We can look forward to the Bill progressing through Committee and Report Stages and being adopted.

It is all about policy.

It will be very interesting to see that process taking place. I hope that happens, and it would be nice if it did. It would be preferable to the Bill's gathering dust and falling with the general election in 2016, which I think at this stage - one might say I am being cynical - is more than likely what will happen. I would like to get odds from Paddy Power on what the process will be.

The Deputy should not put too much money on it.

The legislation is a response to the controversy that has taken place across the midlands in regard to wind turbine development. There are proposals to develop industrial-style wind farms.

The most significant development in recent months is the decision by the British Government not to go ahead with the agreement with the State for the purchase of the energy produced. That is probably what will save the communities across the Midlands and will have the biggest impact, because it was wrong.

I believe the Bill should go further with regard to noise and shadow flicker. The proposers of wind farm developments should model their developments in such a way that a turbine is not placed within a distance of a house that could cause noise or shadow flicker to affect it. Distances can be set such as ten times the turbine height, but given the topography of the land, that could still provide for flicker and noise. Developers should be able to model those conditions and assure local communities that there will not be any noise or flicker. That should be in the regulations, rather than set distances. Obviously, it will be different for each development, depending on the topography, but that should be developed.

The Bill should also state that the environmental impact assessment should be carried out by the local authority independently of the development, with the developer paying the cost. I have yet to read an environmental impact assessment that stated that a development should not go ahead due to its impact on the area, because they are paid for by the developers. He who pays the piper calls the tune; therefore, the report will always state that the development can go ahead and that it will not have an impact on the environment. That is something that should be in law, and I believe it is European Union law. The Government involved itself in some gymnastics about a year and a half ago in interpreting EU law to prevent that from being done. It should be in the legislation, and if the Bill moves forward to Committee Stage, I will be tabling amendments in that regard.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. It gives all of us an opportunity not only to debate the issues with regard to wind energy but also to outline our views on other renewable alternatives and methods of electricity generation that should be considered.

I read some statistics from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland which stated clearly that renewable energy has to date saved Ireland over €1 billion in fossil fuel imports. Ireland's dependence on the importation of fossil fuels stood at 85% in 2012; it was 90% in 2006. We spend over €6.5 billion per year on fossil fuel imports. It is clear to me, therefore, that that level of importation of fossil fuels is not sustainable in the longer term. Given the political and social uncertainties with regard to the provision of oil and gas, as an island we risk further exposure in terms of energy security and energy prices.

We have commitments also under the climate change arrangements we have engaged in to decarbonise our energy sector and considerably reduce our carbon emissions by 2020. We must therefore look across all sectors of the economy to find areas in which renewable energy sources can be utilised. The main contributing sectors to carbon emissions in Ireland are agriculture, transport, and energy. With regard to agriculture, we have ambitious targets for Harvest 2020 in the areas of beef and dairy production. I hear Deputies from all sides of the House calling for action on climate change, but when we have realistic propositions to reduce our carbon footprint, they oppose those projects. Wind energy is a perfect example of that. If we wanted nuclear energy in this country in the morning, I suspect the same Deputies would be jumping up and down about it. As politicians, we must show some leadership and not just tell people what they want to hear if we are serious about reducing our carbon emissions.

I welcome that the Minister and the Government are listening to genuine concerns with regard to wind farms, and communities are voicing those concerns. In that respect, I welcome the revised planning guidelines, about which the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, is currently in consultation. I hope those consultations will address many of the concerns of communities and the general public.

I welcome also the recent announcement by the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, that he intends to publish a Green Paper on energy provision. That will give all stakeholders an opportunity to engage in that process and voice their opinions on how they see us providing energy security in this island nation for the next 20, 30, 40 or 50 years. We have commitments with regard to decarbonisation. We have exposures to risk in the sense of dependence on fossil fuels, and we have opportunities to maximise the potential of our natural resources.

I am disappointed that some politicians take the populist line almost all the time, telling people what they want to hear. They call for climate change action but then oppose renewable energy projects. What we need is vision and leadership. We need a rational debate on energy security not only in this country but globally. We need a rational debate on climate change also. As I said, three sectors contribute to carbon emissions here, the first of which is agriculture, on which we are very dependent as an economy for recovery and growth. In terms of transport, we are limited as an island nation in reducing our carbon emissions. There is very slow progress in the area of e-cars. I would like to see more of them, but that would not put a dent in the targets we need to achieve. Energy is the third sector. When we talk about energy we must look at all the alternatives. Biomass is being proposed as one solution. Issues arise in that regard around security of supply and the supply chain for biomass, but I have said publicly that I am in support of wind farms where they are properly planned and managed and they do not have a negative impact on communities. That is the reason we need strong planning guidelines and that is why the Minister is bringing forward these guidelines, but as politicians we cannot have it every way. The time will come when the Opposition Members present, who may be in government in the future, will regret the day we did not take action on climate change and reducing our carbon emissions.

I accept the genuine concerns of the Opposition and the reason this Bill has been introduced, but my understanding is that if the Bill was implemented in the morning, it could wipe out this country's entire potential for realistic wind generation. I have concerns about the Bill. I understand the Government is allowing it to pass Second Stage, but there is a further opportunity now, with the Green Paper on energy and the planning guidelines, to try to address the concerns of communities. However, the energy security issue this country faces requires a wide-ranging, diverse response that includes wind energy, biomass and geothermal energy and that reduces our dependence on fossil fuels if we are to have a competitive, secure industry in the future.

I wish the Minister of State well with her planning guidelines. I hope the wider public will see that they are a genuine effort to address people's concerns and that they will provide opportunities for local authorities, and An Bord Pleanála, to manage the development of wind energy here in a responsible manner. That is the type of leadership we need. This country faces serious challenges economically, in energy terms and with regard to climate change. We cannot be all things to everyone, and I say that to politicians of all persuasions and none. We need to show leadership on this issue.

I too welcome the opportunity to contribute. I thank the Sinn Féin Party for bringing forward this Bill, which focuses on the challenge of capitalising on our wind resource while taking into account the possible negative impacts that unregulated, uncontrolled development of the wind sector could have on communities.

I wholeheartedly agree with almost everything Deputy Coffey said. It is impossible to exist on this planet without having an impact.

The agriculture committee is currently discussing land use and how best we can reconcile our climate change 2020 obligations with our Food Harvest 2020 targets to increase production and exports from the agrifood sector. The marine harvest initiatives will also have an impact. Back in my early political days on Wicklow County Council, I recall members of the Green Party deriding the council and other local authorities for not having a wind energy strategy. Having wind farms were all flavour of the month until people started to have problems with them. As well as the large multiple corporate wind farms, small units have been built which have proved to be economically viable, enhancing income for local communities and farmers with small holdings.

The Minister of State has stated she will not oppose the Bill in good faith rather than for any political gain. Last December, a consultation process on wind turbine regulation was started with a closing date of February 2014. From this, guidelines will be put in place dealing with the specific issues of turbine noise, set back and shadow flicker. The recommendation is for a statutory minimum 500 m distance from the nearest residence. However, it is not just about simply imposing a minimum distance as there are other environmental concerns such as noise and shadow flicker which must be dealt with too. As a Member opposite stated earlier, topography can result in noise sometimes bouncing much further from its source.

There is an onus on us to capitalise on our wind energy resource. We must put paid to the propaganda, however, that the proposed roll-out of more pylons is needed simply for the electricity that will be generated by wind farms. I understand Gate 3 can be accommodated under the current EirGrid network. The whole purpose of the proposed pylon roll-out is to facilitate faster transmission from power stations to areas, particularly in the event of a station being forced to go offline. Water and energy infrastructure are generally what foreign direct investors will examine to ensure their businesses can operate successfully without the lights going out or the water being unsafe.

Neither can we continue to depend on fossil fuels, which come from sources in some volatile parts of the world, while turning our back on indigenous energy resources. During the middle of the Crimean crisis, the US President, Mr. Obama, made the point that it is up to countries to ensure their energy supplies are secure. While I, along with Deputy Colreavy and others on the Border in County Leitrim, have a problem with fracking, the point was made that states needed to get their own energy supplies and not depend on gas coming through a pipeline from Russia that may become unaffordable due to developments in international relations.

Driving through a certain county in the midlands recently, I saw a poster proclaiming, “No AD here”. I first thought it was me, Andrew Doyle, but it was actually anaerobic digestion. There will always be someone saying “No” to something. Somewhere along the way we need to be responsible and take good regard of the environment. At the last Dáil’s climate change committee, the director of Trócaire was asked about birth control in the Third World. He pointed out the average carbon emission from an individual in the United States is 20 tonnes, in Europe 12 tonnes and in the Third World 0.87 tonnes, which begs the question where should birth control be imposed if we want to prevent climate change. These are the kinds of arguments we get into if we get silly about this issue.

I am glad to have an opportunity to speak on the Wind Turbine Regulation Bill 2012 and thank Deputies Colreavy and Stanley for introducing it. Its subject matter is relevant to my constituents in Meath East and Meath West. While I welcome the Bill, I am disappointed but not surprised it has been used as another political football. Last night, I listened to accusations from opposite that Fine Gael councillors in County Meath were working for wind energy companies, an unfounded claim with no merit. I disagree with being accused of staying quiet and not standing up for the people in my community. If some of those opposite were on these benches, we would be listening to a different story.

I am a member of the transport and communications committee. This morning, the committee heard from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland which stated we need to develop renewable energy resources as part of our overall energy strategy to help us meet our 2020 renewable energy targets. Ireland has an abundance of wind, a significant natural energy resource. Some claim we should examine other sources such as tidal and offshore. While much work is being done in these areas, these sources will not produce enough to meet our 2020 targets.

Jobs, revenue and lower carbon emissions will be some of the benefits from wind energy. Harnessing this energy source must be done in a holistic way while addressing community concerns about the location of wind turbines and optimising the benefits clearly for everyone. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources alluded to this when he said nothing will happen on the intergovernmental agreement on wind energy until the benefits are seen.

Unfortunately, where we fall down on this is in communication as has happened in Meath with the proposed roll-out of next-generation pylons. When there is a lack of communication, misinformation starts to appear with people getting confused and angry. We need to communicate the benefits of renewable energy to the public, as well as how the projects will impact on the ground. Recently, I saw a newsletter in my area containing a map of 250 possible sites for wind farms there. As long as I am a Deputy and living in Meath, there will never be 250 turbines in the county. This is again, however, due to a lack of communication breeding misinformation which causes problems.

There are also concerns about the height of turbines, set back distances and their possible effects on agriculture and the equine industry. In my constituency, the set back distance is the most prevalent issue. The proposed 500 m set back distance from the nearest dwelling is believed to be still too close. We have to be realistic about this issue, however, too. Many areas in Meath have high housing density. Putting an unrealistic set back distance could mean we would have no renewable energy at all.

We need to examine the conflicting information on noise levels from wind turbines. Modern turbines have the facility to measure sunlight levels which can be used to address the whole issue of shadow flicker. It is important we do not make the same mistakes that were made in many other countries. The decisions we make on wind turbine regulation must be built on lessons learned elsewhere. The lack of information and engagement has been the main cause of concern.

The aim of the recent review by the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, of the 2006 wind energy guidelines, which received over 7,000 submissions, is to implement best practice guidelines for wind development. The review of the guidelines is welcome, but we must ensure proper regulation is enforced. I am also pleased to hear that the strategic environmental assessment scoping report has now been prepared and that we will have a report, public consultation and a cost-benefit analysis in the coming phases of the project.

While I agree with some of the information in this Bill, much of it is negative. To return to what Deputy Doyle said, we cannot depend on fossil fuels or on energy from other countries. We cannot stand still; we must move with the times. Unfortunately, if we stand still, we will not be able to function properly in the coming years. Many of the projects being proposed will be beneficial for the country and will help secure our future energy needs and provide jobs and money for the economy. However, energy provision must be secured in a transparent and fair manner. I believe that is what will happen.

I have a number of concerns with regard to this draft Bill. The way the Bill has been drafted by Sinn Féin suggests that the current position is that when county councils or An Bord Pleanála are considering planning applications for wind farms, no regard is given to human beings, their health or the environment, and that somehow this Bill will champion those considerations. This is absolutely untrue. The truth is that we have a robust, transparent planning system which is backed up by the Department's wind energy development guidelines for planning authorities, dating back to 2006. Furthermore, existing planning legislation is principle-based and requires that wind energy developments demonstrate environmental benefits and minimise environmental and social impacts through careful consideration of location, scale and design. Many people who have been involved in trying to promote and develop wind farms have felt the disdain of An Bord Pleanála and planning authorities when they did not meet the high standards currently in place and were refused planning permission.

The context in which this is Bill is set out is misleading. I am seriously concerned that the Bill attempts to deal with issues such as distance from housing, noise and shadow flicker, issues which are currently under review as part of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government's consultation and proposed revision to the 2006 wind energy guidelines. Has Sinn Féin no respect for the views of the many private citizens and other stakeholders who took the time to make a submission in this consultation? Why has it not waited for the outcome of the review before drafting any document on wind, let alone legislation? I have heard Sinn Féin refer to the Aarhus Convention and the need for proper consultation with the public many times, yet when the public is consulted, Sinn Féin does not have the patience to wait to hear the result of the review.

The Deputy should read the Bill. It is there.

It seems that when it comes to Sinn Féin, this does not apply. All the focus on the export of wind energy is crazy and misleading. The reality is that we are building wind farms at such a slow rate each year that we will do well to meet our legally binding domestic renewable energy targets by 2020. The Bill ignores the fact that the European Union is moving towards a single electricity market, which envisages the movement of electricity generated from one member state to another. This should assist with energy security and price. We already operate a single electricity market with Northern Ireland, but this Bill is totally divorced from this reality.

The Bill refers to set back distances, but what technical or engineering rationale or evidence explains the set back distances Sinn Féin has come up with? Surely, also, there are other factors to be taken into account apart from set back distances. For example, if there is a hill between my house and a turbine, there may be no visual amenity impact, compared with the impact on someone whose home may be the same distance from the turbine as mine as the crow flies but over flat land. Surely this and other factors should be taken into account rather than set back distance alone. I know people in my constituency who live far closer than 500 m to a wind farm and who are happy to do so. Therefore, I do not accept that set back distance is the only way to go.

The Bill stipulates that the standard for noise limits from wind turbines should not exceed those specified in the World Health Organization guidelines for community noise. Has Sinn Féin considered the fact that these noise limits are already included in the 2006 wind energy guidelines? Instead of being honest with the many people around the country who have understandable concerns and fears about wind farms and other energy infrastructure being constructed in their communities, Sinn Féin is capitalising on their fears or misery, all in the interest of political gain from its populist position.

Sinn Féin's national policy is pro wind, yet it is against every proposed wind farm project around the country.

That is not true.

I have personal experience of this. Sinn Féin should spell out how it intends for us to achieve our 2020 renewable energy targets on the basis that it is against every project on the ground. The truth is that we have yet to hear any economic policy from Sinn Féin that will create jobs or wealth in this country. Looking back at its manifesto, the only thing it seems to favour is a wealth tax on land, which would cripple farmers.

I would like to ask Sinn Féin and the European and local election candidates whether they support the tax on land proposed in the Sinn Féin manifesto. The manner and timing of this Bill show that Sinn Féin has no bona fides on this sensitive issue and is instead trying to hoodwink the people.

The Deputy has not read the Bill.

It is about time Sinn Féin showed some leadership and consistency on the issue, instead of throwing oil on the fire of public fears. This is a most disingenuous piece of draft legislation-----

Does the Deputy realise that the Government proposes to accept it?

I do not believe it is worthy of further consideration by the Government and I regret that this is being done.

Undoubtedly, the public debate surrounding wind turbines, which has been going on for some time, has been heated and passionate and at times somewhat less than objective. I say this following a number of public meetings in my constituency and beyond. I am sure my constituency colleague, Deputy Stanley, can testify that the meetings have been heated and difficult and have been noted for the amount of information that was not forthcoming rather than the amount placed before the communities.

I believe it is important that we have a calm and honest debate on the future of renewable energy, and from that perspective I welcome the Bill and this debate. Some 86% of the national energy requirement is imported, at a cost to the State of more than €6.2 billion per annum. By 2020, it is envisaged that one-third of electricity consumed here will come from a renewable source. Our 2020 targets must be met and we must discuss how this can be done without an adverse impact on local communities. Some wind development companies have shown little regard for the consultation process that must occur if communities are to be convinced of the need for them and if calm is to prevail. This lack of regard has led to an element of fear and mistrust in these communities, which has given rise to a plethora of misinformation regarding wind energy and wind turbines.

I believe people should be allowed make a real and meaningful contribution to the process, and for that reason I welcome the current consultation. This consultation allowed for public submissions and I and other colleagues made submissions to it. I expressed concerns in two particular areas regarding the impact wind turbines will have on rural communities in my constituency and beyond. First, under the review of wind energy guidelines, I have called for thoroughbred stud farms and horse racing training facilities to be included under the definition of noise-sensitive properties. Ireland is a world leader in this field when it comes to producing brood mares, racehorses and stallions.

The industry employs more than 14,000 people and makes a direct economic contribution of more than €1 billion per annum to the economy. The main concerns expressed by the industry are that the location of wind farms close to stud farms would have an unsettling effect on bloodstock. A special case must be made for bloodstock as horses are extremely sensitive. Leading bloodstock experts believe the close proximity of wind turbines would lead to horses reacting unfavourably owing to increased noise, the rotation of the wind turbines and the movement of shadows cast by the blades.

I made a separate submission on the close proximity of wind turbines to rural dwellings. I say this as a public representative from a mainly rural constituency in the midlands that is engaged in a very heated debate on the pros and cons of turbines. The proposals made by wind farm development companies could see turbines in excess of 180 m high located in my constituency. The increase in the recommended set back from wind turbines from 250 m to 500 m was an acknowledgement by the authors of the revised wind energy guidelines that wind farms should be located at an appropriate distance from residential areas. I am concerned about the size and scale of some of the turbines. While the minimum set back is preferable, consideration must also be given to allowing a set back distance that would correlate with the height of the proposed turbines and applying the appropriate separation distance from a residential area of special amenity value.

I am pleased that the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, yesterday acknowledged that this point required at least further consideration. In the matter of the recommended set back distance we must consider a study by the All-Island Research Observatory, AIRO, in Maynooth that states a set back distance of 2 km would leave a mere 3% of the total land area of the country available to wind farm development. I would like to hear the views of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, following the decision by the Irish and British Governments not to proceed with the intergovernmental agreement and the consequences this will have for wind turbine developments in the midlands.

I welcome this debate. While I do not agree with much of the legislation, it is important that we attempt in this House to achieve a level of consensus on an important industry that has given rise to serious and justifiable concerns up and down the country, in particular my constituency.

The fact that people want answers to genuine concerns and take a view that is contrary from that of the Government does not mean that they are backward or not progressive. I suggest Deputy Michelle Mulherin read the Bill. There is a difference between guidelines and legislation. Her comments were misleading.

Why did Sinn Féin not wait for the review? This is not a serious piece.

As we are part of the Opposition, we are entitled to bring forward legislation and have chosen to do so.

Sinn Féin has no regard for the public consultation process.

In my constituency, Cork East, there are plans for 11 wind turbines. I applaud the residents of that rural area who have run an effective and informative campaign. I attended their public meetings and was surprised at the level of support the campaign had received. I will continue to work with them until the matter is brought to a satisfactory conclusion. The blame for the fear and confusion in communities lies fairly and squarely at the door of the Government. While I welcome its commitment not to oppose the Bill, I sound a word of caution. This must not be a hollow election promise. The Minister, Deputy Pat Rabbitte's record on election promises leaves much to be desired. The Bill must be progressed as quickly as possible and part of an overall energy strategy. The Minister should make it an imperative to introduce a Green Paper on energy strategy. Unfortunately, the Government appears not to be interested in developing any such strategy.

In the memorandum of understanding signed by the Minister and the British Government in January 2013 it was agreed to export wind energy produced in Ireland to Britain. The memorandum collapsed in March 2014 because of the failure to reach economic agreement on the export of energy. It did not make economic or environmental sense to export renewable energy from Ireland when we relied so heavily on fossil fuel consumption. There are signs that the Government wants to re-engage with the British in an attempt to generate wind energy for export from Ireland. This gombeen politics smacks of banana republic economics. The goal of generating 16% of energy from renewable resources by 2020 will not be reached if the Government continues frantically to sell off energy generated by wind turbines. The Bill is a reasonable response to that challenge.

The Bill would prevent the Government from undermining local authority development plans under the Planning and Development Act 2006 which gives power to local government to zone specific areas for the erection of wind turbines. The Bill would strengthen local democracy and accountability. It would ensure any person applying for permission to construct a turbine or wind farm would have to provide information for local residents through placing an advertisement in a local newspaper and placing a sign on the proposed site. Any change that would be made to land or location would be made available to the public, with an Ordnance Survey map pointing to the locations of the turbines. The length of time the construction work would take would be made known to the public. An outline of any planning gain would have to be made available to the public.

Following the situation in Ukraine there has been much discussion at a European level about energy security in Europe. This issue is likely to develop further if relations between the West and Russia remain cold. There is significant worry in Europe about the possible loss of Russian gas. Sinn Féin has always argued for the development of renewable energy sources as an alternative to fossil fuels. However, there must be a varying amount of renewable energy sources. Ireland cannot rely on wind energy alone and to guarantee energy security, it must vary its renewable energy potential. Alternative sources must be explored to guarantee the security of supply into the future. The Government should adopt self-sustainability in energy production and consumption as a long-term goal in its energy strategy. The State is 87.5% reliant on fossil fuels for energy production, the vast majority of which is imported. This is costing consumers money as fossil fuel prices are determined by the whims of international markets. This results in fuel poverty being a problem in Ireland, with the country recording a significant number of excess winter deaths each year. The Bill would restrict the Government's export of renewable energy until Ireland's energy demands had been met. It is a solution-based, reasonable response to the challenges at local, national and international level.

I commend my colleague, Deputy Michael Colreavy, for introducing this timely and necessary Bill. The Government does not oppose its passage on Second Stage and while that is welcome, the Fine Gael mask on this issue slipped tonight in Deputy Michelle Mulherin's contribution. Not opposing the Bill is not enough. If the Government is sincere, it should ensure Committee and Report Stages are progressed and the Bill is enacted. However, we may yet have another cynical ploy on its part to allow the Bill to pass Second Stage but then shelve it, giving the public the impression before the local elections that it will be enacted at some future stage. While I hope not, I fear that may be the case.

In previous Dáileanna we warned of what was to come if the so-called "critical infrastructure" legislation of the previous Fianna Fáil-led Government was passed. It was designed to ride roughshod over the planning process, elected councillors and local and regional communities. One result was one of the most major planning scandals ever, namely, the Poolbeg incinerator project. Nearly €100 million of public money was spent on it and not one block was laid for an unnecessary incinerator that nobody wanted and against which the elected members of the relevant local authority had repeatedly voted.

If the proposed network of gigantic wind turbines across the midlands is allowed to go ahead, facilitated by that same strategic infrastructure legislation, it will be another massive scandal.

It is ironic when Fáilte Ireland and the entire tourism industry is trying to attract tourists, both foreign and domestic, to the less visited parts of Ireland that it is proposed effectively to industrialise significant swathes of the landscape across the middle counties of Ireland. It seems to be accepted by the so-called planners at national level that these landscapes are less attractive than lofty mountains and coastlines with cliffs and harbours that have expansive ocean vistas, and therefore these midland counties can be blighted with giant wind turbines. Only this week the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Deenihan, opened a section of a new cycle and walking route planned to traverse the country, which will attract visitors and open less visited parts of Ireland. That is welcome.

The scale of what is planned is enormous but I doubt many people outside the affected communities realise the extent of what is to be imposed. We are talking about approximately 2,000 massive turbines across counties Laois, Offaly, Westmeath, Kildare and Meath, and we should, just for a moment, imagine the potential impact. The supreme irony is that this is not to meet the demands for sustainable energy sources for our country but to generate electricity for export to Britain, with the private companies involved engaged in a purely profit-making exercise. The attempt to put a green gloss on this is just that, a cheap paint job in an attempt to disguise the ugly reality.

This Bill would ensure that sustainable energy generated through properly planned wind turbines cannot be exported abroad when this State has yet to meet its own sustainable energy targets. It would force companies wishing to develop industrial wind farms to advise, consult with and have proper regard for host communities. It would ensure local authorities could, by law, force companies to meet the cost of repairing or upgrading local infrastructure during the construction of industrial wind farms, and that the same companies were responsible for recycling wind farms when they were decommissioned.

Ultimately, we want to see a halt to the privatisation of our natural resources, including wind energy, and we want to see them employed to the collective benefit of Ireland Inc., or the people. Sinn Féin will continue to campaign for this Bill to be enacted and enforced after this debate.

Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an mBille seo. Nuair a chuala mé aréir go raibh an Rialtas ag tabhairt tacaíochta don Bhille, bhí mé an-sásta, ach tar éis a bheith ag éisteacht leis an méid a bhí le rá ag cuid de chomhghleacaithe an Aire Stáit as Páirtí Fhine Gael, tá sé iontach soiléir nach bhfuil an páirtí sin ag tabhairt tacaíochta don Bhille, ach go bhfuil sé ag tabhairt tacaíochta dó anocht sa dóigh agus go mbeidh a gcomhairleoirí contae ar an talamh, atá faoi bhrú mór ag bailte áitiúla agus ag grúpaí áitiúla glacadh leis na treoirlínte seo. Ach tá sé iontach soiléir nach bhfuil an Rialtas i ndáiríre faoin reachtaíocht seo agus go suífidh an reachtaíocht fada go leor gan dul go dtí an chéad chéim eile, Céim an Choiste.

I welcome this legislation, as much work by the office of Deputies Colreavy and Stanley has gone into it, and I also acknowledge Councillor Matt Carthy in the Gallery, who was involved in the submission to the Department and had some of the input to the legislation. There has been much work done and if people took the time to read the legislation, they would see there was extensive consultation along the midlands in particular. Nevertheless, it was not exclusively in the midlands as the issue of wind farm development is not a preserve of the area, although the proposals there are frightening to say the least. The issue has impacted in a negative sense in my county, although there has been a positive impact in some sense as we need to have renewable energy. I welcome the development of wind farms in tandem with local needs but there are cases where local communities, activists and ordinary people have had to come together and become experts in how to take on the major farm developers, going as far as An Bord Pleanála oral hearings, with all the associated costs.

Those of us in this House, and particularly this and previous Governments, have failed to deal with the issue in a proper and robust manner, which is why Sinn Féin has brought forward this legislation. It removes the issue from the sphere of guidelines and places it into legislation, as Deputy McLellan noted. It is alarming, given the salary earned by Deputies and the resources all of us enjoy in terms of support staff, that a certain Deputy can come to this Chamber and peddle the mistruths we have heard from Fine Gael backbenches, both from an economic policy perspective and with regard to wind energy. Last night, the Minister of State in her contribution stated that she appreciated the view of Members who advocated for a legislative approach, which has merit, yet Deputy Mulherin believes there is no merit whatever in the legislative approach.

This legislation makes sense and covers a wide range of areas, including excess energy, and nobody could argue that we should export energy before our own needs are met. We seek to empower local authorities and councillors in determining where wind farms are best placed - or particularly where they should not be placed - in their county. This should not be circumvented by the critical infrastructure Bill or decisions by An Bord Pleanála. Nobody in this House could object to proper public consultation, with the public being informed of the potential impact of construction stages and wind farm operations. Nobody would have an issue with the World Health Organization's guidelines being implemented with respect to minimum noise or the removal of flicker, as it has an effect on people with autism and epilepsy.

I do not wish to focus on Deputy Mulherin but I would love to see the mountain she is talking about where a wind farm is blocked despite being only 500 m. away. It must be a very thin mountain. Perhaps she will invite me to Mayo to see these unique mountains, as they could be one of the wonders of the world. This is a very measured proposal based on international best practice, as the height of a turbine would be used in measuring set back distance. This is not a blunt instrument but a well thought out measure. The legislation also deals with destruction that comes about when the construction and maintenance of these farms is ongoing. Local roads are destroyed, and we know that because of the cuts implemented by the Government, local authorities are starved of funding to deal with the problem. They cannot fix the potholes or the craters in local roads leading to wind farm developments that are also used by people in the community.

This is very sensible legislation and I hope the Government will have courage in its conviction and not just support this in theory to save the blushes of elected councillors and candidates across the State who are facing pressure from communities who know this legislation makes sense. The Government should do the right thing and allow this to go as soon as possible to Committee Stage. Let us tease out this issue properly and bring forward a legislative basis to ensure wind farms can be developed while protecting vulnerable people, local infrastructure and the communities.

Like others I am happy to hear that the Government will support the Bill. It is a positive development and the first time the Government has backed a Sinn Féin Bill in this session. I hope it demonstrates some political maturity on behalf of the Government and it will be a turning point. Most of us in here are faced every day with problems in people's lives and as legislators we are asked to formulate solutions. Deputy Colreavy has tried to put forward an alternative view that can help people and communities.

There is a dearth of information on this matter.

Other speakers have talked about some of the public meetings that have taken place. People are naturally concerned about what is happening, how it will develop and the impact it will have on them, their families, their livelihoods and their communities. It has to offer some collective benefit to Irish society, which should be for the community, not for a handful of large investors. That has to be a key component of these new technologies, if we are going to roll them out.

Climate change is one of the most important issues we must tackle today. If we do not reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and look to improving our renewable energy potential, it will be a disaster not just for the country but for the planet. As an island on the western edge of Europe, we have huge potential to produce a range of renewable energy, yet in 2012 a total of 87.5% of our energy came from fossil fuels and only 11.4% from renewable sources. These figures highlight the potential for us to roll out these new technologies.

Although the economy has a strong agricultural sector, the proportion of renewable energy produced from biomass and waste is already below the EU average. If other countries are investing in this area, why is Ireland not doing so? We need to roll that out in communities and reassure people about what these new technologies involve. It is estimated that tidal energy has the potential to generate almost 75% of Ireland’s electricity demand. Some people say we are only developing this area, but it needs to be done.

Wind energy is quite unpredictable and the building of wind turbines needs to be strictly regulated. I welcome the fact that the Bill includes the need for meaningful consultation between companies and communities on the building of wind turbines. Wind turbine development should proceed only with the agreement of the host community and it should not be the case that one individual farmer can impinge on the rights of neighbouring farms by allowing developments to proceed without general agreement. Communities should pull together, agree and move forward.

A key part of international relations in the 21st century is energy security, because we are so dependent on energy to run our daily lives. It is important that we are not over dependent on one energy source or on one country to provide us with our energy needs. Renewable energy offers a fantastic clean alternative to fossil fuels and reduces our dependence on other countries and on unstable regimes. Another factor in our high dependency on fossil fuels is their cost. Many people coming to our advice centres are terrified going to bed at night, worrying about the next bill to come through the door. We know the impact of this on their lives. According to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the average cost of energy bills has increased by over €500 in the past three years. We want to see the roll-out of new technologies, but that must involve the community, and there has to be a benefit for society as a whole.

I also welcome the Government’s decision to allow this Bill to pass Second Stage, and I congratulate Deputy Colreavy and his office on producing it. I wish we could see more of this kind of approach from the Government in the future. I am concerned at the fact that an election looms. I hope this Bill will not be shelved after the election and will pass through the House. To show that the Government is dedicated to this policy, it would be a positive step to commence the next Stage of the Bill before the end of May.

This is a well thought out, comprehensive Bill which clearly sets out a way forward for wind energy in Ireland and a path towards a fully self-sustaining Ireland that produces all the energy it needs on these islands. As set out in a memorandum of understanding with the British Government, the Irish Government originally intended to set Ireland up as an offshore wind farm for Britain. Thankfully this scheme fell through, and I hope the Government’s support for this Bill indicates a change of position on this. While revenue from such a scheme would be welcome, it would be a very unambitious approach to wind energy in Ireland. It also ignores the reality that every state must do all in its power to reduce its dependence on foreign oil and gas and to develop sustainable green energy regimes based on energy produced within the State. We cannot allow ourselves be a tool in this project for the British Government and ignore our own needs and responsibilities.

Ireland is far too dependent on imported dirty energy. This Bill sets out a path to ending that regime while creating jobs and saving money and our environment along the way. It also puts us on course to achieving the EU objective of having 16% of our energy from renewable sources by 2020. An important aspect of Sinn Féin’s vision for the development of a greener future is the use of biofuels, which have the potential to warm a significant number of homes. Residential property still has the highest demand for heat in Ireland, where homes consume twice as many tonnes of oil equivalent, TOE, as industrial and commercial buildings. Biofuel also presents opportunities for making transport cleaner and cheaper. The biofuel obligation scheme was introduced in July 2010 as the primary means for Ireland to meet the target of at least 10% renewable energy in transport by 2020, which was mandated by the 2009 renewable energy directive. The scheme works by obligating road transport fuel suppliers to bring a certain amount of biofuel, currently 6% by volume, to the market. Unfortunately, most of the biofuels used in Ireland have been imported. This Government should act to ensure greater production of biofuels. This should form an integral part of an energy strategy formed by the Government. I have met with haulier and public transport companies which all say the cost of keeping vehicles on the road is a major obstacle to the success of their companies. The rising price of fuel is a major obstacle to keeping their costs down. The Government can have little if any influence on the cost of fuel coming from halfway around the world, which is the present situation. We are at the mercy of international markets.

A few years ago, Dublin Bus had reduced fuel costs by just under €10 million a year, down to 1999 levels. This was a great achievement, but the price of fuel has risen significantly in these years and the fuel bill is now €30 million more a year than it was in 1999. Support for the production and use of biofuel could really help to cut costs for these essential companies. This should be part of a wider strategy which ensures that the best, most fuel-efficient vehicles are in use. Dublin Bus has started to use hybrid vehicles which have 30% more fuel efficiency than ordinary vehicles, and this is likely to improve in the future.

Through a wide-ranging focus on greater self-sufficiency and greener energy, we can make living and doing business in Ireland much better. We can fight fuel poverty and decrease pollution while providing better value public and private transport. Once again, I welcome the passing of this Bill to the next Stage and ask the Government to commit to engaging with us on reforming our energy regime.

While welcoming the Bill and the debate last night and tonight, Deputy Coffey said we should use it as a platform for a wider debate on our energy supply and energy strategy. I agree. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, will soon publish a Green Paper on energy. Sinn Féin will make a submission on that, as it has on many previous energy issues such as EirGrid.

Sinn Féin’s position on energy systems is not just a Twenty-six County position. We want to see energy security and supply achieved on an all-Ireland basis. It must be sustainable and achieved in the best interests of the citizens of this island.

They are the three key issues for us.

Energy security has been the subject of focus and debate recently, particularly at EU level. The North-South Interparliamentary Association recently held a very productive session on energy security. There is no doubt that renewable energy will form an important part of our energy security policy. This is made particularly clear by the figures cited by a previous speaker on our reliance on fossil fuels for 87% of our energy needs. It is important, therefore, that we approach policy development strategically in order to meet future challenges and needs.

The review that the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government is conducting of the planning guidelines will contribute to that strategic approach. However, the Minister of State acknowledged that there is also merit in taking a legislative approach. This is what we have put to the House tonight. Deputy Mulherin described the Bill as an opportunistic effort on the part of Sinn Féin and not grounded in reality. It is clear from her contribution, however, that she did not read the Bill. That is a pity because if we are to have an informed debate on an issue as important as this, it is imperative that the people who were elected to represent the citizens of this State would at least read the legislation on which they are asked to speak or vote.

The Bill contains a number of measures which warrant further discussion on Committee Stage. Public consultation is key to wind projects. Section 4 of the Bill deals with public consultation in a comprehensive and straightforward manner and it should be implemented. The section sets out a list of tasks that an individual applying for planning permission is required to complete, including placing an advertisement in a local paper and arranging public meetings to outline the plans to the local community.

I welcome that the Government has agreed to allow the Bill to proceed to Committee Stage but I will not be happy if the legislation is left on a shelf somewhere. This issue is too important to allow that to happen. Deputies Colreavy and Stanley will be pursuing the Bill on Committee Stage to ensure it is debated at the earliest opportunity.

I would like to thank Deputies for their contributions on the proposed Wind Turbine Regulation Bill 2014. The Government has listened carefully to what has been said during these debates. It is important, however, that I address some inaccuracies and misconceptions which have been aired during the course of this debate.

Deputies Brian Stanley, Martin Ferris and Michael Moynihan have claimed that local communities are not being consulted in the formulation of wind energy development policy or in the consideration and development of wind farm proposals. I would like to re-emphasise that consultation with the public and local communities on the formulation of wind energy development policy is a major priority for this Government. The Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, outlined in detail the two public consultations in which her Department have engaged during the current review of the wind energy development guidelines. Last December she published draft revisions to the guidelines which proposed the setting of a more stringent day and night noise limit of 40 dB for future wind energy developments, a mandatory minimum setback of 500 m between a wind turbine and the nearest dwelling for amenity considerations and the complete elimination of shadow flicker. Submissions were received from 7,500 organisations and members of the public in response to these draft proposals and they will form an important input into the final version of the guidelines which the Minister of State hopes to be in a position to publish by the third quarter of this year. In addition, the existing guidelines already emphasise the need for energy companies to engage in active consultation and dialogue with local communities at the earliest possible stage on proposed wind farm developments, and ideally prior to the submission of a planning application.

The Minister of State also outlined the extensive, three stage public consultation process that is currently being undertaken by the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources as part of its preparation of a renewable energy policy and development framework, which will be underpinned by a strategic environmental assessment. I also understand that a Green Paper on energy policy will be published shortly by that Department and comments will be invited from the public. Accordingly, I do not think the Government can reasonably be accused of not consulting with the public or not allowing for the fullest public participation in its proposed renewable energy policies, including in the area of wind.

On section 2, I share the concerns expressed by Deputy Sean Fleming about an effective ban on exports of wind energy to the UK. As demonstrated by the ongoing State visit of President Higgins to the UK, Irish relations with the UK, both politically and commercially, have never been as good. A trade ban would send out the wrong signals as we seek to continue the normalisation of relations between our two islands. Electricity interconnection arrangements are already in place between Ireland and the UK and it is important that we continue to work together to develop appropriate arrangements for security of energy supply. I welcome that Deputy Sean Fleming and Fianna Fáil recognise the importance of developing a national policy on trade in renewable energy generally.

Deputy Stanley described the wind energy development guidelines as voluntary or suggestive. When the revised guidelines are finalised they will be jointly issued by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, and the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, to planning authorities under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended. Planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála are required to have regard to the guidelines in the performance of their functions under the planning Acts. Ultimately, it will be a decision for the relevant local planning authorities or An Bord Pleanála to make decisions on individual planning applications for wind energy developments, having regard to the guidelines.

As the Minister of State indicated last night, the Government does not intend to oppose the Bill on Second Stage on the basis that the Departments of the Environment, Community and Local Government and Communications, Energy and Natural Resources are currently reviewing some of the issues raised. The Government will need to consider the outcomes of the consultation processes on the wind energy development guidelines and the renewable energy policy and development framework as this Bill progresses. It is important that we do not pre-empt the outcome of these important reviews and public consultations.

Ar dtús báire, ba mhaith liom a léiriú go bhfuil mé an-sásta go bhfuil an Rialtas ag ligean don Bhille seo bogadh ar aghaidh chuig an chéad Chéim eile. Táim buíoch as sin. É sin ráite, tá súil agam go bhfuil siad dáiríre faoi seo. Mar a dúirt an Teachta O'Brien, tá súil agam nach bhfuil an Rialtas ag cur an Bhille seo ar leataobh go dtí go mbeidh an toghchán thart. I hope the Government is not merely kicking to touch in order to defuse a difficult issue in the run up to the local elections.

The Government has to act to ensure that this Bill is progressed as quickly as possible. County and regional managers should take note of this decision by the Government and any wind turbine development plans currently under way should reflect this.

I want to be clear that Sinn Féin is for developing Ireland's renewable energy potential. We are for wind energy. Freisin, tá Sinn Féin ag éisteacht le pobail ar fud na tíre. Sin an fáth go bhfuil an Bille seo curtha chun tosaigh againn.

Citizens right across rural Ireland are concerned at the impact that plans for the large-scale construction of industrial wind turbines could have on their homes, on their farms and on their communities. Contrary to the Minister of State, Deputy Perry's, protestations, rural communities have struggled to get their voices heard by the Government.

Fine Gael and Labour, and, before them, Fianna Fáil, have all failed local communities on this issue. In government, these parties failed to address community concerns and instead allowed the State's entire renewable energy strategy to be dictated by private wind energy firms.

The Bill, which I commend - I commend our foireann, mar chuir siad é le chéile - is a common sense piece of work. It puts communities at the heart of the decision-making process. It attempts to impose proper regulation of all aspects of wind turbine construction. This includes proper zoning of areas for wind turbine developments, the duties of planning authorities, setback distances and the responsibility of decommissioning wind turbines. Proper regulation should have been in place already, and this Bill seeks to rectify the mistakes made by this and previous Governments.

At present, the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act 2006, which was rammed through the Dáil by Fianna Fáil, can be used to override county development plans drawn up by local councils. We believe that wind farm projects must be consistent with county development plans. This Bill also restores the primacy of county development plans in that, under its provisions, wind farms must be located only in areas zoned by local councils.

The Bill also seeks to ensure that Ireland's energy demands are met before renewable energy is exported. Any renewable energy which is produced here should go to lessen the fuel bills of ordinary working families. The recent sale of wind projects developed by Bord Gáis, which amounts to approximately 15% of the wind capacity from the island of Ireland, to a foreign multinational is a regressive step. As I stated, we are committed to renewable energy, but it must be led by semi-State companies such as the ESB and Bord na Móna.

On privatisation, I do not blame Fine Gael. Fine Gael is clear that it is for privatisation, but the agenda on privatisation being pushed by the Fine Gael and Labour has resulted in the loss of this wind portfolio, which is a strategic asset in the production of energy on this island. The sale of this portfolio to foreign private interests, to use as they see fit, will not help our energy security.

It is imperative, on top of all of this, that the Minister for Communication, Energy and Natural Resources looks at this in an all-Ireland context and that we deliver, in co-operation with our friends in the North, an all-island strategy on energy as soon as possible. We are saying clearly that further privatisation should not form part of that strategy.

In this Bill, Sinn Féin is saying that proper planning is essential for major developments in rural areas. Clarity around land access and land use is essential. It is also essential that farming communities are made fully aware of the consequences of signing contracts with energy companies, and that the concerns expressed by local communities are addressed. In my view, and in the view of Sinn Féin, Deputies of all parties and none now have an opportunity to do the right thing and to stand up for communities across this State by supporting this Bill through all Stages.

I begin by thanking my colleagues, Deputies Stanley and Martin Ferris, Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, as Deputy Pearse Doherty mentioned, Councillor Matt Carthy, Mr. Simon Gillespie, our legal draftsman, and our own office staff because it was a true team effort in producing this piece of legislation.

I welcome the Government's decision not to oppose the Bill at this Stage and thank - I was going to say all - most of the Members who spoke during the debate. There were two exceptions, one tonight and one last night, and either they had not read the Bill at all or they decided to engage in the most negative intemperate and partially hysterical political point-scoring instead of engaging in debate.

Development of renewable energy should be a uniting, rather than a dividing, venture among Irish people and politicians. Most reasonable people will readily agree that it makes sense to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels by maximising our use of renewable energy sources. Wind energy pylons, after all, do not poison water; hydraulic fracturing can. We have all witnessed the people's commendable opposition to proposals to erect thousands of wind turbines in the Irish midlands and we need to look at the reasons for that opposition. People felt it necessary to take this course of action because they are naturally worried when energy companies are buying and leasing land for their wind turbines although the planning application process has not been gone through. Naturally, people are worried.

I believe there are three main reasons for this mass opposition. First, there is no comprehensive national vision or strategy on renewable energy developments. In the absence of such a vision and strategy, people fear the energy companies are exploiting the vacuum in their own self-interest rather than the interest of the people of Ireland. The Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, indicated he will shortly publish a Green Paper on renewable energy. I welcome that announcement and hope it will be the first step in developing a strategy that will enjoy the support of the vast majority of people and of politicians.

The second reason is that the current planning guidelines are woefully inadequate in regulating wind energy projects, and do not require companies to address our domestic energy requirements before we consider exporting to other jurisdictions. Additionally, they hold no provision for specific benefits for Irish people in terms of job creation, energy pricing, financial dividend to the State, etc. We are all only too well aware of the risks inherent in giving almost uncontrolled power to private companies whose sole objective is to increase profits and dividends for shareholders. While profit-making is neither a crime nor a sin, our responsibility is to maximise the benefit for the State and its citizens.

Third, if we learned anything from the Corrib oil debacle, it is that secrecy and behind-closed-doors project planning and implementation does not work. Host communities must be involved at all stages, from initial project analysis through project planning and delivery. Co-operation with communities will work far better than imposition.

This Bill attempts to address some of these shortcomings. I am sure the Bill can be improved on - it is not a perfect piece of legislation - as we progress it through the later Stages.

The memorandum of understanding that was signed between the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and the British Government was designed to facilitate the export of renewable energy generated in Ireland to Britain for consumption there. Under an EU directive, each country has to consume a certain percentage of its energy each year from renewable sources. While the British Government was not keen on development the renewable energy infrastructure on its island in order to reach targets set out by the EU, the Irish midlands were deemed a suitable location to erect wind turbines. This plan was devised without the consent of communities in the midlands, or, indeed, in any part of Ireland. The memorandum of understanding was shelved recently, but murmurings from those in power indicate that there will be an attempt to get movement on it once again. People in the midlands and elsewhere are naturally concerned that their health, amenity and property values would be sacrificed so that we could become Britain's offshore wind farm.

Contrary to what many Government Members and one from the Fianna Fáil Party said, Sinn Féin is not opposed to exporting renewable energy to Britain or anywhere else but we must deal with the facts. Of indigenous energy produced in Ireland in 2012, renewable energy accounted for 58%, peat 24% and natural gas for 14%. However, of energy consumed in Ireland, 87.5% came from fossil fuels while only 11.4% came from renewable sources. This indicates that we are still very heavily reliant on imported fossil fuels for energy. The public is constantly being told that Ireland is in a unique position to develop renewable sources of energy. While this may be true, the fact that 87.5% of our energy still comes from imported fossil fuels shows that Ireland has a long way to go in developing renewable energy for ourselves.

Under EU directives, we must reach a target of 16% renewable energy consumption by 2020. We should have our own, more ambitious yet realistic targets. It has been indicated by Government that we are set to reach this goal but we are so heavily reliant on imported fossil fuel that the Government needs to develop renewable energy for Irish needs.

Concerns have also been raised with regards the reliance on wind as a single source of renewable energy. To highlight the volatility of wind energy, between 2011 and 2012 wind energy produced in Ireland fell 8.4% due to differences in wind speeds. Relying too heavily on a resource that can vary so much is worrying. Let us compare this with wave and tidal energy. Tidal generation has significant advantage over many other forms of renewable generation in that it is almost perfectly forecastable over long-term horizons.

Biomass is another alternative form of renewable energy that has yet to be explored to any great extent. Ireland is a nation with a strong agricultural sector. The proportion of renewable energy produced from biomass and waste is already below the EU average. In a recently published report, BW Energy identified Moneypoint power station as an ideal location for conversion into a biomass generation system. This discussion must form part of a wider debate on energy strategy. I welcome the fact that the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, will soon publish a Green Paper on energy and Sinn Féin will make submissions to it. We believe in an energy system that is all-Ireland, sustainable and one that serves the needs of the people of Ireland. Energy security is currently a hot topic at a European level and is only likely to become more so. There is no doubt that renewable energy will be play a significant role in guaranteeing Irish energy supply for years to come. However, it must be developed with proper strategy and planning regulations. It must have the consent of host communities and must not intrude on the lives of the people it purports to help. I ask the Government to ensure that any wind farm applications in process are put on hold until the overall vision and strategy is developed and this legislation is enacted. There is little point in enacting good legislation after the damage has been done. Let us remember the banks.

I welcome that the Government will not oppose this Bill passing to the next stage. I hope this legislation will form part of the wider debate on energy generation and use in Ireland. My party colleagues and I are willing to work with the Government to ensure that we have a progressive energy strategy and a vision of an Irish energy future that will enjoy the support of and will benefit the vast majority of Irish people. We can all be winners in this.

Question put and agreed to.