Other Questions

Energy Policy

Timmy Dooley

Question:

6. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the immediate contingency steps he will take to safeguard security and competitiveness of energy supply here following the decision by UK voters to leave the EU; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23962/18]

I ask the Minister to outline the immediate contingency steps that he will take to safeguard the security and competitiveness of our energy supply. The key issue is a guaranteed supply of energy in view of what is happening in respect of the Brexit discussions and further afield, such as international issues that may impact on energy supply and security.

Contingency planning for Brexit is advancing through the cross-departmental co-ordination structures chaired by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. This work is also informed by the ongoing stakeholder engagement. In addition, senior officials from the Department are engaged with the TF50 EU negotiating team in Brussels in mapping out particular North-South issues as part of the signalled preparations for the future trade discussions.

My Department has completed two civic engagements and published analysis of energy issues in the context of Brexit, including setting out four priorities, the first of which is to maintain security of trade in energy between the United Kingdom and the European Union. A copy of this analysis is available on my Department's website.

I would underline that Ireland is one of 27 European nations of the EU with which the UK is negotiating its future relationship and while there can sometimes be a focus on Ireland’s trade patterns with the UK, it should also be noted that the UK imports approximately 50% of its gas and up to 10% of its electricity.

As the Brexit negotiations continue, of critical importance for Ireland is protecting security of supply and energy trading. Ireland currently has two gas interconnectors and one electricity interconnector with the UK. There are also connecting electricity and gas lines between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and additional North-South and east-west connection is both planned and proposed. There is no reason to believe that gas and electricity will not continue to be traded post Brexit. However, the terms of this trade will be influenced by the terms of the withdrawal agreement finally agreed by the United Kingdom with the European Union.  The backstop provision in the draft agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community, states at Article 6, “Single electricity market - The provisions of Union law governing wholesale electricity markets listed in Annex 2.7 to this Protocol shall apply to and in the United Kingdom in respect of Northern Ireland.”

I thank the Minister for the reply. At the outset, the single electricity market has been written into law in both jurisdictions so we can take it that regardless of the outcome of the Brexit negotiations that particular issue will continue as is. What is of importance and significance is the Integrated Single Electricity Market, I-SEM, which is further liberalisation and interconnection between North and South in terms of the energy market. That is contingent on the withdrawal agreement and on Ireland and the UK closely co-operating regardless of the outcome of the Brexit negotiations themselves in the context of I-SEM. Has the Minister met with his counterpart to discuss this issue on a bilateral basis?

Yes, the Integrated Single Electricity Market. Could the Minister outline whether he or his officials have met or are liaising with their counterparts, because regardless of what happens with Brexit, we should continue to pursue the further integration of the North-South energy market and electricity supply?

I have definitely met with them twice personally and I would have met some representatives of the British Government as well and this is one of the issues we discussed. I-SEM was the key priority issue discussed with Mr. Richard Harrington MP at both of those meetings. I met with my then Northern Ireland counterpart on this as well and I met with a number of companies operating in Northern Ireland and here. There is a lot of personal engagement and there is considerable ongoing engagement between my officials and British officials in Whitehall on this issue. There is also engagement between my officials and the other 26 member states and this would be an issue that I would have discussed with colleagues as well.

The Minister is aware of the importance of having a guaranteed, consistent energy supply at reasonable prices, particularly for international investment. That is a key component for any foreign direct investment company looking around the world for where to locate and invest. The other issue is the competitiveness of the internal Irish economy and if there are tariffs on electricity or on the movement of electricity or energy supplies if I-SEM is not addressed in a proper way, it could be the case, post-Brexit that there would be difficulties and impediments to the free movement of energy supply North and South. As we move to try to integrate an all-Ireland market in this area, I welcome that the Minister has met his counterparts and is proactive and I urge him to continue to do that because this is of critical importance in the context of the climate action and environment brief he holds but also for business, employment and innovation. It is a key component in ensuring we remain competitive as an economy.

While there is a lot of focus on tariffs, regulatory impediments could be a bigger issue, not so much in relation to I-SEM but in terms of east-west developments.

Transactional costs as opposed to tariffs.

Not costs, regulatory issues can be a bigger problem. In fairness, the team within the Department is looking at the broad aspect of this, not just the political focus which is on tariffs. In my conversations with my British counterpart, I have made these specific points. It is not just the issue of tariffs, that is relatively minor. It is getting access to the energy that is of importance. It is important to the British economy as much as the Irish economy. Remember that last winter we exported electricity to the UK because it ran a net deficit. I am glad to say that yesterday EirGrid confirmed that it has begun surveying the seabed off the coast of Deputy Kelleher's own county on the Celtic interconnector. I will be meeting with some of the representatives of Réseau de Transport d'Électricité, RTE, the French transmission network when I travel to Cherbourg next month. I hope to meet my French counterpart at the European Council next month as well.

Electric Vehicles

I understand the Minister is taking Questions Nos. 7 and 10 together in the names of Deputies Aindrias Moynihan and Catherine Martin. I understand Deputy Eamon Ryan is taking the question for Deputy Catherine Martin. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Aindrias Moynihan

Question:

7. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment when proposals will be brought forward to support the provision of effective and efficient publicly accessible electric vehicle charging; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23922/18]

Catherine Martin

Question:

10. Deputy Catherine Martin asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if the possibility of mandating all petrol stations, supermarket car parks and public car parks to have electric vehicle charge points has been considered. [23967/18]

We need to increase the level of electric car usage to meet commitments. The State is very much behind with no more than 4,500 electric vehicles on the road at the moment. Range anxiety is a big issue for many people who are driving. The inadequate network is a huge aspect of that range anxiety, not just the lack of availability of charging points but also the slow response in getting them up and running. How quickly can that be addressed and adequate charging points made available to people?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 and 10 together.

There are now approximately 5,400 electric vehicles on our roads.  As the electric car market matures, it is vital that the charging infrastructure develops alongside it and I recognise that a range of charging options is necessary to provide the convenience and reliability that electric vehicle drivers require.

Home charging is the primary method of charging for the majority of electric vehicles both internationally and in Ireland.  Charging at home at night is the most cost efficient and eco-friendly way of charging an electric vehicle. Given the high proportion of homes with driveways and dedicated parking spaces, Ireland has greater capacity for home charging than many other countries. From January of this year, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, grant of up to €600 is available to support the installation of home charging points. This is available to the purchasers of new and, more important, second-hand electric vehicle owners, thus providing certainty to the second-hand value of electric vehicles, which I have no doubt has contributed, along with the budget 2018 supports, to the significant increase in new electric vehicle sales.

The national policy framework, alternative fuels infrastructure for transport 2017 to 2030, sets out the need for electric charging in Ireland. Although the existing capacity of the public charging network is considered adequate, maintenance, availability of parking and the development of infrastructure to meet the growing demand is necessary. The majority of the existing network of publicly accessible charging points was rolled out by the ESB through its eCars programme where the majority of funding was recovered through the use of system charges as approved by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities.

The ESB intends doubling the funding it spends on the network this year to €2 million.

Following a public consultation process, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, CRU, published its independent regulatory decision on the ownership of this infrastructure in October 2017. A key outcome of the decision was that the charging network should not form part of the regulated asset base and therefore expansions of the network should not be funded from network charges. The decision also set out the need for the electric vehicle charging infrastructure to operate on a commercial basis. In the absence of State-led support, this is unlikely to happen in the near term. Capital funding of €1.5 million has been allocated in my Department's budget this year, therefore, to support the provision of public charging.

A key aspect of the work of the low-emission vehicle task force, co-chaired by my Department and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, is to devise a sustainable policy framework to ensure sufficient and effective electric vehicle charging infrastructure. This work has included examining options for potential support measures for public charging, and I expect the task force to report on these options shortly. Support for public charging is available through the better energy communities scheme administered by the SEAI. This supports community-based partnerships to improve the energy efficiency of homes, businesses and community facilities in a local area. My Department, in conjunction with the SEAI, is also developing additional supports for the roll-out of public charging. I expect to announce those later this year.

In addition, the work of the low-emission vehicle task force includes the examination of the potential role of planning and building regulations. This includes the consideration of placing requirements on developments to install infrastructure to support the uptake of low-emission vehicles. This would include charging points for electric vehicles and potentially other infrastructure such as compressed natural gas fuelling. I expect the low-emission vehicle task force to report on planning specific aspects of its work later in the year. The implementation of any such regulations will be ultimately a matter for my colleague the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy.

I raised this matter with the Minister in April. At that stage, the low-emission vehicle task force was expected to report shortly. It has been examining this since September 2017. It is a moving target and continues to slip. The original target aimed at was 50,000 for 2020. Realistically, there will only be about 8,000 in the revised targets. Things are constantly slipping. When will this task force report? Will it recommend that there be charging points in public car parks and places where there will be availability for people travelling longer distances? Range anxiety is an issue.

The Minister outlined where the current availability is considered to be adequate. How can it possibly be adequate? There are only 70 fast chargers. It also takes a long time to get them repaired. It took six months to get the one in Macroom repaired. On a journey last year from Cork to Dublin, the two large population centres, the Macroom charging point was down, the Copley Street point was down, the two points in Portlaoise were down, the point at junction 14 was down, the point at Kildare was down, the Rathcoole point was down and the Red Cow point was down. That is between the two major population centres. How can that kind of a network be considered adequate?

I will let Deputy Eamon Ryan in now as well and then the Minister.

The Minister is not doing enough. We are not being ambitious enough. We are not thinking big enough. The sum of €1.5 million will not cut it. The climate figures being announced today are shocking in respect of how this State, this Government and the previous Government in particular have abandoned ambition. We are not thinking big enough and not thinking into the future. In my constituency, most people will not have a driveway and will not be able to charge at home. In many parts of this country as well as in my constituency, we need to create charging spaces that the public can use.

If the budget is only €1.5 million, one of the ways it could be done is to require petrol stations, starting with a certain size, to have a charging point. Supermarkets would also have to have charging points. They would benefit from it. Municipal car parks, which are making a fortune in this city, would also have to have charging points. That regulatory system brings us back to what we were talking about earlier. Industry, or even supermarkets, for instance, would bear the cost but would benefit from attracting customers.

We need to do this quickly. Our emissions are rising and there is no reduction in sight into the next decade. We have a massive gap between what we, rightly, have committed to do within the European Union and the direction in which the EPA says we are going. Everything has to change. There has to be a quantum leap in the scale of response. It should start with electric vehicles because they comprise a better system. They are better cars, they are cleaner for asthma and other health reasons, and they use our own fuel rather than fuel from Saudi Arabia or Russia. It is win-win-win. It will only happen, however, when the State leads and on a scale ten or 20 times the present response.

I do not disagree with Deputy Eamon Ryan. The Government has finite resources and we have to use the regulatory tools available to us. That is part of the work of the low-emission vehicle task force. I am frustrated, like Deputy Aindrias Moynihan, by the progress on this and by progress in Government in general. We are making significant progress, however, and once we have the output from the task force, I intend to try to proceed in every way that I can. I did acknowledge in my initial contribution that there is an issue with maintenance. I fully accept that. I also get those complaints and that is great. It is great that I, as a rural Deputy, now get constituents coming to me complaining about the infrastructure not being in place. People are purchasing electric vehicles and making that big move away from diesel. That is significant.

There is an issue in respect of range anxiety in this country and that is slowly being addressed as well. Deputy Rock gave me much grief over not having an EV charging point here in Leinster House. He and Deputy Shortall both have electric vehicles. We will have a charging point installed as part of the ongoing works here. It will be available at Agriculture House for Members of the Oireachtas to charge their cars. I hope that by the time it is put in, many more colleagues will have electric vehicles as well.

Put in ten-----

Deputy Ryan will have another opportunity. He should not interrupt, please.

We have gone from a situation where, in terms of investment in the network, last year the ESB put in €1 million whereas this year €3.5 million is being put in, an increase of 250%, albeit from a small base. We need to put in more infrastructure, particularly now when we see a step change in the number of vehicles being purchased. Since the start of this year, 1,000 vehicles have been purchased. Fewer than 1,000 vehicles were purchased in the whole of last year. We are reaching that tipping point now and we need to resource it properly.

I am glad the Minister said step change because Ireland as a nation is behind the curve and in a catch-up situation. There needs to be a step change in pace in terms of the network and encouraging people to use electric cars and to have more of them.

Will the Minister clarify one point? He indicated that €1.5 million was available to his Department, but when this was raised earlier this year the Minister said that €1.8 million was available. Has spending started-----

-----or why is there a difference in the figures? When will that spending be visible to those who have cars and who want to have cars? When will they see additional charging points throughout the country?

The symbol of one charging point for the Dáil is an example of why this is not the required scale of change. Perhaps people cannot see that at the moment. It is very hard to get an electric vehicle at the moment. A person who wants to buy one probably could not get one because the order book is so long. The whole world is going in this direction. That is now a rock solid guarantee. In two or three years, when all the manufacturers switch to electric, which is what they are doing, and the volume of cars is available, Irish households are going to be looking to do this.

It will not be one in Leinster House; it will be ten and then 100. That is what we should be thinking. It should not just be in Leinster House. Dublin city centre has approximately 10,000 public parking spaces. Apart from public servants, most workers no longer drive into the centre of Dublin. It is difficult in government sometimes, but the Minister should go to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to ask for the resources to be allocated. Let us change every single public office, not just Leinster House. Let us start with the Department of Finance, not just in Agriculture House but in every public place because that is what is coming. However, it will not come fast enough if we only do it in one place. That is an example of the small thinking that is holding us back.

I concur with much of what has been said. I wrote to the Minister last year to point out that in Ballyshannon and Bundoran in County Donegal there were two electric vehicle charge points. Both were taken away and not replaced. That is happening in many places throughout the country. Electric car owners plan their journey because they have to charge them. When they travel and stop somewhere, they find a car is already being charged at that point. The problem is that we do not have nearly enough charging points. I know that many of the car manufacturers are supplying large batteries of up to 60 kW, which will improve their range. However, particularly for people who live in rural areas and have longer journeys to make, we need to have more charging points in place. We will need to look again at the model that was in place, whereby ESB was providing them free of charge. Every public lamp post has a duct containing electric cables. It should be possible to install charging points on many of them. That will have to be done throughout the country if we are to take the issue seriously.

It is great that rural colleagues are raising this issue. Deputy Martin Kenny spoke about people from rural areas finding a car already at a charging point. Things are beginning to happen, but I accept that we need to do more. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council is considering installing charging points on lamp posts. It has been done in other parts of the world and we need to consider doing it, particularly to address the issues in Dublin raised by Deputy Eamon Ryan. As the technology develops, the vast majority of people will be able to do much of the charging at home.

I say to Deputy Aindrias Moynihan that we are not behind the curve. Ireland has a far greater spread of charging points than the United Kingdom. As we have only one operator, electric car owners only have a single card and that will remain the case. It will probably involve the use of a debit card in the future. Drivers in the United Kingdom need five or six cards to use the network. Some 90% of the existing network uses three-phase electricity which means that vehicles can be charged 50% quicker than the vast majority in the United Kingdom which use single-phase electricity. We are not behind the curve in that regard. Can we do better? Yes, absolutely. Do we need to invest more? Do we need to look at the regulation? Companies such as Lidl Ireland are already installing charging points in its supermarket car parks. Hotels are also considering installing them. However, we need to expedite the process.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Clare Daly

Question:

8. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his plans to support the fast-tracking of the Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill 2016 in view of the fact that the State is likely to face fines in excess of €150 million for missing CO2 emission targets by 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23902/18]

As the Minister knows, Ireland is on target to be hit with substantial fines in a year or two as a result of being so far off our 2020 CO2 emissions target. It is not really about the fines; that is a bit of a sideshow. We are in this position because we have no serious policy to address these issues. We have a number of measures, but they are not the be all and end all. A number of items of pending legislation could help. What is the Minister doing about them?

The Fossil Fuels Divestment Bill seeks to amend the NTMA Acts to have the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund divest from fossil fuels. The Bill is a matter for the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform. He informs me that to date there has been very constructive engagement with Deputy Thomas Pringle on the passage of the Private Members' Bill. He has also informed me that it passed Committee Stage on 19 April. Given that it is a Private Members' Bill, Report Stage will be scheduled in Private Members’ time. Its scheduling is outside the Government's control.

Meeting Ireland's EU targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and 2030 will be extremely challenging. The latest projections for greenhouse gas emissions, published by the EPA earlier today, indicate that emissions from those sectors of the economy covered by Ireland's 2020 targets might only be 1% below 2005 levels by 2020, despite a target that emissions should be 20% below their 2005 levels. This is deeply disappointing but not surprising, given the recent pace of economic growth and the consequent increases in emissions from the agriculture and transport sectors, in particular. The projected shortfall against our targets is further exacerbated by the constrained investment capacity in the past decade due to the economic crisis.

The legislative framework governing the European Union’s 2020 emissions reduction targets includes a number of flexibility mechanisms to enable member states to meet their annual emissions targets, including provisions to bank excess allowances to future years and trade allowances between member states. Using our banked emissions from the period to 2015, Ireland complies with its emissions reduction targets. However, our cumulative emissions are expected to exceed targets at end of the decade, which will result in a requirement to purchase additional allowances. While this purchasing requirement is not, at this stage, expected to be significant, further analysis will be required to quantify the likely costs involved in the light of the final amount and price of allowances required.

The Minister used the word "disappointing". That is a bit of an understatement. It is a catastrophic failure. It is absolutely shocking that we are so far off our emissions targets. It is not about massaging the figures, buying a little time, buying a few allowances here and there and all the rest. It indicates that we are well off course, particularly in the sectors mentioned by the Minister such as agriculture in which we are not facing up to our responsibilities in that regard. Ireland has the third highest emissions per capita with a heavy reliance on oil, coal and peat and rising emissions in sectors such as agriculture, energy and transport. We do not seem to be doing anything to correct this. Deputy Thomas Pringle's Bill is a good initiative. It will not change things all that dramatically, but it will contribute. Unless we start to deliver on things such as this, we will not just be disappointed and paying fines with a pot load of money, we could also be spending on other things. However, our planet will be destroyed and with it our country. We need to see something much better.

If the Business Committee could facilitate the taking of the Bill, I would like to see it expedited. Based on the current trajectory, we will have an enormous challenge to meet our 2030 targets. We will need to reconcile our ambitions in Food Wise 2025, the need for food security in the European Union, carbon leakage in food production and our climate change targets for 2030. When Commissioner Phil Hogan was here recently, he highlighted CAP reform. We will need to consider mainstreaming measures such as the smart farming initiative. We have huge challenges ahead of us. The projections to 2020 do not include the measures we have announced in the national development plan to spend €1 in every €5 in the next decade on climate-related measures. They do not take fully into account the measures provided for in the mitigation plan. We need to consider not just how we spend money but also, as I said to Deputy Eamon Ryan, the regulatory and taxation structure.

We are working to have Report Stage of the Bill taken before the recess and there is a will to do so. I appreciate that the Minister has acknowledged plainly - he could not do otherwise - that we will not just miss the 2020 targets but also the 2030 targets. The planet will probably have exploded by 2050. While there is honesty in the Minister's admission, there is no consequential impact on policy.

Whether it is the Minister's office or somewhere else, somebody must start calling a halt to this. One Department is not going to address this. Climate impact and emissions are not a side issue and they should be an integral part of every Department's briefing. Unless there is a radical departure where this is a factor in the Department's dealings with transport, agriculture, planning and all the others, we will be in an even worse position than the Minister has acknowledged. That multidepartmental approach must be introduced as what the Minister has admitted is frightening.

It would be unfair to say we are not doing things and there has not been a step change over the past two years. The proof of that is in the national development plan, where €1 in every €5 spent over the next decade on the public side will be on climate-related activity. We have made a definitive decision to take coal out of power generation by 2025 and we will be one of the first countries in Europe to do so. We will be one of the first countries in the world to ban smoky coal later this year.

What about peat?

We are ahead of the curve in that we are banning the sale of all new fossil fuel vehicles from 2030, which is way ahead of anyone else. Yesterday we announced the climate action fund, one of the biggest funds of its type anywhere in the world. We will have the carbon tax report in advance of the forthcoming budget. Even yesterday I was commended on the initiative we took in Ireland on benefit-in-kind with electric vehicles, which is already stimulating demand in that market. It is far more focused than in some other European Union countries.

Offshore Exploration Licences

Bríd Smith

Question:

9. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his plans to issue new licences undertaken or leased for the exploration of oil or gas here in the coming months; if he will suspend such licences and so on until Dáil Éireann and the relevant Oireachtas committee have examined and passed the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Amendment) (Climate Emergency Measures) Bill 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23892/18]

I asked a similar question in February after the House debated the climate emergency measures Bill. Will the Minister commit to not issuing any new licences between now and the passing of the Bill through its various Stages? All issuing of licences for exploration offshore should be suspended in order to give the climate emergency measures Bill a chance to get through the Houses.

The Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Amendment) (Climate Emergency Measures) Bill 2018 has been referred to select committee for consideration and, as such, it remains a legislative proposal. The challenge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is well understood by the Government and it is reflected in our national climate action and energy policy and the debate we have had with various questions today. Ireland will, within the EU and UN climate frameworks, pursue and achieve a transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable economy, underpinned by a secure and competitive energy supply in the period to 2050. Within that transition, it is accepted that Ireland will continue to require and to use some fossil fuels to meet the needs of our people and economy.

In contrast, the Bill proposed by Solidarity will not reduce Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions. The proposed Bill will not help Ireland meet its 2020 or its 2030 emissions targets. The strategy outlined by Solidarity is for Ireland to rely entirely on imports for all our fossil fuel needs. In contrast to the UN intergovernmental panel on climate change, the Solidarity approach does not recognise that natural gas can play a role as a transition fuel in combination with variable renewable sources. The Government and the Irish public are willing to tackle climate change but the proposed Bill will not solve climate change and, in that context, the proposed approach to authorisations does not make sense.

Forgoing the use of Ireland’s natural resources, utilised in a proportionate manner within the context of a climate transition, would be a loss to the Irish people from a fiscal, economic and security of supply perspective. A significant change in long-established national policy should be based on informed debate and consideration. Around this time last year, when we were dealing with the prohibition of onshore fracking, I invited the Oireachtas committee to hold a broad policy debate on national energy policy. This policy debate could consider issues of competitiveness, climate change, security of energy supply and Ireland’s offshore exploration policy. Such a debate would inform any future legislation in this area. The pre-legislative scrutiny proposed for the Bill in July is an opportunity for such a debate. I understand there will be meetings of the committee on 3 July and 10 July and that representatives of the International Energy Agency are due in later this month to discuss the matter of energy security.

I thank the Minister of State but he may as well have just copied and pasted the last answer he gave in February. He may have done so as I have just looked back at the Official Report. Things have changed and at the time, the Minister of State told us the Bill was useless and would need a money message. It is not at all useless and it does not need a money message, which is why we are scrutinising the Bill on 3 July and 10 July.

Apart from the machinations of how the committee might deal with this, there is a movement around the globe to ban offshore exploration for oil. These are countries that may not be significant oil producers but nevertheless there is a growing impact. France, Costa Rica, Belize and New Zealand have all banned offshore oil and gas exploration. This Bill will pass because of the cross-party support it has received and Ireland will make no small or insignificant contribution to such action. Those measures are aimed at reducing CO2 emissions and really tackling climate change in a serious way.

I know a number of other countries have taken different approaches and France has been mentioned numerous times. France's approach for the future is underpinned by an energy mix of 50% renewables, which is excellent, and 50% nuclear, which is completely different from what we are facing here in the Irish scenario. Scotland has proposed climate change legislation but it is also a major producer of oil and gas from the North Sea, so the elements are not mutually exclusive.

We are trying to reduce the use of fossil fuels and energy through the grant system approved by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI. Previously we had questions relating to the use of plastics, and the appetite for a new directive is growing across Europe. We have to understand there are new technologies that are not here yet but may come here to help reduce the use of fossil fuels in jet fuel and the marine sector, both of which use large amounts of such fuels. The aim of the Government is to reduce the use of fossil fuels, although they will remain part of our energy mix for a period.

We will have these arguments in more detail at the committee. I appeal to the Minister and the Minister of State to end any issuing of offshore exploration licences for fossil fuels between now and when the Bill progresses. It would be undemocratic not to do so as they have had a signal from the House that there is a cross-party support for the measure. More important, we need to signal to the fossil fuel industry and the world in general that we are taking climate change seriously. This tallies with the previous argument made by Deputy Daly because if we continue to invest either directly or indirectly in exploration for fossil fuels, we will not really be taking the matter of climate change any way seriously. The science behind this cannot be refuted and climate change is rapidly increasing the temperature of the planet. We know 80% of these fuels must now stay in the ground. That is what the Bill is for. I know there will be a big discussion about energy security but I hope this Bill will give a kick up the backside to this Government to make it get its finger out and invest seriously in renewables while moving away from fossil fuels.

We have plans for renewables and clear targets that we need to meet. We must also recognise that according to the energy White Paper of 2015, fossil fuels will continue to play a role in future. Energy security is very important. If the pipeline to this country was stopped in the morning, I am sure the Deputy would be one of the first to speak about constituents not being able to heat themselves to keep warm.

If the planet heats, there will be no security either.

We face such scenarios. The Deputy mentioned the policies of countries in Europe and elsewhere. The EU's import dependency on petroleum and its product has increased from 74% in 1995 to 89% in 2015, and from 43% to 69% with respect to natural gas over the same period. There is a challenge throughout Europe and in some cases we are reliant on areas with unstable democracies for our energy security. That is why we are looking at alternatives and investing in renewables, as well as looking to reduce energy use in homes through SEAI grants. The policy is reflected in international agencies' work and the White Paper, which indicate that fossil fuels will play a part in our energy mix for a period.

Question No. 10 answered with Question No. 7.

Bioenergy Strategy

Timmy Dooley

Question:

11. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the status of the draft bioenergy plan; when he expects to publish the plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23961/18]

Perhaps the Minister might quickly provide a reply to this question.

The draft bioenergy plan established the broader context for the development of Ireland's bioenergy sector.

It recognises that meeting the demand for biomass from indigenous sources could deliver significant economic and employment benefits and contains measures to stimulate and support the supply of Irish biomass.  The bioenergy plan highlights a range of supply-side and demand-side measures that are needed to release the full potential of the domestic biomass sector in Ireland. Since the draft bioenergy plan was published in 2014, significant progress has been made on the actions set out in the plan. I have secured Government approval for the support scheme for renewable heat, a key demand-side measure.  I expect the scheme to commence operation later this year subject to state aid approval.  The objective of the scheme is to increase the level of renewable energy and reduce emissions in the heat sector.  By stimulating demand for renewable energy feedstocks, such as biomass, the scheme will provide an opportunity for the growth of indigenous bioenergy production.

I recently published a policy statement outlining the future development of the biofuels obligation scheme.  The scheme is the primary policy measure used to increase the share of renewable energy in the transport sector and has also made a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

We will have to leave it there because we are out of time. That concludes questions to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.