Microgeneration Support Scheme Bill 2017: Second Stage [Private Members]

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the opportunity to introduce the Bill, which I introduced to the House just over a year ago. It will reduce energy costs for householders and businesses, contribute to the State's requirements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and grow renewable energy, as well as reducing the level of imported fossil fuels.

The Bill aims to grow small-scale renewable energy, which has a big part to play in our energy future. Microgeneration allows for self-consumption to reduce energy bills, and the Bill allows for excess electricity to be exported back into the grid, which will add to the State's sources of renewable energy and, importantly, give extra income to households, businesses and farmers to pay for the costs of installation for microgeneration. The State is far behind on its climate change obligations and we continue to play catch-up with our European neighbours.

The world must triple its efforts or face catastrophic climate change, according to a United Nations report on greenhouse gas emissions which was published today and which we all heard loud and clear. The report also found we are extremely unlikely to keep the rise in global temperatures to below 2° Celsius or possibly even 3° Celsius, and warned of catastrophic risks ahead. The report is yet another warning that highlights the global situation, as well as the failure of our State to deal with the issue. In June, the Climate Action Network put Ireland second last in the European Union for combatting climate change. Drastic and wholesale action is required. The State is a laggard in regard to climate change, as even the Taoiseach admitted.

Irish householders produces 60% more greenhouse gas emissions than the EU average because of our considerable reliance on oil for heating and fossil fuels, which are key factors. We need to give householders alternatives through renewable energy.

As a State and as taxpayers, we face hundreds of millions of euro worth of fines in 2020 and beyond because we have not reduced our greenhouse gas emissions or grown our renewable energy portfolio sufficiently because of the inaction of the Government and its predecessors. We must take seriously the vital requirement to broaden the sources of renewable energy on this island. We will need to do this if we are to combat climate change and create security of energy supply. We import almost €5 billion worth of fossil fuels but this is not environmentally or economically sustainable.

Electricity will be a vital energy source because it will be used more for home heating through heat pumps for transport as the number of electric vehicles on the road grows. We need to expand because we know that electric vehicles will be the only show in town in 2030.

Irish households and businesses have the fourth highest electricity prices in the EU. We also pay a carbon tax and a public service obligation levy, which supports large-scale renewable energy. Nonetheless, energy prices continue to rise and the major electricity suppliers increased their prices in July and August. It is time to allow ordinary people to reduce their household bills and to involve citizens, households and businesses in growing our renewable energy sources.

Members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action visited the Tipperary Energy Agency and Cloughjordan today. We saw the eco-village and visited projects such as the swimming pool in Nenagh town, a rural school outside Nenagh and a household in Nenagh. We saw at first hand microgeneration and energy conservation at work. We heard how a school halved its energy bills. If the school could feed its excess electricity back to the grid at times when it is not being used it would benefit the school financially, as well as the State by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and producing more electricity from a renewable source.

We do not propose anything earth-shattering. We must remember that a pilot scheme once existed where a tariff was offered by Electric Ireland for microgeneration, and a scheme also existed in the North of Ireland. Schemes exist across the EU. In Germany, for example, payments have been made for decades, and 31% of renewable energy capacity is owned by individuals, with farmers owning 10%.

The lack of a feed-in tariff is a further sign of the lack of imagination from the Government and previous Governments in regard to renewable energy. To date, our renewable energy has been almost completely based on large-scale onshore wind but it is not a good model and we know the reason is we did not involve communities. If we are realistically to combat climate change and create security of energy supply on this island, it will be from a range of sources of energy, such as solar photovoltaic, PV, hydro, biogas, small-scale wind and many others.

The Government must realise the significant potential in microgeneration. A pilot scheme supporting solar PV has been established, which we admit is a start but crucially, it does not include a feed-in tariff. There is also a push from Europe for microgeneration under the clean energy package. This will establish a regulatory framework for household self-consumption under Article 20.

We must recognise that the electricity grid of the near future will be different from what we have now, and the Government must see this change and be prepared. The future will be very different, with households generating their own electricity to supply their homes and charge the batteries for their cars. We will cut down on the 10% of electricity lost in transmission and we will directly involve people and communities in the production of energy.

The Government's White Paper in 2015 stated that we will be “exploring the scope to provide market support for micro generation”. It also stated "The energy system will change from one that is almost exclusively Government and utility led, to one where citizens and communities will increasingly be participants in energy efficiency and in renewable energy generation and distribution."

The Citizens' Assembly also recommended that we have a feed-in tariff for microgeneration. This Sinn Féin Bill has the support of Friends of the Earth, Stop Climate Chaos, An Taisce and Trócaire. It is also being considered by farming organisations and many others. We saw the future at first hand today in Nenagh and Cloughjordan in Tipperary and we saw how the future will be across the country. We must move it into the mainstream, however, and do across the whole country what those towns are doing.

I cannot see why a Government which is committed to climate change, as the Government says it is and as I hope it is, and which is committed to addressing our energy security supply and to citizen involvement in renewable energy, would oppose the Bill. I ask for a coalition tonight to support the Bill and push forward with it. We need to involve citizens, reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and reduce bills for households, businesses and farmers.

Táim buíoch as an deis cúpla focail a rá ar an mBille seo agus caithfidh mé moladh mór a thabhairt don Teachta Stanley fá choinne an mBille seo a thabhairt os comhair an Tí anocht. Tréaslaím leis an méid atá déanta aige agus na focail atá ráite aige anseo inniu.

As we heard from Deputy Stanley, the significance of the Bill cannot be overstated. If enacted, it has the potential to reduce the energy bills for countless households across the State. It is timely and important, and it will provide for direct payments to householders in return for excess electricity produced on site, which will be redirected to the national grid via the main supply.

Individual householders stand to benefit as well as the climate. It is a win-win scenario for both where not only will this initiative incentivise property owners to embrace the plethora of renewable energy options available today, but microgeneration and the return of excess power to the wider grid will have several positive outcomes. I hope, therefore, the House will agree and support the Bill and allow it to pass to Committee Stage.

The practice will have the effect of broadening the State's renewable energy portfolio, thus further reducing our dependency on fossil fuels for electricity generation. Similarly, and this point should not be overlooked, the expansion of microgeneration and the export of surplus electricity to the network will ensure future needs are met and the State has a reliable supply in coming years. Time and again, research shows that on-site microgeneration can dramatically balance the supply and demand for electric power because by producing more power during periods of high demand and less during periods of low demand, the hybridised grid allows for microgeneration systems and large power plants to operate with greater energy efficiency and cost effectiveness than could be otherwise achieved.

I regret that the State is failing to meet its climate change obligations and the position is unlikely to change without serious action. This Bill can form part of that. Irish households produce 60% more emissions than the European Union average. This initiative will help to grow an alternative energy source, having the effect of lowering our carbon footprint and reducing costs for electricity consumers and householders whose disposable income is already tightly squeezed at the end of the week.

I am pleased that the objectives set out in Deputy Stanley's Bill have received the backing of organisations such as Friends of the Earth, Stop Climate Chaos, An Taisce and Trócaire, to name but a few. I am delighted, therefore, to add my support and that of the Sinn Féin party to this important legislation. I call on the Government, all other parties and Independent Deputies to support the Bill. Let us make a positive contribution to households, climate and energy policy, while reducing costs for people who are struggling with energy prices that are among the highest in Europe.

I commend my colleague Deputy Brian Stanley on introducing this Bill on microgeneration. This is very welcome legislation, which would allow excess energy produced by small scale domestic microgenerators, such as photovoltaic panels or small wind turbines, to be fed into the national grid and provides that householders would be paid for it, which is currently not the case. This type of system would be of great benefit to many of my constituents in Limerick who have asked me why this is not already provided for. The change would incentivise people to install renewable energy sources, as they could use them for their own use. It would be considerably cheaper for them in the long run and would allow people to use the excess electricity they generate as a source of income. It would be excellent for society and the environment. I am at a loss to understand how anyone would not support the Bill.

It is important for Opposition parties to bring forward legislation aimed at contributing to the fight against climate change because, unfortunately, the Government has no interest in the issue. Ireland has already agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% below 2005 levels. Last week, I was genuinely shocked to read that Ireland is set to miss its 2020 emission targets by 95%. Many people, especially younger citizens, are outraged by our lack of action in this area. While I was aware that we were off target, it is shocking that we will miss them by such a margin. Fine Gael can add climate change to the policy areas of health, housing, childcare, broadband and insurance costs in which it is utterly failing our people. For the life of me, I cannot understand the thinking behind Government policy in this area. Instead of investing heavily in renewables to decrease our reliance on fossil fuels and reduce our emissions, we are stockpiling money in case the banks need another bailout and hurtling towards 2020 when we will miss our target by a country mile and have to pay millions in fines to Europe every year, leaving even less money to invest in renewables. This is utter madness.

I commend again my colleague Deputy Stanley on bringing forward this important Bill. I hope progressive parties in the Dáil, which want to chart a different and more ambitious course in our fight against climate change, will lend their support to it.

I commend my colleague, Deputy Stanley, on proposing this Bill which I hope the Government will support. It is about making the transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy which must take place as a matter of urgency. The legislation proposes to allow small-scale household production of electricity through solar or wind energy. It provides that excess electricity produced by microgenerators, whether households or farms, may be fed into the grid and for households to be paid for it, which is currently not provided for.

This State is lagging far behind other countries on this issue. Why are we not harnessing and utilising solar power from rooftops and small-scale wind and other sources? The Bill aims to grow the renewable energy sector and add more renewable energy sources, thus enabling citizens to play their part in expanding the sector. It is essential that households and communities are part of our switch to renewable energy. They should not be used as a source of tax or a levy to support the switch from fossil fuels. They must be allowed to become active participants. The Government’s solution to everything, whether in health, housing, infrastructure or climate change, is to throw a tax break at the issue and hope for the best. This shows the complete lack of vision or ambition on the Government benches that the problems of the world can be sorted through the tax code rather than investment. Its approach is not working in respect of the housing crisis and it will not work in the renewable sector.

We must broaden the types of renewable energy we have, while also broadening ownership to allow for the involvement of citizens. In Germany, 31.5% of renewable energy capacity is owned by private persons, of whom 10.5% are farmers. The costs of renewable sources such as solar have declined dramatically in recent years, making it more feasible for a greater number of people to produce their own energy. If we are to take climate change and job creation seriously, increase security of supply and allow ordinary householders to play their part, we must urgently use all available resources. It is essential that the potential of home-generated electricity provided for in this legislation is advanced. I appeal to the Government and all parties in the House to support the Bill. The Taoiseach and others on the Government benches often accuse Sinn Féin of not bringing forward solutions. Last week, we brought forward a solution on a planning matter that impacts on people in rural Ireland and in this Bill we are proposing a solution in the area of renewable energy that incentivises people to become involved in its production. It is up to the Government to take these proposals on board and act on them.

We are trying to provide an environmental and economic solution to global warming. The effects of climate change will most likely result in warmer summers and wetter winters, something that we saw today and will see again tomorrow. Studies by Met Éireann show that increases in world temperatures will mean more flooding in coastal areas and rivers, as people living in Dublin, Arklow, Wexford, Waterford, Cork, Limerick and Galway will testify. We need to create a climate of change to halt global warming and this Bill, in a small way, will play its part in doing that. It is a highly practical Bill that proposes a necessary approach to a problem that affects us all. I commend its author and also commend the Government on supporting it.

I will speak first because, under Standing Orders, the Minister may only speak once on Private Members' business. I commend Deputy Stanley on introducing the Bill and thank Deputy Cullinane for thanking the Government for not opposing it. The Government subscribes to the principles outlined in Deputy Stanley's contribution and we will not oppose them in legislation. I welcome the opportunity that this debate gives to highlight the important role the citizen should play in Ireland's energy transition and community and citizen participation in renewable energy projects.

The Government is supportive in principle of the ambition reflected in the Bill and the route to market it provides for citizens and communities to generate their own renewable energy and receive a fair and efficient price for doing so. The Bill is very much in line with one of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment's flagship projects, the renewable electricity support scheme, RESS, which places community's at the centre of its design.

It is also a key provision of the EU's clean energy package and, in particular, the recast renewable energy directive, which entitles renewable self-consumers, or microgenerators, to receive remuneration for excess electricity exported to the grid.

The Government is not opposing the Bill but it will be necessary for the Government to develop its own legislative proposals to fully transpose the terms of the EU directive. A number of policy measures are already under way or planned and signalled to the market that will ultimately provide for an appropriate microgeneration scheme domestically. The Government is supportive in principle of the ambition contained within this Bill as it aligns with energy policy as set out in the energy White Paper 2015, the new renewable energy directive and the clean energy package. The energy White Paper recognised the important role that the citizen should play in Ireland's energy transition. Moreover, community and citizen participation in renewable electricity projects was identified as a key policy objective to be delivered via the new renewable electricity support scheme.

The Government will need to assess the best way to implement any remuneration for excess electricity exported to the grid. There are different methods of approaching this and we will need to consult with industry and other relevant stakeholders along the way. The 2015 energy White Paper committed that Government would explore the scope to provide market support for microgeneration. The Department duly assessed microgeneration of various technologies as part of the economic assessment to underpin the new renewable energy support scheme design, and the evidence generated indicates that the relative cost of microgeneration is very high.

The Department continued to explore ways to support microgeneration and, last year, in conjunction with the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, hosted a microgeneration stakeholder workshop which attracted over 100 attendees. The workshop identified a number of structural, technical and financial challenges that need to be overcome before a support scheme for micro-renewable energy could be implemented. This aligns with experience from other EU member states which have introduced schemes and have either had to reform them or close them down completely due to costs getting out of control. The workshop identified a series of "quick wins" for microgeneration which could be achieved in advance of the implementation of the recast renewable energy directive and, in particular, Article 21, which deals with renewable self-consumers or microgenerators. The workshop also heard calls for the establishment of an umbrella group for the microgeneration sector and, subsequently, the Micro Renewable Energy Federation was formed, which was a welcome development.

Microgeneration is generally operated at the electricity system distribution level, and consumers who invest in such generation usually do not participate directly in the wholesale electricity market. Consequently, some of the primary support mechanisms that require renewable electricity generators to directly participate in the wholesale market may not be suitable for microgeneration. In most EU member states, no specific schemes to support microgeneration and self-consumption exist. In fact, in a number of member states, distribution system operators do not even measure the volume of self-generated electricity. Nevertheless, even in these countries, consumers may find they can save money by generating their own electricity from small-scale renewable electricity installations, for example, rooftop solar photovoltaic, PV, installations, rather than buying it from the grid. Examples of this type of activity are happening across Ireland today without subsidy or payment.

Following on from this, in summer 2018 a pilot scheme supporting microgeneration was launched and the Department, along with SEAI, which administers the scheme, has been working closely with the Micro Renewable Energy Federation to develop an industry code of practice which will ensure a sustainable microgeneration industry for years to come. The design of the pilot scheme was informed by a behavioural and attitudes study undertaken by SEAI into the likely demand for and uptake of microgeneration among the public. The pilot scheme will run up to the end of 2020. It will be subject to a review early in 2019 which will examine scope for broadening it out to other technologies and other user groups. The evidence gathered during the pilot scheme will also assist in the implementation of Article 21 of the recast renewable energy directive, which sets out the rights, entitlements and obligations of the renewable electricity self-consumer.

The scheme focuses on the deployment of domestic solar PV, whereby applicants can receive a rebate for installing solar PV panels and-or a battery energy storage system in their home. The main principle of the scheme is that the solar PV system installed should provide electricity for self-consumption within the home. The scheme opened in July 2018, when applicants could register their interest with SEAI to install solar PV and battery storage systems. The payments portal opened in October 2018. By mid-November, over 3,000 people had expressed interest and approximately 100 rebate claims have been requested. SEAI expects to begin making payments under this scheme early next month. A code of practice for microgeneration is also being developed and, in conjunction with the industry umbrella group, the Micro Renewable Energy Federation, the building blocks for a sustainable microgeneration sector are being put in place in advance of the implementation of the clean energy package.

Looking forward to future remuneration for microgeneration as part of implementation of the clean energy package requirements, a number of options will need to be considered, costed and subjected to regulatory impact assessment. Based on the analysis carried out by the Department to date, these are likely to include a requirement for suppliers to pay microgenerators the wholesale market price for electricity exported to the grid. Based on international experience in this area, it is of utmost importance that the distributional costs of such a scheme are assessed, particularly relating to network charges and any costs paid through the public service obligation. Allocation of costs through consumers' electricity bills can have significant socioeconomic impacts, and this is particularly so at a time when energy prices are on the rise, with recent price increases announced by retail suppliers.

If the policy is not assessed and designed properly, there is a real risk that providing incentives for those investing in microgeneration will lead to increased costs for households who cannot afford such investments. International experience is instructive in this regard and suggests that reform of network tariffs needs to be delivered as part of a package of measures to make microgeneration work for the citizen and community, while also ensuring that ordinary consumers are not disadvantaged as a result. In this regard, and as part of the implementation of the microgeneration requirements of the clean energy package, the Department will work with SEAI, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities and suppliers to build on the work done by the Deputy in bringing forward this Bill.

Some elements of the proposed Bill will require careful scrutiny and likely amendment. It does not provide information on potential costs to the Exchequer or electricity consumers from the proposed introduction of a tariff for microgeneration. Moreover, the Bill does not include any evidence to indicate what level the proposed tariff should be set at or the overall cost to consumers and the economy of a 5% requirement on suppliers for electricity from microgeneration by 2025. This Bill will, therefore, ultimately require financial and regulatory impact assessment. For these reasons, the Government recommends that the Bill would undergo detailed scrutiny by the Oireachtas to discover the full cost of the proposals in advance and allow Government determine whether a money message is required. The Minister intends to revert to Government in due course as this legislation proceeds through the Oireachtas. In recognising the ambitions behind the drafting of the Bill, the Government will not oppose its current progress and is likely to develop further legislative proposals in this area.

I wish to share time with Deputies Aindrias Moynihan, Ó Cuív and Eugene Murphy.

I congratulate Deputy Stanley on introducing the Bill, which Fianna Fáil supports. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, for his remarks. It is the first time I have debated with the Minister, Deputy Bruton, since he took up his new role and I take the opportunity to wish him well. I highlight that we had a social media Bill before the relevant committee this afternoon and there is a broadband Bill in the system as well. I look forward to debating with the Minister and to constructive engagement during his time in the role.

As I said, Fianna Fáil will be supporting the Bill. It is a critical and common-sense Bill that has many evident benefits. I have met many companies in the sector and I have met representatives of the Irish Solar Energy Association who have articulated the many obvious benefits of solar energy. It is inspiring to see smaller companies in particular entering that space. The industry in Ireland has the potential to deliver up to 5 GW of capacity between 2019 and 2030. To put this in context, this is the kind of energy the entire west coast could produce using offshore renewable wind in the same period, so there is a great opportunity in this regard. However, while these companies and others in the same space are ready and waiting to lead the charge in driving up the production of green energy in Ireland, they need our help.

In the main, the issues raised are not barriers which they themselves have created. They are barriers which have come about as a result of the failure of the legislative system to accommodate technological developments. The renewable electricity support scheme, RESS, was a start, but we need to go further. We need to act to facilitate microgeneration through the opening of the grid; the introduction of feed-in tariffs and support for community organisations, as well as households to take part. It seems to be perfectly reasonable and good public policy that a parish hall could avail of these benefits in the same way as a private household. Grid connection rules should be altered to make it easier for microenergy and community energy projects to gain access to the grid. It should also include reforms to make it easier for large-scale consumers such as hotels and airports to generate their own electricity. Part of energy security is energy supply. We know that transmission is a huge factor. There is no substitute for a robust, integrated, well managed grid. EirGrid manages it well but the Celtic interconnector and the Ireland-UK interconnector will come under pressure post Brexit.

Self-production is not a quick fix, but it would certainly be of assistance. It begins at home. We need to increase the availability of space in the literal, real estate sense, with the greater use of solar energy on rooftops. The planning process, particularly in situations where a panel may not be visible from the ground, needs to be reviewed. There is a significant opportunity to increase the number of businesses and community facilities which can host panels. Consideration is needed at a high level of the barriers and solutions required in the use of private wires. How do we manage the planning framework and the practicalities in running a cable across another person's land? A systematic review is needed of State-generated costs in the deployment of solar energy. With only 12 years to act, the State should not be acting as a barrier to entry.

We must learn the lessons from onshore wind projects when engaging with communities. There are huge benefits in the use of all kinds of renewable energy resources, including onshore wind, but that sector, in particular, highlighted the wrong way to do it, with a lack of engagement and, at times, truculent and adversarial engagement with local communities in the case of many onshore wind energy project developers. That is certainly not the road to go down.

The bottom line is that renewable energy resources development cannot happen without community support. This needs to be reflected in the approach of developers, wind and solar energy project developers, with a stronger emphasis on community benefit, engagement and consultation. Up until now, investment in a local amenity has been the mainstay of community benefit schemes. Fianna Fáil believes this system should be changed such that all individual households in the area surrounding an energy development would benefit from its construction. These issues must be addressed as we are failing to meet our targets. Worse than that, we are failing to facilitate those who would help us to meet them. When I put a question to the Taoiseach last year on the Order of Business about what provision the Government was making for fines that would inevitably accrue from failing to meet our targets at European level, he somewhat glibly replied that he would not make provision in this year's Finance Bill because it was a matter to be dealt with in the following year's Finance Bill. More substantive engagement is required.

The world is 1° Celsius warmer than pre-industrial levels. Levels of CO2 are almost 50% higher than before the Industrial Revolution. Levels of methane are now 2.5 times higher than in pre-industrial times. The last time the Earth had a similar level of CO2 was 3.5 million years ago, when the temperature was 2° Celsius to 3° Celsius warmer and sea level was 10 m to 20 m higher than it is now. In the past year we have seen 100-year weather extremes. What was once a one in 100 years flood has become a once in a decade flood or once in a year flood, as my colleague Deputy Eugene Murphy knows well. In October last year there was Storm Ophelia; we had Storm Emma in March when we also had snow drifts the likes of which had not been seen in generations. We also had the wettest spring and the hottest period in the summer in 100 years. For any climate change deniers, the proof has been in the elements during the past 12 months alone.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has published the most chilling warning yet. Political leaders must act now if we are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 45% of 2010 levels within 12 years. It will be a difficult target to reach, particularly given that we are already behind. Even if we do reach it, we will only limit global warming to 1.5° Celsius above pre-industrial levels. We have reached the point of no return and are now dangling our toes over the side of the abyss. Despite this, it has taken a Bill brought forward by an Opposition deputy to prompt the Government to act. I note that the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, has said he is committed to ensuring Ireland will be a leader on climate change. I wish him well in that regard. He may wish to start by addressing the backlog of inaction in his Department.

The proposal put forward by Deputy Stanley is not controversial. It is a good common-sense proposal. A total of 99% of the members of the Citizens' Assembly supported the introduction of legislation to support microgeneration. Electric Ireland ended its feed-in tariff regime for new customers in 2014. In the four years since, no significant legislative action has been taken to address this obvious issue. I was startled when, shortly after being elected in 2016, a constituent approached me to tell me about his house on the Kildare-Wicklow border on which he had installed solar panels at great expanse. He was very keen and enthusiastic about them, but, figuratively speaking, the rug had been pulled from under him when the tariff scheme ended abruptly in 2014. I was shocked because I could not see any significant solid reason from a public policy point of view why it should have been ended, rather than enhancing a scheme of that nature.

The Government should consider this as an opportunity to address the issue and speed up the development of microgeneration. We have a couple of technical concerns with the Bill which we will save for Committee Stage. Deputy Bríd Smith introduced a Bill on the expiry of fossil fuels. It is related to this Bill because we know that we are in a climate emergency, but there are some advocates within and outside the House who believe such measures as keeping the ground Bill, as it is referred to colloquially, should not be advanced. While there may be some legitimate concerns within the industry, I suggest aggressive adversarial approaches would be counter-productive. That Bill seeks to prohibit the granting of future licences. However, the typical lifetime of a well, from discovery to close-down, is approximately 50 years. If a licence was to be granted tomorrow, the last barrel of oil would be taken from the ground in 2068. Even if the Bill was to be passed, that would not exactly be an immediate shutdown. The industry should take note and some appropriate actions.

I look forward to engaging on the Bill when it proceeds to Committee Stage.

Climate change is perhaps the biggest issue facing us and we must recognise the huge moral obligation we all have to take immediate action to minimise future warming and adapt to climatic changes that have already been set in motion by historic levels of emissions of greenhouse gases. Fianna Fáil will support the Microgeneration Support Scheme Bill 2017. Energy production should not be just for the big elite and the big windfarm and the big power generators. It has an important role to play in ensuring active community participation in meeting our climate change targets. There is a strong will among the public, as we saw when 99% of the members of the Citizens' Assembly supported the introduction of legislation to support microgeneration.

A Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government introduced the first scheme to support microgeneration in 2008. To some extent, it set things in motion, but it is disappointing that the structures needed to promote energy citizenship further have seen so little progress since. I acknowledge the pilot scheme introduced in early July. It is a helpful step and it will be important to review it at the end of the year.

There are a number of technical issues with the Bill which we can tease out on Committee Stage. I am assuming it will progress to that Stage. The scale of microgeneration is currently undefined. Community projects have also not been defined to the level required. The Bill defines community projects in terms of the number of households only. Fianna Fáil favours an approach which would see opportunities to have a much more ambitious definition of community. We could develop microgeneration across organisations such as community centres, schools and sports clubs if a broader approach was taken. If successful, it could be used to reduce overheads for community organisations and potentially even generate revenue.

Ireland is at its best at community level. With a payment for microgeneration, communities could develop their own local power plants, from the roof of the local school, community hail and farm shed and become active participants in the energy transformation we so desperately need. Further measures are also required to facilitate microgeneration. They include a systematic review of State-generated costs in the deployment of renewable energy projects, including planning permission, consideration of issues surrounding the use of private wires and further reforms to make it easier for large-scale consumers such as hotels and airports to generate their own electricity.

Ta dushlán mór romhainn maidir le hathrú aeráide agus caithfimid dul i ngleic leis seo gan mhoill. Tá sé soiléir ó na tuairiscí is déanaí nach bhfuil ann ach b'fhéidir thart ar dhosaen bliain le tosú sula mbeidh sé ró-dhéanach. Tá sé soiléir go bhfuil an tacaíocht ann mar tá sé feicthe againn ón dTionól Saoránach agus an slí gur leagadar amach an tacaíocht mhór láidre de 99% díobh. Leag Fianna Fáil agus an Comhaontas Glas scéim síos cheana féin agus ba mhór an trua í nár tógadh uirthi sin ach aithním go mbeidh an scéim phíolóta ann anois i mbliana, ach tá dúshlán romhainn agus caithfear dul i ngleic leis go tapa.

I compliment Sinn Féin on tabling the Bill. I agree completely that microgeneration has a significant role to play, not only in reducing individuals' costs, but in providing electricity to the grid. I had the idea a number of years ago of seeing to what extent I could become self-sustaining in energy terms in my own house. We put in solar panels which have worked extremely well in providing hot water. One group that has benefitted greatly from that technology is the group of people who keep students in the Gaeltacht in the summer as they need lots of hot water then. Of course, one gets a great deal more sunlight in the summer than in winter and it proves to be a very efficient way to reduce one's heating bills.

I have also been anxious to take further steps to reduce the electricity usage in my home, not only by improving its insulation but by generating power. We have spoken a great deal here about photovoltaic generation, or solar panels, but I had the idea of getting a domestic wind turbine as I am on a hill with plenty of space around me and no neighbours to complain. However, the one inhibitor of this plan was that I could not sell the surplus production to the grid. Everyone gives out about poor rural people and all of the fossil fuels we burn in our motor vehicles. My next plan was to charge a car at night from the winds passing over the area in which I live thereby reducing my personal fossil fuel usage.

I believe that if a lot of people each do a little, it will have a major impact. I am very disappointed, therefore, with a lot of what I heard from the Minister tonight. We are eight or nine years along from the point at which the ESB started to pay a small amount for microgeneration, but all we have been given tonight is a list of barriers, rules and regulations, including EU rules, as to why we can never get beyond dreaming and take action. In previous generations, there was a much greater capacity to get things done, learn from mistakes and keep going forward. Nowadays, it seems to take about 20 years of going around a thing before we make it happen. It is only when there is a crisis that we realise the thing could have been done all along.

I want the Minister and the Department to put behind them these eight years of nothing that the Government has had and give a firm commitment to introduce microgeneration on a basis that is attractive to ordinary people. A lot of people do not want to make money or even massive savings. They want to make a contribution and if they break even or make a small saving, they are more than happy to make the investment. This suits everybody, be they urban or rural. However, as a lot of rural houses are built with south-facing aspects and are surrounded by a great deal more space, rural dwellers have many more microgeneration options. This is something that could greatly reduce the rural footprint.

In 2008, the Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government introduced the first scheme to support microgeneration, but virtually nothing has happened in the ten years since. A golden opportunity has been lost in those ten years considering what we now face in the 2020 targets which will unquestionably cause serious difficulties for Ireland, particularly financially. I have no doubt that if microgeneration had been expanded and worked on over the decade, there would have been very significant input from the Irish public. I see correspondence coming in via email from across my constituency which demonstrates the massive level of interest in renewable energy and climate change. It is not just coming from what one might call a few radical students, it is coming from every section of the community, including farmers. There is grave concern among people as to where we have been for so many years and at the opportunity we have lost.

I commend Deputy Stanley and Sinn Féin on bringing forward the Bill which Fianna Fáil will support. In the few minutes I have, I intend to reflect on renewable energy, particularly from wind. Deputies Fitzmaurice, Naughten and I attended only last night a meeting related to a bit of controversy on wind turbines. Everyone in that hall had an interest in renewable energy but they all want to know where the guidelines on wind energy are. The lack of response on that issue and the constant delay in bringing legislation forward to put the guidelines on a proper footing is damaging renewable area as a sector.

Ireland's 2020 renewable energy targets include increasing the share of final energy consumption from renewable energy sources to 16% as set out in the renewable energy directive. The target is broken into three key sectors with individual 2020 targets for each. As such, Ireland has committed to meet this national target through 40% renewable electricity, 12% renewable heat and 10% renewable transport. The overall renewable energy target and the renewable transport target are both binding at EU level. Ireland is likely to fall very far short of the binding target. People like Paul Deane of UCC reckon we will have huge fines to pay, perhaps of the order of €300 million. The Government estimates the level of fines at €100 million. Another expert, Mr. Joseph Curtin, says we could face bills and penalties of between €600 million and €700 million. If we had developed this from 2008, we would not be facing what we are in 2020. That is a highly regrettable matter.

I am glad to support the Bill. It is a good step forward. I hope the Government will move with the Opposition parties to make this a top priority and ensure it happens as soon as possible.

Deputy Fitzmaurice is substituting for the Labour Party Deputies.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill and thank Deputy Alan Kelly for accommodating me. I commend Deputy Stanley on bringing forward the Bill, which I intend to support. There is a great deal that could be achieved nationally through small-scale microgeneration. If the Minister went to Germany, he would see that many farms generate their own electricity. There is a facility there whereby those farmers can sell their electricity to the grid. While some small turbines are made in Athenry and there is a pig farm in Kildare which is generating electricity, the big problem in Ireland involves the stumbling blocks that are put in front of microgeneration. There seems to be an attitude in this country that bigger is better.

Big investors will get everything thrown at them but the small ordinary person does not get any incentive or does not even get a chance to get in on the game.

If we look at the likes of Germany, in all of the farms, regardless of whether there are cattle in a shed, they are able to take the gas out of it and use it for generation. I was across the Border near Banbridge and I looked at a digester that was using all grass and it was working very successfully. Farmers were doing that in their local area.

An argument is put up by the electricity companies to say they cannot judge what people will bring in or produce. To be honest, it often cannot be judged what wind generation is bringing in. It is not that there will be a major amount of generation happening when people will be using it themselves in the first instance. I do not buy the argument of talking about what we have signed up to for 2020, but the reality is that we lost 240,000 young people from this country and thankfully we have over 2 million people back working again, so we probably signed up to stuff because we did not know where we would be in ten or 15 years' time. A lot of information is going around about what people will and will not be paying but this should not be about that. This should be about giving incentives to people, especially in rural areas, who could help generate electricity and also help to give them money. Solar panels have helped to give houses hot water in parts of the country where they were put up. As Deputy Ó Cuív pointed out, that helps in places such as the Gaeltacht where there are students. In general they have been pretty good but not enough of them can go on a roof to provide for a house's electricity.

There will be unanimous support for this around the House. We need to make sure that we do not always talk about the problems and the reasons we cannot do something. We need to look at how we can do something. This Bill needs to be supported. I attended a meeting last night with communities who are seriously worried about these monstrous turbines, the guidelines and the setback distances around them because people do not want big monstrous structures around them.

In looking at the microgeneration that is happening around the country with people who are probably before their time in going out and investing in it themselves, they are trying to move things forward but unfortunately, they are not getting the supports at Government level that would be given if they were foreign investors or something similar.

I urge the Minister to support this Bill and let it proceed to Committee Stage. I acknowledge that different electrical crowds came before the committee and they seem to be putting a little block in place but anything can be surpassed with pressure and with governmental pressure especially, that can be resolved. People right around this country can contribute an awful lot. I support the Bill and once again I commend Deputy Stanley.

People Before Profit fully supports this proposed microgeneration Bill and I commend Deputy Stanley on bringing it forward.

It seems to me that the Minister would be fully supporting this Bill, as would any Government that understood and really got what climate change actually means. The dangers of catastrophic climate change are a priority issue that is facing us and while the Minister would say that, what he does does not prove it because it means we must urgently look at how we consume and produce energy and take all of the steps needed for a massive switch to renewables, while reducing our consumption. Democratising the energy grid is a vital step in this process, which would allow us to actively engage households and communities in making the switch to renewables on the scale and in the timeframe that is needed.

Recent reports, particularly the one from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, have utterly changed the narrative on this issue. The IPCC stated “Limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” The Minister's attitude to this Bill is none of the above. Those changes will mean leaving 80% of proven reserves of fossil fuels in the ground and cutting our emissions by 10% annually until we get down to negative emissions. Does the Minister accept that this is necessary?

The changes the IPCC talks about are proposed to avoid extremely dangerous, as opposed to dangerous, climate change, that is, the difference between a global temperature increase of 1.5° Celsius or of 2° Celsius. We should be clear that both of those overheating measurements mean a death sentence that will hang over large parts of humanity and of the world's biodiversity.

The difference is whether we want to condemn large parts of humanity and the earth's life to a climate and planet which is not conducive to habitable life. A lack of action means we are effectively saying we cannot reduce CO2 emissions, so we accept that the future is one of extreme and deadly heatwaves, longer drought periods, failing crop harvests and rising sea levels.

One would think that given this possibility and given what scientists say to us, that all of our resources, all of our ingenuity and all of our creativity would be marshalled into doing what is required; that is, reducing and eliminating our use of fossil fuels. One would think that any Government which understood that and which understood what is at stake would be moving heaven and earth to get us off oil, coal and gas in all areas and utilising all available renewable energy. In fact, the Government has displayed breathtaking ignorance and disregard for these realities.

As was previously mentioned, the Government is opposing my Bill to ban exploration for fossil fuels to prevent their use and I understand the Government is now stalling on Deputy Stanley’s Bill. Just as it stalled on Deputy Joan Collins' Bill on the water referendum, it has kicked to touch on anything progressive that is coming from the Opposition such as Sinn Féin's Bill on banded hours, a Bill on protecting defined benefit pensions, our Bill on sex education or the Bill on medicinal cannabis. The opposing of my Bill to ban exploration for fossil fuels that we cannot use shows breathtaking ignorance.

The Government continues to pursue an agricultural policy that is unsustainable and will massively increase our national emissions and it continues to pursue policies in public transport and housing and development that ignore the reality of the scientific facts of climate change. What we get is spin and the speech that the Minister just gave is absolute spin and he is very good at it.

One of the key challenges we face is mobilising popular support for the measures that must be taken to avoid catastrophic climate change. Some people feel despair at the fact that there can be widespread opposition to large scale wind farms around the country. They call it NIMBYism but I understand that opposition and I argue that it is not just NIMBYism. There are legitimate reasons and if we want to win people to forms of renewable energy, then we must seek the involvement of the communities and local people in any project.

Telling people that they must accept massive wind farms put up by faceless multinationals, interested only in profit, is really not good enough and telling them also that we must have a carbon tax, is really not good enough. We will lose the battle against fossil fuel corporations and vested interests if all we have to offer is a vision of the future with carbon taxes for ordinary people and large windmill farms making profits for major international private companies.

It is worth remembering that carbon tax comes from the same ideological source as carbon trading, offsets and the clean development mechanism, which are market mechanisms that have all failed to reduce carbon emissions. Relying on similar ideas from the same neoliberal school will also fail.

We need much more radical action. One step is to seek to democratise the energy grid as is proposed in this Bill. The aim of this Bill is similar to one of the measures I proposed in 2016 when I proposed an amendment to the Energy Bill 2016 that sought to give access to the national grid for small-scale producers of renewable energy, but which was opposed by the Government.

I was told at the time by the then Minister, Deputy Naughten, that it was been considered and that it was complicated but that some measure would be taken. Two years later we have got the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPPC, but no action has been taken by the Government.

The fight against climate change needs more than carbon taxes or large windfarms as a solution. Support for microgeneration of renewable projects at local and community level is one way to get people involved and to effectively democratise the energy system. It is a first small simple step we could take to signal that we are serious about climate change.

We must first reduce the demand for energy and for fossil fuels. Households and local communities that can provide for their own energy demands via renewable sources could make a huge impact on the steps we need to take. Going further and allowing those people to supply electricity back to the grid would also make a huge difference in the years ahead in reducing the demand for energy.

I hear many of the objections and it strikes me as amazing that, given what is at stake, there are question marks over this Bill that reference what the market will or will not take when it comes to making a proposal such as this one. We have heard that the Government may use the requirement of a money message against the progress of Deputy Stanley's Bill. It is as if tackling climate change was an optional extra or possibly just one extra policy decision the Government may or may not make.

This Bill needs to be supported. If the Minister's recent rhetoric on climate change, which we heard, and if the recent press releases about all of government approaches and large climate action funds mean anything, he will support this Bill. However, I suspect that the spin and promises are just an attempt to mask the gross and negligent failure of the Government's policy and the failure of the Minister responsible for this area, who has been known in the House as the Minister for climate inaction. In doing so, the reality of the Government would be exposed and clearly, as a country, in order to tackle climate change in any serious way we would have to get rid of this Government in the first instance.

This Bill is a no brainer. I certainly will support it and I thank Deputy Stanley for bringing it forward. It will enable households, small businesses and farmers to receive payments for electricity generation from renewable energy sources. This Private Member's Bill would force energy providers, notably the ESB, to buy electricity produced by microgenerators, including small communities, clubs and schools. It appears there is all-party support for this Bill but we must question the Government's approach to some of these very progressive Bills that have been introduced in that, while it supports them, it has many questions about them. I would like the Minister to say he supports the Bill, that he will bring it through Committee Stage working with Deputy Stanley and that he will do everything in his power to have it brought into law as quickly as possible.

This Bill would oblige suppliers to provide a feed-in tariff to those who supply the electricity grid. Such a tariff is a mechanism where there is a minimum price established for the electricity produced and sold to a supplier. It is usually to incentivise renewable energy production from wind or solar power. Energy providers such as the ESB would have to establish a scheme to allow people sell their excess electricity. There was a scheme in place which was closed in 2014. We are nearly four years behind having in place for use a progressive renewable energy scheme. There also would be an obligation on suppliers to provide at least 5% of their electricity from microgeneration. The scheme would reduce Ireland's reliance on fossil fuels, something which this country quickly need to do to meet EU targets, to avoid hefty fines and to make a positive input into dealing with climate change. Such schemes are the norm in other countries, particularly in northern Europe. Approximately half of renewable energy in Germany comes form microgeneration schemes.

We received many e-mails on this issue, which shows the great interest people have in this issue. I thank everyone who sent an email supporting this Bill. It was pointed out in one email that 99% of the members of the Citizens' Assembly, in terms of climate change, recommended that the State should enable, through legislation, the selling back to the grid of electricity from microgeneration by citizens through energy from solar panels or wind turbines on people's homes or land at a price which is at least equivalent to the wholesale price. The White Paper on energy states that citizens and communities should play a central role yet, in practice, citizens cannot participate in a system of energy generation at any scale. The point was made in this email that it is not fair that small scale generators must fill their excess power to the grid and get nothing for it. It points out that we need a system that supports renewable energy at all levels, not just for the big guys. It further states that Ireland is at its best at community level. It also states that with a payment for microgeneration, Irish communities could develop their own local power plants from the roof of the local school, community hall or farm shed and become active participants in the energy transformation so desperately needed. There is a real need for this Government, as the IPCC report states, to put action on their words and make a difference in respect of climate change. The point was made earlier about being afraid to tackle big business. A recent report indicated that only 100 companies are the source of more than 70% of emissions. They include companies such as ExxonMobil, Shell, BHP Billiton and Gazprom, which are all linked to that 71% of industrial greenhouse gas emissions. Big companies need to be tackled because they are the source of the problem. People can do something in small ways at ground level not to impact their carbon footprint in our world but these are the companies that generate most of the problems. They have to be challenged, but I do not believe this Government is prepared to do that.

I, too, support the Bill and I am happy to make some brief comments on it. I share the view that enhancing community participation as a means to offset the effects of climate change is an admirable idea that is worth pursuing and supporting. My colleague beside me might have a different idea but that is fine. We are free thinkers in this group and we can do what we want. We have no Whips, thank God. Projects such as those geared towards microregeneration also have a distinct advantage in terms of embedding climate change solutions at local level. That is very important. I am aware that Electric Ireland is extending its microgeneration pilot scheme export payment rate of 9 cent per kWh to existing domestic customers until 31 December 2018. That is to be welcomed. I would like to see the scheme extended beyond that point to allow for greater levels of involvement. Currently, the scheme is too small and is not known outside those with a specific interest. There is not enough awareness of it. I do not know where the fault lies for that.

I note also that while ESB Networks will still accept new applications to connect microgenerators to the existing network, it no longer offers its microgeneration support package of free installation of an import-export meter. That is an area that also must be addressed as a means of encouraging greater participation. In July this year, the former Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, launched a new microgeneration scheme to support domestic customers who install solar PV panels on their homes. That pilot scheme will also support the installation of solar PV panels for the generation of self-consumption of renewable electricity. As I understand it, the systems will be grant aided and additional grants will be available to those who install battery storage to capture electricity generated and used at a later date. That is very important. In light of that and the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly, I am happy to give the Bill very favourable consideration. We will have to make it easier for more people to access the grid, as currently access to it for different types of electricity generation is nearly impossible. A colleague who sits on this side of the House drives a hybrid car but he says there is no charging point in this complex. I do not know if that is the case and I put that question to the Minister.

We can discuss it afterwards.

Maith an fear. I know the Ceann Comhairle does not have an electric car but I knew he would never fail to boil the kettle if he had to. We must lead by example. We are encouraging people to have electric cars and we do not have a charging point in this building.

We have the cart before the horse and it is time that the Minister grasped the nettle and did something, rather than just spin about Leo. Maybe if we took Leo in some day, he might do a spin job too.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. It provides for the growth of electricity production for microgenerators through a supplier obligation to provide a tariff for electricity exported to the grid. In layman's terms, that will mean that this Bill will allow for householders to produce renewable energy from solar panels or wind turbines on their own homes or land. Energy providers will be obliged to buy the electricity produced by residential homes and small businesses under the proposed initiatives. The incentives for renewable energy production will mean that suppliers will have to provide a feeding tariff to microgenerators who supply to the electricity grid. A feeding tariff is where a minimum price is established for electricity produced and sold to a supplier. Under the new rules, energy providers such as the ESB would have to establish a scheme that would allow people to sell the company their excess electricity.

In the Citizens' Assembly on climate change, 99% of members recommended that the State should enable the selling back into the grid of electricity from microgeneration by private citizens at a price which is at least equivalent to the wholesale price. I support the recommendations. We need to look at ways of tackling climate change and of making energy more affordable for people. Many of my constituents have contacted me to state that the energy White Paper says citizens and communities should play a central role, yet in practice, my constituents feel they cannot participate in the system of energy generation at any scale. It is not fair that at the moment, a small-scale generator must put his or her excess power on the grid and get nothing for it. We need a system that supports renewable energy at all levels. With a payment for microgeneration, Irish communities could develop their own local power plants right from the roof of the local school to a community hall or farm shed and become active participants in the energy transformation that we so desperately need. I welcome this Bill as this scheme would reduce Ireland's reliance on fossil fuels. The country needs to do this to meet EU-imposed targets and avoid hefty fines. It is an opportunity for more job creation through the installation of these microgenerators.

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this important Bill. It is not for the reasons that other people have because I do not believe in climate change. The climate changes but not for the reasons that people say. The climate has changed over the centuries, and always has, including when there were few mechanical vehicles or use of oil to cause it. However, I realise that we need competition and other sources of energy. This year, electricity has increased in price by 13% and gas by between 9% and 12%. The cost of fuel for vehicles has increased. Any other source of energy would be welcomed.

This is a very good idea and I support the idea of microgeneration. Going back 90 years, in Shandrum in Kilgarvan, the Sweeney family made their own electricity and rigged up their house with a hydro scheme. They built their own little hydro dam to produce their own electricity for many years. If a family attempted to do that today, the fisheries authorities would pursue them, threaten to and maybe succeed in jailing them.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the town of Kenmare had its own electricity, generated by a turbine in the Sheen River. We could do many things. I remind Deputies that there were salmon in the rivers at the time and there are not now. There is no doubt that there were salmon in the rivers at that time. We could certainly do more to produce more energy, similar to the people who came before us. If they were able to do that 90 or 100 years ago, why could we not do it successfully today? This is a laudable idea. I thought the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, could have been more supportive and have had more gusto. There are too many people looking at ideas and seeing what is faulty in them. There is too much apprehension about going forward. People have to take a leap and bring these things to fruition.

I must mention this genius of a man in the Kilgarvan side of Mangerton, Gerry Cunnane, who made his own turbine. He put it together and has been generating his own electricity for the last 25 years. It can be done but people need a bit of help and maybe a grant system to aid them, with support and advice to get it going. We need competition and more energy because we have more people and more usage of energy. It is a laudable Bill. I ask the Minister to support it.

Táim sásta tacaíocht a thabhairt don mBille seo. From the GAA to Tidy Towns to meals on wheels, Ireland's strength lies in our community spirit and activism. The Green Party has always believed that Ireland can be a leader on renewable energy by allowing communities themselves to benefit from the transition to a low-carbon economy, not just large private companies. We have long championed a payment for community microgeneration and introduced a pilot payment scheme in 2009 which the next Government regrettably removed in 2014. We welcome this Bill as it is in line with recommendations made in our submission to the public consultation on the new renewable electricity support scheme and our own Community Energy (Co-ownership) Bill 2017. Our Bill lays out guidelines for a community co-operative investment model to accompany the mandatory offer of shares to local people. The Green Party's community co-ownership model is based on a successful Danish scheme which has resulted in greater community engagement in the transition to a renewable economy in Denmark. Since 2009, the Danish renewable energy act requires all new wind projects to be at least 20% owned by local people. We have also introduced on First Stage in the Dáil the Just Transition (Worker and Community Environmental Rights) Bill to oversee the implementation of the EU's new governance of the energy union package and Ireland's national energy and climate plan, ensuring that climate action is taken in a manner that is just and fair to workers, local communities and farmers.

Renewable energy is the only way forward for our climate, planet and future. It is essential that as we move towards a greener economy, the transition is fair and community-led. This Bill will enable households, small businesses and farmers to receive payments from electricity generated from renewable energy sources. The Bill has the support of Friends of the Earth, Stop Climate Chaos, An Taisce and Trócaire. We need to ensure that any payment is provided in a fair and just manner. The Green Party will therefore make amendments on Committee Stage to ensure that the Bill does not encourage the wealthiest to go off grid while leaving the poorest reliant on ever-increasing energy prices produced by fossil fuel-heavy utilities.

Ireland is at its best at the community level. With the payment for microgeneration, Irish communities could develop their own local power plants, from the roof of the local school, community hall or farm shed, and become active participants in the energy transformation we so desperately need. Energy should be viewed as a public good and a service to society, not a mere commodity. Ireland has the fourth highest electricity prices in the EU and, during the summer, the electricity suppliers again raised their prices. Irish citizens are treated as economic resources to extract from, but we should be democratic owners and participants in the great renewable energy transition. We must also recognise that reducing our energy use is where the largest amount of success can be had on climate action, providing high-quality jobs and reducing energy poverty.

The Government needs to take real climate action to protect citizens from unnecessary deaths from cold and bad housing; to transfer State bodies such as Bord na Móna from exploiting peat to long-term, high-quality jobs in providing high-quality, warm and nearly zero energy homes; to launch a long-term plan to retrofit housing across the State, taking leadership and creating a positive market in the process; and to empower local communities to be integral parts of a just transition to a new green economy. Tonight's Bill is a good step in the right direction and the Green Party is happy to give it our support.

I welcome the Bill and confirm my support for it. I thank Deputy Stanley for bringing it forward. I note the Government is not opposing the Bill, which is not the same as supporting it. I certainly hope this is not a device to bury it because this is good legislation that makes a small but significant step in the right direction.

The background to the Bill is the question of climate change and climate action and the Citizens' Assembly report on climate change which recommends that the Government take a central role in this area. One of the reasons for highlighting this is the current situation regarding carbon emissions targets. While our target is to achieve a reduction of 3% per year, emissions are actually increasing by 5% per year.

With regard to the Bill, renewable energy from microgeneration is a significant player in Germany where 50% of renewable energy generated is from microgeneration. As I said, the Citizens' Assembly made a recommendation on this matter in its report. A total of 99% of its members recommended that the State enable, through legislation, the selling back into the grid of electricity from microgeneration by private citizens, for example, energy from solar panels or wind turbines on people's homes or land, at a price that is at least equivalent to the wholesale price. I welcome this important Bill which takes a small but significant step in the right direction.

I wholeheartedly support the contents of the Bill. I commend my colleague, Deputy Stanley, on bringing it forward and I appeal for support from all Deputies to ensure its successful passage. Ireland is experiencing an acute cost of living crisis. In recent years, on an almost weekly basis, we have been discussing acute increases in prices in the Chamber. Whether for rent, insurance or utilities, we are well aware the only way prices have been going is up. At the same time, we have been stuck in a prolonged period of wages freeze following harsh cuts in the years from 2008 to 2012. Bearing this reality in mind, I cannot see any downsides whatever arising from what the Bill is trying to achieve. It is good for the environment and for people's financial circumstances. Moreover, it empowers people to make a responsible personal decision to contribute to tackling the very real issue that is climate change today.

If we are serious about reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and embracing environmentally friendlier energy sources, we need to support progressive green measures, of which this is certainly one. There was much talk in the House last week about a carbon tax and the support levels of various parties for such. A carbon tax is punitive unless it can change behaviour and unless there is an alternative. Microgeneration is the alternative. People can be encouraged from a financial and responsibility point of view.

There is also a community aspect to this proposal. Throughout the country, schools, community centres and sports clubs survive through members' fundraising efforts. This measure has the capacity to provide a stable income stream for these community-based entities and should be promoted to them in the most favourable terms. I enthusiastically endorse Deputy Stanley's Bill and what it seeks to achieve and I welcome the Government's acceptance of it. What is needed now is a speedy passage towards its full implementation.

I commend my colleague, Deputy Stanley, on tabling the Bill. Many Bills have passed through the House over the years. Deputy Stanley's Bill offers thought-out solutions and a great opportunity for households to become involved in microgeneration. It addresses ecological issues and climate change and makes people more aware of what we need and what we have to do.

There are always choices and the Bill offers an alternative to the corporate companies that have had a free run for years. It would provide an opportunity for sports clubs, community centres, community groups and possibly even voluntary housing estates to become partially self-sustainable or reduce their costs, which is an excellent idea. It is unusual to speak on a microgeneration scheme Bill. Next Monday, I will be in Midleton to attend a climate change forum, at which I have no doubt this legislation will be discussed in detail.

Previous speakers covered most of the issues. This is a wonderful solution and an opportunity to raise the issue of climate change. We have seen many Bills that, unfortunately, have gathered dust on a shelf. This is what I am worried about. We want the Bill to go through but we want action on it. I ask everybody in the House to support it.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. I commend my colleague, Deputy Stanley, on not just talking about the challenges we face when it comes to our over-reliance on fossil fuels and the need for renewable alternatives but on bringing forward concrete, workable solutions.

This Government and previous Governments have failed to grapple with the scourge of fuel poverty. In 2007, a policy paper examining fuel poverty published by the Institute of Public Health in Ireland argued that levels of fuel poverty here were unacceptably high. More than a decade later, they remain unacceptably high and, without doubt, much higher than they were in 2007. Despite this, there has been no Government action to tackle fuel poverty during that period.

The failure of Governments has left us in the position that 400,000 households are experiencing fuel poverty. Lone parents are unable to afford to turn on their heating and older people wear their coats indoors and go to bed early just to stay warm. We have all been contacted by people who sit in public libraries and other public buildings to avail of their heating systems and try to stay warm. This is the reality of fuel poverty and ending it needs to be a Government priority.

The Bill offers a solution in part to these households and some of the most vulnerable citizens struggling to pay their fuel bills. Instead of continuing the vicious circle of rising fuel costs, leading to increased pressure on households to manage their bills and debt and disconnections, we can step up and assist these households to help themselves and find a long-term solution to supplying their own energy supply. At the same time, it will put money back in their pockets when additional energy is sold to the grid. It would also go some way towards helping us meet our target to cut carbon emissions by 2020. It is unbelievable that we will miss our 2020 target by a staggering 95% and that this will result in annual fines to the State of up to €600 million.

Those fines should be put into not only investing in renewable energy but also tackling the serious issue of fuel poverty in the State. This Bill will achieve all of that. It will play a crucial role in ending fuel poverty, something the Government has consistently failed to do.

I thank the Deputies who participated in the debate. I particularly thank Deputy Stanley for bringing this Bill forward. As the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, said, the Government will not oppose the Bill. Indeed, we need a legal framework for microgeneration and we must promote its expansion. It is undoubtedly an important opportunity for people to participate in reducing their reliance on bought-in energy, and it promotes a culture of reliance on renewable energy, which is very important.

The EU has imposed an obligation on Ireland to achieve 32% use of renewables across the entire energy system by 2020. We will achieve a 40% target in respect of power but we will not achieve the target in other areas such as transport. We will fall short in those areas so we must improve in them. As many Deputies have indicated, we are facing a crisis in that we are way off target in respect of the carbon commitments we have made. Quite apart from the fact that we have made legally binding commitments, the approach we take is a huge responsibility for the country and community. We have had to focus urgently on the expansion of renewable energy, and the renewal energy support scheme is the vehicle for that. We have an ambition to go from 40% renewable to 55% renewable by 2030. That will represent a substantial expansion in our renewable capacity.

In the context of examining that target, microgeneration was seriously examined by the Department to see if it could make a contribution and whether it could be part of the scheme. However, it did not have the capacity to deliver quickly on a large scale to meet the target we have in mind. It is more expensive and would be much slower to achieve. Instead of seeking to make it part of the broad renewable support scheme, where it would be competing with large wind and solar farms, the Department has introduced a special scheme for microgeneration. It represents significant subsidies for microgeneration. A solar PV gets €700 per kilowatt it puts in. Solar plus battery is larger scale and can draw down more subsidy. A battery energy system gets €1,000 per kilowatt. Significant support is being provided for microgeneration. In addition, there is significant interest based on the figures we have seen to date. Approximately 5,000 applicants per annum will come into the scheme and it will run until 2020. We will review the scheme early next year to examine the possibility of expanding it to other technologies or to other groups of people. As a number of Deputies said, that would be worthwhile. The scheme could be very successful and make a significant contribution to getting people to engage on this.

Microgeneration is a good micro business because in some cases it can be 100% effective where there is a battery for storage. It can pay for itself in approximately eight years. Even without support it has a good payback period. It also offers the opportunity to sell back into the grid. Under EU commitments we must deliver a legal framework under which microgenerators can sell back to the grid. I fully support that objective. It was adopted by the Citizens' Assembly and by Deputy Stanley in his Bill. The issue is the best mechanism to deliver it. Different models have been used in different markets. Some use what is called a net market price whereby when a person needs electricity, he or she buys it, and when that person has a surplus, he or she sells it and pays on the net flow. That is one way of doing it in a number of countries. Others do it by way of having a market price, as the Citizens' Assembly suggests. A price is set as the wholesale price. We must tease out which is the best option to choose.

One of my misgivings with the Bill is that Deputy Stanley has not looked at what the costs will be and on whom they will fall. With any legislation we must consider what would technically be called a regulatory impact assessment: who is being asked to carry the obligation, what it will cost and if it is the least costly way of achieving it. We must work through that by consultation with those who will be involved and by looking at the pilot scheme to see what lessons can be learned from it and what lessons can be learned from other countries. The Deputy has referred to other countries we should look at in considering how we should roll this out.

Some misgivings must be also be expressed about the fact that the Deputy has chosen to provide for a minimum supply of 5% for some electricity suppliers but not others. That 5% appears quite high and the Deputy is making it a legal obligation to have that much microgeneration within a very short time. As to whether that is a realistic or deliverable target, while I am just a month in this job, from what I have learned it does not appear that microgeneration can hit such a target. We will deliver 15% extra renewables by 2030 through a significant scheme which will require some level of support. I doubt that microgeneration could deliver the target the Deputy outlines, so it would potentially be a very big obligation if it became law and was enforceable. It would be a difficult and high-cost way of achieving what we all seek. There are questions in that regard which have to be teased out.

One aspect of what the Deputy is proposing that I like, and other speakers have spoken about this, is the importance of getting community commitment and partnership in the efforts to develop renewable energy. We will not succeed in confronting the climate challenge if we cannot get community commitment. Some of these things will be very unpopular. We have spoken in the House about the need for a trajectory for carbon price. Carbon is what economists call a negative externality. We are doing damage to our environment and we are not paying for it. That is why a carbon price will have to be considered as part of this. It cannot all be Government schemes for subsidising people. There will also be difficult decisions. As Deputy Bríd Smith said, we will have to change our lifestyles. It is a big change and will not be easy to do, so it is important to have a sense of community partnership.

One success has been the community initiative for energy efficiency. It is a very successful scheme supported by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI. It has achieved a lot of community involvement and has delivered improvements. The Deputy has not only spoken about it but he visited a scheme today. I saw him on the television visiting Tipperary where improvements in schools and in individual homes have been part of a very good scheme. The renewable energy support scheme will have a community support framework built into it, so the larger-scale projects we need to deliver the targets we have committed to will be a part of that. We also must ensure, and this is the underlying principle of the Bill, that microgeneration can be a part of that framework and can have a legal basis on which to enter the framework. We will have to transpose a more detailed EU directive into Irish law, so by no means am I seeking to put off, delay or scupper legislation in this area.

We are committed to delivering legislation in this area, but I need to ensure that whatever legislation we bring in is the most cost-effective in terms of community engagement, that it is effective in meeting our obligations, and that it is effective in meeting the challenge of climate change.

I thank the Deputies for their interest. I have taken on this post and it is not something I had a great deal of familiarity with up to one month ago. I see there is a huge challenge for all of us in the House. It is not going to be a question of just picking the nice things we want to do. There are also difficult aspects in this area. I look forward to the support of the House and especially of the committee, which is sitting until the end of January, in this challenge. I look forward to working with the House to try to come up with proposals that we can all get in behind.

I welcome that the Government will not oppose the Bill and will support it. I compliment Deputy Stanley on bringing the Bill forward. I am very conscious of the issues around microgeneration. For many years beside me in County Leitrim, Jimmy Dowds and Miriam Sheerin of offgrid.ie run a company called Eirbyte on the mountain at Aughnasheelin. They run courses for people teaching them how to build their own home wind turbines. They also sell solar panels and batteries and so on. I have known them for 20 years and they are magnificent people doing magnificent work around all of that. They have often said to me that there is a day and night of difference when they go to other countries in Europe and see how this sector is embraced there compared with how it is embraced in Ireland. There is a sense in other countries of this is what we have to do, but in Ireland there are all kinds of obstacles, especially when it comes to the issue of the State being prepared to pay for people providing power into the grid.

I take the point the Minister makes, but this is not about microgeneration not being able to provide everything. We know that. It is also about recognising that we have to change the culture. Paying for microgeneration is part of changing that culture. There is an issue too in respect of major generation, which is the massive wind turbines and the huge solar farms. There is an opportunity for something in the middle. I think of all the farmers' large cattle sheds, the roofs of which could easily provide a very large base for solar panels. It should be one of the options for any new sheds that are being built. Some incentive - a carrot or a stick or whatever way it needs to be done - could be provided to ensure the roofs of the sheds are facing south and are available for solar panels to installed.

One of the big issues is about infrastructure, which is where we run into a problem. I am aware that many people have looked to put fairly sizeable amounts of solar panels onto a roof, and they then discover that they cannot actually feed it into the grid even if the grid was paying for it. The infrastructure is not in place. We need to look at all of that and see how it is done. It is my experience and I am sure it is also the Minister's experience that the vast majority of people are up for this and want to play their part. They want to do these things and put in solar panels. They want to provide electricity, for example, from the river that flows down at the back of their house if there could be some way of having a small hydro unit put in that they could use. They want to do it but they need the assistance of the State. I do not believe it is a huge cost because it is an investment that will pay back in the long run.

I will outline a simple example, which other Deputies referred to earlier, with regard to electric cars. I know many people in rural areas who would buy and use an electric car. While the range may be a problem for some people, the main reason the range is a problem is because there are so few charging points, and perhaps when a person arrives at the charging point, another car is there. This clogs up in people's minds. They think that if they buy an electric car they will not be able to get anywhere in it. This is because the infrastructure is not in place. It is not because people do not want to do it. This puts the issue back into the Government's court again to make sure it provides that infrastructure.

Reference was made to a money message. I fear when I hear that in any of these debates. It happens all the time when the Government brings up the argument that legislation will be a cost to the Exchequer, rather than it being an investment the Exchequer will have to make to get a return. That is how this Bill has to be seen. It is not just a financial return. The Minister spoke about the carbon sequestration and what we need to do about it, so this could be a return in that regard also. We have an obligation to ourselves and to future generations to sort out this mess. We need to be up for it and make sure that we do whatever is required to provide for the future. That is what we are doing. It is providing for the future.

This Bill is excellent. It provides a framework to start with. The Minister spoke about the issues he has with the Bill, but those issues can all be dealt with and teased out on Committee Stage, and they can be added to or taken from. We can do whatever needs to be done to ensure we can provide for the future. The future clearly is for people to be facilitated in doing what they want to do, for the good of climate change and for the good of the future.

I commend all the Deputies who supported the Bill. I particularly commend Deputy Stanley and Cathal in his office who has worked so hard to bring the Bill forward and to ensure we can bring it into effect. Let us hope it can come into effect speedily because time is not on our side when it comes to climate change.

I thank everyone in the House for their support tonight. I am aware that the Government has said it will not oppose the Bill, and I welcome that, but I also do not want the Minister to bury the Bill.

Climate change is here and we have huge obligations to meet. We know we are not going to come within an ass's roar of it. At best we will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1% by 2020, instead of the minimum of 20% that we signed up to. We are facing huge financial fines and there is a moral pressure on us. There are small islands in parts of the Philippines that are being washed away. Part of the Inishowen Peninsula was nearly washed away last year.

The term "domestic" was used in the debate but there is no legal definition for that power output with regard to microgeneration. There is a definition used by the ESB but it differs substantially from the definition used in Northern Ireland. This can be used here. We can adopt it to use for farms, buildings, schools and small businesses.

Bmw Solar in Laois tells me that it has 40 small companies that want to put up solar panels but they cannot because of existing roadblocks around planning, feed-in tariffs and access to the grid.

This Bill would assist rural development. Without a doubt it would put funding into rural towns and villages. I welcome the delegation in the Public Gallery tonight from the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association, who have shown a particular interest in this. I welcome that they have come to the House tonight to sit through this debate. They see this as an income stream for farmers so they need not rely on single products. They look to see what else can add value. They have taken this sensible approach and I commend them on it. We want farmers and small businesses involved, alongside households.

The legislation needs to be strong. We take the points that were made about the market share of the suppliers who must provide tariffs for microgeneration. There is an unpublished report from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland that says the potential in microgeneration could produce one fifth of Ireland's electricity. That report was not published but it is there in black and white.

I will now address some of the points made by the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan in his speech. I welcome that the Government will not oppose the Bill, but I do not want him to bury the Bill by stealth using a money message. The Minister of State also said that the Bill does not provide information on potential costs to the Exchequer. We have to design the scheme. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, knows, because he has been around this House for longer than I have, that in reality one cannot design a scheme in detail in a Bill. Sinn Féin is not for throwing money at projects that are going to fail or are doomed. We want to come up with solutions here. That is what we are trying to do. The Minister of State said that the Bill does not include any evidence or indicate the level of proposed tariff. Again, the legislation is not the sensible place to set out the level of tariff. That needs to be worked out separately. I do not believe that detail should be in the primary legislation. The Minister of State, Deputy Phelan said that for those reasons "the Government recommends that the Bill would undergo detailed scrutiny by the Oireachtas to discover the full cost of the proposals". That is a very elastic way to deal with it and it could be stretched as long as one wanted. I ask the Minister, Deputy Bruton, as the new Minister in the job, and I ask it sincerely, are we going to use taxpayers' money to pay huge fines for not meeting our international obligations? Are we going to use taxpayers' money to buy tax credits? Are we going to continue to use the public service obligation levy on fossil fuels?

Alternatively, will we use it in a sensible way to put money into projects, for example, in my constituency of Laois-Offaly where Bord na Móna is being run down? It is changing. Many householders will need to generate an income by other means, as will a lot of small businesses. We should grasp and use this opportunity and see it as a challenge to turn things in a different direction. I refer to section 4 of the Bill which will give the Minister huge powers, for example, to draft regulations that may be revised and contain a minimum contractual price which a supplier must offer to microgenerators. The Minister can set the minimum length of the contractual term of the tariff and amend the reference to applicable microgeneration equipment to allow for the use of new technology in the generation of electricity.

We are trying to take on board what the Minister said in a constructive way, but I want him to let the Bill proceed to Committee Stage. There are too many roadblocks in the way of microgeneration. We should look at the position in Germany. The Germans do not throw money to the four winds; neither do many other northern and southern European countries. The system is too restrictive here in seeking planning permission for placing solar panels on domestic houses. Grid connections are difficult to make and there is no feed-in tariff. I refer to the model of the Tipperary Energy Agency. We need to look at what it is doing and involve the other 34 local authorities. We must move from being a laggard to a leader when it comes to tackling climate change and the use of renewable energy resources. We have shown the way with the plastic bag levy and recycling. The Minister and I remember being told 25 years ago that the public would not embrace recycling. It has done so and now we are one of the leaders in Europe. This is not a challenge for next year or the year after; it is a task for now.

We are way over time.

We want the Bill to proceed to Committee Stage as soon as possible. I thank the Minister.

For a while I thought the Deputy was from Cork.

Question put and agreed to.