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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 16 Sep 2021

Vol. 1011 No. 2

Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Energy Infrastructure

Neale Richmond


6. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the status of the Celtic interconnector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43992/21]

In light of Brexit and the increased focus on connectivity and energy security, will the Minister please provide the House with an update on the progress of the Celtic interconnector project?

The Celtic interconnector is a €1 billion electricity interconnector jointly proposed by EirGrid and the French transmission system operator, RTÉ, Réseau de Transport d’Électricité. It is proposed to be a 575 km long 700 MW cable from the north-west coast of France to the south coast of Ireland, with 500 km of this being subsea. At this scale, it would be able to provide electricity for some 450,000 homes. The Celtic interconnector will provide a reliable high-capacity electricity link between Ireland and France that will have significant benefits for electricity consumers in Ireland. The project will provide access to the European internal energy market, leading to expected increased competition and lower prices in Ireland. It will also enhance security of electricity supply and facilitate increased capacity for renewable energy here via export access to the mainland European markets.

In late 2019, the European Commission announced a grant of €530 million towards the construction of the interconnector under the Connecting Europe Facility fund. This grant was made possible by significant support for the project from the Irish Government that resulted in its designation as an EU project of common interest.

Following extensive planning and multiple periods of public consultation over recent years, EirGrid decided earlier this year on the interconnector’s route in east Cork.  EirGrid has further decided to establish an enhanced community benefit scheme for neighbouring communities. EirGrid will continue to engage with the public on this project in the coming months and years. While I have no function in the area of consenting for the interconnector, I understand from EirGrid that applications to the relevant consenting authorities were submitted in July of this year.

I very much appreciate that full update and reply regarding what is probably one of the most important projects under way between Ireland and another EU member state. It is also a project that has been going on for more than a decade now. While I appreciate the process is lengthy and that much funding has been put in place, the opportunities this presents and which similar projects could present in the future are massive.

They are vitally important, not just in terms of importing energy but also, potentially, exporting energy as we move through our own processes in generating renewals. I am well aware that, during President Macron's visit to Ireland last month, this was a big issue for both the Irish and French Governments.

My supplementary question is on the various applications that have been submitted by EirGrid to the relevant authorities. I ask the Minister to elaborate on when we expect those 450,000 people may be able to get the benefits of the Celtic interconnector? When can we feasibly expect the turning of a sod?

I will use another project as an example, the Greenlink interconnector, which the Deputy knows runs from near Great Island power station in Wexford to the UK. It is a similar 500 MW interconnector. My understanding is that its operators got planning permission and a foreshore licence in 2019. They applied for it and their final planning applications were just agreed this year. They expect to come online, as it were, in 2023. Similar timelines apply to the Celtic interconnector. We expect that it will be live by 2026.

To go back to our earlier conversation about electricity supply certainties, these projects will be hugely beneficial in giving us energy security and export potential, and, to my mind, they will dampen price increases. They are of substantial benefit. We should be looking now at further interconnection as we move to higher renewable capabilities and especially as we develop offshore power to give us that export and balancing capability, which we will look at further. The next two interconnectors will come in 2023 and 2026.

As a final supplementary question, I am quite enthused by the Minister's closing comments on the potential for similar projects in the future. The fact this could come on stream by 2026 and in a total project time of 15 years is remarkable. The real importance of this project is in ensuring we have energy connectivity with the European Union. That is vitally important post Brexit. We do not know what the political winds will be in Great Britain in future. It is vitally important we have that security with our partners in the European Union and we use a successful development of the Celtic interconnector as a blueprint for the future. I hope we can guarantee continuing Government support and appetite for this project and similar.

The scale of change is beyond compare. Much of it will be offshore renewable power. In our case, it will be something like 35 GW of power in the next two decades at least. We are not alone in that. The UK is looking for a similar amount of power from its waters. Similarly, for the rest of north-west Europe, we are looking at up to 200 GW or 300 GW of offshore wind from the likes of the North Sea. Coming with that offshore wind will be a north-west regional electricity market grid. The North Seas countries' offshore grid initiative was signed ten years ago. It is now very much centre stage in the European Union's plans. It is critical we do not allow Brexit to divide the UK from that because we are an island behind an island and this balancing system will not work if the UK is excluded. I am working with my European colleagues on the European Council, which is meeting next week, where this matter is centre stage in what we talk to each other about. We are talking about further interconnection and using that North Seas offshore grid initiative system to create this regionally balanced electricity market.

Climate Change Policy

Mick Barry


7. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications if he will report on his approach to preparation for the COP26 summit in Glasgow; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44063/21]

A headline in today's edition of The Guardian newspaper states, "Governments falling woefully short of Paris climate pledges, study finds". In that light, I ask the Minister if he can report to the House on his approach to preparation for the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, COP26, summit in Glasgow in November?

Ireland is committed to concerted global action to address the climate crisis and engages in negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, and the Paris Agreement through its membership of the European Union. Ireland has actively engaged with its EU partners in preparation for the 26th meeting of COP in Glasgow, which takes place from 31 October to 12 November 2021.  The EU’s official position for the COP will be finalised at the Environment Council in October, which I will attend. 

Ireland's national climate delegation for the COP comprises representatives from a range of Departments and Government agencies and is co-ordinated by my Department which also acts as the national focal point for the UNFCCC secretariat and UK COP26 presidency. The Taoiseach will also attend the opening leaders’ summit from 1 to 2 November, and a number of Ministers will attend sectoral events over the course of the two-week period.

COP25 closed without agreement on some key areas and Ireland is committed to engaging constructively in the finalisation of the Paris rule book. This includes agreement on matters such as transparency, climate finance and adaptation, as called for by developing countries. Throughout the negotiations, maintaining environmental integrity, participation of non-party stakeholders, and a science-based approach will be key.

Does the Minister feel any embarrassment whatsoever about going to Glasgow as the representative of a Government that is rolling out the red carpet for unlimited data centres? He will be going to an international convention at a time when data centres account for 2% of global electricity use. He will represent a State that allows data centres use 11% of its national electricity output. More than that, he will go as the representative of a State that is planning to allow data centres consume 27% of national electricity output within seven and a half years, making Ireland a complete and utter energy outlier, which is a situation without comparison anywhere on the planet.

Singapore put a moratorium on new data centres in 2019. Amsterdam stopped issuing permits in certain parts of that city for a time. I ask the Minister to inform the House of what actions he intends to take and if he will keep bowing down before the demands of Facebook, Google, Amazon, Twitter and the other big tech corporations.

I have no intention of doing that but I will be honest that I see the key diplomatic issue in Glasgow as a slightly broader one. The real issue in Glasgow will be how we get agreement with the developing world in terms of a global response to climate action that is socially just. I will go proudly as a representative of a country that has lived up to its commitments, unlike other countries, to provide climate finance for adaptation, particularly in Africa and other countries, which are the first places bearing the brunt of climate change. Our diplomatic effort at present is focused on the Taoiseach's attendance at the UN General Assembly next week in addition to addressing the food system summit being held as part of that assembly. Our central critical role in COP on the diplomatic side is in trying to get European agreement on climate adaptation and resilience for the developing world as the key element to try to unlock the diplomatic glue around the climate talks. That, rather than our national data centre policy, is where we need to focus. By all means we have to manage that policy, but we need to think slightly bigger and more globally about what is happening in this world and the measures we need to take to address that.

Let us look at some of the global issues. Part 3 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, report is not due to be published until March next year. However, scientists associated with Scientist Rebellion and Extinction Rebellion Spain took a decision to leak the early drafts over the summer. Part 3 states that "The character of social and economic development produced by the nature of capitalist society" is viewed by many political and economic critics "as ultimately unsustainable". In other words, the continued existence of human society is not, ultimately, compatible with the continued rule of capitalism.

It is not surprising that scientists and climatologists are beginning to draw this conclusion, given that 71% of carbon emissions since 1988 are the responsibility of just 100 corporations. How can the Minister and the Green Party continue to defend the capitalist system when it is so clearly at the root of this climate crisis?

We are in Government to try to change the system. We will work with the international system to make it work. We will work with other countries in the implementation of the Paris climate agreement and the global biodiversity conventions, which are equally important. In terms of systems not working, we have an ecological system crisis. That is why I go back to focusing on adaptation and resilience because it will be about nature-based solutions, often supporting much more local initiatives and less big corporate, big tech and big everything else. It will be more about what we can do on the ground, often with small family farms. I keep coming back to the point about how Ireland can play a role through the good work our development aid policies have done. We will try to work through the UN, including the UN Security Council, to look for definitions around methane. One example of an area I am working on is fossil methane. We do not represent big corporate interests; we represent planetary interests.

Second, in the agricultural sector, we must try to promote nature-based solutions that will change the economic system but also, more critically, address the ecological crisis, which is the key thing we have to change.

As the Deputy asking Question No. 8 is not present, we will move on to the following question.

Question No. 8 replied to with Written Answers.

Energy Policy

David Stanton


9. Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the policy measures being taken by his Department to ensure the resilience and security of energy supply at times of peak demand; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43931/21]

I appreciate that this question was covered earlier to a certain extent. It concerns the need to ensure the resilience and security of our energy supply at times of peak demand, especially as we face into the winter months. As we are aware, there were some amber warnings last year, as well as earlier this week and last week. I would like to hear the Minister's views on this. Can he guarantee there will not be any blackouts this winter?

I read out similar written responses previously, so I will address the question directly, if I may. In regard to blackouts this winter, a variety of factors have led to the difficult and tight circumstances we are in. As the Deputy noted, there were two amber alerts last week, which occur when the power is less than something like 400 MW or 500 MW. If another large plant came down, we might have to shed loads, which is when an amber alert would occur. We are in these circumstances for a variety of reasons, including increasing demand, but the main one is that many older plants are not performing as efficiently as a new plant would. There is a good deal of old, conventional plant, some of which has had to undergo regular maintenance this year, and that has been affected by Covid. During that period of Covid, we could not bring in skilled expertise from outside to carry out maintenance, so we had to delay it, and as a result much of our plant is out for maintenance or has had maintenance difficulties.

At the same time, two large gas-fired power plants, which are two of our most modern and best plants, by circumstance had major technical problems that took almost a year in each case to fix. The good news is that both look as though they will be back in operation this autumn, and that should see us through this winter period. Nothing is certain, but we are increasingly confident that we will not have to experience blackouts this winter. The underlying challenge is still there. As I said, we have 2 GW of older plant, at the likes of Moneypoint and Tarbert, which, along with Edenderry, are typically higher emission plants we need to switch away from. They will play a critical role in the next three to five years in providing the security we need, but we need to get back-up alternative generation, such as battery storage, open-cycle gas plants, which are very quick and switch on and off quickly. They will not run a great deal but will be critical to provide power at those moments when the wind is not blowing and while we wait for those interconnectors and a more balanced system to be delivered.

I thank the Minister for his response and hope he is correct that there will not be blackouts this winter. I will address the issue of power demand throughout the UK and Europe, which is at a crunch pace at the moment. This is leading to higher prices and there have been amber alerts and threats of blackouts. The price is skyrocketing. Will the Minister comment on the higher prices and the impact this can have on families and homes throughout the country?

It is a very significant issue throughout Europe and the world. I addressed it earlier but to reiterate, the primary reason for the higher prices this winter relates to a very dramatic spike in international gas prices. Gas is an internationally traded commodity and a fungible market that is influenced by events throughout the world. There has been a significant boost to the economy in Asia as it emerges from the Covid pandemic, and a considerable increase in demand for gas there has drawn much liquefied natural gas, LNG, which is a mobile gas resource, to the Asian market, leaving the European market short and the prices increasing. There have, for a variety of reasons, been restrictions on other supply, both within Europe for gas and from Russia, as well as from other sources, all of which has added to it. At the same time, the price of carbon on the European emissions trading system has increased to more than €60 per tonne. When carbon prices in Europe are so high, coal plants will switch off and gas plants will turn on because the price of carbon affects that of coal. That has led to a spike in demand, which has led to gas prices increasing.

Has the Minister, his Department or any of the utility companies given consideration to advising or assisting people to conserve energy in the coming period, given that there have now been a number of amber alerts, with a danger and fear of blackouts?

Yes, we are. Critically, EirGrid and CRU are engaging first with industrial customers, which may have demand flexibility. As I said earlier, given that we have such a high level of renewables in our system, we are good at this type of demand management and balancing between variable demand and variable supply. The first people to turn to, therefore, are some of the large industrial users to see whether they can manage their processes and production use.

Nevertheless, for all of us the signal should be clear. Reliance on fossil fuels and betting on that as the solution for the future does not make sense. Rather, we should invest in energy efficiency and in retrofitting and improving our building stock in order that our demand for energy, electricity and all its uses decreases. The issue of high energy prices, which is a real issue now throughout Europe, will attract misinformation suggesting that this is all because of the transition to low carbon, but it is not. It is because of a spike in fossil fuel energy and this should be a message to us. The sooner we can remove our reliance on that uncertain supply, the better off we will be.

National Broadband Plan

Colm Burke


10. Deputy Colm Burke asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the reason an area (details supplied) is one of the few areas in the country not to have been prioritised to date in the implementation of the national broadband plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44059/21]

My question relates to my constituency, Cork North-Central, one of the few areas in the country not to have been prioritised to date in the implementation of the national broadband plan. Will the Minister make a statement on the matter? The area is within a radius of 10 miles to 12 miles of Cork city.

I expect that, increasingly, all Deputies will be concerned about the availability of broadband in their area, whether in rural or urban areas. The national broadband plan is one of the largest infrastructural projects in the history of the State. It is one over which I have some oversight and about which I am very optimistic. I think the fundamentals for this project are much stronger than they were when it was launched.

The Deputy asked about Cork North-Central and when the plan is due to be implemented there. I refer him to the National Broadband Ireland, NBI, website. I have requested that NBI provide more data for people who have exactly this question because up to now, it has indicated just at some point in the future, beyond two years, but times are narrowing and becoming accurate for each area. The Cork North-Central area covers a number of deployment areas, each of which is coming in at a different time. The country is divided into 227 deployment areas. In Cork North-Central, Midleton is one of the first and has a completion date of 2022. Fermoy, which covers areas of Bridestown, Glenagoul, Raheen Cross, Knocknacurran and Tinageragh, is intended for 2024, while Templemartin, including Inniscarra, Carrigyknaveen, Carrigrohane, Coolatubbrid and Magoola, is intended for completion in 2024. Grenagh, which is the final deployment area, is intended for 2026. They are the specific areas and their expected times.

In the meantime, we are deploying broadband connection points, which allow people who need access to broadband to get it in a public area. Beyond that, we are also connecting primary schools. Every primary school in the country will be connected to high-speed broadband by the end of next year. Specifically, in Cork North-Central, Courtbrack community centre and Whitechurch community centre are live broadband connection points. If the Deputy has other ideas for where there could be broadband connection points, he might contact my office and I will be happy to try to advance them. I also have a copy of the list of schools in the area that are live and those that are due to be live soon.

The report my office received from NBI in the past week suggested that Inniscarra, Kerry Pike, Clogheen, Tower, Blarney, Grenagh, Whitechurch, White's Cross and Carrignavar will not even be considered until 2025. I have seen the map, which was also made available to me, and it appears that about 80% of the constituency, which is within a radius of 10 miles or 12 miles of the city, will not even have a survey carried out until 2025. That is my concern.

I am surprised that it is that far down the list in terms of work being carried out given that there is a large population and new housing going in. That is the most recent report I have received in the past week.

There are four deployment areas covering Cork North-Central. It is a constituency with differences in that there urban and rural areas. Of those deployment areas, one is to be completed by 2022, two by 2024 and the last by 2026. Surveys are ongoing across Cork county. It was homes in Cork that were connected first to the network. The nature of the deployment is that it starts at the metropolitan area network or at the exchange and is built out from there, so each section is done in sequence. I know the Department has been engaging to try to accelerate the process and to bring those in years six and seven into years four and five. That would change the deployment plan. The plan that is online at the moment where people can see when they are due is subject to change all the time. NBI will contact people if there are changes to that plan.

Part of the area to which the Minister referred is in Cork East and some of the Midleton area is coming into Cork North-Central. I wish to ask the Minister about targets for 2020, 2021 and 2022. I acknowledge that Covid had an effect and that the target set in 2021 as regards the number of connections will not be reached, but can changes be made to make sure that those targets can be reached at least, if not exceeded, towards the end of 2021 and especially in 2022?

We had the NBI before the committee yesterday and it might be useful to relay some of what I heard clearly from it. Some of it has been well recounted. One of the major issues now and into the future is the piece between the engagement between the NBI and the local authorities. We heard accounts of their experiences. There has been some progress on section 24s, but one goes to the planning department for the poles, to transportation for the road opening licences and sometimes to different municipal districts. What I heard is that there is a need for a single point of contact within the local authority to expedite the various applications, not just from the NBI but the other partner organisations involved. That is something that would be very important to do at this stage to help the roll-out of the national broadband plan.

That is a useful contribution. I understand the NBI was before the communications committee yesterday discussing these topics.

Deputy Colm Burke asked how the roll-out plan is going and when there will be a catch-up. The NBI was asked that specific question yesterday and its answer was that it expects that it will catch up by 2023. There are delays. The number of homes that have been passed is approximately only going to be half of what it should have been by the end of this year and a large portion of that is due to Covid restrictions and the inability to get the staff to get to the places during that time. It is not just an excuse because it has affected the commercial operators that I have been speaking to, who have had the same problems outside of the Government contract. We have a squeeze on at the start and then we are trying to accelerate at the end so it is a complex project to get it done.

Renewable Energy Generation

Alan Dillon


11. Deputy Alan Dillon asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the status of the Celtic interconnector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44216/21]

As the Minister may be aware, the north-west area of County Mayo has some of the best renewable energy resources in Europe, if not the world. There is a plentiful supply of wind resources, ocean wave, tidal and hydroelectric resources. I am conscious that various tests are under way to map and demonstrate proof of concept in addition to the existing infrastructure in place and currently being developed. However, I want to ensure the Government is doing as much as possible to ensure that these resources are being utilised in a sustainable and sensitive manner, especially for local communities.

Offshore wind energy will help Ireland get to at least 70% renewable electricity by 2030 and supports the drive to net zero emissions by 2050. We have a target of 5 GW of offshore wind power by 2030 in the programme for Government and a further 30 GW in the subsequent decade.

Ireland's climate ambitions will see investment of tens of billions of euro in offshore renewable electricity projects. The first offshore wind developments are expected to be along the east coast in the coming years, where shallower waters are suitable for fixed-bottom turbines and prospective projects are more advanced. Over time, the energy potential of our deeper waters in the Atlantic Ocean are likely to be harnessed via floating wind systems.

Advancements in wave energy are monitored by the SEAI. Currently, no wave energy technology is sufficiently developed to be commercially integrated into Ireland's energy generation mix. However, wave energy is supported at national policy level through the offshore renewable energy development plan, OREDP, which has provided the basis for my Department supporting technology advancement in recent years. Work on a revised OREDP II is currently under way in my Department, and will provide an evidence base for the assessment of areas suitable for deployment of wind, wave, and tidal technical systems.

The Atlantic marine energy test site, AMETS, in Belmullet, County Mayo is being developed by the SEAI to test full scale pre-commercial offshore energy technologies. The development of AMETS has progressed steadily over the past decade. The SEAI is currently undertaking a strategic review of AMETS, the outcome of which will feed into the OREDP II.

I recently took note of the contents of the draft Mayo county development plan for 2021 to 2027, which is currently being finalised. Unsurprisingly, renewable energy features heavily in it. Mayo has become a natural leader in the development of renewable energy, with Ireland's first commercial wind farm in Bellacorick, County Mayo nearly 30 years ago. That has expanded now into the Oweninny wind farm, spanning more than 2,400 ha.

I commend the council officials who put significant effort into the development plan regarding renewable energy. I wish them every success in finalising the plan. However, it draws attention to the one issue of which we must be aware, which is ensuring that local authorities must also be consistent with national plans, policies and strategies in considering proposals for renewable energy. I query what efforts are being made by the Department to ensure that not only the county development plan but others around the country are on the same page as national policies. There is a need to ensure a coherent and consistent alignment between national and local policies.

I agree with the Deputy. There is significant potential for Mayo in the development of renewable energy power systems. In the auction process we had last year for the first renewable energy support scheme, four projects were successful in the county - three wind farms and one solar farm as I recall. All four are now going to construction. I understand there is another stream of further potential solar and wind projects, which will likely get into the next auction system that will start this autumn.

I keep going back to the strength of the grid and the debates we had about data centres and so on here. Do we bring some of the industry to where the power is rather than vice versa? In that regard I understand last week EirGrid set out a potential underground route for the north Connacht grid reinforcement project, which is going to be vital. It is both grid and generation, getting the balance right and getting demand and use together. It will take time because it is new technology, in particular floating offshore wind. The big long-term prospect for Mayo is that offshore resource coming ashore and how to use it to develop jobs and industry in the county is one of the questions I am focused on.

I thank the Minister. Enterprise supports to maximise the abundance of renewable energy resources along the Atlantic economic corridor must be prioritised. As he stated, we must incentivise this to secure investment and to ramp up development in renewable energy infrastructure. An important feature of this would be to enable energy to be put back into the grid. It would be unfortunate if we did not prioritise the mapping and plotting of the abundance of renewable energy resources readily available in the west. I know that will take time but we must start the process now as we work towards our climate obligations. Often, we hear renewable energy becoming an entire new economy and it would have a significant benefit for local communities in the west and their funding and for balanced regional development, and in doing so would provide much positivity.

It will take time but I see it tapping into the resource we have, particularly in the north-west. This is inevitable because where we have the really heavy wind resources, off the north-west coast of Ireland, is probably one of the best places on the planet. We have real skill and capability in industrial engineering processing so we can bring it ashore and use it. The most critical development in that regard is the Maritime Area Planning Bill, which is coming into the Oireachtas this autumn. We need to get that through quickly. We have to set up the institutions that will come out of it in regard to planning. What we have found in this country is that we need to get the planning right, including environmental planning. As I said to Deputy Barry earlier, it has to be in tune with protection of our nature-based systems, not against that. Using this proper planning, thinking long-term and getting it right will take time. We will do the east coast first but, very quickly, in this decade, we will start moving into southern waters, likely feeding into areas like Cork, Waterford Port and Shannon-Foynes. The bigger project, that 30 GW project, is more likely in the next decade but the scale of it is beyond compare and we have to start planning now.

Waste Management

Jennifer Whitmore


12. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications if his attention has been drawn to the lengthy application process for end of waste licences; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44122/21]

Has the attention of the Minister of State been drawn to the lengthy application process for end of waste licences and will he make a statement on the matter?

Yes, my attention has been drawn to this because, during the summer, I met with the company that was experiencing difficulties in this regard and I then contacted the Department and the EPA to discuss this.

Article 28 of the European Communities (Waste Directive) Regulations, S.I. No. 126 of 2011, sets out the grounds by which a material which is recovered or recycled from waste can be deemed to be no longer a waste. As the designated competent authority, decisions regarding applications for end of waste are the responsibility of the EPA. They are not licences; they are determinations. The EPA published guidance documents in 2020 to assist applicants with preparing end of waste applications, and the guidance documents are available on the EPA website.

The waste action plan for a circular economy, launched in 2020, has a dedicated chapter on end of waste, and commits to a number of measures, which include: working with stakeholders to streamline the process; examining whether certain end of waste decisions should be determined by local authorities rather than the EPA; establishing a working group to develop national end of waste applications for identified priority waste streams, which would obviate the need for individual applications within those streams; and introducing a fee for end-of-waste applications to help fund the process and encourage high quality applications. The upcoming circular economy Bill will progress some of these measures to streamline the process.

I also contacted the EPA and asked it for details on how long it was taking to process these determinations, what was involved, was it correctly staffed and so on, and it provided me with data which I can share with the Deputy. Its average processing time, it tells me, is six months once it has received all of the information from the applicants, and it said it has a difficulty with some applications which are incomplete or not supplied with the right information. To address some of the problems that have arisen, the circular economy Bill will contain a number of measures which seek to correct those problems, to make sure determinations are reached rapidly and that we look to see if we can get determinations on a national level, as well as on an individual project level, so those can be reused and drawn upon as needed.

This is an important initiative and it is where we need to be going with a lot of our products. I am pleased the Minister of State met with the company and has contacted the EPA in this regard. My understanding is there are currently 34 applications on its desk. The time taken to assess these applications varies from five months to more than two years, and in some instances the timeframe has exceeded four years. These are companies that are required to get these determinations and they need clarity and certainty as they are operating businesses. For them to have to wait that length of time in order to get the approvals they require is not acceptable, when we compare that to Northern Ireland, where the exact same application would take three to four weeks. My understanding is that some companies are considering moving their operations to Northern Ireland, which would be very unfortunate, because our systems are not being sufficiently resourced or moving fast enough for them.

For a start, no company should ever have to wait years for a decision from the Government on anything, and that stands to reason. The EPA tells me that it has only ever received 68 end of waste applications. Of these, 13 have been delivered, with a further 13 applications deemed to be abandoned or withdrawn. Of the remaining 42 applications on hand, which is more than the number the Deputy stated, 21 applications are considered as under active assessment, while a further 21 will be allocated and assessed in due course. Of the 21 that are under active assessment, one is at advanced stage, five further applications relating to recycled aggregates are being assessed and will be progressed in parallel, 12 have undergone initial assessment, two relate to national applications and one relates to fertiliser material. It is important that we keep track of what is the actual data, how long things are taking and so on.

I accept there is an issue that needs to be addressed and the upcoming Bill will address it. I hope I can engage with the Deputy on that to ensure the right provisions are there to fix the problem as it is, but we need to assess what it is.

I agree that, hopefully, this Bill will address any future issues but there are a considerable number of applications and companies waiting for an assessment currently. This is impeding them from operating properly and impeding them from actually reusing their waste in a sustainable manner. Will the Minister of State tell me what he will do to ensure those companies have their applications assessed as quickly as possible? The company I am dealing with is probably the company the Minister of State also met. It has now been waiting longer than two years and it is not okay for that to happen. What specific thing will the Minister of State do to ensure that something is put in place for it and companies like it so they can get their applications assessed while the Bill is going through the system? We know Bills take time and there will need to be consultation on it. I do not think it is fair for us to expect companies to wait in this hiatus while that policy and the legislation is put in place.

One of the issues is that the EPA has no legislative or strategy requirement to come to a determination in any timeframe. I think that, generally, there should be some limit on how long it takes to reach a decision. Specifically, what we can do is to make sure the EPA is sufficiently staffed and that it has the resources it needs to do it, that we monitor the length of its applications stream, even though the rules will probably change within a few months, and that we make sure the EPA addresses those that have been on hand the longest - the outliers. We need to make sure the companies are provided with all the information they need to make their applications but also that they are kept up-to-date on exactly what the status is and whether any more information is required in return. Those are the specific approaches I am going to take to make sure any company that is waiting for an end of waste determination can have its application justly progressed and done in a reasonable timeframe.

Question No. 13 replied to with Written Answers.

National Broadband Plan

Alan Dillon


14. Deputy Alan Dillon asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the remedial actions under the national broadband plan contract his Department has put in place with NBI to address the impact Covid-19 has had on the delivery of the project; and the way he plans to accelerate the program in the months ahead. [43996/21]

Mayo is one of the counties with the highest number of premises in the intervention areas of the national broadband plan; in fact, it is third after Cork and Galway. It is equally high in terms of the percentage of households within the county which are in the intervention area. As a result, any delay to the rollout impacts our county much more significantly. I have been repeatedly calling for efforts to accelerate the rollout of the project, which is likely to be the most important public infrastructure project in living memory. I hope the Minister of State will be in a position to outline those efforts.

Again, I refer the Deputy to the meeting of the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications with National Broadband Ireland, NBI, yesterday, where some of these issues were discussed, certainly from the point of view of NBI on the acceleration of the rollout. The programme for government states that the Government will attempt to compress the length of time for the rollout from seven years to five years, in other words, to brings years six and seven into years four and five. At the same time, because of the pandemic, we had delays at the start, so we are playing catch-up at one end of the rollout and we are trying to compress at the other end.

What are the efforts we are making? We are engaging with our contractor, NBI, and my Department is trying to come up with a realistic plan that can allow an acceleration of the number of homes that are connected per month.

The number will be roughly 8,000 per month at full rate, up to 16,000 per month in order to reach all 544,000 homes within five years instead of seven years. You can see a parallel between the roll-out of the vaccination programme where you have an initial period of time when you are carrying out surveys, when you are doing initial works or when you are constrained for whatever reason at the start and then you ramp up to a period where you have many teams delivering a lot of equipment based on a lot of initial work being done.

One of the first things that has to be done is that every home in the deployment area has to be surveyed. There are 544,000 premises. Half of them have been surveyed at this stage. That survey work shows nothing. You are not getting your deployment area. What one will see with this roll-out will be an acceleration. In the first year, nobody was connected. In the second year, we began to connect homes in Carrigaline and Cavan, but in future years we will be moving apace.

I thank the Minister of State. There is a real frustration and an impatience among the people in Mayo, especially around the anticipation and the lack of visibility of NBI on the ground. I appreciate that there was over 4,800 households in Mayo who are expected to be connected at the end of this year. What we were listening to yesterday in the committee meeting and again today is that there is now a revised, more realistic plan without any information. What we need now as public representatives is to assure our communities that this is coming and that we have accurate and realistic timelines. Remote working has made a huge contribution to local communities in Mayo but we need high-speed fibre to enable people to work from home. There are over 36,000 premises in Mayo that need this and they are counting on the Government to deliver it.

Not everybody in Mayo will be connected at the same time. The connections will start at the exchanges and move outwards. There will be different deployment areas and some areas will come on stream before others.

I have asked NBI to provide the most detailed information that it can, and it has provided more. I want it to be realistic with people and state that they are, at present, five years or whatever away so that people would see and be able to make decisions based on that. In the meantime, we can connect broadband connection points. The Deputy can get his local GAA club or community hall connected up so that that can be a hub. It is a temporary solution while one is waiting for the roll-out to arrive. Also, we are connecting all the primary schools and they will be done by next year.

I am happy to go out to Mayo and to meet with people there or to visit particular areas. I am also happy to give the Deputy the most detailed information I can on how we have done on surveys in Mayo, or which areas are due next. I would welcome any suggestions from the Deputy on how I could present the data better as I want to be as open as possible on this project all the time.

I thank the Minister of State. I will take him up on that offer. I have engaged with NBI and the information has been shared at any request.

The delivery of this will be a true game-changer in rural Ireland. The Minister of State is doing everything possible within the Department to get this done as quickly as possible. The importance of this for rural communities cannot be understated.

On the likes of the hubs that have been implemented along with the local authorities, there is still a bit of work to be done on that but I welcome the allocation of funding to support that by the Minister, Deputy Humphreys.

We just need to keep the pressure on NBI, the contractor, to ensure that it delivers on its commitments on a yearly and monthly basis and that that can be followed up through the Minister of State's office and through us on the ground dealing with queries.

Before the Minister of State responds, I call an Teachta Ó Murchú.

There has already been mention of the fact that NBI was in front of the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications yesterday. I suppose the welcome news is we are now at a stage where the entire plan, at least the seven-year plan, is there on the website for all to see. We are talking about two matters. We are talking about the acceleration from seven to five years and we are talking about the catch-up in relation to Covid. At present, there is a seven-year plan but the hope is that within the next six to nine months, NBI will have a better idea of when it will be able to do that catch-up and when it will be able to do that acceleration. Deputy O'Rourke stated straightly as they said it that we need to ensure then that all resources are in place. That will mean that local authorities have the capacity that is required. Beyond that, we will have to offer people alternatives.

Thank you, Deputy.

Perhaps the mobile and broadband task force is the body that can provide that information, if the Minister of State could come back to me on that.

For a start, in response to Deputy Dillon, the management of the NBI contract is very important at this point. It is important, for example, that all penalty clauses are applied where they are legally due. I have told my project team not to show any kindness towards the contractor and to let it know that we will be setting a standard that all penalty clauses are applied where they are due.

In terms of managing it, etc., I visited Monaghan to see NBI installing some of the cable with the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, in her area. I spent a lot of time in the west of Ireland this summer visiting broadband connection points and I spoke to people there. I could see the huge impact that has socially that people have a place to gather. I would encourage Deputy Dillon to pursue the broadband connection point option as an interim solution and I will help the Deputy in that regard. The same applies to Deputy O'Rourke.

We are almost out of time. The next few Deputies are not here. The next name is Deputy O'Rourke.

Questions Nos. 15 to 21, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.

Departmental Regulations

Darren O'Rourke


22. Deputy Darren O'Rourke asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications his views on claims made in advertisements relating to carbon offsetting and neutrality by companies that provide little detail on such claims; if he will strengthen legislation in this area to prevent misleading advertisements or greenwashing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44101/21]

I ask the Minister his views on claims made in advertisements relating to carbon offsetting and neutrality by companies that provide little detail on such claims, if he will strengthen legislation in this area to prevent misleading advertisements or so-called "greenwashing", and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The Deputy makes a good point. There is real concern. I read recently one of the real concerns of many people on climate change is they do not really know what to do. Our people want to take action on climate but they are sightly uncertain about what is the best thing to do. Our job is to make it easier for people to do the right thing about some of the issues we have discussed here today, by regulation, by setting standards, and by investing and making the better alternative cheaper. What does not help is when one has companies, as the Deputy says, engaged in greenwashing, in pretending something is a key part of the solution when, in fact, it is not of the scale of change of transformation we need.

I will take the Deputy's suggestion. I have not considered it to date but I think it is a valid one. I will engage with my colleagues. In terms of the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, in the broadcasting area, it would be an appropriate measure for us to ask the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland or others to look at this issue because it is a real issue. I will revert back to Deputy O'Rourke having spoken to Deputy Catherine Martin.

As we will be out of time, I ask Deputy O'Rourke to make a quick comment.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire. There is significant opportunity. There is potential. I can see some early indications of it where, with the green movement and the positive way that it is held broadly, it might be misrepresented in a way to take advantage in a marketing term in advertising. There is a need for regulation of the area whereby, if people claim zero emissions or carbon neutrality, that it means something and that there is a standard it is held against. That would be increasingly important in the time ahead.

There is no time for a further response. My apologies to Deputy Griffin. There were so many Deputies not here, I inadvertently missed the Deputy. However, he would have just got a couple of seconds anyway, like Deputy O'Rourke. I apologise for that.

Questions Nos. 23 to 63, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.