Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Energy Infrastructure

Darren O'Rourke

Question:

6. Deputy Darren O'Rourke asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the status of the review of the North-South Interconnector; the impact the judicial review decision in Northern Ireland will have on this project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53684/21]

I ask the Minister of State the status of the Government review on the North-South interconnector and the impact the judicial review decision in the North will have on this project.

I thank the Deputy. The North-South interconnector is critical to improving the efficient operation of the all-island single electricity market and increasing security of electricity supply in Ireland and Northern Ireland. It will also help Ireland to move towards our target of up to 80% renewable electricity by 2030. A resilient and well-connected energy infrastructure is vital for Ireland's economic well-being and the ability to respond to the future needs of energy consumers.

The option of undergrounding the North-South interconnector has been comprehensively assessed on several occasions. Most recently, the key finding from the international expert commission's report of October 2018 was that an overhead line remains the most appropriate option for this critical electricity infrastructure.

Notwithstanding this, a further short review was commissioned to assess if the overall finding from the 2018 report remains valid. Terms of reference for this study were published on my Department's website on 21 April. On 7 May, the Department initiated a procurement process to appoint an independent expert to undertake the review. International consultants are now engaged on the review and their work is well advanced. I understand the review will be completed by the end of the year.

A judicial review decision from the High Court in Belfast upheld the planning permission for the project in Northern Ireland, which means that the project now has approval from the planning authorities in both jurisdictions, with all legal challenges dismissed. EirGrid and ESB Networks, together with their counterparts in Northern Ireland, are continuing their on-the-ground engagements with landowners as well as the procurements necessary to support the delivery of this vitally important piece of infrastructure.

The principle that applies here is one that needs to apply across our transition to a zero-carbon economy. It is one of community engagement and consultation. It is not being applied here in the way it should be. It seems that the Government is determined to do this transition by megaphone diplomacy on the picket line or at the farm gate. It is already a major problem and that will continue to be the case unless the Government changes tack.

I got information from the Department yesterday that two leading Italian consultants in transmission grid infrastructure are now engaged on the review and that their work is well advanced. Could the Minister of State indicate when the work will be concluded and when the report will be published? At the same time, the CEO of EirGrid is telling us that the project is in execution mode. How can those two positions be accurate if the ongoing review is to have any real impact or relevance?

In short, the benefit of the project is that at different times of the year, depending on the weather, there will be a surplus of energy in the North and a deficit in the South, or vice versa. By being able to move the electricity and balance the supply around the island, we can ensure better reliability and security of supply and also reduce prices on both sides so that we are not dumping load or shedding load in one part or the other.

The review will be finished by the end of the year. In response to how that fits with EirGrid saying it is in execution mode, as I stated, this is a fully consented project, which has passed all legal hurdles. We have agreed to make sure that the conclusions of the 2018 assessment are still valid, and that something has not changed. We are carrying out an assessment and we will see what the report says. I will not prejudge the report. I do not know what is going to be in it. The report will be done by the end of the year and we will act according to what is recommended in it.

Given the way this review has been framed, I do not think many hold the expectation but, in theory, one of the conclusions it might come to is that the review does not hold firm and that the project should change tack. From listening to the CEO, it appears to be proceeding full steam ahead. That raises the question of the purpose of the desktop review that is being conducted by the two Italian consultants. Is it not the case that it is a waste of taxpayers' money to fudge the issue for the Minister of State's colleagues in government and to provide them with some political cover when, in truth, it is a meaningless exercise and that this project is proceeding regardless? We know that there has been further progress by local authorities in terms of the discharge of some of the planning conditions. What level of community engagement has happened? There is full resistance from the community to the project and I do not accept that it will be delivered.

The 2018 international report concluded that undergrounding the North-South interconnector was a credible option. It is important to put that on the record. It was a political decision to allow EirGrid to proceed with the overhead option. I am firmly of the view that the ongoing review is a waste of taxpayers' money because it is conducting an examination of something that nobody asked for. What people asked for was a proper, full assessment with a cost-benefit analysis of an underground option, which has never happened.

On what legal basis will EirGrid now be able to proceed onto the lands of people who have said they are not going to permit EirGrid to enter their lands? What level of interaction and conflict is the Government willing to allow to occur between EirGrid and local communities before it instructs EirGrid to consult them constructively, properly and adequately?

Community engagement is essential to any major infrastructural project. It is essential out of a sense of fairness but also to make sure that it is accepted, that it proceeds and that the right answers are found for it. This project could not be described as one that was rushed: it has been running for 15 years. I do not think we can have it two ways: we cannot say that we need to make sure we do this right, listen to the public and have engagement and then say that we should not have this final review to make sure all the conclusions of the previous reports are valid and that this is a waste of taxpayers' money. Either we are going to have the review and examine the project and listen to people or we are not. We are not building the infrastructure until we see what is in the review and that the conclusions of the previous report are valid. In terms of undergrounding cables, we had previous protests at underground cables. It is not the final solution that makes everybody happy. There are other concerns. A different set of people will come forward and say that they are not happy with underground cables.

National Broadband Plan

Denis Naughten

Question:

7. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the current status of plans to fast-track the national broadband plan; the impact this will have on Ireland's carbon emissions' profile; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49960/21]

I will not ask the Minister of State to read out the same reply again, so I will go to my supplementary questions if that is okay with you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. It will leave time for other Members. I will take nóiméad amháin.

The Minister of State made the point in his earlier reply to me that part of the reason for the delays was because of tree trimming, ducting and so forth. Eir achieved the targets to date, as the single biggest subcontractor to NBI. It subcontracted out the work to the exact same subcontractors that are working for NBI, but the difference was that Eir was working on existing infrastructure that did not require consent or approval from Irish Rail, local authorities or Transport Infrastructure Ireland. That is a significant problem. Why did it take 21 months after the signing of the contract for guidelines to be issued to local authorities to streamline the authorisation process?

We are told that there will be primary legislation to support those guidelines. When will we see it?

As I have said, there are very different circumstances to the roll-out of the NBI fibre and the work being done by other organisations, such as the work Eir is doing to its own existing network. NBI is a new company coming into the market. It is trying to connect people who have previously not been connected. It has a lot of new works to be done and it does not have an existing relationship with suppliers that other people have. That does not mean that its excuses for delays are reasonable and it does not mean that it does not get penalty clauses applied for the delays that happen, but there is a learning from those. My focus will be to ensure that the delivery is accelerated, which it has done. If we look at other projects such as the vaccine roll-out, we will see there are periods of time where the ramp-up happens. In this case where the surveys are carried out, initial work is carried out and lessons are learned before a much larger rate of roll-out is achieved at later points.

Deputy Naughten specifically asked me when legislation will be brought in to support guidelines for how NBI works with local authorities. Not all of that requires primary legislation or even legislation at all. Some of it just requires sensible work practices and people being brought together. As the Deputy indicated, the task force is going to be the answer to a lot of that. I will come back to him on whether specific primary legislation is to be introduced to support this and give him some timelines around that.

If the Deputy wishes to make suggestions on how that should be done, I am absolutely happy to help him with that.

In general, though, the project is getting back on track and the rate of delivery has greatly increased. I expect that by next year, 140,000 homes will have been passed. At the same time we are delivering this we are also ensuring we have a targeted campaign to encourage people to take up the service, as passing a house with fibre is not equivalent to the occupants signing up or agreeing to take the connection.

The problem is we have not had the sensible co-operation over the past 24 months. The Minister of State tells us today he expects 140,000 homes to be passed by the end of next year and the budget documentation we got a couple of weeks ago told us it would be 130,000, meaning only 10,000 more homes will be passed next year compared with this year. Where is the ramping up of this process?

I have a final point that the Minister of State can take up directly and I ask him to do so with the European Commission. The definition of high-speed broadband at European Commission level is 30 Mbps and there is no family in this country that would believe 30 Mbps is high-speed broadband. If the definition could be increased to 150 Mbps, 500 Mbps or 1 Gbps, it would stimulate private investment, as we have already seen. It would also ensure NBI could intervene where the private sector will not. That single step would help to address the overall deficit across the country.

I am delighted that we are repeatedly seeing pressure being put on here for quicker delivery of the national broadband plan. Both I and Deputy Naughten know this was fought tooth and nail within the House by people seeking to obstruct it.

I raise a serious element of Deputy Naughten's question, specifically the impact this will have on carbon emissions. My experience has been that official Ireland dismissed the transformative impact on carbon emissions that this infrastructure could have. It says something about our evaluation system in a world seeking to move to zero carbon emissions that our public evaluation of projects like this does not take into account the transformative impact on climate.

The influence on climate action is partly because people can work from home and would not have to travel so far. Additionally, the network essentially works on light and takes less power to operate. There are many benefits.

There are no figures for that. Deputy Bruton is right.

He is right and we should have better data. The Deputy asked about the baseline definition of high-speed broadband and there is a target being developed in the EU currently for gigabit broadband by 2030. I do not know if the Deputy is familiar with that. There probably should be an intermediate target but it is what people are heading towards.

People need broadband now and not in 2030.

Every country has some version of a national broadband plan. I have not met any communications minister from any country with a more ambitious plan than ours. Most of them are going for some form of wireless as their final delivery. Wireless technology is good but it is just not upgradable to the levels we are trying to achieve, as we are eventually looking at 25 Gbps.

Will the Minister of State take it up with the Commission and get it to increase the definition from 30 Mbps?

I thank the Minister of State.

Renewable Energy Generation

Ivana Bacik

Question:

8. Deputy Ivana Bacik asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications his plans to make the production of green hydrogen more cost-effective within Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53535/21]

My question is to ask the Minister the plans to make the production of green hydrogen more cost-effective within Ireland. Again, this is about seeking answers on how we can meet our targets, particularly targets on the generation of electricity through renewables.

The programme for Government recognises the need for research and development of hydrogen from renewable sources, known as green hydrogen, for use in power generation and as a zero-emission energy source in difficult to decarbonise sectors such as transport and industry.

In July 2020, the European Commission published a hydrogen strategy for a carbon-neutral Europe. Ireland supported the hydrogen strategy, including the need to deploy green hydrogen in line with the programme for Government. Ireland also supported the publication of the Council conclusions on a hydrogen market for Europe in October 2020. In the development of these conclusions, Ireland strongly supported the need to focus on green hydrogen. I expect further initiatives to assist in the development of green hydrogen to form part of the European Commission's proposals to reform the gas regulation and directive. These proposals are expected later this year and I expect them to be discussed at the Council of energy ministers meeting in December.

As part of the development of the climate action plan, my Department is working with relevant Departments, agencies and stakeholders to examine the future role of green hydrogen and identify the policies and measures we need to ensure its deployment. These policies and measures will need to ensure green hydrogen is developed in a cost-effective way while contributing to our commitment of net zero emissions by 2050. In this regard, the 2021 climate action plan will to set out a range of actions focused on the development of green hydrogen in Ireland.

I am very glad to hear there are such moves under way and particularly that we will see in the climate action plan this afternoon a range of initiatives on green hydrogen. I am also pleased to hear the Minister of State's announcement that the Council of energy ministers will discuss this at December's meeting. It is good to hear there are initiatives under way both at European level and here in Ireland.

Any engagement I have with stakeholders on how we meet those targets for generation of electricity through renewables indicates green hydrogen is the energy of the future, although that may be a clichéd term. There has been a doubt about whether we can develop the production of green hydrogen in a cost-effective way, as the cost seems to have been the biggest obstacle to development. What I am seeking to explore is precisely what initiatives we can take in Ireland to ensure the roll-out of green hydrogen can be done in a way that is cost-effective.

This was discussed informally discussed at the Council of Ministers last week. Some countries have different views and some are going for blue hydrogen rather than green hydrogen. Ireland is going for green hydrogen. In Ireland we brought in three buses that run on hydrogen in order to get experience of what it is like to use them. This is not a mature technology but I do not want it always to be a future technology. We can achieve that by trying things out. I know in west Dublin there is a trial to inject hydrogen into the normal gas network and see how it works. It would be good if the existing gas infrastructure used to pump gas around the country could be reused for hydrogen. It would give us greater energy security for the future and avoid problems where we are dependent on unstable foreign powers for our energy needs, which affects people directly suffering from energy poverty.

This is a story of hope and positivity, as not so long ago it seemed offshore wind generation and solar panels were too expensive but we have seen the cost of the production of energy from such sources reducing dramatically. We all very much hope the same will happen with green hydrogen. As the Minister of State has acknowledged, we certainly have an opportunity to build out renewables through green hydrogen, among other technologies. This might even allow Ireland to become a green hydrogen exporter in place of being an importer of fossil fuels to generate the energy we need.

I very much welcome the ambitious target on the generation of electricity through renewables and I am very conscious of the vision increasingly being promoted around the world of electrifying everything as a way of ensuring we can move to a carbon-neutral or zero-carbon economy and society around the world. The technologies are there or are being developed to decarbonise electricity and they could ensure that electricity powers all the human activities that have for far too long been powered by fossil fuels.

Does the Minister of State agree that the key to this potential is developing a stronger electricity network? This week we saw legislation introduced which I am thankful was withdrawn that would have blocked the development of onshore wind. Earlier in this Question Time we heard the dismissal of a review being carried out by the Government - effectively rubbishing it - and the backing of full resistance to the strengthening of our electricity grid. We cannot have it both ways. We cannot hope for green hydrogen and then block the instruments that would help to realise such an opportunity.

With the development of hydrogen, it is not clear exactly which scenario will be best. Will it be ideal for long-distance trucking or suitable for storage so it can help to balance electricity grids when the wind is low? Will it be appropriate for the heating of homes and directly replacing gas in those homes?

There are different use cases which have to be tried out and which have to be economically sound. Hydrogen will be appropriate in some circumstances and inappropriate in others. It has challenges and it is a new technology but it has the potential to balance out the fundamental variability in renewable energy where the production is related to what the weather is at the time. It also allows us to avoid the volatility and variability that comes with relying on the international price of fossil fuels, which can vary. At one point a barrel of oil was $10 and then at another point it was $140. It is hard for any country to deal with that and it has direct consequences for people. Hydrogen allows us to move towards sustainability, self-reliance and a clean energy supply.

Question No. 9 replied to with Written Answers.

National Broadband Plan

Neale Richmond

Question:

10. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications if he will report on the roll-out of the NBP in Dublin city and county; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53500/21]

I want to ask the Minister of State to report on the roll-out of the NBP, particularly in Dublin, in the city and county areas.

I am the Minister of State responsible for broadband and that does not just involve the NBP. I am also responsible for ensuring the whole country has broadband and there are blackspots within urban areas as well. There are over 624,000 premises in County Dublin, of which 15,000 are within the NBP intervention area. Those premises will receive access to high speed broadband under the NBP. Government investment in County Dublin in the NBP will be approximately €48 million. I am advised by NBI that, as of 27 October, almost 2,500 premises in County Dublin have been surveyed. In Dublin, surveying is complete or under way in areas around Skerries, Balbriggan, north County Dublin, Fingal, Castleknock, Blanchardstown, Clonsilla, Ongar, Chapelizod, Ballyfermot, Cabra, Bluebell and Finglas. Build work is currently under way in the Skerries area. The NBI website provides a facility for any premises within the intervention area to register its interest in being provided with deployment updates through its website www.nbi.ie.

In addition to the challenges to the delivery of the NBP due to the Covid-19 pandemic, NBI has faced a range of other challenges due to the sheer scale and complexity of rolling out fibre to the home in a rural environment. My Department has worked closely with NBI to put in place a remedial plan under the contract. This plan addresses delays experienced by NBI, primarily arising as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, and re-baselines milestones for 2021. Work is under way to re-baseline milestones for 2022 and beyond.

Broadband connection points, BCPs, are a key element of the NBP, providing high speed broadband to every county in advance of the roll-out of the fibre to the home network. As of 27 October, 386 BCP sites have been installed by NBI and the high speed broadband service will be switched on in these locations through service provider contracts managed by the Department of Rural and Community Development for publicly accessible sites and the Department of Education for school BCPs. BCPs are installed in County Dublin at Man O'War GAA club, Applewood Community Centre, Tyrrelstown Community Centre, Newbridge House and Farm, Glenasmole Community Centre, Stars of Erin GAA and Dublin Mountain Community Centre and Fingal Ravens GAA club. Balscadden National School's BCP has been installed by NBI for educational access.

I am appreciative of that update and I appreciate the Minister of State's focus, interest and awareness in this. When people think about the NBP they often think about areas outside the capital but it is an increasing issue in my constituency of Dublin Rathdown, where there are a number of areas when you talk about Stars of Erin GAA club in Glencullen but it is a part of the county that I know the Minister of State and the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, know particularly well. We are thinking of areas like Glencullen as well as Tibradden, Barnacullia, Ballybetagh and Kiltiernan, where there is a distinct lack of ability to access broadband and an increasing issue of general connectivity. In the last 18 months we have seen the increased focus on people working and studying from home and remotely and it is becoming a huge issue for a growing population in my constituency who are prepared to go for a blended model or whatever but who simply do not have the strength and connectivity to maintain that.

If the Deputy has constituents who are unable to access decent broadband they can apply to be in the intervention area through my Department if the Deputy emails broadband@dec.gov.ie. They will be surveyed and assessed and if broadband is unavailable to them from any other supplier up to 30 MB then they can be included in NBI's roll-out. SIRO is developing in the border area between the city and the rural area of the Dublin mountains. SIRO is half-owned by the Irish State and it announced last week that it will deliver an additional 300,000 fibre connections and Cabinteely and Foxrock were included among those. It is looking at areas at the edge of the city where it can install fibre broadband and that may be appropriate for some of the Deputy's constituents.

I appreciate that intervention because there are such pockets throughout County Dublin, be they on the south side or the north side like my colleagues either side of me, that are falling between the gaps and not being considered as part of the overall plan. I welcome the Minister of State's comments on SIRO and I appreciate the opportunities he presented for individual constituents. He mentioned a range of areas in his initial reply, none of which are in my part of the county and that is the concern. We need to make sure the surveys are progressed up the Dublin mountains into places such as Glencullen and Tibradden. These are not just traditionally peri-urban or rural but they are also areas with growing housing developments. Over 7,500 homes are about to be constructed in this area and the Minister of State knows that as well as anyone. We need to ensure those houses do not drain the resources and that the people who are there already have full access to ensure they can take that blended working model and have the level of connectivity they need for work and study.

I thank Deputy Richmond for the question, which conveniently covered north County Dublin, and I thank the Minister of State for the detail provided. I have no desire to sound like my esteemed colleagues from County Kerry but a significant number of communities in north County Dublin were mentioned, which I am appreciative of. I would like to take the opportunity to welcome the importance of the NBP and I recognise the work Deputy Bruton did on it. It is fantastic to see so many community hubs being created across the country and not just in my constituency. Deputy Richmond mentioned the importance of NBI in the context of working from home and the fact that there are people in urban communities who do not have access to high speed broadband. I was pleased to hear what the Minister of State had to say about contacting his Department to have assessments completed. I am concerned about slippage during Covid, which is not the subject of the question, but the Minister of State might touch on that in his remarks.

North County Dublin has much larger areas and is a lot more rural than south County Dublin. That is why more areas in north County Dublin were listed. I will contact NBI if the Deputy has specific areas in the Dublin mountains that he thinks need to be surveyed and I will ask it to look at that. On blackspots in urban areas, I have spoken to NBI about this and in some cases a commercial supplier next door needs to extend its fibre into that neighbouring premises. Sometimes the best way to solve that blackspot is for NBI to pay whoever the local supplier is to do that. I mentioned SIRO but Eir has an enormous fibre roll out plan as well and that has been greatly increased. Virgin Media made an announcement yesterday as well so we have four large deployments and those will start to cover many of the areas that concern the Deputy. We need to reach gigabit style broadband so that we can have multiple people in a home who are working and attending education at the same time. That is such a common thing and the Deputy's constituents will have come to him about that problem.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Richard Bruton

Question:

11. Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the way the inclusion of land use, land use change and forestry, LULUCF, in the inventory used to measure greenhouse gases will alter the policy challenge for Ireland. [53626/21]

The Climate Change Advisory Council has recently added land use to the greenhouse gas inventory, which has to be halved over the next decade. That means we will have to find measures to reduce carbon emissions by an extra 5 million tonnes. I would like to ask the Minister of State what impact that might have on other sectors if that sector itself cannot deliver and what new policy and investment tools will evolve to support the land use changes.

Greenhouse gas emissions and removals associated with LULUCF are reported in Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions inventory, prepared by the Environmental Protections Agency, EPA, and submitted annually to the EU and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. LULUCF includes activities associated with forestry, croplands, grasslands, wetlands, settlements and other lands.

The programme for Government recognises that the next ten years are critical if we are to address the climate crisis. It commits to a 51% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions over the decade and to achieving a climate neutral economy no later than 2050.

These commitments have since been placed on a statutory footing through the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021. The climate Act provides for carbon budgets and sectoral emissions ceilings to be put in place which will determine how each sector of the economy will contribute to the achievement of the carbon budgets, including the land use, land use change and forestry, LULUCF, sector.

Ireland is currently a net emitter of greenhouse gasses from the LULUCF sector to the order of 4.8 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, MTCO2e, per year. All the LULUCF categories have potential to be managed as net sinks for greenhouse gasses. It is important that we fully account for our actual emissions and removals from LULUCF in order to ensure policy is designed consistent with our objective to reach a climate neutral economy by 2050.

The climate action plan, which will be published shortly, will set out a range of LULUCF policies and measures which we will need to continue, modify and enhance over the coming decades to realise our climate ambition.

The programme for Government commitment for a national land use review is under way and it will consider options on how we might improve the management our land to meet not only the climate challenge but the biodiversity, water resource and socioeconomic challenges too. The first phase, the evidential review, is currently under preparation. This is overseen by a steering group co-chaired by the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

The Minister of State did not advert to the fact that the LULUCF has not been included heretofore in the targets we set for either EU reductions or Irish national reductions. The climate council is advocating that we set a reduction which will mean we have to find 5 million MTCO2e from the land use sector. I want to probe the Minister of State as to what new policy tools and investment measures will allow us do that because failure to meet this new target will fall back onto the other sectors. The climate plan will be published today but the Minister of State might recognise that this is a shift in policy and requires a shift in policy measures to match.

I accept that it is a shift and we need new tools and metrics and ways of managing it. It is something new, but it is not all negative. The fact is that at present LULUCF is generating emissions in the wrong direction - it is 4.8 MTCO2e - but it is also true that it could be a sink. That is not the case with other sectors of the economy. This is a sector of society which can make progress on emissions beyond zero. In other words, it can sequester carbon. At the same time, we can pay farmers to do that. Therefore, it can be a source of income. It can be a source of opportunity. It can be a way for agriculture to become sustainable, not only environmentally but financially. We can pay farmers to sequester carbon and they have that opportunity which is not available in other sectors. We will never have negative emissions from transport, we will never have negative emissions from industry but agriculture will go in that direction.

I am delighted to hear that from the Minister of State. I suppose we need to see what will be those mechanisms for paying for making those land use changes. It is important, if those mechanisms are not evolved today, that there is a clear statement that Government will be evolving mechanisms to pay for carbon management, which is effectively what this would be, of the land use. I welcome the Minister of State's announcement that there will be payment to farmers on that front.

Absolutely. In the commentary and debate about what needs to be done for climate action, too often the position of agriculture and farming is taken as definitely to be a negative. It is discussed in terms of pain, suffering and job losses when actually it is a time of opportunity. It is a traditional sector with a long heritage. It is difficult to have deep changes in such a sector, or lifestyle and culture. Nobody in Ireland who wants to deprive farmers of income. Everybody in Ireland is proud of their farming sector and of the food that we generate, wants to give farmers a sustainable income for the future, wants to pay them to be stewards of the land and wants to give them a way to continue to live on and from the land in a way that protects it and that we can be proud of for all of our citizens to enjoy in whatever way possible.

National Broadband Plan

Thomas Gould

Question:

12. Deputy Thomas Gould asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the status of the delivery of the national broadband plan in north central areas of Cork city. [53613/21]

Pádraig O'Sullivan

Question:

15. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the status of the roll-out of the national broadband plan in an area (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53283/21]

Tá an chéad ceist eile ceangalta le Ceist Uimh. 15. Tá an Teachta Dála do Ceist Uimh. 15 anseo, an Teachta Pádraig O'Sullivan.

I would say the Minister of State is blue in the face from answering questions about the national broadband plan. It is a constant theme here but we are here to voice the concerns of many of our constituents. I am losing track of the number of parliamentary questions that I have lodged in this area. I would be grateful if I could get an up-to-date report on the roll-out in the Cork North-Central area.

I thank Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan. I am not complaining about answering questions; it is my job. I have been asked about Cork North-Central in the past and the more the Deputy asks those questions, the more things are likely to happen in a faster way in that area. The Deputy is right to do it.

There are over 276,000 premises in County Cork, of which over 80,000 are within the national broadband plan intervention area. Government will invest in the order of €314 million to bring those premises up to high speed broadband.

I am advised by National Broadband Ireland that, as of 27 October 2021, almost 26,000 premises in County Cork have been surveyed. In total, over 272,000 premises in the intervention area across all counties have been surveyed, with over 115,000 premises under construction across 30 deployment areas. Retail service providers are actively selling on the NBI network with over 30,000 premises available to order and pre-order in counties Carlow, Cavan, Clare, Cork, Galway, Kerry, Limerick, Monaghan, Roscommon, Tipperary and Wicklow. This includes over 4,500 premises in County Cork.

NBI's fibre network architecture is centred around existing Open Eir exchanges and the State-owned metropolitan area networks. This strategy is based on engineering design principles that allows every premises to be passed as quickly and as efficiently as possible. The fibre network is divided up into 227 deployment areas, DA. Each deployment area is centred around existing regional or local exchanges. The areas referred to in the questions are covered by a number of different deployment areas and, therefore, the timescale for premises being passed by the new high speed broadband network will vary.

Surveys are complete in County Cork in the deployment areas of Carrigaline, Midleton, Youghal, Templemartin and Tallow. Main build work is currently under way in Midleton and Youghal and is complete in Carrigaline. I am advised that premises will be available for connection in the Midleton deployment area in the first half of 2022. This covers the areas of North Esk, Carbeytown and Rougrane. Further details are available on specific areas within County Cork through the NBI website which provides a facility for people living within the intervention area to register their interest in being provided with deployment updates at www.nbi.ie.

Broadband connection points, BCPs, are a key element of the NBP. As of 27 October, 386 BCP sites have been installed by NBI.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The high speed broadband service will be switched on in these locations through service provider contracts managed by the Department of Rural and Community Development for publicly accessible sites and the Department of Education for school BCPs.

BCPs are installed in County Cork at Ballydaly Community Hall, Aubane Community Centre, Mealagh Valley Community Centre, Courtbrack Community Centre, Laharn Heritage Centre, Ballindangan Community Centre, Clogagh Community Hall, Aghabullogue Community Centre, Castletownkenneigh Community Centre, The Old Schoolhouse, Bere Island Heritage Centre, Coláiste Phobal Cléire, Lissavard Community Centre, Whitechurch Community Centre, Glash Community Centre, T.O. Park Labbamollaga and Sherkin Island Community Hall.

Templebrady National School, Ballycroneen National School, Clogagh National School, Educate Together Carrigaline, Ringaskiddy Lower Harbour National School, Scoil Naomh Fionán na Reanna, Ballygarvan National School and Shanbally National School have been installed by NBI for educational access. My Department continues to work with the Department of Education to prioritise schools with no high speed broadband within the intervention area for connection over the term of the NBP. In this regard, an acceleration of this aspect of the national broadband plan announced in December will see some 679 primary schools connected to high speed and by 2022, well ahead of the original target delivery timeframe of 2026.

I thank the Minister of State for the update. Every time I lodge the parliamentary question, as the Minister of State said, the numbers are changing and increasing. I welcome that and the investment that the Minister of State detailed.

The difficulty I have with the responses that we are getting is I am hearing a great deal about Midleton. Meaning no disrespect to Midleton, it is in another constituency. I wish them the best of luck. I am hearing about many other towns and townlands and, unfortunately, very few in my constituency of Cork North-Central until the Minister of State mentioned Rougrane and the Caherlag-Carbeytown area, which is a rural and isolated-enough area, and which I welcome.

However, we in Cork North-Central - I note Deputy Gould's question is taken with mine - would be seriously concerned about the lack of roll-out in our own immediate area.

I would add that the delays in the broadband plan roll-out have been well document. I note the Secretary General of the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications was before the Committee of Public Accounts recently. We are all aware that the plan is estimated to be 50% behind where it is supposed to be and that is obviously concerning.

I thank the Deputy. The deployment areas, each of which include approximately 4,000 customers, do not match the constituencies. Therefore, we have three different deployment areas covering Cork North-Central. Large parts of those deployment areas are not in the Deputy's constituency and that is why I am mentioning areas that are outside of where the Deputy is.

Clogheen Mixed National School is located at Carrigrohane, Gaelscoil Uí Drisceoil, Lower Glanmire National School, Scoil Náisiúnta Bhiorainn in Berrings, Scoil Náisiúnta Mhuire, Rathpeacon, Scoil Náisiúnta Pádraig Naofa in Whitechurch, Scoil Chroí Íosa and Vicarstown Mixed National School are all prioritised for roll-out over the next 15 months.

If there are areas that the Deputy thinks a broadband connection would be suitable, I can ask that it be looked into. Eir and SIRO are connecting many more homes in the Deputy's constituency and he should speak to them too. If there are specific homes which cannot get a decent broadband service, he should contact the Department and I will try to help.

I welcome many of those schools being connected as broadband connection points. I welcome the increase in the number of BCP sites installed from 302 the last time I asked a parliamentary question on the issue to 386 now. There is no doubt progress is being made but it is slower than we would hope. People are demanding this service.

The Minister of State indicated that surveying in Cork was complete, which is great. With regard to all the big contracts that are out for tender, the Minister has penalties and other powers at his disposal. I am not asking if these will be used but for specific information on the powers available to the Minister under the contract in the event of tardiness or further delays in the roll-out.

When I started in this role I informed the company that I would be applying all of the penalties I could legally apply and there would be no mercy shown. I did so because I did not want the idea to form that I would overlook issues and we would just try to work together. A range of penalty clauses apply for being late with the delivery of installation. Penalty clauses also apply if the service is unreliable. If the service is dropping, for example, specific euro amounts are charged. For the first two years of the contract, a grace period applies during which the penalty clauses for late installation are not applied. That period runs out in February 2022, after which the company will be charged if anything is late.

National Broadband Ireland is only paid for what it does. Each time it connects an entire deployment area, which is 4,000 people, it receives a large sum of money. However, it is not paid if it is not connecting.

Climate Action Plan

Alan Farrell

Question:

13. Deputy Alan Farrell asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the status of the implementation of the Climate Action Plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53533/21]

My question may seem premature considering that the climate action plan is being published today but we have an opportunity to talk about bringing people with us in the context of the plan. I am conscious of the Minister of State's response to earlier questions.

I am sorry that this discussion is taking place hours before the climate action plan is published. On bringing people with us, I am not deluded and I do not think the Government and the Dáil can just impose things on people. We rule with the consent of the public and we cannot make changes that people do not feel are fair and reasonable. People will make huge changes, as we saw in the pandemic. They can alter their lives if they understand that it is essential to do so to protect each other or for society as a whole. I am heartened that those changes are possible. If people could make such sudden and dramatic changes to their lifestyle to protect the elder generations, I believe they will do the same to protect their grandchildren and their children in the future. They can make those changes, even if the immediate risk and the number of people dying is not going to be reported on tomorrow's news. People know this stuff is happening and change is necessary but we must bring them with us.

I am finalising an ambitious set of climate actions, through a new climate action plan, that will position us to meet the targets the Oireachtas has now set through the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021, namely, to have a 51% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and a climate-neutral economy not later than 2050. Under the new legislation, the Department will update the climate action plan every year so that our actions keep step with the trajectory required to achieve our targets. In addition, a national long-term climate action strategy will be prepared at least every five years.

Progress reports on the implementation of the existing climate action plan are prepared on a quarterly basis by the Department of the Taoiseach. The reports are considered and approved by government and published online to ensure accountability and transparency. Implementation rates under the climate action plan 2019 have fluctuated on a quarter-by-quarter basis. The overall implementation rate to the end of quarter 4 2020 was 78%, with 391 measures completed out of a total of 500 measures due. The reports can be found on the climate action section of Gov.ie. Challenges to implementation have been highlighted throughout the quarterly progress reports. These include issues of capacity, resourcing and expertise across government, and the complexity of work and extensive stakeholder consultation often required for meaningful climate action.

The Minister of State has already spent significant time this morning going through this issue. Will he comment on the flexibility built into the unpublished carbon action plan to acknowledge the technological advances that may be presented in the coming years in terms of mitigating measures across certain Departments? What level of flexibility will be contained in the climate action plan? I am thinking of transport, specifically aviation and shipping. Given our island status, these two critical sectors for our economy are extremely difficult to deal with in the context of significant carbon reductions and, indeed, carbon eradication by 2050. There is a potential slate of information that could be made available to the House.

Technology is the solution to many issues but not everything. We cannot count on technologies that have not been delivered yet or have only worked in a test phase. Our experience is that huge technological advances are possible. What we cannot do is choose not do anything and wait for a technological miracle to deliver things in the future, so we will have business as usual. We must change the way we do things. Sometimes the answer is not technology, for example, a flying car, but something else, such as working from home. Aviation and shipping clearly present a real challenge. This is being looked at with various possible outcomes, whether biomethane, hydrogen or something else that will power this transport in the future. We have to find an answer. That will be of direct relevance and interest to many people who work and live in Deputy Farrell's constituency. We are an island and we are not abandoning aviation. We have to find a solution and a way of doing this cleanly.

The Minister of State is right that we cannot abandon aviation. It is a crucial part of our economy and society, given our diaspora across the world. I am heartened by the Minister of State's response to an earlier question on the development of hydrogen. I know there are options in that regard for that sector. My question was related to the adaptation of the plan and its recognition that, as technology emerges, it will be sufficiently flexible to be able to adapt to those changes rather than, as the Minister of State rightly pointed out, the assumption that technology is the solution when changing the way we do business as a society is the answer.

In regard to the climate action plan, I raise the issue of heavy industry, particularly mining and its high carbon impact on society. This week, while COP26 is taking place, we are issuing licences for mining exploration in Leitrim. These licences are for gold, of all things, which is very much a luxury metal that is not necessary for the advancement of mankind. Most people in my constituency are alarmed and concerned about this. In the context of the climate action plan and the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act, will the Government abandon its policy of encouraging mining companies to come to Ireland to exploit minerals in this way, which involves very high use of carbon and very poor use of resources in the context of the country trying to move to low carbon?

Deputy Farrell asked if the climate action plan can evolve and adapt. It can but the target does not change. We have to reach the 51% target. Every quarter we reassess the climate action plan's progress, as I said, and every year we do a new climate action plan. We are changing the plan all the time, with regard to the implementation steps, but not the goal.

On mining, we are trying to move from a society based on taking things out of the ground, building things with them and then disposing of those things afterwards towards a circular economy. However, we are not there yet. We are dependent on mobile phones, laptops and other such products, many of which use rare earth metals.

We need to ensure those valuable products are not being disposed of and we can retain the rare metals they use without having to extract them again. I understand the Deputy is referring to prospecting licences rather than extraction licences, which are a very different thing.

There are just two minutes left. We are working off two different clocks and several Deputies are not present for their questions. We will move to Question No. 17. We will have time for Deputy Durkan to put his question and get a reply.

Question No. 14 replied to with Written Answers.
Question No. 15 answered with Question No. 12.
Question No. 16 replied to with Written Answers.

Climate Change Policy

Bernard Durkan

Question:

17. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the extent to which he and his Department continue to monitor progress towards meeting carbon emission requirements with a view to, in the first instance, providing for alternative electricity generation by way of wind, solar, wave or other alternatives or the most likely options to make a serious impact on providing renewable energy within five years, thus eliminating the need for negative impacts on the agrifood sector or other sectors deemed to be central to carbon reduction; if an evaluation has been done as to the extent of such a reduction within a five-year period in the event of a dramatically reduced dependence on fossil-generated electricity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52711/21]

This question seeks to raise the importance of the options that are most likely and readily available to deal with the pressing issue of climate change and the urgent necessity to respond.

This is a timely question given that the climate action plan will come out today. The question is not whether but how we do this. How do we do it in a way that is fair, acceptable and just, one which people will buy into and see makes sense? The Deputy's asked if we can do more on electricity and, in that way, avoid changing other sectors. The electricity sector has high ambitions. It is looking at achieving 80% renewables by 2030. I hope I am not giving away anything from the climate action plan. Electricity will take an enormous share of the burden and other sectors will take a lighter share as a result.

When we think about cutting emissions it is easy to think about the energy and electricity sector and forget about the production of concrete and cement and other areas that produce CO2 in a quieter way and go unnoticed. They must also be addressed.