Last Tuesday, the Irish Independent carried a story by Charlie Weston on a EUROSTAT report that shows that Irish electricity prices are 25% above the European average. Last year, I highlighted concerns about the State's inability to provide adequate competition in the energy market, resulting in excessive prices for consumers, both household and business. I highlighted the fact that despite the assertion that renewables have their place in energy provision in this country, mainly from onshore wind, there is no mention of the fact that there is little capacity for storage when excess wind power is generated so that power could be stored and then redistributed when there is no wind. There is also inadequate infrastructure in many of our regions to contribute to the grid through onshore wind projects. I refer, in particular, to the north west. Furthermore when the wind does not blow, the wholesale energy market is distorted by virtue of the fact that we have a dominant provider in the ESB, which is in a position to charge in excess.
Information provided to me at the time from an independent assessment show that there were prices in excess of international pressures on our market.
I also highlighted that the competition over the last number of years for the provision of renewables by the State was compromised, for example by the likes of ESB winning contracts for renewable placement or auctions back in 2016, but four years later withdrawing from the same contracts and paying penalties for having done so. That in itself ensured that the grid remained challenged, that competition remained compromised and, most important, that prices remained in excess of European averages.
We then had a situation where the State saw fit to initiate competition for emergency provision of energy, which we saw in June 2020 when the Minister amended the Planning and Development Act 2009 by statutory instrument whereby State authorities, in the effort to respond to such competitions, were not obliged to provide planning permission. It was not fair competition for those who sought to compete for the same projects if they had to provide relevant planning permission for their facilities. That, of course, is more unfair competition.
I have relayed this to Dáil Éireann previously, to the Minister in the Dáil and to his Department, to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, and to the Commission for Regulation of Utilities. I have had, to say the least, inadequate responses that forced me to have to raise the same issues with the EU Commissioners for both energy and competition. They have indicated to me their intention to investigate the challenge and analyse the information that has been provided to them in this area.
I ask the Minister with responsibility in this area, be it the Minister, Deputy Ryan, or whoever is representing him here this evening, to indicate to the Dáil - having failed to respond to the charges, the information and inferences that I have raised by virtue of the information I presented previously and now that new information is out there from an independent source which is EUROSTAT, which indicates the same issue of Ireland being 25% above the European average and fourth in the European bloc in relation to our prices - what manner of investigation or review-----