Turf Development Bill, 1961—Second and Subsequent Stages.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The Minister for Transport and Power has asked me to take the Second Stage of this Bill on his behalf. The main object of the Bill is to provide an extra £5,000,000 capital for Bord na Móna. Under the Turf Development Acts, 1946 to 1959, Bord na Móna may borrow up to £19,000,000 for the performance of their functions, exclusive of the housing of their servants. The Board may obtain capital up to this amount by way of advances from the Minister for Finance or by the creation of stock or other forms of security. In the exercise of these powers the Board have to-date borrowed a total of £18,991,472 of which £750,000 was obtained from Messrs. Arthur Guinness and £52,000 from the Board's own Superannuation Funds, the balance being provided by the State.

Bord na Móna have already repaid to the Central Fund a sum of £554,000 in respect of assets taken over from the Turf Development Board Ltd. Repayment with interest of advances, amounting to £9,637,557 will be completed on 1st April, 1985 and repayment of the remaining advances will commence when the bogs on which the capital is being invested, come into production.

It is the policy of the Government that all bogs which are economically usable for electricity generation shall be developed and the main output of Bord na Móna is determined by the requirements of peat for this purpose. Development of a bog to the production stage requires a period of five years, more or less. Already five peat-fired electricity stations with an aggregate capacity of 185 megawatts have been commissioned. There are also four 5 megawatt stations using hand-won turf. The future programme of the Electricity Supply Board provides for the commissioning of additional peat-fired plant to a total capacity of 242.5 megawatts by 1968/69. On the completion of this programme a total of 447.5 megawatts of generating plant will be peat-fired.

At the 31st March, 1961, peat-fired stations represented 205 megawatts of the total generating capacity of 723.5 megawatts, that is to say about 28%. In the year ended 31st March, 1961, 80% of electricity generated came from native resources and just over 40% of this native production came from peat-fired stations.

The programme of peat-fired generating plant which I have outlined extends to 1968/69 and represents the maximum foreseeable bog development for electricity generation. Thereafter peat-fired generation capacity will represent a gradually diminishing proportion of total capacity.

To meet the requirements of the electricity generating plant construction programme up to 1968/69, Bord na Móna are developing or will develop additional areas of bog in the Boora, Derrygreenagh, Bangor-Erris, Garryduff and Longford groups. The Blackwater bog, which has been reserved for the nitrogenous fertiliser project, is now available to provide the milled peat for a 40 megawatt station planned for Shannonbridge in 1964/65. The bog development programme provides, ultimately, for an annual production for electricity generation of 580,000 tons of sod peat and 2,500,000 tons of milled peat. In addition to their output for electricity generation Bord na Móna also produced some 320,000 tons of sod peat for general consumption. Other aspects of their activities are the production of peat briquettes for domestic and industrial consumption and peat moss. Capacity for briquettes is 250,000 tons per annum requiring 750,000 tons of milled peat. The annual production of peat moss is at present about 250,000 bales, mostly for export. The number of persons employed by the Board, in all grades, amounts to about 7,000 at peak.

The present statutory limit of £19,000,000 on the total amount which the Board may borrow for the performance of their functions (exclusive of the housing of their workers) was intended to cover the requirements of the Board up to 1960/61 and the need for further provision in 1961/62 was foreseen when the limit of £19,000,000 was fixed by the Turf Development Act, 1959. It is estimated that the completion of the development programme will necessitate additional expenditure amounting to about £8,000,000 bringing the total up to about £27,000,000. The present Bill proposes an increase in the statutory limit of £5,000,000 bringing it up to £24,000,000. This increase should enable the Board to meet their requirements until about 1964/65 and at that time the House will have a further opportunity to consider the position.

The opportunity of this Bill is being taken to effect the amendment in the law relating to the tenancy of the houses built by Bord na Móna under the power conferred on them by Section 5 of the Turf Development Act, 1950. That Section permits the Board to let these houses only to their servants. Houses become temporarily vacant when a tenant leaves the employment of the Board. Suitable tenants from among the Board's workers may not immediately apply for the tenancies and houses may therefore be vacant for long periods. This is clearly undesirable and accordingly it is proposed by Section 3 (2) of this Bill to give the Board power to let vacant houses to persons who would not ordinarily qualify for tenancies. To give the Board a wider field from which to obtain suitable occupiers it is proposed to relax the restrictions confining tenancies to servants of the Board. The Board of course will only make such lettings in cases where they are satisfied that the houses would otherwise remain vacant for extended periods. The Bill also provides that the Board may sell houses which may eventually be found to be permanently surplus to their requirements. Any such houses would be sold by public tender.

I recommend the Bill for the approval of the House. Bord na Móna, management and workers, are to be congratulated on their successful progress in carrying out the novel task assigned to them by the Oireachtas and the Bill will facilitate further development on approved lines.

There is a fair measure of agreement with regard to the desirability of developing our peat resources and even about the methods adopted to develop them. This Bill, naturally, would not be opposed in the ordinary way but at a different season of the year, it could give rise to a discussion on the operations of Bord na Móna generally. I hasten to assure the House and the Minister that I have no intention of initiating any such discussion.

The Minister gave a number of figures. I am not very good about them. I have been so interested for some time past in the quota of panels for the Seanad that I am afraid I am not yet, in this particular year, able to discuss any other kind of figure. Therefore, the Minister, having been astonished at the progress made so far, may meet with still further astonishment in the progress of this Bill as far as I am concerned.

The season of the year, and the fact that Senators are recovering from the campaign, and so on, makes everybody so nice to everybody else and enables Bills to pass with rapidity. The Minister knows that on occasions the Seanad itself can be most contraptious and rather delaying. However, for the moment, I think this Bill is one to which nobody could take exception, either in regard to the increase in capital for Bord na Móna or to the provision that in particular circumstances they should be able to let the houses in the way which it seems fit to them to do so. I am, therefore, in complete agreement with the Bill.

I do not think Senator Hayes had much worry about decimals when it came to the count in the Seanad election. People like us had more trouble about decimals.

One very welcome aspect of this Bill is the right given to the Board to sell or let under Section 3 (1) (2). That was long overdue. We had and still have cases in our part of the country of fifty houses vacant and no workers to go into them. It is well that the Minister has incorporated that section in the Bill. In future, he should not allow large groups of houses to be built in rural areas. One hundred houses in one place such as Rochfort Bridge was altogether too much. They should have been scattered into surrounding villages, some in Rhode, some in Miltownpass and some in Rochfort Bridge. There is the difficulty of sites, and so on, but if that had been done, the houses would have been occupied.

The ordinary rural worker does not like to go where there are large groups of houses. That is why so many of the houses are unoccupied. This move to allow the Board to let these houses is good. It could solve a problem for the local authority, too, and save quite an amount of money by allowing people in need of houses to take these houses, if they are not required by the Board. I welcome that section of the Bill. It is also to be welcomed from the point of view that if a worker does not want to work with the Board any longer, or if he is dismissed for one reason or another, he can remain in his house and get alternative employment. That was not the case up to now. Despite the fact that fifty houses were idle, there were people who had to leave their houses because they were not in the employment of the Board. I welcome the Bill if only from that point of view.

We all join in welcoming this Bill, expanding, as it does, the capital available to Bord na Móna. It is a pity we are not availing of this opportunity to have a full-scale debate on the various aspects of Bord na Móna activities. However, I shall not precipitate that now. In any case, we get a great deal of very useful information on the activities of Bord na Móna in their excellent report, the last one of which was issued two or three months ago.

What is really striking about the activities of Bord na Móna is the great success we can claim to have made of this unique form of energy development. In the development of turf, we hold a very high place in the world. We have developed techniques, and so on, that have been copied in other countries. A great deal of the credit for that must go to the Irish engineering staff who pioneered this work under very difficult field circumstances. We can take courage from their success and look with confidence to tackling many even bigger projects in what we hope will be the context of the Common Market in the coming years.

As the Minister indicated in the figures he gave, we are rapidly running out of native sources of energy. We are still in the fortunate position that 80 per cent. of our energy requirements are met from native sources and, of these, turf provides almost 40 per cent. That percentage will hold probably to the end of this decade. The proposals before us call for little more than doubling the present output from turf, an increase from 200 megawatts to 447 megawatts. After that, we shall have reached the stage when we must look much further afield.

Unless we are exceptionally successful in striking oil in our explorations, we shall be forced very rapidly into the nuclear energy field. We should devote great study to that matter in the coming few years so as to get into it as early as possible and, above all, to explore the possibilities of linking up with the Continent of Europe in the production of electricity from nuclear sources. It is quite feasible now to transmit electricity over the intervening gaps and to connect fully with the European network. I know from very prominent engineers in England and on the Continent that this country is considered an ideal site for some of the huge nuclear power stations that will be necessary in the future, stations on such a vast scale that we could not possibly contemplate using all the energy they would produce. Neither could we face the enormous capital cost required to set up such stations. However, in union with other countries, especially in the Common Market development, we should be able to utilise this, another of our untapped national resources, namely, space and suitable circumstances for siting nuclear power stations in some of our less populated areas.

I congratulate Bord na Móna and their engineers and administrators in general on their great success and on the headline they have set for developing to the full a native resource.

I wish to join with Senators who have welcomed this measure and, as one with some personal experience of the administration of Bord na Móna, I should like to avail of this opportunity also to convey to the Board through the Minister my appreciation of the courtesy and understanding extended to me at all times.

It is an easy task for any Minister to introduce a Bill of this kind to increase the financial accommodation for a Government organisation when the record of that organisation is that it has always repaid fully any advances made to it. What is not generally realised in this country is that Bord na Móna is the one organisation— perhaps, one of the few, if not the only one—that has repaid every penny of the advances made to it for development purposes ever since turf development was sponsored by the Government some 25 years ago. The organisation is one of the most solvent in the State and appears to be able to make any scheme entirely successful.

Since the Minister is present, there is one observation I should like to make in connection with the manufacture of briquettes for which there is a growing demand. Up to this, Bord na Móna seems to have confined its briquette manufacturing activities to the midlands. That means that consumers, in southern counties particularly, because of the distances involved, have to pay a price for those briquettes which is considered a bit high. With such an improving demand for this type of fuel and with the possibility that this demand will continue to increase, I feel the Board might reasonably site some of the future briquette manufacturing development in the southern area. I appeal to the Minister to convey my views in this connection to the Board in the hope that they will give this aspect of the matter very early consideration.

Not only would such a move save transport costs, but I think the necessity for the Board to decentralise its activities in all fields is apparent. They have done so in the case of milled peat, and more particularly in the case of sod peat and it is desirable, in view of the success of the new type of fuel, that it should be done in regard to briquettes also. I understand from people competent to give an opinion that there are suitable bogs in Munster particularly, and in the western area also. Those bogs should be developed and there should be at least one manufacturing unit for briquettes in every province. I should like the Minister to convey those views to the Board, now that he is giving the Board increased accommodation to enable them to proceed with their development plans.

I should like to raise one small difficulty on this Bill. The difficulty is this, and I think it counts: in smallish suburban houses, or houses with narrow chimney flues, the deposit from turf is such as to cause very dangerous chimney fires. As the Minister well knows—and I imagine most of us know—a kind of tarry deposit coats the chimney and gradually becomes thicker. Ordinary sweeping will not remove it. I have personally suffered from three rather serious chimney fires on that account. I am rather afraid that my insurance company will take action if I have another and so I have been compelled, very much against my will, to burn coal at the present time.

I am asking the Minister has research been done on this, I think, very considerable problem and, if research has not been done, would he instigate research along these lines? To my mind, our native turf is the pleasantest and most economic fuel one could buy in this country for most of the winter. In the colder days I think many of us need coal, wood or something of that kind. Personally I regret that I cannot—dare not—use turf in my fire for fear of another conflagration of that kind. I urge the Minister to look into this matter.

I am quite certain that thousands more tons of turf would be sold in the cities if we could be sure of some way of getting rid of this very dangerous tarry deposit which causes these frightfully dangerous fires. They are not like ordinary soot fires; I have had the whole chimney wall opening up as a result of the tremendous heat engendered. I hope the Minister will either suggest something here or see that someone else suggests means of dealing with this handicap to our native fuel.

I should like to refer to Section 3 of the Bill which gives the Board power to sell or let houses. The necessity for this section seems to suggest to me that too many houses have been built. That may be inevitable—I do not know. There may be a surplus of houses due to the fact that workers have moved or have been transferred from one bog to another. But it is about the future that I am concerned now. If it is inevitable that houses become vacant in certain areas from time to time and those houses will have to be let or sold, I think more consideration should be given to the siting of these houses when they are being built.

If, as the previous speaker said, they are built in groups of 100 or more houses together I fear that when these houses are put up for sale it will be extremely hard to find purchasers for them at anything like a price which bears a proper relation to the cost of building the houses or to find tenants for them at economic rents. There is a lot to be said against building these houses in groups of 100 or more if that is being done—I do not know; I do not come from a Bord na Móna area. I would strongly favour or suggest to the Board that they should consider building houses in small groups in adjoining villages as has been previously suggested. Then, if it is necessary to sell them it will be much easier to find a purchaser at a reasonable price or a tenant at a reasonable rent.

An alternative—I do not know whether it is feasible; some of the architects, engineers or people in the building trade would be in a better position to say—is for the Board to consider building temporary houses, houses that could be dismantled and moved about. That may not be possible but I suggest it is worth considering.

One small point occurs to me in connection with the letting of houses. I take it that Bord na Móna would take adequate precautions to ensure that a temporary tenant would not impede in any way the incoming of a genuine Bord na Móna employee at a later date. With regard to the point made by Senator McAuliffe, if a person occupied one of these houses at an advantageous rent as an employee of Bord na Móna and left that employment for a more highly paid job somewhere adjacent, would it then be possible for him to stay on in the Bord na Móna house, enjoying a higher income from some other employment together with this advantageous rent fixed when he went into the house as an employee of Bord na Móna? These are matters to which attention should be paid. They arise really on the administrative side of this section.

I shall deal with the section on housing first. As I understand, it is not the intention of Bord na Móna to build any new houses at the moment. With regard to the point raised by Senator Lindsay, the Senator will know that one of the few ways in which a landlord can procure possession of his house is where a landlord requires the house from a tenant who is not in his employment for a tenant who is in his employment. I do not know whether that would apply in the case cited by the Senator. I think it probably would. In any event, the Senator's point will be brought to the attention of Bord na Móna. I understand that houses will not be let to non-employees unless Bord na Móna are satisfied that the houses will not be required for the use of its employees.

With regard to Senator Moloney's suggestion that the next briquette station, if and when established, should be located somewhere in the south, first of all the establishment of any new factory will depend on the present sales promotion operation of the Board essential to establish whether or not a new briquette factory would be justified. The location of the factory must depend on the suitability of the bog. Generally speaking it has been found that bogs of the type suitable for economic briquette production are not easily available in the south. The big bogs in the midlands are the most suitable for turf production for briquette manufacture.

With regard to the point made by Senator Stanford, I think his chimney fire must have occurred several years ago. The complaint to which he refers was probably a feature of the burning of turf during the emergency years when some of the turf—too much of the turf—was wet.

In point of fact it was a good deal more recent than that. It was about five years ago.

I believe what the Senator complains about was a feature of that period but, since the briquette stations were set up, it has been found that sooting inside chimneys has not been a feature of turf burning. I understand Bord na Móna have not received any complaints. I have used turf briquettes and I have no complaints from the person I employ to sweep my chimneys.

Would the Minister undertake to indemnify people against the insurance company's claim?

With regard to Senator Quinlan's point as to the possibility of our having to find another form of energy for power purposes in the future, the Department has carried out a study and it might be of interest to the House if I give the results of that study briefly to the House.

In a nuclear power station, the capital costs are very high and for economic production of electricity, and other technical reasons, they must operate on base load. This means that once a nuclear station is commissioned, it must be possible to keep it on high load continuously day and night. In this country hydro power, when adequate water is available, must get first priority on night running; second priority must be given to peat fired stations, if this is necessary to use the full quantity of peat produced. On this basis, a nuclear power station would, therefore, not be commissioned in this country until the load grows to a point where a nuclear station of the minimum economic size could be given continuous night running of reasonable magnitude together with full load day operation. Even when that stage is reached, the choice of a nuclear station as against a conventional thermal station would still depend on the relative economics of the two types of station.

At present, conventional thermal stations can produce electricity at a lower cost than nuclear stations. The economics of electricity generating stations improve as the size of the generating units increases. Nuclear stations with a capacity of 500 megawatts and over are now being planned and present forecasts are that with continuous operation of these larger units the costs of production would come level with existing costs for conventional thermal stations. Corresponding increases in the size of generating units of conventional thermal stations may, however, alter this forecast in favour of these stations. In the absence, however, of very marked improvement in design, and with lower capital and operating costs of smaller nuclear stations of, say, the order of 100 megawatts, it is not at present foreseen that these stations can come lower than conventional thermal stations of the same size in the cost per unit produced.

It can be expected that it will be well on in the 1970s before the load in this country will have increased to a point where an additional 100 megawatts of 24-hour base load could be accommodated within the framework of the present policy in relation to hydro and peat production.

I must confess the full implications of that study are not obvious to me, but they may be to Senator Quinlan.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining stages today.
Bill considered in Committee.
SECTION 1.
Question proposed: "That Section 1 stand part of the Bill."

Might I clarify the point I made? There is a fairly widespread belief that if one burns turf in a firegrate which has a narrow chimney flue, the flue gradually becomes clogged with a tarry deposit which eventually catches fire. That fire burns at a very high heat. I know from personal experience that the heat generated is capable of splitting the wall on both the ground floor and the floor above. I want to help Bord na Móna to sell turf but I know that there is this widespread belief that there is a danger of one's chimney catching fire. I suggest to the Minister that it might be worth Bord na Móna while to consider this complaint, conduct experiments, and give us a scientific statement on the results. The Minister for Industry and Commerce suggested this complaint was not well founded and that it was true only of the emergency period when turf was damp and not so well harvested.

I can only repeat that there are still a good many people who are very eager to burn turf in their fires but who are afraid to do so on this account. I can assure the Minister that it is quite an alarming thing when one's chimney goes on fire. The roar is frightening. I have stood out on the road wringing my hands waiting for the fire brigade to come and it is not a pleasant experience. I do not want a repetition of it; I am not prepared to take the risk of a repetition of it. I would ask the Minister to request the Board to look into the matter and give us an answer. If the answer is favourable, I guarantee to burn turf for most of the winter during the rest of my life.

I should like to support Senator Stanford in this. At the moment I am waiting to have my chimney rebuilt. I burn briquettes all the year round. As Senator Stanford said, the chimney goes up in flames most unexpectedly. It really is a shocking experience to listen to the roar of the fire. The heat is terrific and one has to take down the pictures and mirrors; otherwise they would be absolutely destroyed. This is my second experience of turf having caused the chimney to go on fire.

There is a real danger for people who might have an ever-burning grate. They might be out when the chimney went on fire. Anything can happen to the rest of the house and there is always the danger that the insurance company may not be so pleasant about the matter.

The Board should be asked to get their scientific people to look into the matter and see if there is anything that can be put into the briquettes or which can be used with the turf to reduce the ferocity of the fire that occurs. The previous speaker said his chimney went on fire. He did not have any complaint from his chimney cleaner, but I did. I should like to support Senator Stanford in this. There is a great danger to the rest of the premises when the chimney goes on fire. At the moment you could put your finger into the crack which occurred in my own home. It is the second occasion on which this has happened.

First of all, I owe an apology to you, Sir, and to the House. I should explain that I was given the usual Ministerial forecasts in regard to the rate at which business progresses. I was told that there would be preliminary proceedings and bearing in mind the discussion that took place on one of the Bills which came before my Bill in the Dáil, I was assured that I would be absolutely safe in not coming to this House before a quarter to five. I offer the House my most humble apologies. It is the first time in the history of the Oireachtas this has happened to me. I am very sorry, particularly in connection with this Bill which is so important to the nation. I am very glad that the Minister for Industry and Commerce was well aware of turf development and able to take my place.

In regard to the chimney trouble, I can say, first of all, that the sales of briquettes are mounting and mounting every year. Last year, they were utterly unable to supply the demand. This year they are going to produce 250,000 tons. A lively demand is there. In the eastern counties of Ireland, they found that 41 per cent. of all the households were using turf briquettes in one form or another sometime or other in the year for wholly turf-fired purposes.

They also found in the course of their inquiries that it was the woman of the house who largely chose the domestic fuel. It is true that there is still some trouble with turf fires but all the information I have had over the past two years goes to show that the complaints are diminishing. The quality of the briquettes in particular has improved. The various types of stove which have been specially manufactured to use briquettes and turf or which can be adapted for the better usage of turf and briquettes, have apparently in their effects caused a form of ignition resulting in the burning of turf in a satisfactory way so that the number of fires have markedly diminished.

Research on that matter is continuing. It is part of the work of the Bord na Móna research board. There again I must say that the complaints have very greatly diminished. The sales of briquettes multiply each year. When the question of hand-won turf and fires caused by the burning of hand-won turf arises, that does not come under this Bill. I have no knowledge of it.

I should like to urge the Minister to suggest to the Board that they bring out a leaflet on this. I am very grateful that the sales of briquettes are growing rapidly. I should like to be certain that I could buy them myself under the new conditions. It is a little striking that out of 60 members of this House, two in fairly recent years experienced fires on account of the burning of turf. I should like a statement from the Board explaining the scientific cause of the fires and why we have this particular kind of deposit in the chimney.

On a previous occasion in this House, we had a Senator protesting against Irish manufactured shoes because his shoes were leaking.

Did the Senator say "a Senator" or "the Senator?"

I said a Senator.

I thought it was "the".

As one who has used turf since 1932, I cannot see that there is any force in the argument which the Senator puts up. If you keep a chimney cleaned, it will not take fire. It is at the base of the chimney that the ignition takes place. If you have soot in the chimney, you will have a fire, no matter what you burn. So far as cities are concerned, fires have taken place long before they used any turf and we had not these complaints. If chimneys are not kept clean, you will have a fire. Fire will occur through the accumulation of soot, whether from turf or coal. It occurs at the base of the chimney. Otherwise, you will not have a fire.

If one looks up the chimney in a country house where various things are burned, especially wood, you will see the glutinous tarry surface coming down. There will be some of that in every chimney, but it is so far up that unless you burn a whole lot of furze or papers, the chimney will not catch fire. I seriously suggest that the Senator is making too much out of this. We have had fires long before turf was burned. It is easy enough for a chimney sweep to say "turf". You have a lot of that sort of thing in relation to Irish boots and blaming our own.

The last speaker accuses two of his colleagues of not sweeping their chimneys. I am not trying to depreciate turf. I have the highest admiration for it. I can assure the Senator that he is wrong. I had my chimney swept. It was not successful. I am sure that Senator Miss Davidson would say the same.

Quite the same.

I want to refer to the reply of the Minister for Industry and Commerce to my query on this section in relation to the utilisation of nuclear power in the future. The main objection in the document was the difficulty of getting the base load. The base load is largely supplied by means of water power. Things will change rapidly in future. If we could get a link up in the European network, it would mean that we would be selling the base load to Europe or, alternatively, the question of pump storage is being actively explored at the moment and that may be another solution. I suggest that the economics of conventional power production and nuclear power production are likely to change rapidly within the next decade. Consequently, the Minister will want to keep a sharp look out to see that we do not go on building conventional power stations for longer than economics demand.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 2 to 4, inclusive, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment.
Bill received for final consideration and passed.