I welcome the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, to the House.
Vol. 185 No. 13
I welcome the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, to the House.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 5, subsection (1), line 25, after "Energy" to insert "Regulation".
While I can understand the reason for Senator Finucane's proposal, I do not think he has proposed the best means of executing his intention. The Short Title of the Bill is simply a shorthand reference to it. The real name of the Bill is contained in the Long Title, which was changed during the Bill's progression through the Dáil. There is a precedent for this in the Energy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1995, which contains a number of provisions outside the scope of energy matters, including the payment of debts by Bord na Móna. There is a further precedent in the Maritime Safety Act 2005, which amends the landlord and tenant legislation. In both cases, the additional matters covered in the Bill are referred to in the Long Titles of the Acts. Senator Finucane's proposal is unnecessary because the Long Title of the Bill covers the matters in question — it is not necessary to mention them in the Short Title.
As amendments Nos. 2, 3, 5, 6, 22, 26, 27, 29 to 33, inclusive, 35, 40 to 42, inclusive, and 44 are related, they may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 5, subsection (2), line 31, to delete "provisions" and substitute "provisions, subject to Oireachtas approval".
Having discussed this matter with my colleagues, I have decided not to pursue the amendments in this group. I understand that the Minister gave a satisfactory response when the amendments were considered in the other House.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 6, line 35, after "Commission" to insert the following:
"or from the Commission on the Direction of the Minister".
I do not propose to accept this amendment because the directions of the commission referred to in the proposed new section 9B(3)(b) of the 1999 Act relate to the operation and management of the single electricity market and some other day-to-day matters, including the power to direct the transmission system operator to undertake specific expenditure on the single electricity market. The directions in question also include directions aimed at resolving disputes between the transmission system operator and other persons, directions relating to transmission planning matters and directions concerning the infrastructure agreement with the transmission system operator. The Oireachtas has already decided that the regulator is responsible for all of those matters.
The Minister has no role in such day-to-day market operational issues. Therefore, this amendment is inappropriate and unnecessary. In some instances, it would mean that the Minister would have to try to run the electricity system. I would pass on that one, with all due respect to my enormous capabilities.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 7, line 21, after "seas" to insert "as specified in the Schedule".
I am advised that the island of Ireland, which Senator Finucane is concerned to define in this section, is defined in section 3 in the context of and for the sole purposes of the regulation of an all-island wholesale electricity market, as set out in the Long Title and as prescribed in section 3(6). It is not defined for any other purposes. It is a very specific definition. It is drafted in such a specific way to ensure that in developing the all-island electricity market, account is taken of all the islands within Irish jurisdiction. As the definition is provided solely for the purposes of this section, it could never be invoked in relation to other matters such as mineral exploration rights and fisheries. A more detailed definition of Irish seas is not necessary for the specific purposes of this legislation. It is specific to this legislation. It cannot be used in any other legislation and, therefore, it would not be right to amend it as it stands.
I presume the Minister would never consider it in the context of legislation that might be required to deal with a controversy like Rockall.
Amendments Nos. 8 and 9 are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 7, line 39, after "services" to insert "affecting other forms of home heating".
I accept the reasoning behind the amendments. Senator Finucane is trying to achieve as wide a coverage as possible but the wording of the amendment is unnecessarily restrictive in that it appears to seek to confine energy efficiency services to other forms of home heating only.
The term "as may, from time to time, be determined by the Minister" in amendment No. 9 is superfluous because the term used in subsection (e) is all-embracing. What the Senator is trying to achieve is more properly achieved in the Bill as outlined.
Amendment No. 10 is in the name of Senator Finucane. Amendments Nos. 10 and 13 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 12, line 19, after "contractor" to insert "and individual".
This amendment is not appropriate because the appeal relates to the decision to suspend or revoke a registered electrical contractor. The registered electrical contractor, therefore, must be informed of the decision of the Commission for Energy Regulation and not any other individual.
Amendment No. 12 is not necessary because any decision of CER regarding an individual decision of a designated body will take into consideration the circumstances involved. The current wording will cover what the Senator is trying to achieve in his amendment. The Senator might want certainty in that regard but it is covered in the section as stands.
Amendments Nos. 14 and 15 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 13, line 45, to delete "inspection" and substitute the following:
"inspection, within a reasonable time and taking the circumstances into account,".
The current wording already addresses the proposals. I accept the Senator was probably trying to ensure certainty but the legal people tell me the current wording addresses the proposals and that the amendments are not necessary.
I move amendment No. 18:
In page 14, line 16, after "maintained," to insert the following:
(c) a standard checklist,”.
What the Senator is trying to achieve in this amendment will be in place. The various procedures to be followed by registered electrical contractors will be specified in detail in the criteria document the Commission for Energy Regulation will be obliged to prepare. What the Senator is trying to achieve, therefore, is already catered for in the Bill. The CER, which is an independent body, will prepare that list.
Will it be prepared when the legislation is passed?
Amendment No. 20 is in the name of Senator Finucane. Amendments Nos. 20, 21 and 45 to 48, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 20:
In page 15, line 48, to delete "€5,000" and substitute "€8,000".
The advice from the Attorney General's office is that the €5,000 fine is the standard maximum allowed in this case, although the maximum can be updated from time to time. It is for the courts to determine the actual amount of the fine subject to the maximum amount.
Regarding the €15,000 fine, it is appropriate given the characteristics and the gravity of the offences involved. On that basis I ask the Senator to withdraw the amendment.
I accept what the Minister has said and will withdraw the amendment.
Amendment No. 23 is a Government amendment. Amendments Nos. 23, 24 and 51 are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Some of these amendments are technical in their appearance. They were drafted on foot of consultations with the Parliamentary Counsel's office. There is no policy change regarding the sections but they are proposed to clarify some of the provisions. On the advice of the Parliamentary Counsel, amendments Nos. 23 and 34 amend the wording slightly regarding the green and combined heat and power, CHP, licences to provide more clarity to the text. The purpose of the provisions is to ensure that CER has sufficient flexibility in providing for trading arrangements for green and CHP licence holders. The original text contained a slight ambiguity regarding the purchase of electricity generated from CHP and renewable, sustainable or alternative forms of energy. The new text removes that ambiguity and makes it clear trading can take place.
Amendment No. 51 replaces the formula used for calculating the relative amount of primary energy savings provided by combined heat and power production as it was identified that it must be updated for clarity and consistency with the relevant European Union directive from which it is derived. The formula is outlined.
I accept what the Minister has said.
Would the Minister like to take us through the formula?
I move amendment No. 28:
In page 23, line 20, after "plan" to insert "following a competitive tender process".
The issue of competitive tendering seeks to remove the option of the CER securing the construction of an interconnector by any means other than a competitive tender. I fully understand the reason the Senator tabled this amendment but I assure him that a competitive tender is the preferred option. It is difficult to envisage a situation where a tender process would not be put in place for an interconnector. I am advised that it should not be the only means open to the CER to secure the construction of an interconnector in case an emergency or a matter of urgency arose and the CER needed a number of options.
With regard to the Senator's concern for tabling this amendment, namely, that an interconnector would be constructed and it would be simply a matter of the CER selecting a contractor, that is not what is intended. It is not proposed to amend the provision. Where an interconnector is part of the Irish transmission system and owned by the ESB, it would fall to the ESB to procure or carry out the works to construct it. That is what we are trying to cover in this section. If the ESB had responsibility for a North-South interconnector and it procured it, it would be subject to the normal procedures for State and semi-State companies applying to EU procurement rules. I am advised that the wording must be as it stands to allow for that. The only other circumstances that come to mind where shortcuts might be taken in securing the construction of an interconnector would be in an emergency situation but again public procurement rules would apply in such a case.
There has been much talk about interconnectors but who would be the eventual owner of such an interconnector?
With regard to a North-South interconnector, as it would be part of the transmission system in this country, our side of the Border would be owned by the ESB. With regard to an East-West interconnector, the Government has decided it would be owned by EirGrid, the independent transmissions systems operator.
Amendments Nos. 34, 36, 38 and 39 are related, amendment No. 37 is an alternative to amendment No. 36, therefore, amendments Nos. 34, 36 to 39, inclusive, may be discussed together by agreement.
I am not sure if the Acting Chairman said that Opposition amendment No. 37 is included in this grouping. Is it included?
Government amendments Nos. 34, 36, 38 and 39 are consequential on my acceptance on Report Stage in the Dáil of an Opposition amendment to provide for a rotating chairperson for the Commission for Energy Regulation. I accepted the argument that it is a useful mechanism to allow greater flexibility in the CER decision-making processes and it is consistent with the arrangements currently in place for the chairperson of ComReg.
The text of the Opposition amendment allowed me, as Minister, by direction, to provide for a rotating chair. I accepted the amendment on the floor of the other House but the Parliamentary Counsel indicated that the wording of it is not consistent with the provisions for the Minister to appoint a chairperson. We decided to bring this legislation in line with the legislative and administrative arrangements for the appointment of the ComReg chairperson. ComReg legislation does not specifically provide for a rotating chair, instead it allows for greater flexibility for the Minister to appoint the chairperson and rotate the position as appropriate.
The Electricity Regulation Act 1999 provides for a chairperson of the CER to be appointed for a minimum of three years and a maximum of five years. That is inconsistent with the concept of a rotating chair. The minimum and maximum terms are removed by amendment No. 34. The term of office will be determined when appointing a chairperson. In the case of ComReg, we have allowed everybody to have his or her turn in one-year chairmanships and we reached the point where we are appointing individuals for two years.
In order to provide greater flexibility for the Minister in appointing a chairperson and to provide for internal consistency with the 1999 Act as well as consistency with the underpinning legislation for ComReg, amendments Nos. 36 and 38 delete the amendment which would have required me, as Minister, to make a direction in order to rotate the chair. The chair may now be rotated simply through the terms and conditions of appointment. The 1999 Act states that a commissioner may serve a maximum of two terms of office but amendment No. 39 makes minor changes to the text to clarify that this is a maximum of two terms as a member of the CER rather than as chairperson for the CER.
The Opposition amendment No. 37 is not acceptable on the basis that it is much too detailed for primary legislation. It is an administrative matter for the CER to deal with in terms of its own procedures.
I move amendment No. 43:
In page 28, between lines 38 and 39, to insert the following:
"A9F.—It shall be a function of the commission to establish standards of training of heating and plumbing contractors in relation to the safety of home heating and plumbing installations.".
I cannot accept this amendment because through its gas technical standards committee, the National Standards Authority of Ireland established the Irish technical standards and code of practice for the safe transmission, distribution and utilisation of natural gas. These standards are based on international best practice in the sector. They underpin the content for the training syllabi for the gas installers. Sustainable Energy Ireland has programmes to promote improved training of central heating installers, with a particular emphasis on energy efficient technologies. The scope of the Senator's amendment is far too narrow and the Bill is much wider than that. The proposed additional functions of the commission on downstream natural gas safety, including the regulation and certification of installers and the proposed regulatory framework, are set out in section 12.
I accept the Minister's reassurance and he has certainly gone to great detail to improve standards. He would have been concerned about what happened in the past regarding fatalities in this area. I accept that he has tightened it up considerably, so I will withdraw the amendment.
I thank the Minister for coming to the House this morning and the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, for being in the House when we discussed the Bill the last day. I thank Senator Finucane for his co-operation in bringing this Bill through the House so quickly.
I thank Senator Kenneally for his remarks. Energy has become so vital that the Minister now has a very important brief. This is a very important Bill for the future. The main message in the Bill is the safety factor and it will reassure many people. Therefore, I am pleased that we were able to finish it today.
I thank everybody involved in the House for their speedy consideration of this Bill. I especially thank Senator Finucane for his co-operation today. It is an important Bill and there are provisions in it which have been supported by all sides. I also thank Senator Kenneally as Acting Leader of the House, as well as the staff of the House for their assistance.