I welcome the Minister to the Chamber to discuss this very important issue. I am very concerned about the way the energy regulator is doing its business. It is not providing transparency in its decisions or reaching those decisions in a timely manner. A project which clearly illustrates the problems with the energy regulator is the proposed Mayo renewable energy project, a 45 MW high efficiency combined heat and power biomass fuelled plant to be built on the former Asahi site outside Ballina. The project lodged applications to the regulator for various consents and licences in June 2018. Previously, the project, under a different promoter, had been licensed in 2012 by the energy regulator. Unfortunately in 2016, even though the project was partially built, progress stalled due to financial difficulties. Progress stopped, but new promoters have now come on board.
The project is worth €255 million, of which €95 million has been invested to date by the new promoters who have taken an equity stake of €95 million in the project. The promoters have taken on the task of revitalising and reviving the project. The planning permission has been extended by Mayo County Council and the promoters have received renewed consent from the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, in respect of emissions. The promoters have received confirmation from ESB Networks that the grid offer remains in place and will be offered to the new company. However, the promoters have tried to deal with the energy regulator, now known as the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, but have run into a stone wall. Initially the energy regulator appointed consultants and the consultant did not want to give the project a high efficiency certificate, as had previously been given and subsequent to that the energy regulator has retained new consultants.
International consultants retained by the new promoters have certified that no material change has been made to the project since it was initially certified in 2012. Equally to my knowledge, there has been no change in legislation. I am very concerned that there will be a repeat of what happened when Apple proposed to build a data centre in Athenry.
The project is a golden opportunity for north Mayo and key to developing our national policy objectives, such as renewable heat and energy, to which I know the Minister is very committed. It is also tied in with the development of a data centre on the same site, which requires a renewable energy project to be co-located with it. This critical project has been stalled.
I believe that under the process being pursued by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, the promoters should be entitled to know what the problem is and the reason for such delays when there has been no material change in the projects and why a second set of consultants had to be retained.
Second, in respect of the legislation covering the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, I believe there should be a time limit placed in legislation upon the regulator wherein it must give a decision. As the Minister knows, time is of the essence for the development of projects, promoters and investors do not wait around and will go somewhere else. This project is commercially sensitive to time delays.
With all the resources available to the energy regulator, why is it outsourcing the evaluation of the project to another set of consultants? All this is taking time, when we have a project that is time sensitive. As I have said, we have seen what happened in Athenry. The whole community was devastated by the outcome of the delay in giving a decision of consent to Apple and ultimately because it took so long to do so, Apple pulled out.
There are commercial realities. There are climate change objectives and objectives for the development of the site. This site is in a peripheral area where it is hard to attract investment and growth. This project offers a golden opportunity and I do not believe the energy regulator has dealt with these investors in a fair way. I do not believe it is fair from all the view points I have set out to the Minister and believe it should be prescribed in legislation that the regulator should make a decision within a certain period. When Deputy Bruton was Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, one of the directives that came from his Department and the Taoiseach of the day was that all Government agencies dealing with commercial projects should deal with them in a time-sensitive way and this clearly has not happened in this case. The other three agencies have given consent, but the regulator has not. Is this rocket science? Why is there no transparency? Why should I and any ordinary person not know what is happening in respect of a project which is of such critical importance in the area?
I look forward to the Minister's response.