Vote 29 - Environment, Climate and Communications (Revised)

This meeting has been convened to consider the Revised Estimates for Vote 29, excluding programme A, which relates to communications and comes under the remit of the Select Committee on Transport and Communications Networks. It will be considered by that committee.

I welcome the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and his officials. I thank the officials for providing the briefing for members. The proposed format of today's meeting is that we will deal with Vote 29, programme by programme. At the outset the Minister will make an opening statement. There are five programmes and we will consider each of them separately, with questions from members.

Before proceeding, I remind members that their mobile telephones should be switched off completely for the duration of the meeting, as they cause interference with the recording equipment in committee rooms even if on silent mode.

Regarding privilege, members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I invite the Minister to make his opening statement.

I welcome the opportunity to meet the select committee today to discuss the 2020 Estimates for the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications. I am accompanied by Ms Patricia Cronin, assistant secretary with responsibility for governance and operations in the Department. The total provision for the Department in 2020 is €541.5 million, comprising €404.8 million capital, inclusive of €27.3 million in capital carryover from last year, and €136.7 million for current spending. Being before the committee at this time of the year to give a presentation on the 2020 Revised Estimates is unusual.

This time last year, the budget was framed to progress some key projects and policy objectives. These span a number of areas of strategic national importance and encompass climate action, energy efficiency, communications, the environment, natural resources, waste management and inland fisheries. In looking at each of the programme areas in detail, I will highlight some of the key areas. Programme A, communications, was considered yesterday by the Select Committee on Transport and Communications Networks, so I will start with the energy area.

Programme B in energy aims to deliver energy-efficiency measures across the residential, public and business sectors. This year the programme provides €12.2 million to cover the operational costs of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, and €137.2 million to fund expanded sustainable energy programmes. The focus this year was on the achievement of targets in the areas of energy efficiency and renewable energy, as well as the continued incentivisation of the uptake of electric vehicles to support further the transition to a sustainable future. Funding for the sustainable energy programmes includes: the better energy warmer homes scheme, to deliver a range of energy-efficiency measures free of charge to low income households; the better energy homes scheme for homeowners, to provide grants towards a range of energy-efficiency measures; better energy communities programme, to encourage community partnerships to improve the thermal and electrical efficiency of the building stock in energy poor homes; targeted interventions in the commercial and public sectors, to deliver significant energy efficiency and energy savings while reducing our dependence on imported fossil fuels; and grant funding to incentivise the purchase of new electric vehicles, support the installation of home charge points and the provision of on-street public chargers. The programme also includes investment of €10.7 million for energy research, include applied energy research and demonstration projects aimed to accelerate diversification away from fossil fuels to green energy.

The aim of programme C, natural resources, is to manage Ireland's mineral, hydrocarbon and other geological resources in a sustainable and productive manner. Funding under this programme allows the Department to provide reliable geoscience support for environmental protection and the sustainable development of Ireland's natural resources, and to address the health and safety implications of certain historical mining sites. The programme includes an allocation of just over €11.6 million for Geological Survey Ireland services, including €7 million for the Tellus and INFOMAR mapping projects. The Tellus mapping project consists of airborne, geophysical measurements and ground geochemical sampling. Data from the project will allow for improvement in geological maps and will facilitate better land use, planning and research. The INFOMAR project is Ireland's national seabed survey and is managed by Geological Survey Ireland in co-operation with the Marine Institute. Under the groundwater programme, the Geological Survey Ireland national network of turlough flood level gauges will provide enhanced data and models on turlough flooding to the Office of Public Works, OPW, and local authorities. A sum of €5 million is provided for mining services, including €1.1 million for mine safety and monitoring work at the Avoca mines site.

There is also funding to develop an overall plan for the remediation of the legacy mines at Avoca and Silvermines.

Programme D covers inland fisheries. It provides grant funding to Inland Fisheries Ireland, which is responsible for the conservation, management and regulation of Ireland's inland fisheries resource. This year, Inland Fisheries Ireland has continued to deliver its licensing, permitting and enforcement responsibilities along with the rehabilitation of our rivers and streams. The national strategy for angling development will ensure that Ireland's fish stocks and angling infrastructure are protected for their economic value and recreational benefit. The inland fisheries programme includes an allocation of just under €20.3 million towards the staff costs of Inland Fisheries Ireland and the Loughs Agency. The Loughs Agency is a North-South body and is co-funded on a 50-50 basis by the Department and Northern Ireland's Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs. Also included in the programme is €13.6 million for non-pay current and capital expenditure by the two agencies.

Programme E covers environment and waste management. The purpose of the programme is to promote the protection of our natural environment, the health and well-being of our citizens and the transition to a resource-efficient circular economy in support of ecologically sustainable development, growth and jobs. The environment and waste management programme includes an allocation of €43 million towards staff costs, namely, non-pay current and the capital costs of the Environmental Protection Agency to allow it deliver on its mandate, research commitments in areas such as ambient air quality as well as the broader climate change agenda. The programme includes €11.25 million grant funding for the remediation of landfill sites. A further €1 million has been allocated for a waste management campaign to increase awareness of the necessity to minimise waste and increase recycling.

In the area of climate initiatives, an allocation of €2.5 million will fund a range of Irish academic and research institutions involved in technical research and modelling to inform policy measures. Funding of €10 million is being provided for the climate action fund to cover potential drawdowns this year by the seven projects approved for funding of up to €77 million. This support is expected to leverage total investment of €300 million in the period up to 2027. A total of €6 million is being provided for the just transition fund in 2020 to support innovative projects and the wider midlands region as it transitions away from peat.

Appropriations-in-aid are income receipts of the Department other than from the Exchequer. Receipts are in the main comprised of mining and petroleum income amounting to €8.8 million, a total of €3.7 million in pension levy and pension contributions to the Department and its agencies, and a receipt of €10 million from the energy efficiency national fund.

We will commence with questions on programme B. In posing their questions, I ask members to indicate clearly the subhead to which they are referring within the programme and to limit their questions to one subhead at a time, allowing other members with questions on that subhead to speak before moving on to another subhead. The same procedure will apply for the remaining programmes.

I want to discuss subhead B8. Will the Minister explain what it is and how the system works? Will there be fines for missing targets? How is it accounted?

The subhead is to cover failing to meet our 2020 renewable energy targets, which were set out in legislation ten years ago. Throughout Europe, 20% of all energy is to come from renewable energy. In our case, we had a legally binding target of 16%. The latest projections from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland shows that between 12.5% and 13% will come from renewables. We have a shortfall of 3% to 4%, primarily in the heat sector. The directive requires that where a state is in shortfall the balance has to be met by those countries that have exceeded their targets. Other countries have done this and the Netherlands is an example. It had to purchase credits to be in compliance. The Department is in negotiation with a number of European countries. Before the end of the year we expect to be able to cover the majority of the compliance difference through entering into an agreement with two other countries. The agreement has not yet been completed and the exact details are not fully arranged. We will spend €50 million on meeting our compliance with the directive. It shows these European directives on renewables and climate emissions have real teeth and require us to act. It is with real regret, from all concerned I am sure, that we did not spend €50 million in recent years to meet the target and instead we will have to purchase these credits on the European market, which will bring us back into compliance.

Is the amount paid relative to the degree to which the target is missed? Is there a levy per percentage?

Yes, it is per energy unit that we are short.

To whom is the debt owed? How does it work?

It is a direct payment. Certain countries will benefit. Those countries with a surplus, in other words that achieved more than what was set out in the European targets, will get a direct benefit from the Exchequer. It will bring us into compliance, and the focus must now be on meeting our climate emissions targets in the next decade so the same event does not happen again.

Is the €50 million owed now? When is it due to be paid? How will the transaction take place?

We expect to have it paid before the end of the year. There is a small additional amount that might run into next year. It depends on the final balance, namely, on what our renewables achievement is this year. It is hard to be exact. We expect a much smaller amount, perhaps single figures, next year depending on the final outcome this year. We know that at least €50 million will be the cost of what we will have to do.

Do other members have questions on programme B?

I have a question on subhead B1 and the increase in pay. Is it due to inflation, increments or has there been an increase in the number of staff in that section of the Department?

There was an increase in staff in the Department this year and there will be a significant increase next year. We need to increase the ability of our administration to deliver the targets we are setting ourselves, particularly in the area of energy. It will not just be in the Department but also in agencies such as the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, which needs a significant increase in resources to be able to meet the targets we are setting ourselves. The target of going from deep retrofitting 1,000 or 2,000 houses a year to 50,000 houses a year is no small task. Going to at least 70% renewable energy, developing 5 GW of offshore wind in the Irish Sea will be a huge challenge. It is an opportunity for the State. All of these examples and many more of the actions we will take on energy will bring huge investment and benefits to the country. It is appropriate, as the Department needs to be strengthened to be able to help deliver these. This year, compared to what is coming, it was a relatively small increase and we will see a much more significant increase next year.

What is the number in terms of headcount?

The budget increased from €4.85 million in 2019 to €5.753 million in 2020. Across the Department, an additional 31 staff were recruited, 14 of whom were in the energy section and eight in the climate section. Regarding the two other areas with a big increase in demand in the Department, seven staff were taken on in respect of the national broadband plan and two in respect of cybersecurity. The number of staff the Department took on, 31, will increase. There will be a further 50 staff recruited this year and an additional 67 in the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. Therefore, we are talking about a major ramping up of resources in the Department and relevant agencies.

We will move on to programme C.

Could the Minister give more information on the Avoca Mines site remediation allocation under subhead C4?

I remember this arising when I was in this job ten or 12 years ago. It became a significant issue in that a survey at the time showed very serious levels of poisoning and pollution from historic legacy mining in the area. If I recall correctly, the Avoca River had very high levels of cadmium, arsenic and other pollutants associated with mine sites. It was discovered that the mine shafts and other mine areas were dangerously exposed to the public. Therefore, there was genuine concern over public access to quite dangerous mine facilities. There was significant expenditure to fence off the area and on ongoing measures to restore the water quality in the Avoca River. When I became Minister again, I found it remarkable that we are spending €900,000, or effectively €1 million, making the mine safe in 2020. This just shows the extent of legacy issues when mining sites are left. The mining was primarily in the 19th century. Based on memory, I believe silver was mined. The mines were revived in the 1940s or 1950s. Again, I am working from memory. The mines were abandoned in more recent years but the legacy issues, particularly water pollution in the Avoca River, are very significant.

I am really pleased to see there will be a focus on this. Obviously, the Avoca River is an incredibly important system. As the Minister said, there are many legacy issues relating to it. There were plans for a remediation programme around 2006, I believe, but they were dropped because we hit the recession. It is good to see that progress will be made. This progress, aligned with the planned Arklow wastewater treatment plant, will certainly facilitate a renewal of the town and region. I ask, however, that the focus not be on mining issues alone; perhaps there could be a funding focus, although perhaps not through this programme, on the river itself, the biodiversity and the rewilding of the area. I can talk to the Minister about that on a future date.

On subhead C3, could the Minister indicate whether there is State-sponsored research of exploration opportunities off the coast, or is the research to better understand the coastal environment?

The companies participating in the petroleum frontier exploration licences are required under the licensing terms for offshore oil and gas exploration, development and production of 2007 to pay an annual contribution to the petroleum infrastructure fund. The expanded offshore support group is in place to support the funding of research and applied research projects that have the aim of developing knowledge of the Irish offshore with a view to assisting in promoting exploration and development activity. The fund is managed by the Department and the annual contribution to be paid by the Department to each participating company is €17,472. Contributions are lodged to the Vote as an appropriation-in-aid under subhead G3 and are paid out from subhead D3. Expenditure on this item is a technical transfer of moneys received from the industry to the fund and is Exchequer-neutral. As the Deputy knows, we are exiting from the issuing of any new licences for oil and gas exploration. We will see a gradual winding down of these activities but the fund is a legacy from the past.

On subhead C6, the answer to my question may be similar to that given to Deputy O'Rourke. I refer to the subscriptions to international organisations.

The subhead provides for Ireland's subscriptions to a range of international organisations in the natural resources sector. It includes contributions to the International Lead and Zinc Study Group, Integrated Ocean Drilling Program, International Union of Geological Sciences and EuroGeoSurveys. I presume the International Lead and Sink Study Group is included because Ireland has one of the largest zinc mines in Europe, if not the largest. We will be exiting ocean drilling rather than continuing it.

We will move on to programme D.

Based on subheads D1 and D2, it looks as if there has been some sort of shrinkage of activities or the headcount. Is that the case? Are the Ulster Canal and other projects of a cross-Border nature resourced and funded through this stream? Has funding been committed?

I do not believe there was any contraction in the staff or activities of Inland Fisheries Ireland. It is a critical agency that manages our inland fisheries. It has quite a large staff complement. There is quite a large number of staff right across the country managing our inland waterways, policing the system and protecting the key salmonoid rivers, the great western lakes and other key waterways. The number of staff serving to the end of quarter 2 of 2020 was 298, or 299 effective full-time equivalents. The control framework recognises that the organisation can have a staff of 312 but a new corporate plan for the period from 2021 to 2025 is being drafted by Inland Fisheries Ireland. It has to be approved by me, as Minister. The board of the organisation has nine ordinary members, seven of whom are non-executive members. Inland Fisheries Ireland recently recruited through the Public Appointments Service a new chief executive, Mr. Francis O'Donnell, who is due to take up the position on 2 November.

Inland Fisheries Ireland is progressing. The new strategic plan will be key. The new chief executive will have a key role. The agency is in good health and there is no reduction in its services.

Could Deputy O'Rourke repeat his earlier question about the Ulster Canal?

The Ulster Canal is a project that has been on the agenda for many years. I think it is envisaged that there would be inland waterways connecting Belfast to Limerick. The project has been discussed during North-South and east-west negotiations, and commitments were made in a number, if not all, of those negotiations. Are there funding commitments in this subhead or this budget to the expansion of the Ulster Canal?

I am afraid I will have to ask my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, to come back to Deputy O'Rourke directly on this matter because it comes under the Minister of State's remit and the Department with responsibility for local government and heritage.

On a related issue, and to update Deputy O'Rourke with information on current North-South co-operation, we had a good meeting yesterday with the Loughs Agency, in respect of which we have responsibility for North-South co-operation. The Northern Ireland Executive Ministers, Edwin Poots and Nichola Mallon, the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and I yesterday held the first meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council dealing with this area in four or five years. We covered both the Loughs Agency, water quality and environmental protection issues. There was a good outcome to the meeting. We will have to get involved in quite significant work, whatever happens with Brexit. The Loughs Agency has a critical role in our rivers and water management. The North-South Ministerial Council structure might give us a lot of interest in this area, but the Ulster Canal itself is the responsibility of a different Department.

I have similar concerns about the figures in the Estimates. It appears there is a reduction in the staffing, and certainly in the amount of money being allocated towards pay, in the area of inland fisheries. We are in a biodiversity crisis, with increased pressures on our fish populations. Throughout the Covid pandemic, while the rivers have been very quiet, I am hearing anecdotally that there has been an increased number of significant poaching incidences because there have not been as many people out on the rivers surveying the systems. Are there plans to expand even further beyond this? There does appear to be a reduction in those figures.

I do not know if this is funded under the inland fisheries programme, but who funds LAWCO? What section does it come under?

LAWCO is the agency that works with the councils on the river basin management plans.

I agree with Deputy Whitmore that Inland Fisheries Ireland is a hugely important agency. The quality of our fisheries is as good a marker and test as any of what we are achieving on water quality and biodiversity protection in a variety of different ways, the acidity of our water reflecting land use and forestry and so on. I suggest, with the arrival of a draft new corporate plan for 2021-25, that this might be an opportunity for the committee to bring in Inland Fisheries Ireland, look at this strategy and consider whether there are plans for the expansion, deepening and strengthening of its role. If so, I would be very interested to see if we might get support for that from the Exchequer and to question the agency in detail on whether there is further ambition or widening or strengthening of the work it is doing. In my own communications with the agency, I might suggest to it that such questioning by this committee may arise. I would very much welcome if the committee were interested in reporting back to me in advance of next year's budget Estimate on what approach should be taken. That would be useful work.

I have an interest in the salmon run. It is one of those phenomena that are critically important. Salmon are an endangered species. Ireland is one of the few remaining countries in Europe which has a wild salmon run of any scale. Anecdotally, I am told that this year, for whatever different reasons, there has been a significant return of salmon compared with previous years. I do not know whether this is related to any immediate environmental factors around Covid, perhaps reduced fishing activity, but it has inspired me. We have gone to a lot of work in recent years, with the removal of drift netting and other measures, to try to protect the salmon run. If we could turn that into further increases in future years, I think it would be hugely symbolic for the protection of our natural systems. If the committee were interested in looking at this and willing to do so and willing perhaps to bring the agency before the committee to explain its new corporate plan and to push its representatives, I would be very keen to back that up and follow it up.

I will be honest. I will have to revert to Deputy Whitmore directly - in writing, perhaps - on LAWCO. I am not familiar with the nature of its work.

We will put that to the Oireachtas joint committee when we discuss the work programme, which we should be doing in the coming weeks. On programme D I see no other members wishing to come in. We will move on to programme E, environment and waste management.

There a number of subheads here that people might want to come in on. I will start with subhead E6, on landfill remediation. I appreciate the important work that is done on this. I wish to get a sense of the Department's understanding of the scale of the problem. When I was a member of the local authority in Meath we had a case in Timoole, with over €6 million for remediation. At every annual budget meeting I went to with the local authority the scale of the problem across our county was referred to. I presume we are not unique in that regard. I ask the Minister to speak to this subhead, particularly the Department's understanding of the scale of this problem and what we might be looking at as far as future liabilities or obligations are concerned.

The landfill remediation grant programme was established in 2006 in recognition of the need to provide financial support to local authorities in addressing legacy landfill sites across the State. The programme aims to ensure the regularisation of historic and other identified landfill sites in order to militate against any potential harm posed by such sites to the environment and human health. The regional waste management plans 2015-21, which were required under the Waste Management Act, set out the roadmap for delivery of the programme. The plans are due for renewal in 2021 and will provide an update to the roadmap delivery to date and future delivery. The largest projects currently are Kerdiffstown, County Kildare, and Kilconnell, County Galway. The Kerdiffstown project is entering the final remediation stage with Kildare County Council and entering into contract for capital works in the fourth quarter of this year. The landfill in Kilconnell closed in 2019. The State intervened in the management of the site, providing crucial capacity to the region. The site owners went into liquidation. In line with the terms of the memorandum of understanding in place with the Department and Galway city and county councils, there is a provision for funding of the landfill aftercare and closure costs.

The expenditure in 2020 is €8.5 million in landfill remediation and €2.75 million in landfill closure and aftercare.

There is another element which is not covered here but to which I will refer because it was brought up in a North-South Ministerial Council yesterday. There are legacy landfill issues up North where waste from the South has crossed over the Border. It can often be a real issue. In cross-Border jurisdictions, one gets a lot of illegal activity around landfill. Members will be aware of this. Over the years, it has been an historical problem. The funding here is primarily for the large legacy landfill sites, in particular, the two that are being funded presently.

Is there a sense at a departmental level of the real scale of this problem now or its likely scale in the future? In County Meath, for example, cases recently have completed at the High Court. The expectation is there will be a responsibility to undergo remediation. It strikes me that this is a significant problem. Much of it is legacy. I wonder whether there has been an assessment of that issue at a departmental level.

Where there are real difficulties, such as that one in Galway and the one in Kildare, that need remediation, the approach of the Department and this fund is to allow the State to be able to support and intervene. I understand it is primarily a matter for local authorities' management. Like the Deputy, I am aware of a number of cases. In my constituency, historically, we had a problem on the River Dodder where every time there was any sort of flooding, an upriver landfill site would be eroded and a considerable amount of waste material would come down the river. That is an example of similar historic problems in my constituency. It has been an issue from poor landfill management in previous years. Where there are specific projects that need State assistance, the regional waste management plans need to set out what needs to be done. They revert to the Department and the Department supports in the way it is done here.

On that remediation fund, is any funding allocated for the Whitestown dump in County Wicklow? The cost of that was estimated at €60 million but I am not sure if there has been any movement on the remediation itself or the funding of it.

I do not have any information on that. I will ask the Department to revert to the Deputy if it is on the programme in any way.

Does anybody else wish to come in on programme E?

I refer to subhead E10 on the enforcement initiatives. This is gained from experience as a member of a local authority and the major frustration of communities, and in fairness, of local authorities, in enforcing litter management policy. Expenditure of €5.7 million on enforcement initiatives was provided for. Can the Minister outline what they were or whether there are approaches of good practice that could be adopted across the board?

Since 2003, the Department has been engaged in this support. It has provided €115 million over that period of 17 years. It provided €5.7 million last year. It supports the provision of local authority waste enforcement staff under the local authority enforcement measures grant scheme. This grant scheme facilitates local authorities in enforcing national waste legislation dealing with national waste enforcement priorities and demonstrating to illegal operators and unauthorised waste depositors that there is a robust waste enforcement presence in place. The Department continues to fund the provision of local authority enforcement staff through the scheme with the intention of maintaining a visible presence of waste enforcement personnel on the ground across the country. Primarily, in much of this area it is local authorities that must apply national legislation. In this case, it is national funding to support that work within the local authorities by funding staff on the ground to try to counter illegal dumping.

On subhead E3 and the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, the Minister might speak to the capital expenditure of €11.78 million and to the points regarding the national dialogue on climate action and specifically on the ambient air monitoring programme. There is a commitment in the programme for Government in relation to air quality. Has that been undertaken here? Is that part of the capital expenditure or has progress been achieved on that issue in the course of 2020 thus far?

On subhead E3 and the EPA, it is total funding of €43 million for the EPA. It was the capital allocation the Deputy was referring to of €11.7 million. That covers a variety of different projects with which the EPA is engaged.

On the issue of air quality, I ask the Deputy to bear with me a second.

In relation to the capital expenditure, has there been expenditure on monitoring systems and devices that can expand the footprint of the EPA and its capacity?

The Department is currently finalising Ireland's national clean air strategy. It is a policy framework which will recognise the positive impact of existing Government plans but will have to identify and promote additional integrated measures to reduce air pollution and promote cleaner air. It will involve the development of a regional approach to air quality and noise enforcement, and a multi-agency approach to clamping down on the sale of high sulphur content fuel imported from the UK. It will increase investment through a network of monitoring stations to provide scientific evidence of air quality across different parts of the country, including real-time and localised air quality information. It will set out new solid fuel regulations to address pollutant emissions which have an impact upon ambient air quality.

We recently introduced a scheme where 13 towns were added to the list where a smoky coal ban was implemented. The Deputy will be aware that there is a real intention to extend that to the whole country. The issue of air quality, in terms of health effects, is very real. We must be aware of potential legal challenges. The suppliers of certain coal products or other products would say that one cannot be discriminatory. The approach we will take on that within this new strategy is to set out the timeline and mechanism with which we move away from the burning of smoky coal, wood or other materials that create air quality problems and in that way remove any legal difficulties and achieve the objectives. Connected and critical to that is much more extensive air quality monitoring and enforcement systems which, as I said, will be set out in the new clean air strategy.

There is a reduction in subhead E11, which is the climate action fund, over last year's Estimate. Is this due to a slowdown in the delivery or is it a projected expenditure in line with the projections through to 2027 for that fund?

The fund of €10 million was to support the seven projects which were approved for funding up to €77 million. The shortfall arises because some of them have been delayed in planning or have taken longer than might have been expected.

For example, the district heating scheme in Dublin has not advanced as quickly as we might have liked and neither has the use of district heating from data centre waste heat. It is not in the control of the Department as to how quickly some of those projects can be rolled out. In the context of other projects, the fast-charging electric vehicle, EV, network that the ESB is rolling out is on time and will use the full allocation.

The climate action fund it due to scale up significantly on foot of the legislation we passed in the summer. That legislation allows moneys from the NORA levy, which is a charge on all petrol and diesel sales here, to be used to build up the fund. What we hope to see is a major expansion. I am hopeful that by the end of this year we will have another round of applications seeking access to the fund. That could vary from very small to very large schemes. As was stated during the debate on the climate action legislation, which we put before the Oireachtas joint committee for pre-legislative scrutiny, there is a plan to widen the scope of applications relating to the fund. The change in the 2020 Estimate compared with that for 2019 is not a reflection of any scaling back of the fund; it is just a timing issue in the context of spending on the seven existing projects.

Subhead E12 relates with the just transition. The amount of money involved does not appear to be overly large. Was there a high demand for that project? I understand that the expressions of interest and call relating to that funding occurred midway through the year. Was there big interest in the fund? Is there scope to expand it, as per the climate action fund, because just transition should be a major component of how we will address climate change? I understand that this is just a pilot project at present. Are there plans to scale it up significantly in line with the increases in the climate action fund?

There are plans to scale it up in a variety of ways. I refer, for example, to the action being taken in the midlands to deliver the just transition fund. The €6 million fund is divided into two phases. This year there was a series of projects. Typically, smaller projects were agreed and supported for funding in September. We expect to see a second round of larger projects agreed in the coming weeks and the funding allocated before the end of the year, subject to everyone coming back in time. It is a bureaucratic process but we are hopeful of getting the funding out to those various projects.

There are a variety of other initiatives that are related but not covered for in this budget. I had a useful meeting with Bord na Móna earlier this week. We are considering a major expansion in funding for Bord na Móna to rewet bogs and, in that process, to retain many of the jobs that may otherwise have been lost from the peat harvesting area. There is a real potential to switch the skills Bord na Móna has in managing and extracting peat from bogs to be used in the storing of carbon, stopping the release of it, at real scale at a multiple of the funding of what we are considering here and in that way to avoid any further job losses that people feared. First things first, however. The Department has to complete the process of assessing and awarding the projects under this call for proposals. That will be done within a short number of weeks. We expect the relevant projects to be approved and funding heading in that direction before the end of the year.

I thank the Minister for attending. Deputy Whitmore covered the issue I wished to raise. My question relates to the expenditure on EV charging facilities. The Minister mentioned that the ESB is on target, which is good to hear. Will he consider if we are doing enough in that area? The promotion of home installation of charging points is something from which communities will benefit, particularly from the point of view of trying to cover as many communities as possible. I will give the Minister an example. To the best of my knowledge, there is only one public charging point in my constituency. It is in Swords, which has a population of approximately 60,000. The socioeconomics of the community would lend themselves to the purchasing of private EVs. I appreciate that the targets have perhaps been met but the question is whether the targets are high enough? Will the Minister comment on that general point? I do not want to couch that as a criticism. It is not, but perhaps we need to be more ambitious, which is something the Minister has repeatedly stated in the Dáil in terms of his ambition for the Ministry.

I agree with the Deputy. We need to be more ambitious. I had a meeting last week with the Fingal county manager, the mayor and the various directors of services. One of the issues that came up was their working with the three other Dublin local authorities to submit a joint bid to the Department under the scheme that exits for support for municipal e-charging systems and to do that on a citywide basis. Rather than Fingal having a certain type of municipal charge and South Dublin, Dún Laoghaire or Dublin City Council having another, I understand that the four councils have been working together to put in a joint application. I look forward to receiving that. As I said previously, it was very disappointing, given that the fund has been in place for a couple of years and that calls had been made for local authorities to come forward with applications for municipal e-charging, that only two councils - Dublin City Council and Louth County Council - made applications. If the four councils to which I refer are able to put in an ambitious bid, that will start us in the right direction.

There is in the budget - and there will be in future budgets, including next year's - €600 in support for the installation of home charging points. This is to assist people in purchasing EVs. I expect it to take off because, as everyone can see, a number of models with better capabilities and increased range are about to become available. Such models will lower the cost involved and improve matters in every way.

For those of us who represent urban constituencies, one of the big challenges will be providing for apartment dwellers, people living in terraced houses or even those in ordinary suburban areas. If every homeowner in a row of houses was to get an EV and install a heat pump - this is the direction in which we will need to go - how we manage the distribution grid at local level to provide that amount of electricity will be a real challenge. In those circumstances, adopting innovative solutions in respect of municipal charging points, be that using lamp posts, municipal car parking or other mechanisms, is the direction in which we will need to go. First things first, however. I look forward to see what Fingal County Council comes back with along with the other three Dublin councils.

That is encouraging. I am pleased to hear that Fingal and the other three Dublin local authorities are working together on it. On the prospect of the owners of a row of houses all wishing to have EV charging points installed, which I envisage happening in the future, is there work that can be done with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage on collaborative projects? The Minister mentioned that the four Dublin local authorities have come. They probably did that off their own bat. In light of the lack of uptake across the local authorities to which the Minister referred, is there a project that might be carried out in conjunction with the Local Government Management Agency or the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage?

The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage may have a role but I think the key agency in this is the ESB because it delivers the electricity grid network. As the distribution company, it will have to innovate and invest in the network. That is a matter for my Department and the energy regulator. The Commission for Regulation of Utilities has to agree to whatever investment the ESB must make in the distribution network to facilitate that level. While it may be a few years off, it is not so far off that it will become a challenge. We are about to see a massive expansion in the number of electric vehicles because they are better cars, with maintenance and fuel costs that are a fraction of those of other vehicles. The ESB will have a key role to play in this and it will have to be a commercial proposition for the company. It and other operators will need sufficient revenue to cover the cost of the distribution network. The scale of change is huge and will involve a multibillion euro investment in the local distribution network, particularly for urban areas. In rural areas, it will be much less of a problem. For example, a single house with a driveway is much easier to manage. We will have to put our thinking caps on for the urban areas.

As no other members have questions on programme E, I will ask about subhead E4, the carbon fund. I note the reduced figure in the 2020 Estimate. This reduction may be for a good reason. Perhaps we do not need to be purchasing carbon units. I ask the Minister to elaborate on that.

As I mentioned, two targets were set in the early part of the last decade. One was to meet our renewables targets and the second was to meet our climate emissions reduction targets. In the case of the latter, we are between 12 million and 13 million tonnes short of meeting our target. Achieving compliance only became an issue in recent years following the downturn and recession. By 2011, due to actions take by previous administrations, we were on course to meet our climate target, but in the early to middle years of the last decade, we fell behind. The earlier reductions meant we were not out of compliance. It was only in 2018-19 that our lack of action caught up with us and we were no longer in compliance. Under the European legislative mechanisms, we were able to purchase carbon units as part of meeting our target. That was allowable under the mechanism.

A budget of €3 million was allocated this year. We will not spend the vast majority of that for a variety of reasons, the main reason being that compliance runs right into 2020. We have to wait and see what will happen as the Covid pandemic may result in a significant reduction in our emissions in 2020. The Department had started to purchase credits and credits worth about €300,000 were purchased this year from the €3 million estimated fund. However, due to the Covid pandemic, we have put a hold on it. We are asking the Environmental Protection Agency what our emissions projections are for this year as we may not have to use the full allocation in the Estimate.

This should not be seen as a sign that we are all right on the climate side. We are significantly behind and miles away from our 2020 targets. We are not on track to meet our 2030 targets, as the EPA and other organisations have stated. An underspend in this area should not be interpreted as a sign that we can take our foot off the pedal. One of the few benefits of the Covid pandemic is that this year's emission figures may mean we will avoid having to spend carbon funds to balance our account this year.

We will move on to programme F. Do members have questions?

On subhead F6, energy efficiency fund receipts, to what does the figure of €10 million relate?

That funding was allocated to the climate action fund in advance of the legislation amending the National Oil Reserves Agency, NORA, levy being passed. It was a historical fund which we had used for energy efficiency measures. These appropriations-in-aid are often technical transfers from the historical fund for climate efficiency to the climate action fund. That covered the projects mentioned in the climate action fund.

I thank the Minister and his officials for assisting the committee with our consideration of the Revised Estimate. As we have now completed our consideration of the Revised Estimate for Vote 29, excluding programme A, the clerk will send a message to that effect to Clerk of the Dáil, in accordance with Standing Order 101.