Electricity Regulation Bill, 1998: Committee Stage (Resumed).

The committee has another meeting at 5.30 p.m. to consider the Revised Estimates. There are five sections of the Bill to be considered - sections 13, 15, 26, 27 and 32 in addition to the Title. I propose we continue our deliberations until 4.15 p.m., meet again at 5.30 p.m. and again at 3.30 p.m. tomorrow. Is that agreed? Agreed.


I move amendment No. 59:

In page 13, lines 3 to 10, to delete subsection (1) and substitute the following:

"(1) The Commission may grant or may refuse to grant to any person a licence-

(a) to generate electricity,

(b) to supply electricity to eligible customers, and

(c) subject tosection 27, to supply electricity to final customers which in aggregate does not exceed the amount of electricity which is available to the supplier and which is produced using renewable or alternative forms of energy or is produced by combined heat and power,

on such terms and conditions as may be specified in the licence.".

I thank all involved for the good work we did last week. This and subsequent amendments relate to renewables and, in the main, to combined heat and power, CHP. This issue has given rise to great interest and debate. I was in danger of entitling the Bill the CHP Bill rather than the Electricity Regulation Bill, which was part of the electricity directive. Over the weekend I had before me numerous proposals from many people, the Bill and all the amendments. I had to remind myself that the Bill is concerned with the electricity directive, part of which is the inauguration of an electricity regulator and that other matters, many of them very worthy, would be ancillary to that.

The main thrust of the Bill, and the duty I must implement, is concerned with the regulation provision in the directive. Another Bill in the autumn will implement the rest of the directive.

Combined heat and power has become a fashionable topic. We have all received numerous representations on the matter. The Bill, as originally drafted, did not contain any provisions on combined heat and power. Renewable resources were combined; heat and power were not. Then, rightly, people began to get worked up about that and made various representations. I tabled an amendment, which I am seeking to amend again. It is being formulated in the Department and will be tabled before tomorrow's meeting at 11 a.m.

Bearing that in mind, I seek the committee's permission to postpone dealing with not just amendment No. 59, and consequential amendments to it, but also later amendments which will be contingent on the debate on amendment No. 59.

Is that agreed?

To which sections does that refer other than section 13? Is it sections 13 and 27?

I know what amendments are involved, but not the sections - amendments Nos. 59 to 69 and 103 to 112.

It appears that sections 13, 15, 26, 27 and 32 are involved.

It involves sections 13 and 27 but we could discuss the others.

We were able to do that last week.

Section 15 is not related as it deals with the authorisation to construct a new station and the position of the ESB.

Section 15 is unaffected.

Section 26 is also not affected.

Amendment No. 101 is consequential on amendment No. 68, which, in turn, is consequential on amendments Nos. 59 to 61 and amendments Nos. 74 and 118 are related to amendment No. 69. Is it agreed to take the amendments separately rather than as a group?

Yes, except those which are related to CHP.

If they are deemed to be consequential, I presume they are related.

Is it agreed to take them separately?

That cannot happen if they are consequential upon CHP.

That means that section 26 cannot be taken.

I have received five different briefings on these sections over the past 24 hours. If I receive an entirely new deck of cards from the Minister as to what is to be debated which is based on her amendments and those tabled by Deputy Stagg and myself to those——

The Deputy will not receive a new deck of cards from me, just one amendment.

I do not want to go through five more meetings on a revised version of amendment No. 59 to be tabled by the Minister. It puts us in a very difficult position. As she is aware, different interested players are involved - the unions, the ESB, independent operators and potential big users. All of them have lobbied us on the basis of what is before them. If that is fundamentally changing in so far as amendment No. 59 is changing, I do not want to have another five meetings on that basis. That is my difficulty.

All of us have that difficulty but I understand that one should have an amendment before 11 on the morning of a debate according to Standing Orders. I am so informed by the Clerk to the committee.

Should we discuss the amendment before us, No. 59.

I have asked for permission to postpone the debate on amendment No. 59 and the committee has agreed.

I support the Minister. We should defer consideration of all matters relating to CHP for whatever time is required. I am aware of the time limit on the Minister to get the Bill through. I agree that its primary purpose is to open 28 per cent of the electricity market and the CHP issue has complicated that immensely. I wish to outline to the committee a sequence of events that I find disturbing. On 10 February 1999 a letter was sent to the leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Quinn,from Treasury Holdings Limited, which was signed by Richard Barrett. It states:

Dear Rory,

re: Electricity Bill, 1998.

Further to our telephone conversation yesterday, I enclose an outline of our problem and the one line amendment which is the solution.

This is a case of ESB trying to preserve their monopoly, even where they cannot supply themselves. The mention of endangering the National Conference Centre has elicited only shrugs of shoulders from the ESB.

The progressive thinking of enlightened forces (such as yourself) is being continually counter balanced by the antediluvian approach of State Monopolies in their last dinosaur acts of self-preservation, before annihilation by the forces of Free Enterprise. How the ESB can be still early 1920's when the Electricity Supply Act was only created in 1927 beats me. A more clubby band of corporate thugs cannot be imagined - they'd leave Guinness, CRH and Smurfits in the shade. If they spent as much energy trying to adjust themselves to Open Competition as they are trying to illegally restrict it, Ireland would be a lot better off.

I might sound hyper but this lot do not do justice to the trenchant defence your colleagues [namely myself] make in respect of State Companies.

The ESB are opposing the amendment. So far, Ivan Yates (FG) and John Gormley (Greens) are supporting it and Fianna Fáil are awaiting Mary O'Rourke's discussion with the (vested interest and compromised) ESB. I am to discuss the matter also with Dessie O'Malley in Mary Harney's absence.

Sorry to bother you with this but the ESB will only end up giving you a bad name defending their excesses.

The whole sorry saga is even more of a disgrace considering the ESB cannot hope to supply the projected demand for 2003 (between increased demand and ESB existing capacity being taken out of commission because of age).

I regret going onad nauseam about this, but this behaviour is 1950’s backwoodsmanship and the pits.

Could you support the amendment?

A one line amendment was included. Subsequently, this letter was referred to me and I telephoned Richard Barrett. I receive the following fax on 17 May:

I now have a comprehensive view of what happened at Committee Stage on 12/05/99. The Minister appears to consider amendments 59 and 103 have the same effect as your proposed amendment.

In my view the position is as follows:

(1) The Minister is falling over herself to agree how great HP is, but is clearly influenced in how much she is prepared to allow this happen by the ESB and their lobbyists. You have done a very good of sticking up for CHP which, as you know, is the next best thing after Renewables.

(2) Amendment 59

Is acceptable to us, but the words in amendment S.1(c) delete from the original draft after "Final Customers" the words which recite the entitlement of Final Customers to purchase electricity produced from a Renewable or Alternative form of energy.

Had your amendment been accepted, we would have had a recitation of the right, as per the EU directive, of final customers to purchase from renewables alternatives CHP. This is an important provision protecting consumers' rights and accords with the objectives of the wind hydro and CHP interest. I enclose a draft for you to consider of the amendment required to the Minister's amendment 59 to bring the matter to an acceptable conclusion.

Our interest in CHP derives from the fact that we are building the national conference centre and the ESB cannot power it conventionally until one year after the proposed opening date because of their workload scheduling. All efforts, including political, to date have failed to shift them. If the national conference is not operating before the ESB's date, the £26 million EU grant will be lost and the NCC will never be built.

Amendment 103 - the Minister rightly in my view has succumbed to pressure from the wind lobby and has amended the old section 2 appropriately.

I contacted the ESB regarding the issue of it being unable to supply and I received the following letter from the secretary of the ESB, Mr. Larry Donald, on 8 June:

Dear Deputy Stagg,

During the debate on the Electricity Regulation Bill at the Oireachtas committee on Tuesday, 25th May, as reported in the media, statements were made when dealing with the subject of combined heat and power in relation to the ability of the ESB to provide electricity supply to the proposed national conference centre.

I wish to advise you that the content of these statements as reported and the basis on which they were made are false. I will be very concerned if any allegations were to be made by an outside party which were motivated by a desire to damage the credibility of ESB and to seek advantage in the legislation before the Oireachtas committee. You will be interested in the attached copy of part of a briefing note emanating from the offices of one of the proponents of CHP.

The following statement:

"ESB cannot power it conventionally until one year after the proposed opening date because of their workload scheduling. All efforts, including political, to date have failed to shift them:"

is palpably false, misleading and is clearly designed to promote another agenda. I have examined ESB's complete file on the provision of supply to the national conference centre and I am satisfied that the company has dealt efficiently with this matter and with the utmost integrity and professionalism. No complaints have been made by the developers or their consultants in relation to ESB's handling of this matter and no political representations were made at any stage in relation to it. Furthermore, I have had discussions with the relevant ESB engineers and can confirm to you that ESB can and could at all times power the national conference centre in advance of its proposed opening date.

In view of the importance of this matter, may I please invite you to examine ESB's work on the project so that you may satisfy yourself on the position. Please contact me at your convenience.

I received a further letter from Treasury Holdings which states:

Dear Emmet,

I have been further considering my last request to you (copy enclosed) and have become aware of an unfortunate side effect my suggested amendment would have and which I do not think desirable, that is, that such a right by the public may give rise to the ESB seeking a public service obligation charge for having to accommodate this. Were they to succeed, that would certainly not be in the general interest of consumers.

On balance, and considering European law can be invoked by reference to the Electricity Directive if renewables do not get enough priority, I would now favour the amendment I previously suggested not being moved. I would be grateful if you could remove it from your proposed amendments list.

Many thanks for all your help and I hope you are successful in the local elections. If there is anything I can do at any time to assist you (as these things should be a two way process) please do not think twice about contacting either me or John Ronan.

It is very disturbing that on the basis of false information, which I felt was presented in good faith to me, about CHP and the national conference centre, I tabled amendments to a Bill seeking to redress what I was told was a wrong. I now know that I was told direct, deliberate lies. As a result, I wish to withdraw amendments which would have had the effect desired by Treasury Holdings. I am glad the Minister has put back the matter.

As a consequence of this, we need to urgently consider the imposition of penalties on people who give false information in the form of lobbying to members of committees of the House. A most serious situation has arisen and we now know that we are facing a position where a possible 45 per cent rather than 28 per cent of the market will be opened on the word of people who presented us with false information. I ask the Minister to respond in some way. As she has access to all the files, has she clarified that the ESB is in a position to supply conventional power to the national conference centre well in advance of its opening?

I regard the matter as serious. An absurd aspect is the new twist that the amendments which were suggested to Deputy Quinn, Deputy Stagg and possibly others will be withdrawn because the PSO would extend to such customers. Obviously, they do not want that.

Deputy Yates was away last week when we spoke briefly about this matter. The Chairman was also present in his capacity as Whip. What I found obnoxious about the matter was the phrase to the effect that the Minister has rightly, from their point of view, succumbed to the wind lobby. This was at the end of a document which Deputy Yates allowed me to see. I felt very sore about that because the people involved never came to see me. I met them about a CIE matter two years ago but I did not meet them on this matter.

Subsequently, they sought a meeting with me. They came in for a very short meeting following which I asked my staff to check the situation with regard to the ESB. I asked them to find out if the ESB could supply the centre in time for its opening because we had been told that it could not supply it. It transpires that the ESB can supply it. I looked carefully at the files, documentation and all the relevant information. I am assured from my perusal of those details that it can supply power in time to the conference centre.

I had not heard about the letter sent to Deputy Quinn until Deputy Stagg read it out earlier. I take grave exception to its contents and the use of the word "thug". I take exception because I am the Minister in charge of the semi-State sector. Wearing that hat, I take very grave exception to the terminology and latent abuse in it. I take exception to the words used and the belief that, as the saying goes, everybody is out of step but my Johnny. How accurately that suits the situation. I object to the idea that we are wind vanes waiting to be swayed by the latest purveyor of amendments and news. It is a serious matter and I am glad we are aware of it in time. That is the one good aspect, but it should not put us too much the other way because that would also be patently wrong.

It is right that people lobby and put forward amendments. They are fully entitled to do so in a democracy. Otherwise, we would never get on with our business. However, there should never be purveyors of untruths or distortions of facts or information which seeks to give a picture which is different from the correct one. I am dismayed about this matter and I could be very upset personally. However, there is no point going on about that aspect. Regardless of the fact that we want to move the ESB along from a position where it has a monopoly into the competitive arena, I am dismayed by the assumption that people in the public service, such as the employees of the ESB, could be referred to in a corporate sense and an individual sense in the type of language used in the correspondence. We should be glad that we have become aware of the situation in good time.

Regarding amendment No. 59, I did not meet Treasury Holdings, although its representatives visited the Department on one occasion. It came from other sources as well - the Minister of State was keen to promote CHP and renewable energy. The position is serious and it is correct that the letters be read into the record. It is a matter for the committee, and to the Deputy, how we go forward.

When these matters were debated earlier I alluded to the national conference centre and passed on to the Minister the documentation on the question of whether the £26 million EU grant would be lost and if the ESB would supply it. These struck me as matters of fact rather than of opinion - they either could or could not. I am glad the issue has been resolved. It is clear from the Minister's inquiries that she is satisfied the ESB can supply it and I think the issue has been resolved.

I was informed; it is a different matter if it can supply. From my perusal, which of its nature was relatively quick, it never said it could not.

I accept that also. The Minister is in the best position to get all the facts and she has access to the officials who saw the files. I am glad that issue has been clarified and I will deal with it when we come to it, under the amendments in my name. I have not previously come across legislation of this intensity or complexity, and I have been a Member of the Dáil for 18 years. I agree with the Minister that we should not throw out the baby with the bathwater. The proponents of the NCC may have given CHP a bad name by the way they have lobbied and put their case. I have since met other people in other State companies, in one case——

——yes, and Aughinish Alumina, who have co-generation proposals for CHP. They are producing a massive amount of heat as it is in turning bauxite into aluminium. We should look at this not on the basis of whether the NCC should be treated in a particular way but in terms of the best interests of thermal efficiency, competition and the ESB. A person in BGE said to me yesterday that the ESB won the last six CHP contracts, so the ESB is interested in it also. It has now been established that the ESB has behaved properly as regards the NCC and its position was misrepresented. Deputy Stagg elucidated this and the Minister confirmed it. I am glad this was cleared up because it was raised at the committee. Irrespective of the wording submitted, the CHP issues should be examined on their merits.

That is why I said we should not throw out the baby with the bathwater in our disdain for what was said and what has happened. It would be wrong to go the other way. My amendment would allow a CHP plant to sell electricity to its main heat customer on a single premises as well as to eligible customers but as of yet, at the opening of the market, it will not allow sale to all customers. In four or five years' time the market will be fully open but the amendment deals with the position as of now. We would not have the amendment printed by the end of today's business at 4.15 p.m. but, perhaps, we could have it in typewritten form or provide it to the spokespersons this evening on an informal basis.

I appreciate the Minister's intent - what she said explained the matter. The ESB will be pleased with this. She is saying this is as far as it will go as part of the transitional arrangement. The other side of the matter is that amendment No. 103 provided for a potential cap on renewable forms of energy. If the amendment was agreed, the franchise market would not be eligible for CHP. In the case of a company producing its own - Aughinish Alumina, for instance - the cap might be more than the total wind requirement, so there would be no cap.

That is correct.

Wind energy would be damaged if there was a cap. Is the Minister looking at amendment No. 103 in that context?

No, we are looking at some measure of containment. I think amendment No. 103——

Would be part of what was deferred?

It would be part of what is deferred today because we hope to deal with it tomorrow.

The importance of what the Minister has said should not be lost. Her general outline of what the amendment might be will satisfy not alone the ESB but also people who are genuine about supplying CHP energy.

It will satisfy those who are genuine about environmental interests and who need to use it. Also, in the next four to five years the market will open and will ultimately be fully liberalised.

Can we deal with section 15? By agreement, the committee can do what it likes but I propose we take it now.

When the Deputy was away last week we were able to deal with many amendments.

I appreciate there is a time constraint on this legislation but Deputy Stagg has shown that if we speed along and overlook the intricacies of various arguments we will, in the long-term, do a disservice to us all and to the interests of the country, which we are here to help and promote. I was shocked at the vicious turn of phrase in the letter which was read out and it does not bode well if that is the kind of competition we will see. I hope it will be much more above board. Having said that, I recognise the merits of CHP but we should look care-fully at claims that it is the same as renewable energy, to see what agenda is being followed.

We had a vote on that.

Yes and I am glad we took time to examine it. Sweeping statements are made and because we are doing lots of things at once it is expected that we will accept these statements as gospel.

The beauty of that debate was that we spoke about it strongly.

Even with the haste with which we are operating we should be reluctant to speed along if it will result in confusion or wrongful use of information. We are here to deal with the efficient use of energy, not just from an environmental viewpoint but in terms of security of supply and long-term economic interests. We must remind ourselves that the interests of lobbyists are short-term by their nature; our job is to protect long-term interests. The legislation is unlikely to be chopped and changed as much as the players in competition will change. We must remain calm and pursue our mandate for the long-term interests. If that involves stepping back and taking time to reflect on what we have been told, particularly if there is a conflict in the information, it is important that we do so. I support any breathing space we may get to reflect on this conflicting information.

What timetable is proposed for completing this?

I have arranged with the Chief Whip - which I understand is with the agreement of the Whips of the other parties - to conclude Committee Stage by tomorrow and to take Report Stage in the Dáil next week. I explained to our Whip, and I am sure he explained to the other Whips, that this will take some time as it is not a typical Report Stage; we have postponed discussion of many matters until that point. In the Seanad, Second Stage will be taken on Wednesday of next week and Committee Stage will be taken on Thursday. Any amendments made by the Seanad will be considered by the Dáil on Friday week. I have been allocated this time in both Houses. I did that following Committee Stage last week. We should adhere to that because the regulator has to be appointed. There is still a good deal of time remaining although it is obviously very binding on the main principals.

We can make some progress this afternoon.

Yes, that is what I thought.

I suggest, with the committee's agreement, that we postpone section 13 and take section 15; postpone amendments Nos. 26 and 27 and take No. 32. Is that agreed?

There should be no difficulty with that because amendment No. 69, which is an amendment to section 13 which we are leaving aside, is being taken with amendment No. 74. If it is being taken with No. 74——

We are not taking Nos. 69 and 74.

Amendment No. 69 is part of section 13 and we can either deal with the section or not deal with it.

The committee can debate this, can we not?

We are allowed to discuss amendment No. 118, are we not? That deals with the Competition Authority. That has nothing to do with CHP. The same applies to No. 74.

On a point of order, if the committee agrees to take amendments Nos. 73, 74 and 75 and section 15 now, can we proceed?

Provided we take amendment No. 74 separately.

We should not proceed along a road that would have the effect that we would takesections and amendments to them now that are consequential or connected to——

No, I have laid out all of those. That is the block which includes amendments Nos. 59, 60 and 61 and then a further block which is from No. 103 onwards.

I am happy to leave those until tomorrow.

We can give our time to those tomorrow.

By way of explanation, amendment No. 74 to section 15 is related to amendment No. 69 to section 13.

Those amendments deal generally with the same subject in different parts of the Bill but are not interdependent, so there is no problem with them if the committee is agreeable.

So we will take amendment No. 74, is that correct?

Is it agreed that we take section 15?

If amendment No. 74 is the offending one——

It is not offending.

No, it is the offending one in terms of the grouping. It is to do with the point about the Competition Authority but that does not interfere with the ESB.

As the Chairman has outlined, we cannot take an amendment to a section and not deal with other amendments.

And then there is amendment No. 69. If we are going to take No. 74 we should take No. 69.

I am not terribly fussed about the issue.

We will then have to take the whole of section 13.

We will take amendmentNo. 69.

Amendments Nos. 69 and 74.

Amendment No. 74.

We should take amendment No. 74 on its own.

We can only take section 15 and leave amendment No. 74 to be dealt with separately.

No, we are taking amendment No. 74.

I will withdraw amendment No. 74. There is no big issue about No. 74.

Are you withdrawing amendment No. 74?

Yes. I will speak about it when we come to the section.

Are we taking amendmentNo. 74?

I am withdrawing amendmentNo. 74.

For the minute?

No. I can make the point later.

Amendment No. 59 deferred.

Amendments Nos. 60 to 72 postponed.


I move amendment No. 73:

In page 14, subsection (1), line 5, after "station" to insert ", for the purpose of supply to final customers,".

This is a technical amendment and is intended to clarify the meaning of the text. This section is intended to prohibit the unlicensed construction of power stations which will be used to supply electricity to final customers. This means that the construction of generating stations for its own use - auto production - will not be prohibited under this Act. Auto production will be dealt with in the next Bill.

Eligible customers are the people within the category of four gigawatt hours and the 28 per cent?

Yes, 28 per cent.

But this is for the construction of generating stations to supply anybody?

To final customers or anybody.

So we will now be giving out licences, according to the amendment, to pro-posers or developers and they will be entitled to supply anybody?

That auto production will be dealt with in the next Bill, not in this Bill.

Why are we including it now?

That is why, after "station", I have inserted "for the purpose of supply to final customers". It is purely technical. It is intended to clarify the meaning of the text.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 74 not moved.

I move amendment No. 75:

In page 14, lines 15 and 16, to delete subsection (4).

This amendment proposes the deletion of subsection (4) of section 15. Subsection (4) states that section 8(4)(a) shall not be a basis for refusal to grant an authorisation. I have received conflicting legal advice on this from my lobbying friends on both sides of the fence. When tabling this amendment I was advised that the current subsection guarantees that the Minister and the regulatory commission, even if it believes it is necessary to promote competition, cannot refuse the ESB an authorisation for a new power station.

Are we debating the correct amendment? No. 75?

Section 15(4). I am proposing the deletion of that subsection.

Lines 15 and 16.

I am not suggesting that the regulator or the Minister will refuse the ESB an authorisation, but the legislation should give it an option. The ESB has advised me that it has a different legal interpretation on the effect of the amendment which is that it would prevent the ESB getting a licence. I would appreciate it if the Minister outlined her legal advice as to the effect of deleting subsection (4) in that regard.

My legal advice comes from the Attorney General. This amendment would remove a safeguard which specifically prevents the commission from coming under pressure to use its duty to promote competition to refuse authorisation to build a power station. The criteria for the granting of an authorisation for a power station are dealt with in section 17, and we dealt with that last week. The Office of the Attorney General has advised that the list of matters to which the criteria may relate is exhaustive, and the criteria may not relate to any additional matters. The advice of the Attorney General and the commission, obtained separately, does not agree with this amendment.

On the grounds that——

On the grounds that the list of criteria is exhaustive. We had it last week on the list of criteria, No. 78 - I think it was Deputy Coveney - but it was withdrawn.

The original advice given to me was that the effect of the current subsection (4) was that there were no circumstances whereby the commission could refuse the ESB an authorisation for a new power station. Is the Minister saying that is not the case?

My advice is from the Attorney General and the commission separately. The Deputy wants to put in "competition", is that correct?

No, that was amendment No. 74 which I have withdrawn. I was advised that if the ESB applies to build a new power station in Kildare, there are no circumstances under section 15, as it currently stands, in which it could be refused, whereas I was told that on the day the commission or the Minister could say yes or no. Is that advice not correct? The ESB told me——

I would not know what the ESB told Deputy Yates.

The ESB told me it would have the opposite effect, that it would prevent the ESB being granted a licence. I was looking to give the option to the commission on the day to make a decision.

That is not what I sought advice on. We sought advice on the amendment and the advice obtained separately from the Attorney General and the commission was that this amendment would be beyond the criteria which are already exhaustive, and that it should not be accepted.

Section 15(4) reads, . . . "shall not be a basis for refusal to grant an authorisation."

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 15 as amended, agreed to.

Discussion on sections 26 and 27 is to be postponed. Is that agreed? Agreed.


I move amendment No. 117:

In page 24, between lines 16 and 17, to insert the following subsection:

"(3) All releases of information under this section shall be made available within one month of any request for same.".

One of the things the new independent power procurers want is access to information about the market. Who are the people over four gigawatt hours and who are the people they need to market?

They are already out at it.

There was a public spat between Viridian and the ESB about this issue. Last week, I received a letter in relation to the flow of information.

It was from Viridian.

A private monopoly.

Yes, but they are entitled to their point of view. These people are also trying to invest in the economy. I want to clarify the current positionvis-à-vis the EU directive regarding the availability of information. The correspondence reads as follows:

"Meanwhile the ESB continues to withhold information necessary to the independents, claiming it will not do so until the Bill is finally passed.

The ESB could easily publish this information but are not being sufficiently helpful or flexible. They are insisting on the law being passed before they hand over the information. In our view this is a deliberate delaying tactic as the absence of indicative use-of-system charges and a draft grid code, the critical necessary information, is delaying the orderly progression of our independent power project, putting us at a disadvantage to an ESB project which has the benefit of all this information.

The effect of the ESB's refusal is that when electricity competition begins next February, it won't happen as there will not be sufficient time from the passage of the Bill to deregulation day to get a grid code and other essential regulation in place. If the ESB was to publish the information now, there might be some hope of having this in place next February.

What is the Minister's response to my amendment which lays down some rules in relation to release of information? The amendment is worthy of support in this regard. As shareholder of the ESB, does the Minister think it is fair or reasonable to make this information available or is there something more sinister involved? Will the Minister accept my amendment which lays down some rules and tries to ensure transparency? As shareholder, will she jog the ESB along so that they may not wait until February to produce this data?

I would cast a jaundiced eye over the representations made by Viridian who are a private monopoly and ripping off their customers in Northern Ireland. They are seeking to apply the law before we make the law. I take the case being made by Deputy Yates is that when the law is made there should then be rules and a timescale for the delivery of information. We certainly should not say to our electricity company, which is competing with this private monopoly, that they must give them information in order to give them an advantage in advance of the law saying this is the case. The Minister as shareholder and regulator should not do this. However, the merits of having rules and specific time scales included in the legislation is another matter. It is time to refer to an international electricity study carried out by UNIPED which showed that electricity prices for domestic users in Ireland are 17.7 per cent lower than in other countries. Viridian's domestic victims - I refer to them as victims rather than customers - are paying 24 per cent more for their electricity than the ESB's customers in the Republic. Industrial customers in Northern Ireland pay 18 per cent more for electricity, and these people are lecturing us about opening up markets and telling us how it should be done. They should put their own house in order first. I would not provide them with an advantage over anyone else to get into our market.

This is very interesting because I met with Viridian on several occasions. In fact, the Chief Executive of Viridian is ex ESB - talk about poachers turning gamekeepers.

It is the other way round.

Ireland is a very small country and people move about a lot within the one environment. He may be a very nice gentleman but I am merely explaining his background. I have been informed that the ESB, which has some business in the North, find it difficult to obtain information from Viridian. Therefore, "what is sauce for the goose, is sauce for the gander" - I am not sure which is the goose and which is the gander.

I wrote to the ESB suggesting that it be forthcoming with information. It will soon hold an open day to bear its soul, so to speak, to anyone who seeks information. I do not know what form this will take but I am sure it will be interesting. I accept there must be thrusting, jostling and pushing. However, I do not accept the thrust of the correspondence and calling people thugs who have given long service to the country. The ESB must be encouraged to give information so that people coming to the market can get the information they need. However, this information cannot be provided until the Bill is passed. I presume this is what Deputy Yates means.

I was referring to the amendment and to the fact that February is D day for compliance with the EU directive. Viridian say they cannot be up and running if they do not have this information beforehand.

Is the Deputy speaking about the commission?

The ESB in the first instance. The amendment proposes that all releases of information shall be made available within one month of any request for same.

Section 32(1) already contains the provision that the commission shall direct the ESB to make those regulations within a time period to be specified by the commission. I have no objection to one month but it would be consequent on all of the Acts being enacted.

The Minister referred to an open day——

I saw this reference in a newspaper which carried an advertisement for this open day and the same page carried an article on the matter, stating that skin and hair would be flying on the day. Members are welcome to attend. I accept amendment No. 117 but that is for when the Bill is enacted and afterwards.

I thank the Minister. Perhaps the ESB can do what it can. The ESB should ask Viridian not to play games in Northern Ireland.

They are playing games in the North.

If the ESB is to oblige Viridian or anyone else, the least that body can do is to have the same rules. If it is the case that Viridian are saying one thing in the North and another in the South, or if either party is doing so, that would be disingenuous and hypocritical.

And childish.

The consumer is the person who should be concerned.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 118 is to be taken separately from amendment No. 69, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 118:

In page 24, between lines 16 and 17, to insert the following subsection:

"(3) The Commission shall consult with the Competition Authority in relation to matters pertaining to this section.".

I am not going to make a meal of this. It is in the same vein that I have explored already. The Competition Authority has expertise in dealing with very complex competitive issues and I felt that the regulation commission and Mr. Reeves should consult the Competition Authority in relation to information. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment relies on the Competition Authority to implement and oversee competition law and this section should provide a role for that body.

This raises a question we discussed in an earlier part of the debate. The Minister referred to the jurisdiction of the Competition Authority and the commission. We could easily have a situation where the commissioner or regulator could make a decision which might be cancelled by the Competition Authority. We must clear the lines between the powers of that body and the regulator. This amendment moves towards putting those bodies in the same jurisdiction and having them consult each other, though we may need a more detailed approach.

This matter has arisen before and Etain Doyle, the telecommunications regulator, issued a publication document on the "local loop", which Members will be aware of. The Competition Authority then said it would bring everyone to court because of the non-competitive element of the "local loop." That is an absurd situation. The regulator was doing her job and had sent out her consultation document and was awaiting the response before coming to a decision. The Competition Authority then decided it would take Telecom Éireann to court.That is absurd. Clearly this needs to be addressed. I said last week that I proposed to amend the Telecommunications (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1996, to provide for compellability in a case where the regulator would have to come before an Oireachtas committee and to mark out jurisdictional issues between the Competition Authority and the regulator. It is quite clear one cannot have the regulator doing the job and the Competition Authority taking separate action. I regard regulators as transient people who are there to guide the markets as they emerge into full liberalisation. When that job is done I presume the primary law is that of the Competition Authority. However, as of now, we have set up regulators and they are doing a job. I understand what Deputy Yates is saying but they have separate jobs as of now.

Does the Minister intend introducing a section in the Bill which states that the Competition Authority may not intervene?

In this Bill? No. I am not accepting this amendment.

Arising from what the Minister said about——

The separation of powers?

——the second guessing of the regulator by the Competition Authority, will she look at this matter?

No, because I will bring in a short Bill about the full accountability of regulators in the autumn. That is included in this Bill but not in others. I will also set out the applicability of jurisdictional authority between the regulator and the Competition Authority. Both of them tipping at the same subject is daft.

That is fine.

One of the objects of this amendment was to avoid overlapping so that theywould liaise with each other and achieve clear lines of demarcation. However, one amend-ment out of two is not bad and I will withdraw this one.

There will be legislation.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 32, as amended, agreed to.

Can we discuss section 26? I understand why section 27 was taken, but sections 26 and 13 strike me as being related.

Acting Chairman: Amendment No. 101 in section 26 is consequential on amendment No. 68 in section 14.

The rest of them are not.

What are we doing next?

We cannot do any more.

Mr. Yates: We could debate the Title.

We cannot do anything else. That was decided last week.

That would be wise.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.
The Select Committee adjourned at 3.38 p.m.