I propose to take Questions Nos. 24 and 41 together.
The Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) is the statutory, independent body, charged with the assessment and licensing of prospective operators seeking to develop and operate a gas distribution system within the State. I have no direct statutory function in relation to the connection of towns to the gas network
The CER, in 2006, approved a network connections policy which enabled reassessment of the feasibility of connecting certain towns to the gas network. In order for any town to be connected to the gas network, certain economic criteria need to be satisfied as a prerequisite. The policy allows for the appraisal of a town either on its own or as part of a regional group of towns.
This policy framework provides that, over a certain period, the costs of connecting a town, or group of towns, to the network are recouped through the actual economic consumption of gas and the associated tariffs. Uneconomic projects would increase costs for all energy consumers.
Under the CER’s policy framework, Bord Gáis Networks, and latterly Gaslink, carried out a comprehensive review of towns not connected to the national gas network. Gaslink published its New Towns Analysis Phase 3 report in 2010.
The study included a review of the feasibility of connecting 11 towns in the West and North West region which are the focus of the Western Development Commission paper, “Why Invest in Gas”. However, the Gaslink review found that none of the towns qualified for connection on economic grounds.
Gaslink will continue to review the towns which did not qualify for connection under the 2010 Study as well as other towns. The key factor which would qualify a town or group of towns in any future review would be a significant increase in demand for natural gas, usually as a result of the addition of a new large industrial or commercial facility.