National Gas Grid

Questions (23, 29)

Mick Wallace

Question:

23. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources further to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 67 and 68 of 11 June 2013, his views on whether any lapse in standards for the depth of a high pressure gas main at a depth of 1.2 m would be a very serious matter and one which should be of concern to him; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35079/13]

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Mick Wallace

Question:

29. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will request Bord Gáis Éireann to explain why it is placing a high pressure gas main at a depth of 1.2 m along main residential areas in Dublin city; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35078/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 23 and 29 together.

The Deputy will be aware from my replies to previous Parliamentary Questions raised by him on this issue that this is an operational matter for Bord Gáis Éireann (BGE). The company operates in accordance with the safety framework established by the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER), which has statutory responsibility for gas safety. In addition, in accordance with section 39A of the Gas Act 1976, as amended, the CER has responsibility for the assessment of applications to construct transmission pipelines. I have no function in these operational matters.

BGE owns and operates the national transmission and distribution gas network. BGE and the CER have advised that all transmission pipelines, including those in residential areas, are designed, constructed, tested, operated and maintained in accordance with Irish Standard 328:2003, Code of Practice for Gas Transmission Pipelines and Pipeline Installations.

I understand that pipelines in suburban and urban areas are constructed using high grade steel pipe and lain in accordance with Irish Standard 323:2003. In order to ensure the safety of the pipeline a desired minimum level of cover of 1.2 metres is specified throughout. However, it is recognised in the standard that this will not be possible in some circumstances over short sections, for example where existing major services are located and cannot be moved. In these cases, additional pipeline protection measures are specified, such as concrete impact protection, are put in place in accordance with Irish Standard 328:2003. All transmission pipelines must be installed fully in accordance with the requirements of the standard with no breaches or lapses of the standard considered acceptable. Once commissioned, a scheduled routine maintenance and inspection programme is applied to all pipelines.

Following completion of construction, the consent of the CER is required before BGE may operate the pipeline. This consent is subject to a review of all relevant data and test records by a CER commissioned independent consultant. Safety is BGE’s top priority and the company is committed to ongoing development and maintenance of the gas networks and systems to ensure safety and to deliver continuous safety improvement and performance. I have every confidence in BGE’s priority commitment to safety.

I understand the Deputy is referring to the Santry to East Wall gas pipeline. In regard to that pipeline, the consent of the CER to BGE’s undertaking of these works was informed by the advice of independent consultants engaged by the CER. This advice dealt with matters such as the pipeline’s technical compliance with design requirements, including minimum depth specifications, and compliance with the relevant Irish Standard 328:2003.

National Gas Grid

Questions (24, 41)

Denis Naughten

Question:

24. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on the Western Development Commission paper, Why Invest in Gas, which outlines the clear benefit of extending the natural gas distribution network to the north west; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34751/13]

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Thomas Pringle

Question:

41. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his plans for the extension of the gas network in the north west; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35066/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

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.

Wind Energy Guidelines

Questions (25)

Pearse Doherty

Question:

25. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on whether greater regulation of the wind energy sector is needed to attract more long-term investment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35023/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

The 2009 EU Renewable Energy Directive set Ireland a binding target where at least 16% of our energy requirements should come from renewable sources by 2020. In order to meet our overall 16% requirement, Ireland is committed to meeting 40% of electricity demand from renewable sources.

Though these targets are challenging, I am confident that they can be met. My Department’s Strategy for Renewable Energy 2012 to 2020 sets out the key strategic goals for the various renewable energy sectors in the context of Ireland’s EU obligations.

In addition, under the Directive, Ireland was required to set out in a National Renewable Energy Action Plan (NREAP), the trajectory towards meeting its legally binding targets. The NREAP and the First Progress Report on the NREAP, which are available on my Department’s website, show the sectorial and technology breakdown that we anticipate in the achievement of our target.

To date, wind energy has been the largest driver of growth in renewable electricity, contributing most towards the achievement of the 2020 target. In 2012 15.5% of Ireland’s electricity demand was met by wind generation. By the end of quarter one 2013, 1,763 MW (megawatts) of wind generation capacity was connected to the grid. At the end of May this year, the total amount of renewable generation capacity connected to the grid was just over 2,000 MW.

It is estimated that between 3,500 and 4,000 MW of renewable generation capacity will be required to allow Ireland meet its 40% renewable electricity target. There are a number of policy measures in place designed to incentivise the development necessary to meet Ireland’s renewable energy obligations. These policy measures, which take into account the long term nature of energy investments, are underpinned by an appropriate regulatory regime.

The primary support mechanisms for renewable electricity are the Renewable Energy Feed-in Tariff (REFIT) schemes. These schemes are designed to provide certainty to renewable electricity generators by providing them with a minimum floor price for each unit of electricity exported to the grid over a defined period. Using a fixed feed in tariff mechanism, the certainty afforded by a guaranteed minimum price allows developers to access finance for renewable developments.

Under REFIT 2 a total of 4,000 MW can be supported. In order to ensure the necessary incentives are in place to encourage the level of investment required to maintain the rate of build of onshore wind necessary to meet our national target for renewable electricity, earlier this year I decided to amend the terms of REFIT 2 to extend the closing date for applications to 31 December 2015, with projects required to be built by the end of December 2017. Support under REFIT 2 cannot exceed 15 years and will not extend beyond the end of December 2032.

Under the Gate 3 grid connection process, grid connection offers have now issued to just under 4,000 MW of renewable generation, the bulk of which is wind. Under Gate 3 rules, generators must accept an offer within 50 business days of its receipt. I understand that Gate 3 acceptances are scheduled to complete in October this year.

Media Mergers

Questions (26)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

26. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will provide an update on the planned introduction of legislation to deal with the issue of media ownership; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35065/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

As the Deputy will be aware, responsibility for the control of merger and acquisitions, including those relating to the media in the State, lies with my colleague the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. At present I have no function with regard to media, outside of that relating to my broadcasting remit.

However, legislation is in train in the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to significantly update the media mergers function presently contained in the Competition Act of 2002, and to transfer it to my Department.

Energy Resources

Questions (27)

John Browne

Question:

27. Deputy John Browne asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the capital investment plans that are being prepared between the Government, the Northern Ireland Executive and the Scottish Government in the energy sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35036/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

While a number of players in the all-island energy market, including a number of the State energy companies are currently engaged in planning, developing and implementing a variety of capital projects, there are no capital investment plans being directly prepared between the Irish Government, the Northern Ireland Executive and the Scottish Executive in the energy sector.

However, positive inter-governmental engagement and cooperation on energy matters at a regional level continues to operate on a very active level, particularly in the area of marine and ocean energy.

Other areas of common interest in the energy field are being developed between Ireland and Scotland and also involve the European Commission. Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland have recently completed two major projects of regional significance, which were both supported by the EU INTERREG programme. The first project, the BioMara project, examined the potential for energy from marine algae. Final reports in respect of that project are in the process of being completed.

The second project, ISLES,(Irish Scottish Links on Energy Study) was a feasibility study into how to optimally interconnect the Scottish, Northern Ireland and Irish electricity grid systems so as to facilitate the development of offshore marine renewable energy. This was a wide-ranging study with technical, economic, environmental and regulatory workstreams and its reports have value and application right across Europe.

At the recent Strategic Energy Technologies (SET) Plan conference held in May during the Irish Presidency of the Council of the EU, I made an announcement confirming that the administrations of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland had decided that the collaborative process on the ISLES project would enter a further phase. Consequently, the three governments have obtained further INTERREG support to further progress the regulatory and environmental workstreams involved in the ISLES project, to be known as the ISLES II project. I look forward to seeing the results of that further study.

In relation to co-operation at European level which will assist in strengthening energy infrastructure, a Regulation on guidelines for Trans-European Energy Infrastructure came into force on 15th May this year. The Regulation contains guidelines for the identification of “Projects of Common Interest” (PCI). The PCI designation carries certain conditions and entitlements, including more streamlined planning and regulatory processes at Member State level and eligibility for CEF funding.

A number of projects with cross border impacts between Ireland and the UK have been selected by the relevant Regional Group for possible designation as Projects of Common Interest in electricity transmission, gas transmission and storage, and smart grids. These projects are important in terms of enhancing the resilience and efficiency of our energy networks, improving security of supply and facilitating the development of our renewable energy sector.

Final decisions on the possible projects will be made by Member States and the Commission later this month before legal adoption in October.

Youth Unemployment Measures

Questions (28)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

28. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if his Department has engaged in any initiatives to help reduce the level of youth unemployment; if he will consider coordinating with the Department of Social Protection to see how best both Departments can help increase employment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35044/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

A range of initiatives in the Communications and Energy sectors are in place to promote competitiveness and productivity and stimulate youth employment.

Under the Action Plan on Jobs, my Department is committed to a number of measures and policies which will be central to the objective of maximising the country’s growth potential, bringing about economic recovery and creating employment.

The following specific measures will assist in job creation, including for young persons.

Last week I launched the National Digital Strategy which aims to help Irish business gain competitiveness by having access to new markets and a wider customer base. The objective is to get 10,000 Irish businesses online for the first time and to achieve a further 2,000 small Irish businesses trading online over a period of two years. New research, commissioned as part of the National Digital Strategy, shows that the digital economy now accounts for 4.4% of GDP and supports 95,000 jobs.

The Government’s National Broadband Plan, which I published last August, will facilitate the provision of high speed broadband to every home and business in the State and should help smaller non-urban businesses to realise the full potential of trading in a digital economy.

My Department is also co-funding an investment programme with the Department of Education and Skills to deliver 100Mbps to all second level schools. This investment is facilitating innovative learning and helping second level students develop the key skills required in the current and emerging jobs markets. The Digital Hub Development Agency is also funding a Future Creators Programmes which provides computer programming and digital media training for second level students.

In the energy area, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland operates a number of grant programmes under the Better Energy programmatic banner that stimulate employment in the constructions and retrofit sectors. The 2013 Budget for the Better Energy programme is €55 million which will result in the creation and retention of approximately 1,500 jobs. In addition, plans are at an advanced stage to establish an Energy Efficiency Fund, which will provide finance to energy efficiency projects in the public and commercial sectors. The fund will seek to disburse project finance and in the process will have a positive impact on job creation and retention.

My Department is also developing a Better Energy Financing/Pay As You Save (PAYS) scheme which will allow consumers to finance energy upgrades directly through the energy savings generated. Roll out will be developed following comprehensive consultation with all stakeholders and will aim to continue supporting jobs in green construction and retrofit.

Question No. 29 answered with Question No. 23.

Alternative Energy Projects

Questions (30)

Thomas Pringle

Question:

30. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his plans for biomass home heating. [35067/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

My Department, along with a number of other Government departments including the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government as well as the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) is currently finalising a Bioenergy Strategy, which will be published in the autumn. This will set out in detail the actions required to optimise the bioenergy sector’s contribution to the 2020 renewable energy targets.

Renewable Energy Generation Targets

Questions (31)

Brian Stanley

Question:

31. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his strategy for reaching a target of 40 GW of energy from offshore wind farms by 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35025/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

The 2009 EU Renewable Energy Directive set Ireland a binding target of meeting at least 16% of our energy requirement from renewable sources by 2020. As part of the strategy to meet this overall target, Ireland is committed to meeting 40% of electricity demand from renewable generation by 2020. It is estimated that this will require the installation of between 3,500 and 4,000 MW of renewable generation. Currently there is just over 2,000 MW of renewable generation capacity installed on the Irish electricity system.

I understand that 25 MW of offshore wind generation is currently operational, and that, under the Gate 3 process, around 800 MW of offshore wind projects have received grid connection offers. Under Gate 3 rules, generators must accept an offer within 50 business days of its receipt. I understand that Gate 3 acceptances are scheduled to complete in October this year.

With regard to Ireland’s potential to produce renewable electricity beyond the level required by the 2020 target, expert advice suggests that Ireland has the capability to achieve our national targets for renewable electricity from onshore renewable generation alone. However, in addition, it is widely recognised that Ireland has an excellent and abundant renewable energy resource – both onshore and offshore – which has the potential to produce amounts of renewable electricity significantly in excess of the amounts required to meet our 2020 target.

It is in this context that the opportunity to harness this resource for the export market, and realise its potential for investment, job creation and economic growth has been identified. Following my signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on energy cooperation with my UK counterpart on 24 January this year, detailed consideration of how Ireland’s onshore and offshore wind resources might be developed for export to the UK is now underway, with a view to determining if it is beneficial for both countries to enter into an Inter-Governmental Agreement. Though it is ambitious, the target for completion of this work is early 2014, with a view to electricity being exported to the UK by 2020 in order to be counted towards the UK’s national target under the Renewables Directive.

Finally, my Department is currently finalising an Offshore Renewable Energy Development Plan. The process began with the carrying out of a Strategic Environmental Assessment. Informed by the findings of the SEA, the OREDP will identify how best to coordinate action across the environmental, energy and economic development policy areas in order to best facilitate the realisation of Ireland’s abundant offshore renewable energy potential, using both existing offshore wind, and emerging ocean, renewable technologies.

Electric Vehicle Grants

Questions (32)

Seamus Kirk

Question:

32. Deputy Seamus Kirk asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the planned actions his Department has to improve the ease of use of electric cars; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35055/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

In April 2011, I introduced the Electric Vehicle (EV) Grant Scheme to incentivise and support, through grants of up to €5,000, the early deployment of electric vehicles in Ireland in order to provide an early critical mass of such vehicles and to encourage the growth of a stable and robust market for these vehicles.

Since its introduction, the scheme, which is administered by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, has provided grants for 252 vehicles, including 24 in 2013. A €1 million capital allocation has been made in my Department’s 2013 budget for grants towards the purchase of new electric vehicles.

AS well as the EV Grant Scheme, the ESB, through its Ecars programme, is continuing to roll out both publicly accessible charging infrastructure and domestic charge points, and has informed my Department that its targets are to install at least 1,000 publicly accessible charge points in all main towns and cities and 60 fast chargers on major roads by the end of 2013.