Broadband Services Provision

Questions (166)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

166. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources when he expects the availability of high-speed broadband to extend to all areas throughout the country; the steps necessary to bring about same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45550/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

The Government's National Broadband Plan, which I published in August 2012, aims to radically change the broadband landscape in Ireland by ensuring that high speed broadband is available to all citizens and businesses. This will be achieved by providing: a policy and regulatory framework that assists in accelerating and incentivising commercial investment, and a State-led investment for areas where it is not commercial for the market to invest.

Since the publication of the Plan, investments by the commercial sector are underway in both fixed line and wireless high speed broadband services. ComReg has put in place a new regulatory regime for fixed line Next Generation Access and for service bundles, both of which are designed to incentivise the rollout of services by service providers. ComReg's multiband spectrum auction, completed in 2012, is also enabling the rollout of advanced mobile broadband services.

The State can only intervene to ensure access to broadband services in areas where the competitive market fails to deliver such services. In order to progress the State-led investment for areas where it is not commercial for the market to invest, a full procurement process must be designed and EU State Aids approval must be obtained. My Department is engaged in a comprehensive mapping exercise of the current and anticipated investment by the commercial sector to identify where the market is expected to deliver high speed broadband services over the coming years. The results of this mapping exercise will inform the precise areas that need to be targeted in the State-led investment as envisaged in the National Broadband Plan.

Intensive technical, financial and legal preparations, including stakeholder engagement, are ongoing. The procurement process for the approved intervention will be carried out in accordance with EU and Irish procurement rules and it is expected that it will be launched in 2014. Through the implementation of the National Broadband Plan, I am committed to ensuring that all parts of Ireland have access to high speed broadband, with a view to ensuring that all citizens and businesses can participate fully in, and maximise the benefits of, a digitally enabled economy and society.

Renewable Energy Generation Issues

Questions (167)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

167. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent to which fossil fuels continue to be replaced by alternative energy in the area of electricity generation, motor fuel and domestic heating fuels; the extent to which the alternative energy remains competitive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45551/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

The overarching objective of the Government's energy policy is to ensure secure and sustainable supplies of competitively priced energy to all consumers. Ireland is currently heavily reliant on imported fossil fuels to meet our energy needs. While it is acknowledged that fossil fuels will remain part of the energy mix for some time to come, progress is being made towards increasing the share of renewable energy in our energy requirements. The 2009 EU Renewable Energy Directive set Ireland a legally binding target of meeting 16% of our energy requirements from renewable sources by 2020. In order to meet this target, Ireland is committed to meeting 40% of electricity demand, 12% of heating and 10% of transport power from renewable sources, with the transport target also being legally binding.

There are already a number of policies in place to support the cost effective increase in renewable energy across the three sectors and this increase in renewable energy will continue to play a direct role in reducing our reliance on expensive fossil fuel imports. Provisional figures for 2012 indicate that 6.9% of our overall energy requirements were met from renewable sources, made up of 19.5% in electricity, 5.1% in heat and 2.3% in transport. My Department is also currently finalising a bioenergy strategy following cross-Departmental and stakeholder engagement. The strategy will set out the actions, including any additional policies, required to optimise the cost effective contribution that energy from biomass can make to the 2020 renewable energy targets and thus further reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

Biofuel Obligation Scheme Implementation

Questions (168)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

168. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent to which incentives remain available to encourage the use of biodiesel and bioethanol; the way this compares with other jurisdictions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45552/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

The Renewable Energy Directive requires that all Member States must ensure that, by 2020, 10% of energy in transport comes from renewable sources. Ireland plans to meet the transport target primarily by mandating the use of biofuels through the Biofuel Obligation Scheme. The scheme works by obligating road transport fuel suppliers to bring a certain amount of sustainable biofuel to the market and in 2012 over 128 million litres were placed on the Irish market when the obligation rate was 4%. Since 1 January 2013, the obligation rate was increased to 6% by volume.

All but a few Member States operate a quota or obligation system with the mandates ranging from 1.83% to 7% by volume. A number of Member States have defined the obligation in energy terms with the resultant volume of biofuels required to meet the mandate depending on the fuel mix of their respective transport fleets. Biofuels are also supported through the use of the tax systems and grant aid in a number of Member States.

Fuel Prices

Questions (169)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

169. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent to which he directly or through the aegis of the regulator continues to monitor the prices of diesel and petrol at filling stations; if current prices reflect the reduction of prices of oil on the international markets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45553/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

The Irish oil industry is fully privatised, liberalised and deregulated and there is free entry to the market. There is no price control and it is Government policy to encourage price competition and consumer choice. Neither I nor the Commission for Energy Regulation has a statutory function in the regulation of petrol and diesel prices.

The upward trend in petrol and diesel prices arises primarily from increases in international commodity prices over which Ireland has no control. For example, the benchmark spot price of a barrel of Brent Crude Oil has risen from an average of US$58 in February 2007 to an average of US$110 in October 2013. This has inevitably resulted in an increase in retail petrol and diesel prices. Previous surveys have shown that prices charged by Irish retailers for oil products relate to the refinery price rather than to the price of crude oil. Prices at the pump reflect volatile market prices, transportation costs, trends in euro/dollar exchange rates and other operating costs, together with the impact of taxation on oil products.

My focus is on measures that will increase penetration of renewable energy resources in the area of transport. The Biofuel Obligation Scheme incentivises and enables the sustainable growth of an Irish biofuels market. The Scheme currently requires that the amount of biofuel brought to the market is not less than 6.38% of petroleum road transport fuels. In 2012 some 128 million litres of biofuel were brought to the Irish market. Additionally, the development of electric vehicles offers potential for Ireland to use cheaper grid sourced electricity. These opportunities will progressively reduce our dependence on imported fossil fuels for transport, while supporting energy competitiveness and security.

Research and Development Funding

Questions (170)

Eric J. Byrne

Question:

170. Deputy Eric Byrne asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on the multiple independent procurements of research grant management software by agencies under the control of his Department and the total cost to the taxpayer of these systems; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the same supplier has supplied all but one of these systems and that all are complaint with EU Commission standards on the exchange of research information and are all capable of being integrated into one grant management system as has been done in the US and the UK with the consequent savings that produces; the reason despite the existence of a National Research Platform Report, no progress has been made on the implementation of an integrated national research platform; if his attention has been drawn to the consequent diversion of resources in research bodies HEs and others to the management of these multiple systems and away from the proper good governance of public resources spent on research. [45569/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

The procurement of software by agencies under the aegis of my Department is an operational matter for each agency. All of these agencies are aware of the necessity to comply with national and EU legislation and procurement rules to achieve efficiency and value for money in the procurement of goods and services. Issues in relation to research policy are a matter for the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.

Departmental Expenditure

Questions (171)

Seán Fleming

Question:

171. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the expenditure adjustment that will be made within his Department in 2014; the full-year impact of expenditure measures that will be taken in 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45582/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

The 2014 Expenditure Report estimate for voted expenditure for my Department is €401 million, consisting of €321 million in current and €80 million in capital expenditure. The full year reduction over the 2013 estimate amounts to €14.5 million with €9.5 million current savings and €5 million capital savings identified. Current expenditure sees a reduction in the following areas: Payroll savings, Grant in Aid to RTE, The Broadcasting Fund and Communications, Energy and Inland Fisheries programme areas.

In relation to capital, there are reductions in Energy and Natural Resources allocations along with an increase of €12.5 million in the allocation for Communications programmes. In addition to the amounts shown in the estimates for my Department, under the Government's Stimulus Package, I secured an additional €30m in funding to increase investment in the Better Energy and Warmer Home energy efficiency schemes to a total of €57 million in 2014. These schemes fund energy efficiency improvements by householders as well as energy efficiency measures free of charge to low-income households. In 2014, over 30,000 homes are expected to benefit from energy efficiency upgrades under these schemes, bringing the total number of homes supported to more than 290,000. This detail will be shown in full in the Revised Estimates which will be published in the coming weeks.

Water Meters Issues

Questions (172)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

172. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he is confident that persons who will be paying for water will have full access to be able to either directly, or through independent verification, access the readings on their new water meters to ascertain their usage and to be able to verify faults; if no such access exists, if he will confirm that only Irish Water and their agents will have sole access to this information; if this represents a potential problem for dispute resolution in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45426/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Water Services Act 2013 provides for the establishment of Irish Water as an independent subsidiary within the Bord Gáis Éireann Group and assigns the necessary powers to allow Irish Water to undertake the water metering programme. Water meters used for domestic billing must comply with the EU Measuring Instrument Directive which sets standards of accuracy. This Directive is implemented in Ireland by the Legal Metrology (European Conformity Assessment of Measuring Instruments) Regulations 2007. The Legal Metrology Service of the National Standards Authority of Ireland is the statutory body responsible for regulating and supervising weights and measures, including meters, in Ireland. Customers will be able to access to their water meters.

The Government has decided to assign responsibility for the economic regulation of the water sector, including the setting of charges, to the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER).  The primary role of CER will be to protect the interests of customers and to ensure a consistent and appropriate level of service is provided to them. It is envisaged that, as part of its customer protection role, the CER will establish a dispute resolution service for customers of Irish Water. This approach is in line with the services CER already provide for customers in the energy sector.

Electromagnetic Fields Studies

Questions (173)

John Halligan

Question:

173. Deputy John Halligan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to any research having been carried out in Ireland or the EU in relation to the impact pylons have on a person's health; his views on whether these pylons may trigger cancer cells to develop; if the World Health Organisation have made any assessment on the health effects of pylons to persons living within close proximity to these pylons; his views on whether the erection of pylons will have a detrimental effect on those living in the surrounding areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45477/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The issue of the potential health effects of electromagnetic fields was the subject of an Expert Group Report commissioned by the Government and published in March 2007. This Report, entitled Health Effects of Electromagnetic Fields , is available for download on my Department's website ( www.environ.ie). The Expert Group reported that the majority scientific opinion was that no adverse short or long-term effects have been demonstrated from exposure to electromagnetic fields at levels below the limits recommended by the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).

A substantial volume of research on this issue is being carried out internationally by regulatory bodies with responsibilities for monitoring the health effects of electromagnetic fields. The findings of this research are being monitored by the World Health Organisation's (WHO) EMF Project; it is expected that a report will issue in 2014. My Department will continue to monitor this and other scientific evidence as it is made available, and will consider any policy implications in this context.

Tax Yield

Questions (174)

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

174. Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the total anticipated value in 2013 of the local government fund and of the motor tax fund; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45512/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The estimated income to the Local Government Fund in 2013, as set out in the Revised Estimates for Public Services 2013 published by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, is €1.12 billion, of which €1.11 billion relates to Motor Tax receipts.

Property Taxation Yield

Questions (175)

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

175. Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if the 80% of the property tax take ring-fenced for local authorities refers to each local authority where tax was collected, or if the total collected will be ring-fenced for all local authorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45515/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The local government funding model will change considerably in 2014. Under the Finance (Local Property Tax) Act 2012, commencing in 2014 the Minister for Finance will pay into the Local Government Fund an amount equivalent to the Local Property Tax paid into the Central Fund during that year; this revenue will be allocated to local authorities from the Fund. In addition, the establishment of Irish Water and its financial relationship with the local government sector will have a considerable impact on local authority financing.

The Government has indicated an intention to move to 80% retention of all Local Property Tax receipts within the local authority area where the Tax is raised. The establishment of Irish Water presents local government with significant organisational and financial challenges in 2014 and, in this context, it has been necessary to defer defining a certain proportion of the proceeds of the Local Property Tax to be retained in each local authority until 2015. This approach allows maximum flexibility in allocating Local Property Tax in 2014 with the priority to support those local authorities with weaker funding bases. The 2014 Local Government Fund General Purpose Grants will be announced in due course.

I expect the Local Property Tax to have multiple benefits, including a more sustainable and resilient system of funding for local authorities and therefore a sounder financial footing for the provision of essential local services; greater local scope for financial decision-making concerning service provision - in particular, the inclusion of the local variation mechanism will further increase the autonomy of local authorities; and a strengthening of democracy at local level with a more active relationship between local authorities and local electorates. A stronger democratic relationship and clearer lines of accountability can only have a beneficial impact on service provision from the perspective of the service user.

Wind Energy Guidelines

Questions (176)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

176. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the number of approvals including planning permission granted or pending in respect of wind farms in County Kildare to date; the legislative basis including guidelines, regulations or statutory instruments applicable in such cases or in the event of such cases; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45541/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

My Department does not collate the specific statistical data requested. The Wind Energy Guidelines 2006, issued under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, are in place to ensure that all proposed wind energy developments are subjected to careful scrutiny by the relevant planning authority. They provide advice to planning authorities on catering for wind energy through the development plan and development management processes. The guidelines are also intended to ensure a consistency of approach throughout the country in the identification of suitable locations for wind energy development and the treatment of planning applications for such developments. They require both planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála to have regard to them in the performance of their functions.

My Department is currently undertaking a targeted review of these guidelines focusing on noise, proximity and shadow flicker. The indicative timetable for the publication of the draft revised guidelines is Quarter 4 2013. The draft guidelines will – like all other new or revised guidelines – go out for extensive public consultation for a period of 6 weeks to 2 months, to allow for publication of the final guidelines in 2014.