Energy Policy

Questions (7)

Brian Stanley

Question:

7. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his plans for a microgeneration scheme; and the role he envisages for the Microgeneration Support Scheme Bill 2017 in the plan. [28306/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Communications)

My question is on the Minister's plans for microgeneration. How will my Microgeneration Support Scheme Bill fit into his plans? The Bill has completed Second Stage and a report is due on it.

The climate action plan launched last month sets out Ireland's 2030 ambitions and puts the State on the right trajectory to meet net zero emissions by 2050. The plan provides that a support payment for excess electricity generated on site and exported to the grid will be available to all microgenerators by 2021 at the latest. ESB Networks and the Commission for Regulation of Utilities will assess potential implications for the distribution network of higher penetration of microgeneration by the end of 2019. Furthermore, my Department will establish a working group to set policy objectives which, in turn, will lead to the detailed design of the support scheme. The annexe to the climate action plan contains the detailed actions, timelines and associated responsibility to ensure delivery.

To ensure fairness to microgenerators and energy consumers, there are a number of issues that need to be considered and addressed in developing a scheme for microgeneration. These include a reform of the network charges, an assessment of the distributional impact of such a policy decision on the public service obligation levy, PSO, and the development of a fair tariff for exported electricity taking into account the benefits of self-consumption. This approach is in line with the experience of other EU member states which have attempted to introduce supports for microgeneration.

The microgeneration pilot scheme, launched last year and administered by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, is being reviewed and the costs of installation are being assessed. The data gathered during this pilot scheme will inform potential future phases of support for microgeneration that may be appropriate, as we align with the ambition of the recast renewable energy directive, which recognises the rights, entitlements and obligations of renewable self-consumers. The Microgeneration Support Scheme Bill 2017 was not opposed by the Government. The Select Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment has held a number of hearings into this issue in recent months.

I hope the Bill is not opposed by Government. I first introduced it in 2017 but it has been moving at a snail's pace. I am glad that Committee Stage is under way, as the Minister of State noted. We are awaiting the clerk's report on that and I hope we will be able to see quicker progress at that point. Will the Government block the Bill? Should we expect it to use the money message facility at the last minute? I hope that will not be the case. The Minister of State should flag now if that is the Government's intention. We are open to amendments to the Bill from the Government and other parties, as I have said throughout the process. Sinn Féin's intention in the Bill is to plan ahead and allow families, schools, farmers, small businesses, local clubs and GAA clubs to produce power for self-consumption and export to the grid. It is an example of joined-up thinking. Will the Minister of State indicate when we can expect to see a microgeneration support scheme in place?

The pilot scheme that has been carried out will inform the potential future phases of support for microgeneration. That is important. We will take on board the good work the Deputy has been doing on microgeneration, including in his Bill. It is important that we fully assess how we will implement a microgeneration scheme, including tariffs and related issues. The ambition of Government is that the scheme will be in place by 2020.

It is good to hear a scheme will be in place by 2020. There are good examples of microgeneration schemes in other countries. I know the Department will be ultra-cautious on these issues but there are good examples of schemes that are already operating. I ask that lessons be learned from those examples. The average person wants to know when he or she will be able to self-generate and export excess energy to the grid. My Bill has been on the books for two years but I hope we are now making progress with it. The Minister of State has not answered my question as to whether the Government will block it using the money message device. I hope it will not do so. The Bill has broad support in the House so I ask that it would not be delayed.

We need to move this discussion on. It was difficult to get a discussion going on these types of issues in the 31st Dáil but the discussion on energy and climate action has intensified in recent years, particularly in the past six months. Will we have big thinking from Government on this area? The Minister of State indicated a microgeneration scheme will be introduced in 2020. Can we expect large-scale microgeneration to commence in 2020? Big thinking is needed.

The all-of-Government climate action plan is an example of big thinking but it is also practical. It includes key dates, timelines on details on how targets will be delivered. On international best practice, some countries have taken successful approaches to microgeneration, while the approaches of others have been a failure. The clever approach is to look and learn from the successes and failures in other countries to avoid repeating the mistakes made elsewhere. We need to put a scheme in place that is effective and fair and ensures that all those who take part in it are treated properly.

Climate Change Policy

Questions (8)

Tony McLoughlin

Question:

8. Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the role which carbon proofing of policy will play in achieving the national policy objective of carbon neutrality; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28564/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Communications)

I ask the Minister to explain and make a statement on the role which carbon proofing of policy will play in achieving the national policy objective of carbon neutrality.

Carbon proofing will have a key role to play in the transition to a low-carbon economy and has been recognised by the Climate Change Advisory Council as an important tool for Ireland to achieve its long-term decarbonisation objectives in a cost-effective manner by 2050. As part of project appraisal for all public capital investments, it is essential to avoid expenditure that locks in long-term fossil fuel consumption. To that end, the climate action plan commits to reviewing the Government's public spending code in 2019. This guidance currently includes values for monetising the greenhouse gas emissions associated with Government investment and the plan proposes to significantly strengthen the calculation of a shadow price of carbon, such that proposed Government investments will need to value carbon at a level which will see the shadow price increase to €32 per tonne by 2020, €100 per tonne by 2030 and €265 per tonne by 2050.

The reform of the public spending code will also see a new stage introduced into the project life cycle. The project identification stage will become the first stage of the life cycle with the purpose of ensuring early consideration of approaches to deal with a policy issue ahead of selecting the preferred option and proceeding to the appraisal stage. Climate considerations will be incorporated in this new life cycle stage.

Consistent application of these rules will allow decision-makers to better understand and appreciate the climate consequences of their investment options. Separately, the climate action plan commits the Government to ensuring that all Government memoranda and major investment decisions are subject to a carbon impact and mitigation evaluation, for which a template will be developed. This will be incorporated in Cabinet procedures, in regulatory impact assessments and in project evaluation processes.

What procedures will be put in place to ensure robust oversight by Government of carbon proofing to ensure that we stay on track to achieve a carbon-neutral future?

There are two dimensions to the answer to that question. In terms of staying on track, we are setting up an implementation committee within the Department of the Taoiseach which will be co-chaired by the Secretaries General of that Department and of my Department. That will oversee the roll out and implementation of the action plan. In addition, there will be carbon proofing within the Government process so that each memorandum that comes to Government that would have a carbon impact would be assessed as part of the Government decision on it. We will look to models of best practice in other countries and that will be enshrined in Cabinet procedure.

There will be two processes, one anticipating the new decisions and the other overseeing the actions to which we have committed.

I approve all that the Minister aims to achieve but what is the timeframe for these proposals?

The carbon-proofing of Government memoranda will come in later this year. It will be developed by the Department of the Taoiseach with input from other Departments, particularly the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

North-South Interconnector

Questions (9)

Brendan Smith

Question:

9. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the stage the proposed North-South interconnector is at; the status of the planning process in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28552/19]

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Oral answers (15 contributions) (Question to Communications)

I have previously outlined to this Minister and his predecessors the absolute opposition of communities in Meath, Monaghan and Cavan to the proposed North-South interconnector. Those views are shared in the affected areas north of the Border too. Eirgrid has not listened to the views of those communities and neither has the Department, nor the Minister's predecessors. A clear message from the communities North and South is that if this project is to proceed it needs to have buy-in from communities and local landowners. If the project is to go ahead those transmission cables need to be put underground as happens with other major projects throughout Europe. The Minister is aware that some overground transmission cables in other parts of Europe are being put underground.

The North-South interconnector is critical to improving the efficient operation of the single electricity market and increasing security of electricity supply across the island of Ireland. A resilient and well connected energy infrastructure is vital for Ireland's economic well being and the ability to respond to the future needs of energy consumers. In December 2016 An Bord Pleanála granted planning permission for the project in Ireland, while in January 2018 full planning permission was granted for the section of the line that lies in Northern Ireland. Both of the planning decisions have been subject to legal proceedings in each jurisdiction. In Ireland a Supreme Court appeal of the planning permission was dismissed on 19 February 2019.

In Northern Ireland, on 8 February 2019, the Department for Infrastructure asked the High Court to quash the planning permission given so the planning application can be re-determined under new legislation introduced by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in November 2018. The planning process in Northern Ireland is a matter for the authorities there.

There are currently a number of ongoing procurements in relation to the project being undertaken and managed by ESB Networks. In June 2019 ESB Networks awarded a framework contract for the design, test and supply of steelwork in relation to the project. However, under this framework there will be no supply of materials until the planning process in Northern Ireland is complete.

The earliest possible date for construction to commence is early 2020.

Does the Minister of State have any idea when a determination will be finalised in respect of the planning project in Northern Ireland? How can a procurement process proceed even in its initial stages if there is not planning permission?

I recently mentioned to the Minister of State's colleague that we were told some years ago that the lights would go out in Northern Ireland if the North-South interconnector did not proceed within a very short timeframe. The most recent electricity generation reports published by Eirgrid and the System Operator for Northern Ireland, SONI, indicate clearly that there is a surplus of energy supply in Northern Ireland.

None of us is against the all-Ireland electricity market. We favour all-Ireland economic development. The Minister of State, however, should have been made aware by departmental officials and Eirgrid, if it is reporting correctly to the Department, that communities in Meath, Monaghan, Cavan, Armagh and Tyrone are vehemently opposed to the project as proposed. Communities deserve to be listened to. Most public representatives in Meath, Monaghan and Cavan have attended numerous public meetings where hundreds of people turned up to outline their concerns and their total opposition to the Eirgrid proposals as constituted.

There is a very definite need for this North-South interconnector. It is critical to ensuring that we have a safe, secure supply of electricity throughout the island of Ireland. It also supports the core objectives of European and national energy policy: sustainability, security of supply and competitiveness. The benefits associated with the project will include an increase in competitiveness by reducing costs for energy consumers through more efficient operation of the electricity system on the island of Ireland. A key barrier to the efficient operation of the single electricity market since 2007 has been the limited interconnection between the electricity systems in Ireland and Northern Ireland with only one high capacity interconnector between the two electricity systems. They cannot operate as a single system. This limits the benefits that can be derived from the single electricity market. This project will ensure that the efficiencies in the single electricity market are fully realised to the benefit of the energy consumers.

Security of supply will be increased. The planning process has been dealt with. It has gone for judicial review and that is the process by which these projects are brought forward.

That planning permission was granted by a public servant in Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, there is no political system in place there due to the intransigence of the Democratic Unionist Party, DUP, and Sinn Féin.

This is not a matter of opposition to the development of the all-Ireland electricity market, far from it. The landowners and people living in those communities, who are very concerned about the proposal, are not opposed to the development of the North-South interconnector. They want it developed, if it is necessary, on the basis that the transmission cables will be put underground and not overground where they will be a blight on the countryside and hinder development in the years to come for those communities, in a large part of the country, North and South.

Eirgrid has continued to refuse to listen to the concerns of public representatives in those counties and to communities. People are not opposed to a North-South interconnector, provided those transmission cables are put underground, as is happening in major projects in many other countries in Europe. It is disingenuous for any Minister or any statutory agency to try to suggest that people opposed to the North-South interconnector proposal are opposed to the North-South electricity market. We welcome all-Ireland economic developments.

Neither I, nor the Minister, Deputy Bruton, would ever say anything like that and I do not think anybody has said it. The important point is that there has been a planning process. There has been a review of putting it underground and my understanding is that it would cost three times more than it costs now.

That is not true.

We are trying to create an interconnector that will provide competitiveness, security of supply and sustainability. I appreciate that people will have concerns about it but it has been through the planning process judicial review. That is an independent process. It is not carried out by Ministers or the Department. That is what the Planning Authority and An Bord Pleanála are there to do.

There is zero acceptance of these proposals.

The Deputy should resume his seat.

There is no planning permission to enter 584 holdings.

The Deputy is breaking the rules. I am surprised at him.

I am not. I am just stating the facts.

I am very surprised at Deputy Smith. I call Deputy Michael Moynihan.

Cyber Security Policy

Questions Nos. 11 to 13, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.

Questions (10)

Michael Moynihan

Question:

10. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if digital security is under his remit [22087/19]

View answer

Oral answers (4 contributions) (Question to Communications)

My question will be short because I have a Business Committee meeting at 10.30 a.m. What plans are in place for digital security? Across the world, people are very concerned about this. There are many challenges and there have been breaches of digital security. What plans has the Government outlined for each Department and for the security of the State?

I thank the Deputy for this important and timely question. The National Cyber Security Centre was established under my Department following a Government decision in 2011 and has a remit across the digital and cybersecurity of Government ICT and critical national infrastructure under the Network and Information Security Directive. The centre is focused on developing capacity to protect Government information and communications networks and on engaging with stakeholders on sharing information, securing systems and responding to incidents.

The National Cyber Security Centre has three central roles: to manage and share information relating to threats to network and information security; to manage and collate incident reports and threat-intelligence data; and to issue advisories to constituents and-or the public, including during ongoing incidents. The centre also provides early warnings and alerts, and disseminates information about dynamic risk, incident analysis and situational awareness.

The centre is home to the national computer security incident response team, which acts as a conduit for information to constituents, including operators of critical national infrastructure and Departments and agencies, and is responsible for the provision of expert advice and analysis on cybersecurity issues and for co-ordinating the response to significant incidents.

The resources for the group have been considerably expanded in recent years as it takes on new responsibilities under EU directives. A new cybersecurity strategy is currently in preparation, which takes account of the latest assessment of risks and international experience.

I have one brief supplementary question. How many people are employed in the National Cyber Security Centre to police this or to try to get a handle on cybersecurity and ensure that digital information is secure and safe from national and international hackers?

The resource for the centre has been steadily increased and it has approximately 30 staff. The ongoing resourcing requirements will be reviewed in the context of the next cybersecurity strategy. The strategy has just been out for public consultation and will be finalised shortly.

Questions Nos. 11 to 13, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.

Renewable Energy Generation Targets

Question No. 15 replied to with Written Answers.

Questions (14)

Brian Stanley

Question:

14. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the renewable energy infrastructure he plans to develop or assist in developing by 2030. [28308/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Communications)

We are moving fast this morning and I am looking around to see where the rest of the left is: there are huge gaps on the benches.

What plans do the Minister and his Department have to assist in the development of renewable energy infrastructure plans by 2030, which is one of the big challenges we face?

In the climate action plan I have set a target of 70% for renewable electricity by 2030 to make Ireland a leader in responding to climate change. This will build on the progress made in the past ten years, in which the renewable energy sector has undergone a considerable transformation, with the share of renewable electricity generation more than doubling to 30% in 2017. However, we must step up the scale of our plans even further in order to meet our climate ambitions. Analysis and modelling to underpin the plan assessed a range of options to ensure that Ireland meets its 2030 climate and energy ambitions. The plan identifies a range of technical, regulatory, legislative and economic factors that arise. The impact on the cost of electricity, affordability for consumers and business competitiveness of setting higher renewable electricity targets must also be considered. To meet the 70% target, major capital investment will be needed in new generation capacity, system service infrastructure, and electricity transmission and distribution networks. A review of the policy and regulatory framework will be necessary to incentivise electricity storage infrastructure, which will be critical to absorbing higher levels of renewable generation on to the system. Progressing EirGrid's programme, Delivering a Secure, Sustainable Electricity System, known as DS3, and the efficient procurement of low-carbon generation through the single-market capacity auctions, will be critical to delivering the system changes required to meet our 70% target.

In addition, increased interconnection, including to France and further interconnection to the UK, will be required to facilitate the large up-scaling in onshore and offshore wind so that we can balance the grid and ensure security of supply. In parallel, delivering an early and complete phase-out of coal- and peat-fired electricity generation will create space for the entry of new renewable energy assets into the market.

The new renewable electricity support scheme, RESS, is critical to meeting Ireland's contribution to the target and is being designed to achieve that in a cost-competitive way. Private sector funding through corporate contracting will be essential for meeting higher levels of ambition to increase renewable energy supply and deliver on long-term decarbonisation. The RESS will be characterised by a series of renewable electricity auctions, aligned with the ambition set out in the climate action plan and the final national energy and climate plan, NECP, which is due to be submitted to the European Commission by the end of the year.

I thank the Minister for that reply. He mentioned the Celtic interconnector, which is a very important and welcome development for this country. It is hoped that when we develop renewable sources, electricity will be exported by the interconnector and it will help guarantee our supply. Last week, I received a reply from the Minister's Department to a parliamentary question, which said that as part of the climate action plan the State intends that a total of €13.7 billion will be put into energy investment by 2027. That is good but that is all the information the Department gave me. How much of that investment is expected to come from the State? Will there be matching funding from the private sector? Will it be through PPPs? It will not, I hope, be done through a gap-funded model similar to the broadband plan.

The big question is this. We know that the private sector will not do this on its own and that we have very successful semi-State companies, such as the ESB, Bord na Móna and Coillte. Will those companies be big players in this?

The detail of the €13.7 billion investment has to be worked out, but it will be in the areas I mentioned, namely, the system service infrastructure, the transmission and distribution networks, the interconnectors and storage infrastructure. Those are predominantly State infrastructures to facilitate the system's capacity for more renewables.

The private sector contribution will predominantly involve companies bidding at auctions and State bidders will not be favoured over private bidders. The auctions will have to be run in such a fashion that all bidders are treated equally. However, there will be separate pots, as one might call them. For example, we envisage a community pot the bidders for which could not be large private sector players. It will be a confined pot. Similarly, there may in time be a confined pot for offshore wind. As the Deputy will appreciate, that is at an earlier stage and will need to be given an opportunity to gain a foothold over time. In summary, the participation of the private sector will take place predominantly within the auction system.

I accept that there will have to be a rules-based auction system. My question is whether, as the shareholder and representative of the public in the ESB, Bord na Móna and Coillte, the Minister sees those companies becoming major players here. A lot of that is a matter for the policy direction of Government notwithstanding that the boards of those companies will make their own decisions. In the case of Bord na Móna, it is very welcome that it is going ahead with plans for renewable energy. As the key player in the setting of the policy direction, does the Government envisage these three companies having the major role?

I refer to biogas. France has 1,000 biogas plants producing clean biogas energy while Germany has 6,000. England has 600 and we have one. We are playing catch-up there. I put the point to the Minister also that we need to start developing biomass supply chains again. I will keep pushing this with the Minister. We do not have those chains here and we must start to develop them. What plans does the Government have to do so?

I agree absolutely with the Deputy. We intend that the ESB, Coillte and Bord na Móna will be major players. Those companies have set out significant ambitions and put plans in train and will play a strategic role in the move to a decarbonised economy. We announced recently the renewable heat support scheme which will allow biomass provision to replace existing heat systems. A generous support scheme has been published and is envisaged to remove 10 million tonnes of carbon equivalent over the period 2021 to 2030, which is a significant initiative. There was biogas participation in the climate action fund. A successful biogas project under the fund will be a very useful test base to determine its potential role, which I do not doubt will be very significant.

Question No. 15 replied to with Written Answers.

Better Energy Homes Scheme

Questions (16)

Brian Stanley

Question:

16. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the number of homes planned to be insulated and retrofitted by 2030; and the support that will be offered to households. [28309/19]

View answer

Oral answers (10 contributions) (Question to Communications)

Deputy Stanley is hitting the jackpot this morning with questions.

I have the place to myself. Normally, I get in only one priority question with the rest falling at the back. My question is to ask the Minister how many homes the Department intends to insulate and see retrofitted by 2030. What kind of State support will be made available in that regard?

The recently published climate action plan sets an ambitious target of 500,000 energy efficiency retrofits by 2030. Achievement of this target will be supported by a Project Ireland 2040 allocation of €3 billion as well as the range of measures identified in the plan. One such measure is the development of a new retrofitting delivery model which will group retrofitting projects together to achieve economies of scale, leverage private finance and ensure easy pay-back methods. Savings on electricity bills from using less energy will help to fund repayments while homes will be warmer and produce lower levels of emissions. Other relevant initiatives identified in the plan include: the introduction of improvements to the BER certificate to provide more guidance to homeowners; the development of interactive tools and reports for homeowners to identify the impact of energy efficiency upgrades; an expansion of the pilot salary incentive scheme for energy efficiency upgrades; the identification of options for the financing of energy upgrades such as green mortgages; an assessment of the potential for energy suppliers to pilot a pay-as-you-save mechanism and on-bill finance; and enhanced delivery models and supports for households with lower incomes.

The primary current support for retrofitting is the programme of grant schemes funded by my Department and operated by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. Since 2000, more than 400,000 homes have received direct support under these schemes to improve their energy efficiency. This year, I have allocated €85 million to the schemes. The climate action plan commits to reviewing and redesigning these grant schemes to ensure alignment with Government objectives and value for money.

The reply refers to the retrofitting of 500,000 homes by 2030, which is a significant and welcome target. The problem, however, is that I received a previous reply from the Department which stated that over a three-year period, 305 homes benefitted from deep retrofitting grants provided by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, which is a minuscule number in the context of what we are trying to do. I flag that to the Minister. It is a fantasy to say we will retrofit 500,000 homes if we are only doing 100 homes a year now. Even if we were to retrofit 10,000 homes a year, it would take until 2069 to get to 500,000. That is the scale of the challenge we face.

Support schemes are one thing, but I highlight to the Minister also the issue of apprenticeships and training. In his current role and in his former role as Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton has told me the private sector was not taking up apprenticeship and training schemes. We accept that. The question is what we do about it as a State. We must intervene to get the skills in place. They are not there in the building industry at the moment.

I acknowledge the Deputy's support for the action plan. It is a significant target at 50,000 per year whereas the current rate is 34,000 per year, approximately. As the Deputy says, rightly, retrofitting takes place currently at a lower level. These are shallower retrofittings. To be fair, the deep retrofitting scheme was a pilot and was never intended to constitute the final approach. As I indicated in my reply, we will have to design a different model to hit the proposed targets. The current model envisages people coming forward on an individual or small-group basis to commit to an investment of €30,000 in return for a 50% grant. We must look at bundling larger areas, better contracts, better tendering for blocks of work and more effective delivery.

I agree with the Deputy that the action plan represents a major opportunity to develop new skills and a new sector. I envisage that the retrofitting sector will be worth at least a €1 billion to €1.5 billion. While that is approximately 5% of the construction sector overall, it will nonetheless be important and we will have to develop new apprenticeships and skills within it. Part of the development of the new delivery model will be about ensuring the supply chain is capable of achieving the targets. As the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, said, we will be looking to the education and training boards to support the delivery of that supply chain with new traineeships and apprenticeships. We will also see new companies getting involved in this to support the supply chain.

On skills, I highlight to the Minister the Mount Lucas training centre run by the Laois and Offaly Education and Training Board. The potential exists to expand that centre, which is geographically located in the middle of the country. I asked questions about the centre seven years ago, at which stage fewer than 20 people went through it in one year. According to a reply to a parliamentary question I submitted recently, the numbers have now increased with 120 people undertaking training in relation to specialist building skills at the centre last year. Enrolment must be accelerated and the potential exists to develop that. I flag that to the Minister to be helpful. I would like to see that development take place given that the centre is in the midlands in the Laois-Offaly area where jobs are needed. The centre is located near Edenderry and Daingean and the site of the old briquette factory and, as such, it fits in with the just transition we have been talking about.

We need to continue with shallow retrofitting also. Many houses in the State are still single-glazed and have pre-2006 attic insulation. There are even some houses with no insulation. That low-hanging fruit needs to be picked. Some such households are in the lowest income bracket and are experiencing fuel poverty. I ask that they receive attention.

I agree with the Deputy. Group and area-based schemes will allow us to carry out those shallow retrofits as they will offer people an easy, turnkey process by which to do so. I assure the Deputy that not only did I visit Mount Lucas as Minister for Education and Skills, but I have also visited in my new role. I fully acknowledge its potential. It is a fantastic centre. Great things are happening there not only in the area of training, but also in the area of piloting new sustainable options for Bord na Móna. I see it becoming a very significant player in the development of a supply chain. It is good to see that the midlands regional enterprise strategy has made developing opportunities in the decarbonised economy a key priority for the development of the region.

We will move on to Question No. 17, which - you guessed it - is again in the name of Deputy Stanley.

The Deputy had better play the lotto today.

It normally works out badly for me.

Electric Vehicles

Questions (17)

Brian Stanley

Question:

17. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his plans to increase the use of electric vehicles, EVs, here. [28305/19]

View answer

Oral answers (14 contributions) (Question to Communications)

I ask the Minister about his plans to increase the number of EVs on the road. This is one of the big challenges we face.

The climate action plan sets a target of 936,000 EVs by 2030. That would represent approximately one third of all purchases in the period between now and then. To support the achievement of this target, the plan sets out a range of actions which include introducing a legislative ban on the sale of new fossil fuel cars from 2030; developing the charging network to stay sufficiently ahead of demand - as the Deputy knows, we are currently rolling out 724 new or upgraded charging points; ensuring our regulatory regime for buildings requires the installation of EV charging infrastructure; consideration of a car scrappage scheme to promote the purchase of EVs; consideration of the recalibration of vehicle tax regimes to support uptake; and developing a roadmap for the optimum mix of regulatory, taxation and subsidy policies to drive the ramp-up in EV usage.

I also note the existing incentives, which include a grant of up to €5,000; vehicle registration tax, VRT, relief of up to €5,000; benefit-in-kind tax relief; a grant of up to €7,000 for EVs in the taxi sector; a grant of up to €600 for the installation of a home charger; accelerated capital allowances; a lower rate of motor tax; and tolling reductions of up to 50%.

These incentives have helped support strong growth in the uptake of EVs. In the first five months of 2019, more than 2,600 new EVs were licensed. This is almost three times the number licensed in the same period last year.

While the situation regarding EVs has improved this year, they are still a lot more expensive than ordinary petrol or diesel vehicles and are beyond the reach of many households. There are also concerns about range anxiety, which is a major issue. In that context, how many charging points are there in the State? What scale of increase in the number of such points is planned for the coming years? Who will own the charging points? The question of whether the ESB will retain ownership of its charging points has been batted back and forth for two years. How many charging points do we have? What are the Minister's plans to increase that number? Who will provide the charging points?

The Deputy is correct. The price of EVs is higher than that of conventional cars, but the running costs of EVs are approximately one eighth of those of conventional cars. It is a case of swings and roundabouts. It is worth pointing out that the price of batteries is decreasing rapidly and that their durability is improving. The expert opinion we have received is that, even if there were no tax incentives, the cost of EVs by 2023 or 2024 will result in them dominating the market. We have provided substantial grants and taxes on fossil fuels add to the incentive.

The existing network comprises approximately 600 chargers. Some 724 new or upgraded charging points are to be rolled out. Of these, 500 will be higher-grade chargers to replace existing chargers. Most will be new, high-capacity chargers in strategic locations. They will be under the ESB. We are also looking at other providers such as local authorities. From 2025, anyone who has more than 20 parking spaces will be obliged to have a charging network. The network will not be solely State-supported. New obligations will be imposed on others.

If I have picked up what the Minister stated correctly, the ESB will own the existing 600 chargers, including the 500 that are to be upgraded. That is to be welcomed.

Some 500 are to be upgraded and there will be 224 new ones.

To move on to fees for charging, will the service stations, typical fuel suppliers, be encouraged to install charging points? Will the local Topaz garage have charging points? Is there any plans for such a scheme to be rolled out? Will there be a charge to use such points? How will it be regulated?

There is also in issue in respect of grid capacity. The revenue from petrol and diesel brings in a lot of money for the State. When we move to EVs, that source of funding will be cut off. On the other hand, the electricity grid will have to be upgraded. We know this from speaking with EirGrid and the ESB. It will require substantial investment. How will that mismatch between revenue and investment be bridged? What assessment of the grid's capacity to cater for new EVs and associated infrastructure has been carried out?

The ambitions of the electricity network are based on very substantial growth in overall demand for power. From memory, a 50% growth in power demand arising from a variety of sectors, including new EVs, is anticipated. The Deputy is correct. We should be looking to car manufacturers and service stations to make investment in this area. Thus far it has had to be leveraged by a State company with State support. As it develops, we expect to see the private sector coming forward to support the roll-out of the infrastructure.

In the context of the impact on traditional revenue sources such as diesel tax, VRT and so on, the Deputy is also correct. Over the next 20 to 30 years, there will be a rapid change as we move away from depending of fossil fuels for 85% of our energy needs and head towards 0%. This will require different sources of revenue to be found. That will have to be handled on a year-to-year basis by the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform.

The final question is from Deputy Browne. I did not think we would see any Wexford men this week after the county's great win last weekend, but they are all around.

We had three great wins.

There is more to come.

The seniors and minors both won and the ladies won the intermediate Leinster final as well.

That is correct. The Deputy has 30 seconds to put his question.

The under 20s won during the week as well. We are having a fantastic week. The strawberries are great this year as well.

Air Pollution

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.

Questions (18)

James Browne

Question:

18. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the position regarding the introduction of a nationwide ban on smoky fuels; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28301/19]

View answer

Oral answers (4 contributions) (Question to Communications)

I ask the Minister about the extension of the ban on smoky coal nationwide. I am very aware of this issue as a result of the air pollution situation in my own home town of Enniscorthy having been highlighted. The only solution is a nationwide ban on smoky coal.

I am very conscious of this issue. Deputy Browne's colleague, Deputy Dooley, raised it earlier and I went through it at that time. The Deputy probably appreciates that, while my predecessors announced that it was their intention to introduce a nationwide ban, this was challenged on the grounds that it would not be fair to treat the burning of smoky coal differently from the burning of peat and wood as their environmental impact is similar. There have been threats not only to challenge the extension of the ban but to challenge the existing bans applying in considerable portions of the country, which have been very successful.

I have had to seek legal advice on how we would robustly design the roll-out of the protections the Deputy rightly signalled are a priority for Enniscorthy and other towns. I am working with the Attorney General to develop a robust way of doing that.

The distinction between coal as against wood and turf is that there is a viable alternative to coal, namely, smokeless coal, while there is not such an alternative for wood and turf. That distinguishes it in that respect. Having talked to people involved in this area, I am aware that high-tech monitoring has been put in place in Enniscorthy town but it is not in place in many other towns. I suspect many other towns that are not covered by the smoky coal ban are in as bad or close to as bad a situation as Enniscorthy. Enniscorthy has been highlighted because modern, sensitive, high-tech equipment has been put in place. We need to know what the air quality is in the town but I suspect it is not the only town in this situation. The smoky coal ban covers approximately 80% of the population. The people who were threatening legal action have had 30 years to take such legal action with respect to the rest of the country but they have not done that. We know the dangers associated with burning smoky coal and much of that coal is being illegally imported from the North. Action needs to be taken on this matter.

I agree with the Deputy but one has to be careful not to jeopardise successful schemes that are managing air quality at a time when we seek to extend those. With the law of unintended consequences, we could undermine what is successful. I agree with the Deputy that we need to find a way address this with respect to a number of towns which the Deputy rightly said does not only include Enniscorthy where there is a particular problem. All I can say to him is that we are working hard to find a solution to this problem that would be legally robust.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.