I propose to take Questions Nos. 558 and 559 together.
Responsibility for the regulation of the gas and electricity markets is a matter for the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU). It is an independent statutory body, solely accountable to a committee of the Oireachtas for the performance of its functions. The Electricity Regulation Act (ERA), 1999, as amended, sets out the statutory duties, functions and powers of the CRU.
The legislation stipulates, inter alia, that the CRU has due regard of the need to promote the use of renewable, sustainable or alternative forms of energy, and take into account protection of the environment. The CRU also has the duty in the Act to carry out its functions and exercise the powers conferred on it under the Act in a manner which, inter alia, the Commission considers protects the interests of final customers of electricity or gas or both, as the case may be.
The Clean Energy Package is a fundamental update of the EU’s energy policy framework to facilitate the transition away from fossil fuels towards cleaner energy and to deliver on the EU’s Paris Agreement commitments for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Package is in the process of transposition and may involve amending CRU’s statutory duties, functions and powers in order to give effect to the Package by the due date.
There are a range of actions in the Climate Action Plan where the CRU has been assigned the lead role and are progressing the actions accordingly
My Department's Statement of Strategy 2019- 2021 includes an action being progressed by CRU to review its regulatory policies, rules and decisions on electricity generation to assess how they support Ireland’s decarbonisation commitments and energy policy objectives.
Accordingly, the necessity for such a specific additional amendment regarding prioritising the functions of the CRU in this way has not been identified and is not being considered.
Regarding a Ministerial instruction to the CRU, Section 10A of the ERA outlines the procedure under which “general policy directions” may be given to the regulator authority, including details on the tasks and inter-alia timelines and consultation requirements with the independent regulator and Oireachtas. The legislation also identifies restrictions on the areas where policy directions may not be given, including a prohibition on a Ministerial policy direction to the regulator for the performance of its functions in relation to individual holders of licences.
In addition, the European energy regulatory regime provides that EU Member States must guarantee the independence of National Regulatory Authorities and that they are expressively forbidden from taking direct instructions from government. The regime also restricts policy directions in the form of general policy guidelines in certain areas that are prescribed regulatory duties and powers in the EU Energy acquis.
The Climate Action Plan (Action 147) includes a commitment to introduce Climate Action Mandates for every public body through the use of Ministerial policy direction, or equivalent power, which in the case of CRU will be aligned with the existing domestic electricity regulatory framework and the EU electricity regulatory regime.
The Deputy may wish to note that in its recently published Strategy Statement 2019-2021 the CRU identified “Delivering sustainable low-carbon solutions with well regulated markets and networks” as the first of its four strategic priorities.