Departmental Staff

Questions (183)

Patrick Costello

Question:

183. Deputy Patrick Costello asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the grade at which the chief data protection officer in his Department is employed. [37913/20]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Chief Data Protection Officer in the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications is employed at the Assistant Principal Officer grade.

Departmental Correspondence

Questions (184)

Niamh Smyth

Question:

184. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications if correspondence from a group (details supplied) will be reviewed; the status of the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38021/20]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

This correspondence was received recently by the Department and will be responded to shortly. I hope to be in a position to make a decision on this prospecting licence application soon.

Tribunals of Inquiry

Questions (185)

John McGuinness

Question:

185. Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the number of tribunals, enquiries or investigations being undertaken currently by his Department; the number that are in the process of being set up; the number in which the terms of reference are not complete or not agreed; the cost of all to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38039/20]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

My Department currently has no tribunals, public enquiries or commissions of investigation in process.

Climate Action Plan

Questions (186)

Jennifer Whitmore

Question:

186. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications when the next call for applications will be open for the climate action fund as part of the National Oil Reserves Agency (Amendment) and Provision of Central Treasury Services Act 2020; if it will be open to projects based on nature-based solutions that enhance biodiversity; the application process; the persons or bodies that can apply; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38113/20]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Climate Action Fund was established on a statutory basis with effect from 1 August 2020. A key objective of the Fund is to provide support for  projects and initiatives that contribute to the achievement of Ireland’s climate and energy targets, and for projects and initiatives in regions of the State, and within sectors of the economy, impacted by the transition to a low carbon economy. The Climate Action Fund is resourced from proceeds from the levy paid to the National Oil Reserves Agency (NORA) in respect of relevant disposals of petroleum products, after the funding requirements of NORA have been met. In the region of €500 million is expected to accrue to the Climate Action Fund to 2027. This will ensure that substantial funding is available to progress a series of funding calls.  

The recently published Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill, 2020 proposes that projects and initiatives that seek to increase climate resilience, and the removal of greenhouse gas, particularly nature-based solutions that enhance biodiversity, can also be supported by the Climate Action Fund.

My Department is currently developing proposals to provide a second round of support from the Climate Action Fund which will be launched shortly. Further information, including details on the type of projects that may be supported,  who may apply for this support and the application process, will be published on my Department’s website when this call is launched.

Electricity Generation

Questions (187, 188)

Michael Creed

Question:

187. Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications his views on whether it is possible to power the national energy grid from entirely renewable energy sources; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38133/20]

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Michael Creed

Question:

188. Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications if he has calculated the additional energy requirement and additional electricity requirement on the national grid if the targets for electric vehicles are met; the way in which he plans to meet that additional requirement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38134/20]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 187 and 188 together.

The Programme for Government provides that a reliable supply of safe, secure and clean energy is essential in order to deliver a phase-out of fossil fuels. The Government is committed to the rapid decarbonisation of the energy sector and will take the necessary action to deliver at least 70% renewable electricity by 2030. 

The Climate Action Plan included a commitment to deliver at least 3.5 GW of offshore wind by 2030, up to 8.2 GW of onshore wind and up to 1.5 GW of solar; the Programme for Government commits to a further increase in offshore wind deployment to 5 GW by 2030.The National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP) (Table 6 of the Plan) sets out estimated trajectories by renewable energy technology in order to achieve the overall and sectoral trajectories for renewable energy from 2021 to 2030. These technology levels are indicative and for electricity the level of each technology will be driven by technology costs and competitive auctions under the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS) as well as major private sector funding through Corporate Power Purchase Agreements

There are approximately 25,000 electric vehicles under taxation at this time. The Climate Action Plan set a target of 936,000 electric vehicles to be on the road in Ireland by 2030. The plan also includes a range of actions to support the uptake of electric vehicles. EirGrid’s long-term view of the electricity transmission system is detailed in its Tomorrow’s Energy Scenarios 2019 report (published in October 2019) and chapter 6 includes different scenarios for electric vehicles uptake.

The Government is committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050 and an annual reduction of 7% in overall greenhouse gas emissions to 2030, including through maximising the amount of renewable energy on the grid. Future advances in system flexibility, storage technologies including batteries and green hydrogen as well as regional and international interconnection will enable very high levels of renewable electricity on our grid.

Better Energy Homes Scheme

Question No. 190 answered with Question No. 179.

Questions (189)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

189. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications if he has discussed the long delays in the processing of application forms under the SEAI better energy warmer homes scheme with the SEAI and the effect this is having on vulnerable persons; the reason the SEAI gave for these delays despite the strong emphasis on home energy efficiency upgrades; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38154/20]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Better Energy Warmer Homes Scheme is funded by my Department and administered by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI). The scheme delivers a range of energy efficiency measures free of charge to low income households vulnerable to energy poverty. To date over 142,000 homes have received free upgrades under the scheme, leaving the occupants better able to afford to heat their homes to an adequate level.  My Department is in regular contact with the SEAI at official level in relation to the operation of the Warmer Homes scheme and I emphasised the need for a strong focus on delivery across all of the SEAI retrofit programmes during a recent meeting with the incoming Chair of the Authority.   There are currently over 7,000 homes on the Warmer Homes Scheme work programme. This includes homes that are: currently undergoing works; have been allocated to contractors for works; have completed an initial home survey and are awaiting allocation to a contractor, or are awaiting the initial survey of their home. Eligible homes are allocated on a first come, first served basis, and the average time between application and survey is now 21 months.  The wait time is a result of strong demand for what is an extremely popular scheme. The work programme was also negatively impacted by Covid-19, particularly between March and June when the scheme was fully paused in line with Government guidelines. 

Budget 2021 provides €109 million in capital funding to support lower income households to retrofit their homes with €100 million of this funding allocated to the Warmer Homes Scheme. This is the largest budget ever for this purpose. It is expected that this funding will support free energy efficiency upgrades for up to 5,800 lower income households, in line with the programme for Government. Capacity by the industry to deliver increased activity will also be increased due to a new, broader contractor panel to provide works commencing this month. Recommendations on the implementation of changes to the scheme to better target those most in need will also be finalised shortly.

Another important announcement made as part of Budget 2021 was the designation of SEAI as the National Retrofit Office and the allocation of additional resources to drive delivery of our retrofit targets.  SEAI has already commenced a recruitment process in that regard.  Improvements to the processes that apply to individual schemes are made on an ongoing basis.

Question No. 190 answered with Question No. 179.

Energy Policy

Questions Nos. 192 to 194, inclusive, answered with Question No. 174.

Questions (191)

Eoin Ó Broin

Question:

191. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications his plans to replace the Strategy to Combat Energy Poverty in Ireland 2016-2019 with a new strategy. [38226/20]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Government’s Strategy to Combat Energy Poverty was published in 2016. The Strategy set out a number of actions to alleviate the burden of energy poverty on the most vulnerable in society. The focus of the strategy was on high impact actions which aimed to make a real difference to the lives of those in energy poverty. Good progress has been made under the strategy including:

- Free upgrades were carried out in over 23,000 lower income homes under the main SEAI energy poverty schemes;

- A consultation on energy efficiency in the rented sector has also been completed with recommendations to follow in 2021;

- Funding for SEAI energy poverty retrofit schemes has increased dramatically over the period from €15 million in 2015 to over €109 million in Budget 2021.

- The allocations for retrofit of social housing have also increased significantly with an allocation of €65 million for 2021.

At the time of its launch, the Strategy was accompanied by a report on the level and extent of energy poverty in Ireland. This study looked at what the typical household has to spend on energy to keep their home heated and compared that to household income. This report found that in 2016, 28% of households in Ireland could be in or at risk of energy poverty. The ESRI carried out an assessment in 2019, using the same methodology, and found that the proportion in or at risk of energy poverty had reduced to 17.4%. These rates align closely to the level of basic deprivation experienced in Ireland. A separate ESRI study suggested that energy poverty is primarily a function of inadequate resources to cover living costs rather than simply an energy issue. In addition, the proportion of people who report that they are unable to afford to keep the home adequately warm, has fallen from 9% in 2015 to 4.4% in 2019.

Looking forward, the Programme for Government commits to providing €5 billion to part fund a socially progressive national retrofit programme targeting all homes but with a particular focus on the midlands region and on social and low income tenancies. As mentioned above, Budget 2021 provided €109 million to support lower income households to retrofit their homes and participate in the transition. This represents an increase of €47 million on the 2020 allocation for energy poverty schemes and means that almost half of the total residential and community retrofit budget will support people vulnerable to energy poverty. The funding will mean that more households can receive free energy efficiency upgrades making their homes warmer, healthier and cheaper to run, in line with the Programme for Government. Recommendations aimed at improving the targeting of energy poverty schemes at those most in need will be finalised soon.

The Programme for Government also commits to ensuring that increases in the carbon tax are progressive by spending €3 billion on targeted social welfare and other initiatives to prevent fuel poverty and ensure a just transition. My colleague Minister Humphrey’s announced as part of Budget 2021 that the Fuel Allowance will increase by €3.50 to €28 per week.

A review of the implementation of the Strategy to Combat Energy Poverty will be completed in 2021. Alleviating energy poverty will also be a key consideration for the National Retrofit Plan which will be published next year.

Questions Nos. 192 to 194, inclusive, answered with Question No. 174.

National Broadband Plan

Question No. 196 answered with Question No. 175.

Questions (195)

Alan Dillon

Question:

195. Deputy Alan Dillon asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the way in which he has calculated the percentage of homes and businesses in each town and village throughout County Mayo that currently have access to high-speed fibre broadband in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38493/20]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

Since 2013, my Department has engaged in an extensive process of mapping broadband availability in Ireland in order to identify areas which have no existing or planned Next Generation Access networks.  Following extensive engagement with commercial market operators, who were invited to inform the Department of their plans for commercial broadband deployment, a High Speed Broadband Map was developed. The Map shows the areas targeted by commercial operators to provide high speed broadband services and the areas that will be included in the State Intervention Area under the National Broadband Plan. The High Speed Broadband Map  is available at www.broadband.gov.ie and is colour coded and searchable by address and Eircode.Premises in the AMBER area will be provided with high speed broadband through the State led Intervention under the contract with National Broadband Ireland (NBI). BLUE areas are not included in the State intervention area covered by the National Broadband Plan as commercial operators are already providing high speed broadband or have indicated future plans to do so. My Department defines high speed broadband as a connection with minimum speeds of 30Mbps download and 6Mbps upload.  The following table details the number of premises in County Mayo in the Intervention Area and in the BLUE area based on the latest information available to my Department.

COUNTY

Total Number of Premises in Mayo

Number of Premises in the Intervention Area

% Number Of Premises

Number of Premises  in the BLUE area

% Number Of Premises

Mayo

84,092

36,495

43%

47,597

57%

Question No. 196 answered with Question No. 175.

National Broadband Plan

Questions (197)

Joe Carey

Question:

197. Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the details of the planed phases of development for the connection of the 22,000 premises included in the intervention area of County Clare of the national broadband plan by a company (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38590/20]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The National Broadband Plan (NBP) State led Intervention will be delivered by National Broadband Ireland (NBI) under a contract signed last November to roll out a high speed and future proofed broadband network within the Intervention Area which covers 1.1 million people living and working in the over 544,000 premises, including almost 100,000 businesses and farms along with 695 schools.In County Clare, there are 69,225 premises of which 22,592 (33%) are within the intervention area for the National Broadband Plan. The deployment plan forecasts premises passed in all counties within the first 2 years and over 90% of premises in the State having access to high speed broadband within the next four years. I am advised by NBI that, as of 18 November 2020, over 131,000 premises across all counties have been surveyed which is ahead of the full year survey target of 120,000 that had been projected by the company.  Surveys have been completed in County Clare in the areas of Cratloe, Ballycannan, Ballyglas and Cloghrea and further surveys have recently commenced in the areas of Kilkishen. Surveying is the first step towards delivering the new fibre network and involves physically walking the routes and documenting images, notes and measurements of the poles, cables and underground ducts in each area. This informs design solutions for provision of the fibre network to each and every premises in the surveyed area and leads to detailed designs. The detailed designs are then used to initiate the ‘make ready’ project with Open eir for the area, where Open eir ensure any poles and ducts being reused are fit for purpose and the make ready of other required infrastructure. This step also informs decisions on equipment ordering. Survey data is also needed to initiate pre-works which pave the way for the deploying of fibre. Pre-works involve construction of new duct routes, erection of poles, building chambers, and tree trimming. On completion of these pre-works, the main construction works can commence. This involves deploying fibre overhead on poles and in underground ducts, splicing of fibre, and unblocking of ducts. Once the main construction works are completed and the appropriate level of testing has been undertaken, the fibre network can be commissioned and end users can order their connection. Further details are available on specific areas within Clare through the NBI website which provides a facility for any premises within the intervention area to register their interest in being provided with deployment updates through its website www.nbi.ie. Individuals who register with this facility will receive regular updates on progress by NBI on delivering the network and specific updates related to their own premises when works are due to commence. I am aware that concerns have been raised regarding the level of information available on the deployment of the NBI network and I am advised that NBI is working to provide more detail on its website, with a rolling update on network build plans.Broadband Connection Points (BCPs) are a key element of the NBP providing high speed broadband in every county in advance of the roll out of the fibre to the home network. As of 6 November, 147 publicly accessible BCP sites have been installed by NBI and the high speed broadband service will be switched on in these locations through service provider contracts managed by the Department of Rural and Community Development. Cree Community Centre, Loop Head Lighthouse and Michael Cusack Visitor Centre are BCPs which are now connected in Co. Clare. A further BCP at Loughraney has had infrastructure installed by NBI and will be connected in the coming weeks.

Some 48 schools throughout Ireland have now had infrastructure installed by NBI, with 22 schools already connected to high speed broadband. In Clare, a number of schools including Shragh, Ennistymon and Stonehall National Schools are now connected as part of this initiative. Further details can be found at https://nbi.ie/bcp-locations/. My Department continues to work with Department of Education and Skills to prioritise the remaining schools to be connected over the term of the NBP.

Environmental Protection Agency

Questions (198)

Denis Naughten

Question:

198. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the number of applications with the EPA for end-of-waste status for recovered waste materials; the number received in each calendar year; the number of applications processed in each calendar year; the number of staff and grades working full-time on these applications; the average processing time for a standard application and for a priority application; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38618/20]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Waste Framework Directive provides a framework whereby material recovered or recycled from waste may be considered to no longer be waste.  As the competent authority in Ireland for End of Waste determinations is the EPA, questions in relation to applications are more appropriately directed to that Agency than to myself, however I understand that the Agency currently has 34 applications on hand, and that the number processed per year is as follows:

- 2020 : 2 decisions to date;

- 2019:  4 decisions granted;

- 2018:  1 decision granted;

- 2016:  1 decision granted.

The Agency currently has a team of four inspectors working on applications for both End of Waste, and the related By Products process.   It is not possible to give an average processing time due to the varied nature and quality of applications received, however the Agency has recently published draft guidance and a standard application form, with a view to improving the standard of applications received. 

I am very conscious of the importance of the End of Waste in the transition to a more circular economy, in particular in relation to the construction sector.  The Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy which I launched in September this year, has a dedicated chapter on End of Waste, and commits to a number of measures including:

- Working with stakeholders to streamline the process;

- Examining whether certain end of waste decisions should be determined by local authorities rather than the EPA;

- Establishing a working group to develop national end of waste applications for identified priority waste streams, which would obviate the need for individual applications within those streams;

- Introducing a fee for end-of-waste applications to help fund the process and encourage high quality applications.

My officials have already had initial engagement with both regulatory authorities and with certain private sector stakeholders in relation to these measures, and will be working to advance progress in these areas over the coming months.  

Warmer Homes Scheme

Questions (199)

Niamh Smyth

Question:

199. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications if his attention has been drawn to the delay in the provision of the warmer home grants due to increased demand; his views on whether this increased demand is due to a change in criteria; if he will allocate funding to meet the additional demand; if he will review the case of a person (details supplied) and expedite same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38639/20]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Better Energy Warmer Homes Scheme is funded by my Department and administered by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI). The scheme delivers a range of energy efficiency measures free of charge to low income households vulnerable to energy poverty. To date over 142,000 homes have received free upgrades under the scheme, leaving the occupants better able to afford to heat their homes to an adequate level. Since the expansion of the scheme in 2018 to include ‘deeper’ and more expensive measures such as external wall insulation and internal wall insulation, demand for the scheme has been very high.  Wait times have also been impacted by Covid-19, particularly between March and June when the scheme was fully paused in line with Government guidelines. 

There are currently over 7,000 homes on the Warmer Homes Scheme work programme. This includes homes that are: currently undergoing works; have been allocated to contractors for works; have completed an initial home survey and are awaiting allocation to a contractor, or are awaiting the initial survey of their home.   Eligible homes are allocated on a first come, first served basis, and the average time between application and survey is now 21 months.

Budget 2021 provided €109 million in capital funding to support lower income households to retrofit their homes through SEAI schemes, with €100 million of this funding allocated to the Warmer Homes Scheme. This is the largest budget ever for this purpose. It is expected that this funding will support free energy efficiency upgrades for up to 5,800 lower income households, in line with the programme for Government. Capacity by the industry to deliver increased activity will also be increased due to a new, broader contractor panel to provide works commencing this month. Recommendations on the implementation of changes to the scheme to better target those most in need will also be finalised shortly.

Individual applications to the Warmer Homes Scheme are an operational matter for the SEAI and as Minister, I have no role in such matters.  However, in reference to the case raised by the Deputy, my officials have been informed by the SEAI that the estimated timeline is mid-2021 for completion of a survey of the home and quarter 3 of 2021 for completion of works to the property.

The Deputy may wish to note that there are other grants and schemes available from Government that could assist their constituent if there is an urgent need. These include the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP) Urgent Needs Payment available through the Community Welfare Service at local DEASP offices and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government Housing Aid for Older People Grant Scheme which is administered by the Local Authorities.