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Thursday, 4 Nov 2021

Written Answers Nos. 33-47

Energy Policy

Questions (33, 36, 76)

Catherine Connolly

Question:

33. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the status of the review of the security of energy supply of Ireland’s electricity and natural gas systems; when the final report will be published; the details of any interim reports received by his Department to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53505/21]

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Brendan Griffin

Question:

36. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications if he considers liquefied natural gas as a necessary source of energy on a transitionary basis as part of the national energy solution; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53663/21]

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Brendan Griffin

Question:

76. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the steps his Department is taking in relation to energy security challenges which have been indicated in the recent Generation Capacity Statement by EirGrid; his views on the necessity for liquefied natural gas as part of the solution; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53662/21]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 33, 36 and 76 together.

The Commission for Regulation of Utilities (the CRU) has statutory responsibility to monitor and take measures necessary to ensure the security of electricity supply in Ireland. The CRU is assisted in its statutory role by EirGrid, the electricity transmission system operator.

EirGrid’s Generation Capacity Statement, which was published on 29 September, sets out the need to develop 1,850 MW of dispatchable generation capacity by 2025. On the same day, the CRU published an information note which sets out the programme of actions being progressed to deliver the required generation capacity. The actions include: increasing the availability of existing generators; developing new generation capacity; extending the operational life of some existing generators; introducing new rules for the grid connection of data centres; and developing actions to reduce demand when system margin is low. My Department is working closely with the CRU and EirGrid to support them in addressing these challenges.

My Department is also developing a review of the security of energy supply of Ireland’s electricity and natural gas systems. The review is being carried out for the period to 2030 in the context of net zero emissions by 2050. The review process includes a technical analysis being carried out by consultants, which will be followed by a public consultation. The review process will consider what, if any, the future role of liquefied natural gas (LNG) should be.

In relation to the technical analysis, the consultants have provided my Department with an interim draft report which focuses on risk identification. The final technical analysis report, along with a non-technical summary, will be published with the commencement of the public consultation before the end this year. I expect the policy review, which will inform future Government policy, to be completed in the first half of next year.

The Government's Policy Statement on the Importation of Fracked Gas, which was published in May of this year, sets out that in advance of the completion of this review, it would not be appropriate for the development of any LNG terminals in Ireland to be permitted or proceeded with.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Questions (34, 50)

Ivana Bacik

Question:

34. Deputy Ivana Bacik asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications his views on the recent report from the Environmental Protection Agency which shows a deceleration of Ireland’s emissions reductions; the action he plans to take to address this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53539/21]

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Holly Cairns

Question:

50. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the steps he is taking in response to the EPA finding that Ireland’s 2020 greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 3.6% compared with 2019 levels. [53595/21]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 34 and 50 together.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s "Ireland's Provisional Greenhouse Gas emissions 1990-2020" report, published last month, indicates that our greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 3.6% in 2020 relative to 2019 levels.

While the reduction in total emissions is positive, Ireland still exceeded its emissions budget for 2020. We now must focus our efforts on meeting our obligations in the coming decade. Further transformative measures will be needed to meet our national climate ambitions.

In July, the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021 was passed. This commits us to reach a legally-binding target of net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest, and a cut of 51% by 2030 (compared to 2018 levels). This Act provides the framework for Ireland to meet its international and EU climate commitments and to become a leader in addressing climate change.

The Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC), which is an independent body has last week proposed carbon budgets. The carbon budgets will go to Government and then to the Oireachtas. Once these overall, economy-wide carbon budgets are approved, the Government will divide the overall budget into sectoral ceilings. All sectors (of the economy) will have to play their part. There will be different targets for each sector, based on their respective starting points and the relative difficulty, cost, speed and benefits of reducing emissions.

In order to ensure climate action continues at pace, the Government will publish Climate Action Plan 2021. This plan will set out indicative ranges of emissions reductions for all sectors. It will also set out the practical measures that we need to take to meet our climate ambition for 2030.

This follows from the Government increasing investment in climate action significantly through the National Development Plan and the annual Budget process in areas such as active travel, public transport, EV grants and retrofitting to help citizens take climate action.

Energy Usage

Question No. 36 answered with Question No. 33.

Questions (35)

Cormac Devlin

Question:

35. Deputy Cormac Devlin asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications his plans in relation to the implementation of district heating in Ireland. [53650/21]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

District heating offers potential to make use of renewable heat and waste heat and contribute to the decarbonisation of new and existing buildings.

The forthcoming Climate Action Plan will contain a number of actions that will provide a solid basis for the appropriate expansion of district heating in Ireland, including establishment of a Steering Group to oversee the rollout of district heating and ensure that there is a robust governance framework in place. The Steering Group will also be responsible for examination of financing options for district heating, and for recommendations in relation to conduct of research. I am also committed to development of a regulatory framework to protect consumers and suppliers of district heating, in collaboration with relevant State agencies.

The National Comprehensive Assessment of the Potential for Efficient Heating and Cooling in Ireland provides essential information in relation to supply of heating and cooling, and of useful energy demand and final energy consumption for heating and cooling for all sectors in Ireland. It also outlines the economic potential for efficient heating and cooling. The document, which will be critical to informing the development of district heating, is available on gov.ie.

My Department continues to liaise with relevant stakeholders, and works closely with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, which has responsibility for planning policy and Building Regulations, to encourage the increased uptake of this technology.

Question No. 36 answered with Question No. 33.

Departmental Schemes

Question No. 38 answered with Question No. 22.

Questions (37)

Michael Ring

Question:

37. Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the approximate average waiting time for persons who have applied for the SEAI better energy warmer homes scheme from the date of application to the completion of the works; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53448/21]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Better Energy Warmer Homes Scheme delivers a range of energy efficiency measures free of charge to low-income households vulnerable to energy poverty. To date, over 143,000 homes have received free upgrades under the scheme. In the first six months of 2021, the average value of the energy efficiency measures provided per household was approximately €17,100. There are currently over 7,000 homeowners on the Warmer Homes Scheme work programme.

Data from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) indicates that for homes completed in the first half of 2021, the average time from application to completion was approximately 26 months. The SEAI has advised that wait times vary, based on the demand for the scheme at the time of application as well as other factors including the scale of works to be completed, access to the property, availability of materials and the weather.

The average wait times have increased significantly due to the extensive COVID-19 related restrictions on construction activity in place during much of 2020 as well as between January and mid-April this year when the scheme was fully paused in line with Government guidelines. Wait times have also been negatively impacted by challenges associated with availability and longer lead time for materials. However, delivery capacity in the supply chain has increased due to a new, broader contractor panel that commenced at the end of 2020.

Funding for SEAI energy poverty retrofit schemes has increased significantly to over €109 million in 2021, with €100 million allocated to the Warmer Homes Scheme. This is an increase of €47 million on the 2020 allocation and means that almost half of the total SEAI residential and community retrofit budget is available to 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. I have also secured additional resources this year to expand the capacity of the SEAI to deliver the scheme.

Question No. 38 answered with Question No. 22.

Exploration Industry

Questions (39, 49)

Marian Harkin

Question:

39. Deputy Marian Harkin asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications if he will consider a moratorium on the issuance of mineral prospecting licences that involve prospecting for gold until the Minerals Development Act 2017 is commenced. [53556/21]

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Marian Harkin

Question:

49. Deputy Marian Harkin asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications if the intention to grant prospecting licences (details supplied) is linked to the obligation on the State arising from the terms and conditions agreed with a company; and if there is an obligation on the State to grant prospecting licences in north County Leitrim. [53555/21]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 39 and 49 together.

There are no obligations on the State to grant prospecting licences in North Leitrim to a company that arise from terms and conditions that were set out in previous prospecting licences surrendered by another company.

In accordance with the current legislation, notification of the intention to grant two prospecting licences in North Leitrim was published in a newspaper circulating in the locality on 7 October 2021. Submissions in respect of the intention to grant the licences can be made by members of the public until the closing date of the 7 November 2021. Once this deadline has passed, all valid submissions will be considered as part of the final decision-making process on whether or not to grant the two licence applications.

Climate Change Policy

Questions (40)

Verona Murphy

Question:

40. Deputy Verona Murphy asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the recommended carbon cuts in the agricultural sector could lead to devastating job losses across rural Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53708/21]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

As the Deputy will be aware, the proposed carbon budgets were recently published by the Climate Change Advisory Council. This is the first step in finalising carbon budgets and ultimately dividing them into sectoral emission ceilings. The carbon budgets are economy-wide and do not set targets for specific sectors.

The Oireachtas has an important role in considering the carbon budgets in accordance with the provision of Section 9 of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021.

The Government will shortly publish the Climate Action Plan 2021. This plan will set out indicative ranges of emissions reductions for all sectors. It will also set out the practical measures that we need to take to meet our climate targets for both 2030 and set pathways to climate neutrality by 2050 at the latest. My Department has engaged proactively with the public, stakeholders, and other Government Departments to deliver an ambitious, fair, and achievable Climate Action Plan.

There will be different ambition levels for every sector, based on their respective starting points, and the relative difficulty, cost, speed, and benefits, of reducing emissions.

The Plan will reflect the significant challenges of reducing emissions from the agriculture sector. The high proportion of national emissions represented by agriculture means that for Ireland to meet its overall emissions reduction targets the agriculture sector must make a positive contribution to combating climate change and supporting the transition to a climate resilient and low carbon economy. Climate Action Plan 2021 will deliver a suite of measures which will encourage resilience across the agriculture sector, while also maintaining Ireland’s reputation for sustainable food production.

Public Service Obligation

Question No. 42 answered with Question No. 30.

Questions (41, 70)

Holly Cairns

Question:

41. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications his views on introducing a public service obligation of approximately €17 million per annum for the post office network. [53596/21]

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Denis Naughten

Question:

70. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the steps he is taking to designate the post office network as a central hub for all offline Government services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49959/21]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 41 and 70 together.

As previously advised, there are no plans to bring forward a public service obligation at this time. An Post is a commercial semi-state company and it is longstanding Government policy that postal services will not be directly subsidised by the taxpayer. The Government remains fully committed to a sustainable An Post and post office network as a key component of the economic and social infrastructure throughout Ireland. A long-term low interest loan of €30m was provided to the company in December 2017, of which €15m was to support and protect the renewal of the post office network. As with any business An Post and individual post offices need to continue to develop commercial strategies to enable them to grow and maintain their relevance for current and future customers.

The work of the Inter-Departmental Group, which was established to, inter alia, examine the feasibility of additional Government services being provided through to An Post and the post office network, is at an advanced stage and the report will be submitted to Government in the near future.

Question No. 42 answered with Question No. 30.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Questions (43)

Bríd Smith

Question:

43. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications his views on Ireland exceeding the EU emissions’ allocation for 2020 by 6.7 million tonnes; his further views on plans to purchase carbon credits to compensate for the missed targets on the associated costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53669/21]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The 2009 Effort Sharing Decision 406/2009/EC (ESD) set annual binding emission reduction targets for EU Member States for the period 2013 to 2020. These targets cover emissions from sectors outside of the EU Emissions Trading System, such as agriculture, transport, buildings and waste. For the year 2020, the target set for Ireland is that emissions should be 20% below their level in 2005. The Effort Sharing Decision allows Member States to meet their targets by means of unused emissions allowances from earlier years, or through purchasing allowances from other Member States or on international markets.

The latest estimates of greenhouse gas emissions, published in October 2021 by the EPA, indicate that 2020 emissions from those sectors of the economy covered by the ESD are expected to be approximately 7% below 2005 levels. According to this report, Ireland will cumulatively exceed the carbon budget implied by our ESD targets by 12 Mt CO2 eq., and we will therefore need to avail of flexibilities in order to comply with our obligations. The most recent estimates of the additional costs of purchasing carbon credits for compliance with these targets were in the region of €6 million to €13 million, depending on the price and final quantity of allowances required.

Climate Change Policy

Questions (44)

Pádraig O'Sullivan

Question:

44. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications if consideration has been given to converting oil heating systems to eco-friendly biofuel HVO instead of kerosene and other fossil fuels; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53284/21]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

My Department recently carried out a consultation on the potential introduction of a renewable energy obligation in the heat sector. Such an obligation, if introduced, would require the suppliers of fossil fuels for use in the heat sector to also supply renewable energy. The level of renewable energy that would have to be supplied would be based on a proportion of the fossil fuels supplied. The obligation could potentially be met through the supply of renewable gas, biomass or renewable fuels such as hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO). The consultation is now closed and my Department is considering the responses received.

Legislative Process

Questions (45)

Cormac Devlin

Question:

45. Deputy Cormac Devlin asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications when he plans to bring the Circular Economy Bill 2021 before Dáil Éireann; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53651/21]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Circular Economy Bill 2021, which was approved by Government for priority drafting in June this year, aims to support Ireland’s transition to a circular economy by providing the necessary legislative basis for several key measures including the Circular Economy Strategy; the Circular Economy Programme; the National Food Loss Prevention Roadmap; and the Circular Economy Fund.

Drafting of the Bill is well advanced, as is, I understand, the pre-legislative scrutiny process before the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action. The Bill will be published and enacted as soon as possible after pre-legislative scrutiny has been completed and I have considered the Report of the Committee.I look forward to receiving the Committee's recommendations.

Postal Services

Questions (46, 193)

Ruairí Ó Murchú

Question:

46. Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the communication he has had with An Post given the proximity to Christmas and the potential delays the postal system faces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53700/21]

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Ruairí Ó Murchú

Question:

193. Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the details of any engagements he has had with the British Government, EU Commission and or the Revenue Commissioners in relation to Brexit difficulties which have impacted on persons receiving packages. [50873/21]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 46 and 193 together.

Revenue, as Ireland’s Tax and Customs administration, is responsible for controlling the importation and exportation of goods in accordance with the European Union Customs Code and relevant national legislation. This includes goods being imported through the postal system.

The issue raised by the Deputy in relation to the receipt of packages is an operational matter for the Board and management of An Post. The company engages directly with Revenue to adapt to the implementation of a new Customs regime and consequences of Brexit in line with the statutory mandates of both organisations.

An Post is treating this issue with the utmost importance and is working closely with Irish Customs, Royal Mail and other non-EU carriers to help minimise any delays and reduce backlogs. In addition the company has worked very closely with its largest non-EU, including UK, e-tailer customers to ensure full compliance and to ensure an efficient and effective parcel service for Irish consumers. The company is also providing advice to customers and consumers on this matter and an extensive communications campaign is underway to support and inform customers.

My officials have been regularly updated by An Post on this matter and continue to liaise with colleagues in other Government Department and agencies on all matters relating to Brexit and associated issues.

Energy Prices

Questions (47)

Brian Leddin

Question:

47. Deputy Brian Leddin asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the actions that are being taken at European level to ensure that energy prices are reduced by restoring gas supplies from Russia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53659/21]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Extraordinary meeting of the EU Energy Council on 26 October 2021 was tasked by the European Council meeting of 21/22 October to take forward discussions on the increase in energy prices and to discuss possible mitigating measures at both national and EU level. Ministers welcomed the Commission’s ‘toolbox’, Tackling rising energy prices: a toolbox for action and support, published on 13 October, as a good basis for the discussions and generally supported the Commission’s analysis of the causes of the spike in energy prices. One measure in the toolbox is for the Commission to enhance its international energy outreach in order to ensure the transparency, liquidity and flexibility of international gas markets. Energy Ministers agreed to take stock of energy prices and progress made on the implementation of the measures contained in the Commission’s toolbox in early December. The Energy Council will prepare the ground for the December European Council meeting, where EU leaders will return to the issue of energy prices including an update from the Commission on progress on their engagement with international energy partners and the EU’s future international energy engagement strategy.

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