Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Energy Sources.

Helen Keogh

Ceist:

8 Ms Keogh asked the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications the plans, if any, he has for the expansion of the wind energy programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14162/96]

Kathleen Lynch

Ceist:

29 Kathleen Lynch asked the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications the proportion of domestic energy requirements currently being met through the use of biomass; the plans, if any, he has to increase that and other renewable energy sources; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14058/96]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 and 29 together.

According to the latest figures available, 1995, approximately 1.5 per cent of our total primary energy requirement is met through biomass.

The alternative energy requirement, AER, schemes and my recently published policy document on renewables, Renewable Energy — A Strategy for the Future, will between them significantly increase the contribution of renewable energies to our national energy requirement, especially in the area of electricity generation.

Under the AER 1 contracts have been offered for the installation of 111 megawatts of electricity generating capacity from alternative source, wind 73 megawatts; hydro 4 megawatts; landfill gas 12 megawatts; combined heat and power 22 megawatts, and these projects are gradually coming on stream.

The AER II competition is a special competition to secure a 30 megawatts electricity generating plant using biomass-waste as the fuel and that competition is under way.

Under my renewable energy development strategy a target of a further 100 megawatts of electricity generating capacity using renewables has been set for year ending 1999, with wind taking 90 megawatts, hydro 3 megawatts, and biomass-waste 7 megawatts.

Under my strategy market access is guaranteed for renewable energy products which are successful in getting funding under the EU THERMIE programme. At present such projects amount to almost 10 megawatts of installed generating capacity.

A longer-term target of 310 megawatts from wind and hydro has been set for the period 2000-10 with further targets for biomass-waste to be set in the light of the outcome of the AER II process.

Is it not time that the Minister of State took more positive action to ensure the achievement of the targets and objectives to which he continues to refer in regard to his policy and document on energy renewal? Documents and policies will not achieve implementation on the ground unless the necessary facilities are provided to enable the construction of alternative energy generating stations. Is the Minister aware that those who have applied to provide alternative energy projects under the THERMIE programme are making no progress and are meeting inordinate obstacles from the ESB and that there is absolute and utter frustration among the promoters of the THERMIE projects because of the lack of progress, the obstacles put in their way and the major financial investment to which they have committed themselves which, in many cases, is under serious threat? Is the Minister of State aware of the crisis in this area and the anger of those who have taken him and the Government at their word, who have formulated and put forward proposals but have found that they have been seriously blocked? Those people called to see the Minister in his office and explained the difficulties which confront them, but the obstacles remain, no progress has been made and we stand to lose out under the THERMIE programme. Those promoters who took the Government at its word and acted in good faith have been let down and have possibly incurred serious financial losses.

The Deputy is out of date.

The question has been put, let us hear the reply.

I was talking to those people yesterday. Is the Minister working overnight like the board of Bord na Móna?

I am amazed that people with a THERMIE grant who spoke to the Deputy yesterday did not tell him that they were delighted I made a decision which gives them an automatic right to a contract from the ESB without any further messing. I agree with the Deputy that there was some messing as far as the THERMIE grant holders were concerned.

And as far as the ESB was concerned.

There was a danger of those grant holders losing not only their investment but their THERMIE grants. There is 10 megawatts of electricity potential within that THERMIE area and they will get automatic contracts for the supply of electricity from the ESB.

When was this?

I will give the Deputy a full answer if he will listen. Not alone did I make a decision on that matter, but I instructed the ESB accordingly and its board complemented my instruction by a positive decision. The 10 megawatts offered to THERMIE grant holders will guarantee them access to the market. It is not the case that I am only putting out papers and nothing is happening. When I came into office, 6.5 megawatts of alternative energy was being produced in Ireland.

I have a list of the places. The Deputy knows of one, which he opened, a wind farm in Mayo, near Belmullet.

It was producing 7 megawatts.

It is listed as 6.5 megawatts, but I will take the Deputy's word that it is 7 megawatts. The supply may have reduced over the years.

The first competition offered contracts for 111 megawatts of electricity generating capacity from an alternative source. I can give the Deputy figures about what has been done in that regard. On the wind area, planning has been granted and cleared for implementation for 13.7 megawatts. Planning permission has been granted for another 22.5 megawatts, but appeals against that have been lodged by third parties and 14.7 megawatts from wind has been submitted for planning. The people in Carrickabrock in Tipperary who got the contract decided to pull out because of local opposition and in Tullytrasna planning was refused for 7.5 megawatts. The application was unsuccessfully appealed.

A number of very small, separate hydro projects which have been through the planning process have been implemented since then consisting of 0.435, 0.07, 2.1, 0.14, 0.56 and 0.21 megawatts respectively. In addition, probably people would be interested in CHP — combined heat and power — projects, a large number of which appear to be deployed by the alcohol trade, including Guinness 6.3; Harp, 2.2; Macardle, one megawatt and Smithwicks, 2.2 megawatts, respectively, all in the planning process. There is a further list of combined heat and power projects, amounting to approximately nine megawatts, which have passed the planning process.

No doubt landfill projects will draw public attention, methane gas having been extracted from old dumps at Balleally, Friarstown, Tramore Valley, Ballyogan and Dunsink amounting to approximately ten megawatts between them. In addition there is the 30 megawatt power station for biomass waste in respect of which tenders are being submitted, which process is proceeding expeditiously. Therefore, the House will see there is a great deal happening on the ground as well as on paper.

The Minister of State referred to the major difficulties being encountered by alternative energy producers reaching a satisfactory arrangement with the ESB to take supply into the national electricity distribution network, all of which the Minister said had been resolved. When were they resolved, because I spoke to some such promoters just yesterday? Is this something that occurred yesterday evening, this morning or when did the Minister become aware that there had been a major change? On reading the small print, I do not want to discover there has been no change? I want the Minister to be open and honest and tell us precisely what is the position, what is the major change, when it occurred and whether it will meet the objections of those people he heard in his office?

I think Deputy Molloy referred to THERMIE grant holders who now have an automatic right, which was announced approximately six weeks ago although I have not the exact date and who are now entitled to an automatic contract with the ESB. The legal problems of admitting them to the national grid and obtaining contracts for them caused problems which have now been resolved. I have not heard any serious complaint from any THERMIE grant holder since then, all of whom were very pleased that they now had automatic access to the grid apart from the technical requirement involved in attaching them thereto which would take some time anyway.

Is the Minister aware that these difficulties have been the subject of newspaper reports in for example theSunday Business Post which carried an article on them just recently, not six weeks ago?

I am not responsible for newspaper reports. I have read newspaper reports that I know to be wrong on various subjects. I do not think I have ever read one that was 100 per cent accurate.

We do not want bluff, we want facts.

I am not bluffing.

Was it just yesterday or the preceding day that these difficulties were resolved because, if this decision was taken six weeks ago there is still a problem? Does the Minister anticipate any difficulties in price terms in connecting these people to the national grid?

On the wind energy programme he has implemented, does the Minister agree his aspirations and reality may be poles apart because, very often, while people implement it they encounter a dilemma between what is environmentally acceptable and what is happening on the ground, leading to very many such programmes being refused planning permission on environmental grounds? Does he foresee this being a continuous dilemma for his strategic programme on wind energy?

I will answer the second part of the Deputy's question first. So far, one applicant only has been refused planning permission, which was appealed and refused on appeal also. Eight applicants have passed the planning process and are ready to go ahead. Therefore, it is a myth that they are all being refused. That is simply not the case. In the case of another wind energy project in Slievenamon, applicants withdrew their application because of local opposition, which was their decision rather than anybody else's.

Generally, I simply do not accept the environmental arguments being advanced about constraints on wind energy project managers, with regard to the method by which they can construct their wind farms, since there are no environmental negatives to wind energy. The windmills are structures of some beauty which appear to reach out their arms to the heavens to extract energy from the skies and do so as long as the wind blows. It is said they are ugly but in comparison with some other structures nationwide, windmills are beautiful structures.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Yes, that is true. There is no noise from these new windmills whereas the older ones Deputy Molloy had constructed in County Mayo could be heard ten miles away. I know it is a long time since he was Minister but the new ones are silent, and move very slowly, posing no danger to birds.

The price of connection to the grid is determined by the cost of bringing a line from the source of generation of electricity to the grid. One of the problems encountered by hydro producers is that grid connection costs are higher because their structures are usually located high up in the mountains where streams are sufficiently rapid to generate electricity. That cost is determined in each individual case.

With regard to the Minister's 30 megawatts biomass project, the contracts for which are at present under consideration, is he aware of the serious position that has developed in County Monaghan with regard to the disposal of mushroom waste or compost which can no longer be used on landfill sites because of a run-off from it and the fact that its recycling ingredient which we had hoped could be used as a soil conditioner is no longer viable? I was contacted this week by a ten unit satellite mushroom grower whose contractor informed him last week in writing he could no longer take the waste from his mushroom farm, the relevant local authority having issued a three day notice of closure of the site. This man told me he will be forced to reduce production, perhaps even to cease unless an alternative method of dealing with that compost can be devised.

I am aware of and sympathise with the circumstances the Deputy has just described. Within the relevant competition terms there is room for the producers of mushroom, chicken or turkey waste to apply.

They have.

I do not particularly want to know whether they have because somebody else will be adjudicating that competition, the technical aspect of which ended on 30 April last. A new circumstance now arises in which no applicant can be involved in adjudicating the competition. The assessor will be appointed in a few days time and the competition will proceed to the next stage. I hope for an early decision in this case involving up to a 30 megawatts station which, whatever the form of biomass, will take a large volume.