Adjournment Debate. - Disposal of Agricultural Waste.

This is the second time in the past three years I raised this matter on the Adjournment.

Due to intensive production of mushrooms and poultry in County Monaghan, and to a lesser extent in County Cavan, a serious problem has developed in disposing of poultry litter and mushroom waste. Some waste is dumped in landfill sites, some is spread on land and more is used in mushroom compost. In 1993 an INTERREG funded study indicated a dangerous high level of phosphates in the area which could have serious repercussions for waterways. As a result, members of the county council travelled to England to see how Fibrowatt operated. It is the world's first commercial power plant fuelled by poultry litter. Following a great deal of negotiation a site was secured and Monopower, which was linked to Fibrowatt, was established in Monaghan. As the company was not prepared to pay 40 per cent corporation tax, through negotiation, it was agreed that 10 per cent would apply to the manufacture of electricity.

In 1994, under a Fianna Fáil-led Government the Department of Energy introduced a scheme for non-fossil fuels, including recycled waste with a capacity to generate 75 megawatts of electricity. The scheme included biomass, wind farms, small hydro schemes and combined heat and power. Some 10 megawatts were set aside for farm waste which, following negotiations with the Department, was later increased to 15 megawatts. One can imagine the disappointment, therefore, when in March 1995 this Government announced that farm waste of biomass would not be included in the scheme. A competition was announced in December 1995 and projects were to be selected last October, but and official selection has not yet taken place. I have heard through the grapevine that negotiations have taken place with groups outside Monaghan. Because of bad weather last Christmas it was impossible to dispose of poultry litter and as a result the industry was unable to operate. I am sure the Minister of State will reply that the proposals are still being examined and a decision has not been made. He should come clean on the matter. I believe negotiations are taking place.

The proposal is for 30 megawatts and, if the worst comes to the worst, 15 megawatts would be adequate for the Monaghan project. Monopower and Fibrowatt are specialists in the field and there is no point in saying they are overpriced. We examined the plant in England and it was an effective way of generating electricity and getting rid of waste.

We do not wish to be told we have been unsuccessful. We are entitled to the project and there should be an even spread of the £7.5 million available. We will demand our share.

I appreciate the Deputy's direct and real interest in this matter. I have received and considered the recommendation of the independent assessor whom I appointed to assess the applications received under the second alternative energy requirement competition for electricity generation from biomass or waste.

However, as stated in the competition information notes for generators, the allocation of European Regional Development Fund grant aid of up to 9.3 million ecu, approximately £7.5 million, to support the winning project is subject to certain conditions. In particular, my Department is required to commission a socio-economic cost benefit analysis study of the recommended project. This study, which will begin this week and take about one month to complete, will be carried out by an independent consultant appointed by my Department.

I am anxious to bring this competition to a conclusion as quickly as possible. However, I am not in a position to announce the result of the competition in advance of completion of the study. I assure the Deputy I will have no hand, act or part in selecting the winning competitor. We have designed a system involving independent consultants who will tell me who is the winning competitor. I do not wish it to be said when the winner has been selected by that process that I influenced it. I have no say in the matter. It is right that an independent body should carry out the task.

The consultants have reported to me. I am now required to carry out the socio-economic cost benefit analysis. When that is to hand and if it is satisfactory I will then announce the winner of the competition.