Other Questions. - Renewable Energy Sources.

Robert Molloy

Ceist:

11 Mr. Molloy asked the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications the progress, if any, to date in the development of wind farms; the proposals, if any, there are for the further development of the use of wind energy in Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6901/97]

Kathleen Lynch

Ceist:

17 Kathleen Lynch asked the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications the proportion of energy requirements currently serviced from renewable energy sources; his views on what this proportion will be by the year 2000; the proposals, if any, he has for increasing the proportion served from renewable energy sources; the action, if any, being taken at EU level to increase the use of renewable energy sources; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6854/97]

Liz O'Donnell

Ceist:

21 Ms O'Donnell asked the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications the progress, if any, to date in implementing the alternative energy requirement as announced on 7 March 1995; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6916/97]

Godfrey Timmins

Ceist:

30 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications the number of commercial and experimental wind farms in operation in the State; and his views on whether there is a future for such projects in the production of electricity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6894/97]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 11, 17, 21 and 30 together.

Renewable energy currently accounts for 2 per cent of Ireland's total primary energy requirement and almost 6 per cent of installed electricity generation capacity. As a result of my initiatives to date, renewables are likely to account for approximately 10 per cent of the installed electricity capacity by the year 2000. The development of renewable energy is a cornerstone of the Government's overall energy policy. The use of renewables enables us to progress economically without adverse effect on the environment and also strengthens our security of energy supply.

In March 1995 I announced the winners of the first Alternative Energy Requirement Competition, AER 1, which was developed by my Department in conjunction with ESB to secure up to an additional 75 megawatts of electricity generation capacity from alternative sources. The response to the competition was such that a total of 34 contracts for a total additional electricity generation capacity of 111 megawatts were offered, as follows: wind — ten projects (73 megawatts); hydro — ten projects (4 megawatts);-landfill gas and waste — six projects (12 megawatts) and combined heat and power — eight projects (22 megawatts).

All AER 1 projects must be ready to sell electricity by 31 December 1997. Projects are at different stages of development with 22 of the 34 projects having secured planning permission to date. This represents a total additional capacity of 67 megawatts. Of the 34 contracts offered, 13 power purchase agreements, amounting to 35 megawatts, have been signed to date by developers. My Department monitors the progress of all the AER1 projects. From the latest information available to me, I estimate that the eventual outcome of AER 1 will be quite close to the original target of 75 megawatts.

As Deputies will by now be aware, I announced the result of the AER II competition in late February. This initiative will increase the installed electricity generation capacity from renewables by a further 30 megawatts. In April 1996 I launched a new long-term renewable energy strategy. Under the strategy I have set targets for the development of renewables in Ireland up to the year 2010.

As part of this I will in the coming weeks launch the AER III competition which will seek to secure an additional 100 megawatts from renewables by the end of 1999, made up of 90 megawatts from wind, 7 megawatts from biomass or waste and 3 megawatts from hydro. It is also my intention to organise a competition at the same time for the construction of Ireland's first wave energy to electricity pilot plant, to be built also by the end of 1999. Subject to EU approval, European Regional Development Fund funding of 9.3 million ECU, approximately £6.9 million, is available to support successful AER III projects. My strategy also sets annual targets of 30 megawatts for wind and 1 megawatt for hydro for the period 2000 to 2010. Specific targets for biomass-waste and landfill gas will be decided at a future date.

The European Union recognises the need to support the greater penetration of renewable energies into the energy market. The optimum exploitation of renewables can only be achieved within the framework of a co-ordinated support strategy. For this reason, and considering the important role renewable energy will play in meeting future Irish and EU energy needs, the development of an EU strategy for renewables was highlighted as an energy priority of Ireland's Presidency of the EU.

As a result of this prioritisation, and following pressure from me, the Commission presented a Green Paper on an EU Strategy for Renewable Energy to the Council of Ministers meeting which I chaired on 3 December last. Because of the importance I attach to renewables, the Irish Presidency held an open debate on the topic at Council. The Commission's Green Paper was generally welcomed by Ministers who recognised that renewables have a role to play in enhancing security of energy supply and in addressing the environmental impact of energy production.

The strategy must be capable of facilitating the successful exploitation of the European renewable resource and of supporting the development of a strong, self-sustaining and competitive renewable energy industry and technology manufacturing base. Only in this way can it make a positive contribution to job creation and economic development. I expect the strategy and a detailed action plan to be finalised by the middle of 1997.

The ALTENER 1 programme was introduced by the Commission in 1993 to facilitate the greater use of renewables. Ireland is committed to supporting the objectives of ALTENER which are: doubling the use of renewable energy sources from 4 per cent of total energy consumption in 1991 to 8 per cent by 2005, trebling the production of electricity from renewables by 2005, and securing a bio-fuels market share of 5 per cent of the total motor vehicle usage by 2005. Pending the introduction of ALTENER II, on which much progress was made during the Irish EU Energy Presidency, ALTENER 1 is continuing.

In addition to ALTENER, the Commission funds research on renewable energy technologies under the JOULE programme and technical demonstrations of innovative systems under the THERMIE programme. The THERMIE programme has, to date, created a significant energy impact in Ireland and for this reason I have made a special provision in my renewable energy strategy which guarantees electricity market access for THERMIE supported renewable energy projects.

At present in Ireland there are nine THERMIE supported renewable energy projects being developed. These amount to an additional capacity of 16.9 megawatts. My strategy has enabled these projects to succeed and entitles them to contract for the sale of electricity for a period of 15 years.

My question related to wind energy. The Minister of State is aware that the first wind farm was opened in October 1992 at Bellacorick, County Mayo. It had an installed capacity of 6.45 megawatts and 21 turbines producing 300 kilowatts and one producing 450 kilowatts. I want to establish the progress made in the interim. How many wind turbines are in existence and how many of these are producing power for the electricity network? What is the installed operational capacity as distinct from references to applications, plans and future expectations, hopes and aspirations? What has happened from October 1992 to date? What is the installed additional wind energy capacity? What type and size machines are in use, how many turbines are in existence and what volume of electricity are they generating? Is there a fixed formula in respect of payment for electricity sold by wind energy operators into the ESB system?

I provided the information sought by the Deputy in my initial reply which was lengthy because it covered a number of questions.

How many wind turbines are in existence?

I heard the Deputy's question and I will respond without his having to ask it again. I will be opening a further two wind farms in County Donegal.

How many wind turbines are in operation?

I should have prefaced my response to the Deputy's question by giving credit to Deputy Noel Treacy who organised the AER 1 competition. No action was taken in the period following the initiation of that competition by the various Ministers in power. I understand Deputy Molloy did not open the Bellacorick wind farm and I will answer his question in any way I wish. He will not dictate to me the way I answer questions. The Bellacorick wind farm was opened by the then Minister, Padraig Flynn, shortly after Deputy Molloy's hasty removal from office. There is a photograph in my office of Mr. Flynn opening the wind farm.

What has that got to do with my question?

In the photograph, Mr. Flynn's arms are raised to the heavens and he could be mistaken for a wind turbine because he is so tall.

I have provided details about the number of wind farms that have secured planning permission and power contracts. These will now come onstream and we expect the original target of 75 megawatts to be reached during the competition from three sources, mainly wind. Some of the other farms are in operation and all of the landfill gas sites are in operation. These are currently producing electricity which is being transferred to the grid. Two further wind farms will be opened in County Donegal next month.

There is much wind blowing around the Chamber.

The Minister of State gave an extraordinary answer and made reference to points and matters which I did not raise. I am merely trying to establish the number of wind turbines put into operation since the opening of the wind farm at Bellacorick in 1992. I made no reference to the person responsible for opening that farm and I do not know why the Minister of State referred to that matter. How many wind farms and turbines have been put into operation since 1992, what is the installed capacity and how many units of electricity are being produced?

I will provide that detailed information if the Deputy is genuinely interested in it. The necessary licences have been granted in respect of 41 megawatts of wind capacity. Part of that capacity will come into operation in the immediate future and some of it is already in operation. The producers of that wind energy have obtained power purchase agreements to sell the electricity produced to the ESB. That is the information sought by the Deputy. If he desires information about the number of wind turbines, I will provide it and inform him when the wind will commence turning the blades.

I merely want to know the number of turbines currently in operation.

That information is not relevant to any real issue. The real issue involves the amount of electricity being generated from renewables under the AER 1 competition which was organised by the then Minister of State, Deputy Noel Treacy. Out of intended production of 73 megawatts, one project responsible for 7.5 megawatts was refused planning permission. I expect another project will be withdrawn. However, we will come close to achieving the intended target.

The real issue is the number of wind turbines in operation.

Deputy Timmins tabled Question No. 30 which specifically asks the number of commercial and experimental wind farms currently in operation. Why will the Minister of State not provide that information? What are his future plans for this area? Has energy produced by wind farms been found to be more economical than that produced by other sources such as oil, coal and other solid fuels? If it is competitive, what are the projections for its future use?

As already stated, we are in the process of implementing AER 1 while AER 11 is currently proceeding. I will announce the third competition in approximately two weeks which will take account of 30 further megawatts of wind energy per annum up to the year 2010.

That is part of the Labour Party's election manifesto.

In the period between now and 1999, it will amount to an additional 90 megawatts of wind. That is the proposal for wind energy during that particular period.

The costings of wind and other alternative energies are determined by the competition. Under the AER 1 competition, the capped price was 4p per unit. Under AER 11, this has been reduced by competition to 3.2p per unit. Given improvements in technology and resultant reductions in costs, I expect that the actual cost of electricity units produced under AER 111 will be further reduced.

The Minister of State referred to the first AER competition in respect of 73 megawatts of wind energy alone. The majority of awards under that competition went to British firms. He also mentioned his predecessor who had, prior to leaving office, included in that programme 15 megawatts for waste biomass. The Minister of State reversed this decision and transferred the additional capacity to wind farms. He promised that interested parties in County Monaghan would be brought into the reckoning in respect of the 30 megawatts he announced on 27 February but they were again ignored.

The Minister of State will be obliged to answer questions either before a committee of the House or at another forum. I intend to pursue this matter at EU level because it involves European money and Exchequer funding. During the last competition there were leaks from the Department on a daily basis and everyone knew who would win. It is a disgrace that the development in agriculture of primary producers in County Monaghan will be completely restricted in the future through neglect. The Minister of State referred to wind and everyone in his Department is full of wind and hot air.

I ask the new Minister to have the decency to consult the files and see what County Monaghan people were promised and badly need. The project has been sited in Dublin where planning permission will not be obtained before 1999. Those involved in the project in County Monaghan have a site and a company in place and the corporation tax has been reduced, at a manufacturing rate, from 40 to 10 per cent to facilitate development.

The first point the Deputy made is that I changed the rules of AER 1. This competition was too far advanced for me to make any changes and it was run in the matter intended by the former Minister of State, Deputy Noel Treacy.

The Minister of State eliminated 15 megawatts intended for biomass waste.

That was for 12, not 15, megawatts of landfill gas and waste.

It was for 15 megawatts biomass.

Deputy Leonard is mistaken on that point.

I am not mistaken.

The Deputy is mistaken. I merely announced the results of the competition set up by the then Minister of State, Deputy Noel Treacy, which was for 12 megawatts.

For 15 megawatts.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

Will the Deputy let us hear the Minister's reply?

The Minister said earlier it was his initiative.

No, I always give credit where it is due but not to Deputy Molloy to whom there is not much due.

The second point the Deputy raised related to an AER II competition for a 30 megawatt power station to convert waste into energy, involving a very broad definition of waste such as chicken and mushroom waste, animal, forestry and urban waste.

Primarily mushroom and poultry waste.

Is Deputy Ned O'Keeffe in favour of wind power?

No Exchequer funds were to be provided for this proposal.

I am glad the Minister of State has found his humour.

A competition was held to find somebody to own, operate and manage a power station.

With European Union funding.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

These interruptions must cease.

European funding of £6.9 million was available to the successful applicant. We held a competition to appoint consultants who will run the competition for us and ETSU was selected.

Will the Minister of State tell us how the leaks occurred?

Deputy Leonard keeps insisting on this. The Minister has no say in the matter, which is what Deputy Molloy wants.

(Interruptions.)

It is political correctness.

All talk but no action.

ETSU designed and ran the competition to find somebody who would own, operate and build this new power station. There were ten applicants——

The names of whom were leaked.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

These interruptions cannot continue.

There were ten applicants in that competition, two of whom subsequently dropped out. Neither I nor my Department was aware of who those applicants were, except that a colleague of Deputy Leonard told me who one applicant was, which was of no particular benefit to me. I was told repeatedly, advocating that I ensure that applicant would win. I told him repeatedly that I had no say in the matter and would have no hand, act or part, nor would any official of my Department, in the selection of the winner. Only when ETSU told us the name of the winner did we know who had won. The winner had the right to sell electricity from this power plant to the ESB and no other right. The winner would require planning permission, DPA licensing and would have to negotiate for a supply of fuel.

I want to make it absolutely clear that there were no leaks from my Department——

There were leaks from mid January onwards.

——or from me on this issue because we had no knowledge to leak.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

The time allocated to Question Time is practically exhausted and these interruptions must cease.

There were leaks over a six week period.

The competition was run fairly and its outcome was good. I have had discussions today with the local authority where the power station is to be sited. I refute a report contained inThe Irish Times today to the effect that the proposed developer did not know about this.

He did not know a month ago.

That is simply untrue. We contacted the developer in America today when he informed us that nobody had contacted his company and no statement had been made on this issue. In addition he said a number of other points made in that press article were wrong, including the suggestion that his company owned and operated another plant in Essex in New Jersey. It does not own any such plant.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

I want to facilitate other Members.

It has an interest in that other plant.

The Deputy is wrong, it does not.

The Minister of State has been dealing with quite a diverse range of alternative energy sources. I would question whether they are all alternative energy sources, for example, incineration. Will the Minister consider allowing a similar debate in this House, during Government time, to the one he referred to in the course of our EU Presidency on renewable energy since this subject warrants much longer debate than can be allowed at present?

Has any consideration been given to allowing the sale of wind-generated electricity to other consumers, apart from the alternative energy policy requirement, as is the practice in other countries outside the AER projects? Furthermore, will the Minister be dependent on Danish, British and other operators to provide wind energy, or will he explore the full potential for financing, developing, manufacturing and managing such energy as the Danes have done much to the benefit of their economy and environment?

Does the Minister agree that this year's budget was anti-renewable energy, with no aid provided for that purpose? Since Ireland is the wind capital of Europe, does he envisage a greater future for wind-generating systems on this island?

I would welcome a debate on the subject which would afford me an opportunity to elaborate on the overall issue of renewables. I understand the normal practice would be for a motion to be tabled in Private Members' time. A similar debate in the Seanad was very useful.

On the matter of green electricity being available to others rather than through the ESB, we are at present advancing proposals, under AER III, for people to have direct access to green electricity, the mechanics of which are quite complex, involving a fee to be paid to the ESB for the use of its lines and so on. I would envisage a green electricity producer being able to find his own customers, selling electricity directly to them.

This is an anti-green Government.

No Government has ever provided any aid or taxpayers' money for this purpose. There is European Union money available which comprises European taxpayers' money, large shares of which we won through sustaining our arguments on the need for renewable energy.

This Government has provided no aid for wind power or renewable energy.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

That concludes Question Time for today.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.