Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 4 May 2006

Vol. 618 No. 5

Energy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2006: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

When I last spoke on this Bill I spoke about heat loads. It is imperative that heat loads of buildings are reduced to the minimum possible as a very significant amount of final energy consumption is used for space heating and domestic hot water.

A number of years ago, most grant-aided houses were in the region of 1,200 sq. ft. Now, one can drive through the countryside and see that most houses are in the region of 3,000 sq. ft. While the 1,200 sq. ft. house had to cater for perhaps six, seven, eight or nine people, the big houses of 3,000 sq. ft. have perhaps an average occupancy of four people. This creates a major drain on energy, on the need for heating. It should be part of the planning that houses of this magnitude be zone heated.

When people get planning permission, they should be obliged to use natural resources such as solar panels or geothermal heating. We should now consider such conditions. The recent grant package in this area is very welcome but we should consider compulsory use of natural energy. Perhaps, too, when people sell their houses, there might be some imaginative scheme involving a reduction in VAT, for example, if solar panels were being installed. This would lead to a great reduction in demand for energy and would make matters a little simpler.

Pursuing a low carbon agenda for renewal and modernising of buildings, sourcing increasing proportions of our heating requirements from renewable heat options, offers the potential to replace substantial amounts of fossil fuels and electricity currently used for heating purposes. We must look at how we can reduce our dependency on fossil fuels.

In recent years and for the foreseeable future, wind power dominates the space created for renewables, but we need to look ahead to secure the vision of how we expect and ultimately would prefer renewable energy sourced electricity to develop. Wind and wave power are our big natural assets and one must look at harnessing them. I know some people do not like the appearance of wind turbines but we must consider such options. Wind power is an option, it is free and everlasting. As an island nation we have ample supply in that regard.

Solar panels are now available which are not entirely dependent on sun. Daylight is enough to drive such panels. Technology is developing in this area and we should encourage it at every opportunity, such as when someone seeks planning permission to build a new house or a group of new houses. We talk of different types of housing but when it comes to the energy needs of housing, county councils should lead by example and look at the use of geothermal heat and solar panel options. There should be an onus on private builders to consider such energy options. If house numbers continue to increase in the coming years, our problems will increase and we must address them.

Another major opportunity arises when people are moving house. Some incentive might be considered at that time. I hope that the sustainable energy grants scheme, which is imaginative, will continue and that much use will be made of it.

With regard to competitiveness, this aspect places a high priority on the cost of electricity to consumers and the relative burden of increases in electricity prices compared to other costs. National pay talks are under way and I understand that the energy regulator is looking at the option of reviewing, which usually means increasing, ESB charges on a two-monthly basis. If one gives the regulator that power to examine prices on such a time basis — when "examine" means "increase"— where does that leave our national pay talks if we are to tie ourselves into a three-year deal? Do people go back to their employers because their ESB bills have risen, seeking another pay increase? It will be very serious if this pattern is allowed to develop, whereby organisations can regularly appear before the regulator, seeking price increases.

Market-based mechanisms provide the most economically efficient means of achieving renewable energy policy objectives. Such mechanisms are those that enhance private sector interest through some form of economic incentive, as opposed to command and control instruments. The way forward is to get the private sector involved in this area, to encourage it to link into the systems and become financially viable. Market-based mechanisms can be categorised in terms of how they address the market, providing an incentive based on output.

Securing the island of Ireland's primary energy requirements almost exclusively from fossil fuels is becoming increasingly unsustainable. Finding new and sustainable sources of energy, learning how to integrate them into our lives and reducing our overall energy consumption are the most important challenges we face. Success in reducing our fossil fuel dependence and overall energy demand will lead to changes in the way we work and lead our lives. I have no doubt that many houses are heated for parts of the day when they are vacant. This is serious usage of energy, the benefits of which nobody enjoys. We all have a role to play in this context, particularly the business community, which must seize the challenges and opportunities presented. Sustainability in business is the only way forward, where everyone's interests can be met, once the long-term strategy is focused on protecting the environment and on responsible corporate citizenship.

I hope some of my thoughts will be taken on board by the Minister, particularly with regard to the installation of solar panels on all new houses.

The proposal before the House today is an important one, which I welcome. I also welcome the Minister, who is here to listen to the views of backbenchers and rural Deputies in particular. The challenges today are completely different to those faced by Members of this House and the Seanad for many decades, since the foundation of our State. These challenges are connected to issues that are not within our control. They are serious challenges for the Minister, the Taoiseach and the Government, which, despite not being within their control, must be addressed to determine the alternatives. While the pill might be bitter in the short term, in the long term we cannot continue to have uncertainty in the marketplace.

We must acknowledge all those who have worked in the ESB and in the gas industry and express our gratitude for what they contributed to Ireland. Those Members who were born before the 1950s will remember the rural electrification scheme between 1954 and 1956 and the excitement at the new technology. In those years we celebrated electricity arriving in the rural areas. I come from the rural constituency of north Westmeath and pay tribute to all who worked in the ESB and made a contribution. I also pay tribute to those who worked so hard for many years in Bord na Móna. The Minister was born in Ballivor and I was born on the outskirts of Coolnagun. We both appreciate what Bord na Móna meant to our areas. We are aware of the employment it created for more than 300 people in each area. It gave meaningful employment to people when there was no other employment available, kept communities alive and clubs functioning, particularly those of the Gaelic Athletic Association.

I doubt that Ireland would be in the healthy position it is in today were it not for the foresight of the then Taoiseach, Eamon de Valera, and Todd Andrews, in creating Bord na Móna in 1946. However, it is past its time and we have moved on. The challenge before the Government today is to determine what we can do and express views that will assist the Minister in this great challenge of the 21st century.

I support private enterprise and believe in letting the experts get on with the job because they tend to it in less time and more efficiently. Nonetheless, the Government has a responsibility, with regard to energy resources, to ensure that the consumer is able to obtain energy at affordable prices and in a sustainable manner.

I commend the Minister for introducing this Bill, section 3 of which amends the Electricity Regulation Act 1999, by providing that it shall be a new function of the CER to participate in the development of an all-island energy market. The policy on such a market is encapsulated in the all-island energy market development framework document, published in November 2004 by the Minister and his Northern Ireland counterpart, Mr. Barry Gardiner, MP.

The alternatives mentioned by colleagues in this House, including wind power and solar energy, deserve the full consideration of everyone concerned. We must encourage a situation where consumers have alternatives available to them. I have seen wind turbines in action and support them. In that regard, I congratulate Westmeath County Council and the county planner in particular, who has identified in the action plan and county development plan, parts of the county that will be suitable for the generation of wind power.

The Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, said last week that an extended area of County Westmeath will be included in the CLÁR programme. I share part of the constituency of County Westmeath with the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, and Deputies Brady and English. I draw the Minister's attention to the fact that more than half of his new area in County Westmeath is now in the CLÁR programme, which provides an opportunity for the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to play a major part in the area. The north Westmeath area will, for the first time, see unprecedented growth and development. This is particularly true of our towns and villages, where sewerage schemes have been allocated funding. My town of Castlepollard, where a new sewerage scheme was installed in 1990 under the then Minister, Mr. Pádraig Flynn, is ripe for development and the private sector is responding magnificently. We have a new second level college, which Deputy Noel Dempsey had the privilege of opening when he was Minister for Education and Science. As former Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Noel Dempsey also participated in the development of a new civic centre for Castlepollard, in the north Westmeath area.

It is only sustainable Government or local authority jobs that will keep areas like ours alive, where the population has been in decline for many years. Thankfully, that decline has stopped now. Emigration has ceased and the population of the area is growing. There are very many grandparents in the area who, for the first time, are watching their grandchildren grow up nearby. In the past, they received letters from the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom, with photographs of their grandchildren, whom they only saw when they came back to Ireland on holidays. Some only saw their grandchildren when they had become adults. That is no longer the case. We have seen a transformation as opportunities are now available to people in places where they never were before, such as Westmeath, especially in the north of the county. The people of our neighbouring county of Longford had to endure the same experience we had to in Westmeath.

Turbines provide one possibility for wind energy. However, the Minister should convince the Government, the Minister for Finance in particular, to consider capital allowances in the next budget for entrepreneurs and innovators to examine technology and alternatives to the turbine system. I understand one such project is at a very advanced stage. However, the entrepreneur developing it has spent a fortune of his own resources with no recognition or acknowledgement. Such technologies could be made available to the country, our neighbouring countries in Europe and the world. Irish entrepreneurs and innovators are better per head of population than anywhere else in the world. Incentives should be introduced for the challenge facing us on future energy demands.

Solar energy was mentioned. We build 80,000 to 85,000 houses per year in Ireland, a magnificent achievement which we should celebrate. However, as was stated by previous speakers, we certainly should direct, assist and encourage our people by giving them incentives to go the extra mile and use alternative energy supplies in their homes. The industry would respond magnificently if it were given the opportunity and incentive to do so. A few extra thousand euro to encourage people to do this would be money well spent in the long term. Motor transportation has increased by more than 2,000 units in Ireland during the past number of years. This is another sign of our prosperity, achievement and success. We should also examine incentives and acknowledge responses in this area.

It is a good time in our country's history. I have never seen such buoyancy in the economy. Friends often ask about the good old days. Recently, at our local mission, someone much more senior than me stated that the good old days are here. He has never seen anything like the present opportunities and buoyant economy.

We joined Europe and reduced the dreaded high interest rates. Most of us worked all our lives to pay the banks' high interest rates in the hope that down the road our businesses would come good and we would be able to keep the family and employees in jobs. To the eternal credit of this Government and all Governments of the past 20 years, reducing the interest rates to today's level gives everyone a tremendous opportunity. The economy has the buoyancy to face the energy challenge and consumers will respond if we provide them with incentives and available expert guidance.

We are here as conduits for our people to encourage the Minister, the Government and the Departments to go the extra mile as they could not do so at a better time. The consumer is willing and able to respond. I welcome the Bill and look forward to its safe passage through the House. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to address the House on this issue.

Whenever I see the words "miscellaneous provisions" in a Bill, I become very wary because it tells me gaps must be plugged, holes must be filled and the collective backs of the promoting Department and the Minister concerned must be covered. When I see those words in an energy Bill, it tells me that such a Bill is needed because of the absence to date of an energy policy in this country.

The Minister might state his intention is to introduce a Green Paper as soon as possible and to fast-track this process. However, to be so delayed in discussing the ideas to formulate and implement a necessary energy policy shows how far behind we are and how far we need to go to address this most pressing of political problems. It is no accident that at this part of the electoral cycle and where we stand in terms of formulating policy to develop as a nation, especially economic development, the issue of energy has come centre stage. When the general election is held in the next year or so, it will be on the minds of many voters.

Much of our recent economic prosperity was bought on the back of a cheap fuel policy. In terms of short-term achievement, the Government might clap itself on the back. However, in historical terms it may end up being a very reckless use of policy. Every day, we learn of a further increase in the cost of oil and other fossil fuels. A cheap energy policy will no longer exist. It can no longer be the foundation of how we plan our society and economy for the future.

Despite what Deputy Cassidy described as achievements of this Government and our economy, we have become more reliant on the use of imported fossil fuels. We spend more time in our motor vehicles than people of any other country in Europe or the world. We are even beyond the prolific United States which seems to be the model of the cheap energy policy and economic development we have pursued for the past 15 years.

Now is the time, as the Minister has begun to realise by promoting the idea of a Green Paper, that things must change. Unfortunately, if the Minister, his colleagues and the political system listened to what my party stated 15 years ago, we would be 15 years further down that road. However this is not the time to be churlish. Some of what is being done must be recognised. Unfortunately, the Minister has not grasped that what needs to be done must be done in a much more bold, innovative and integrated way.

During the Private Members' debate this week, the Minister found himself under fire about a particular aspect of energy policy. The Minister also found accusations about his previous portfolios in the political arguments that were made against him, some of which were unfair. The Minister at least shows a capacity in Government to think out loud. He might not always show the capacity to think things through and some spectacular mistakes may have been made on his watch. However, we should not curtail the willingness to be innovative in politics. If it did not exist, change could never happen. While others in politics might succeed more on a personal level by keeping their heads down and their mouths shut, I do not believe the country benefits from such a selfish approach.

With that spirit in mind, my party is prepared to push the Minister in the right direction. He recently made a statement on renewable energy targets. I presume the fact it happened during the weekend of the Green Party convention was coincidental. I will take it as a vote of confidence.

We wanted to give the Green Party something to talk about.

We have plenty to talk about. The Minister is never far from our minds.

My party spokesperson at the time welcomed the idea that the Minister put forward proposals. It is still short of the proposals and targets we think can and should be met. Given the opportunity in Government, we would push harder to see those targets met. We are starting from far behind other countries which have at least had the courage to address these issues many years before us.

A similar acknowledgement, or criticism, could be made of the Minister's proposals on renewable energy grants. The criticism here is that grants could have been larger or that there could have been a different distribution of the percentage available from the grant to the house owner. More elements could have been available with regard to renewable projects, and there could have been a more integrated approach in linking insulation of houses to the grant scheme. Nonetheless, we are going down the right road now, although not far enough and a bit late. The Government must do better.

What is disappointing is that part of this process is brought about by necessity and some of it is caused by European Union directives that we must live up to. Another Bill before this House is the Building Control Bill 2005, which will at last introduce the idea of heat and energy efficiency standards for new houses built as and when the new Bill is passed by this House. That is welcome in itself and it is part of our obligation to the European Union directive.

The effects of the Celtic tiger have not been taken into account. Taking 1995 as a starting point, some 30% of the housing stock has been built in a ten-year period. That means almost a third of all housing has been built with substandard or zero energy and heat efficiency standards. What the Minister proposes through his grant scheme will only partially address the issue. What the Government is proposing through the legislation with the Building Control Bill will only deal with buildings built after the Bill is passed.

What are we to do with our historical housing stock, much of which has been built in the Celtic tiger period, and much of which has been responsible for our added reliance on fossil fuels? Much of it is responsible for exorbitant and rising fuel bills for households in this State. That is the biggest failure arising from the lack of a Government energy policy.

This Bill has been approached in a disintegrated way, which makes the Government's lack of policy all the more disappointing. The question of energy policy must be dealt with in an integrated way. Factors include the sources we use to produce energy, the distribution of energy and the use of energy itself. Much of the common misconception regarding energy policy here is that it relates solely to electricity which is only a small element of the energy used. A growing proportion of energy has been eaten up by the type of transport policies we have followed. Much of this has to do with the transport imposed by the planning policies put in place.

For the Minister to talk about introducing a Green Paper this late in the day, preceded by this "John the Baptist" bits and pieces Bill, is an admission by the Government that it has failed to provide a co-ordinated and cohesive approach, with joined up thinking in Government, to get things right. We have created so many of these problems unnecessarily. As a result, I do not believe this to be a Government that can live up to its promises.

On the weekend the Minister introduced his promises about renewable energy targets, he mentioned figures and times that should be feasible. The Green Party believes that higher targets are feasible within the same time span. However, the track record of this and previous Governments in all the alternative energy requirement programmes shows that none of the six programmes to date achieved their target in the time provided. Given that type of track record, what confidence can we have on this side of the House, not to mind those outside the Chamber who depend on having a coherent energy policy, in anything the Government or this Minister has to say on targets?

Deputy Connolly said we need bold practical measures from the Government to show how we can bring about better energy usage. One of the successes of the Green Party in Germany, in its first term of Government, was the implementation of a programme where the Government fully paid for the introduction of a solar panel in every household. This was done in 1 million households in the course of the four-year term of Government. In Irish terms, that would equate to the Government providing 100,000 households with solar energy.

Solar energy may not be the most feasible in terms of how houses are located. There is a problem in where we build houses, which way they are pointed and how they are affected by sun, wind and rain. All these factors have energy implications. If the solar option is not feasible, we have other sources in Ireland. Geothermal heating, using underground water sources, is available to a large swathe of the country. It is not enough to just have a grant scheme in place. My party believes the Government should go further and directly install much of this technology in each household unit so that we can begin to make a mark on energy conservation and with regard to the international agreements we have entered into relating to carbon emissions.

The Minister also had what could be termed a misfortune in being the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, having to steer Government policy with Kyoto Protocol commitments in mind, along with the prospect of having a national energy policy. The Government's performance, or lack of performance, in meeting Kyoto targets means we are rightly cynical about anything the Minister said in recent weeks about what targets can be reached and when.

This is outside a European Union commitment which indicated the EU as a whole would reduce its carbon emission levels to 1990 levels by the time the Kyoto Agreement is put in place. Ireland, in the same time period, was given the leeway of an increase of 13% of carbon emissions. We have since managed to double that increase, even before the period has finished.

The Minister and his counterparts in Government spoke confidently of the 13% figure being reached, or at least going towards it in the interim. I do not share that confidence. The effect of failing to meet that target is a bill the Irish taxpayer will have to pay of the equivalent of €1 billion. If the Government had put in place the appropriate policy measures at the time we were given the 13% level with the Kyoto Agreement, the €1 billion could have been used much more effectively in directly assisting householders in energy efficiency measures.

This Bill does not even come close to dealing with the wider area of energy use, particularly with regard to transport. I have already mentioned that car usage here is the highest in the world. We spend more time than other people in our cars. Deputy Cassidy seems to think it is a productive use of people's time to spend so much time in cars, particularly if stuck in traffic jams. That is a result of the Government's policies. All that time lingering in traffic uses fuel imported into the country from sources that are fast diminishing, and this means this type of transport planning and policy, as bankrupt as it is, will not even exist as an option within the next 15 to 20 years.

What are the Government's alternatives? The Taoiseach stands before us on the Order of Business most days speaking of what public transport spending is likely to be under the much vaunted Transport 21 initiative. Many of the costings for Transport 21 do not make sense, are not spelt out and are as vague as the Government's energy policy, if such a policy exists. The public transport initiatives that have been put on the table focus on getting into, out of and around Dublin. Those of us who live outside the greater Dublin metropolitan area, especially those who have the misfortune of living on the west coast of Ireland, will not have the same degree of choice. In most cases, we will not even have the option of a viable public transport system. Until such options are made available so that people can choose not to spend so much time in cars as the only means of getting from one place to another, the targets the Government aspires to can never be achieved. The reality is very different from the theory, as it is with many aspects of Government policy.

I will talk about the sources for the production of energy. There has been a partial debate on the future of nuclear energy and its potential in this country. My colleague and party leader, Deputy Sargent, managed to persuade a former Minister for Public Enterprise to accept an amendment inserting a clause in legislation prohibiting, at least in the short term, nuclear power as an option. I question whether that is strong enough, however, because legislation can be and is changed on a regular basis. If the political will existed to proceed in a different direction, and there was a Government majority in support of it, I fear the current Government parties would be capable of bringing about such a change. The person who proposed this at Government level was common to both parties in the current coalition, namely, the founder of the Progressive Democrats and former Fianna Fáil Minister for energy, Mr. Des O'Malley. He referred to those who made the case against nuclear power at that time, pre-Chernobyl, as members of the flat earth society. Those arguments are as valid now as they were then.

Dr. Edward Walsh of the University of Limerick discounts the chances of the Government introducing nuclear power but the potential exists, despite the Taoiseach's emphatic denial during Taoiseach's Question Time some days ago. The Taoiseach made a speech that same week to an international gathering of engineers in Dublin and from the tone of his argument it did not seem that he was opposed to nuclear power but rather felt it was not politically feasible. It was not an argument he could sell but if the engineers could help him put together such an argument he might countenance it in the future. That is where the Government seems to stand on the future of nuclear energy.

The economics of nuclear energy are a nonsense. It would cost a fortune in public funds to set up and would be a huge white elephant, even before the environmental costs are taken into account. That would not deter a Government which, in its nine years in power, has produced a whole herd of white elephants in terms of public expenditure.

If the Government had the opportunity to acquire a badge of pride by adopting nuclear energy, it is possible it would do so. I would like the Government to be more emphatic about the nuclear option. I would like to see it admit to its double standards in taking electricity from countries which use nuclear power. To what extent can we guarantee to Irish people that the electricity they use is not from nuclear sources? I would like the Minister to say where the Government stands on the issue, not just now but in the future, because there is no confidence that the Government will not go down that road.

I am pleased the Deputy assumes we will be in power long into the future and I thank him for that.

Listening to the utterings of some of the Minister's colleagues, the Government's long-term plan is to stay in government with whomever they can and by whatever means.

Even the Green Party.

Even the Green Party. If Fianna Fáil wants Government in perpetuity it should start listening to what we are saying. We will not participate in government unless the policies I and my colleagues articulate are followed, not as aspirations but as clear achievable goals.

The Deputy should keep talking about them — we will deliver them.

We live and learn.

I am pleased this issue is to be discussed. I have no doubt the initiative arose from a meeting the Minister and I attended a week or two ago. A number of classes were offered by the Leader programme and the biggest attendance was at one of the classes for alternative energy.

Energy policy will affect us all so rather than argue the points I will raise matters for discussion. The price of oil will continue to soar, whether we like it, because no new wells are being opened, in America or anywhere else. Ireland is an island with many indigenous energy sources and it would be a mistake to depend on another country for our energy, given that transport has become so expensive. We should, then, consider the various alternative energy sources of our own. We have farmland, wind and rain and I hope they will become the sources of our future energy. We will always be guaranteed wind, and wind farms are dotted around different parts of the country. People say they are ugly but they are an attraction for visitors. If they are located in the right places they could generate a system to provide us with energy and help reduce our dependency on oil. I propose dividing the country into smaller areas for that purpose.

Farming has become a difficult business and many farms are non-viable. One by one people are leaving farms, whether because of the cost or other reasons. The price paid to a farmer for milk in 1999 was £1.08. Today it sells for the equivalent of 89.5 pence, yet the price to the consumer has gone up by 300%. I do not know what has gone wrong in agriculture but if a farmer holds on to land it can be used for alternative crops to be used in the industry. One of the speakers at the meeting in Kells said it was cheaper for a person to burn corn or barley at €60 per tonne than to buy oil. I do not agree with that practice and it is terrible that food is burned to provide energy, but that was the bottom line. Barley grown under a grant system was burned for energy.

Farming is on the back foot but the land is still there. Our land is one of the biggest assets we have and we have underused it in the past ten or 15 years because of an EU policy from which we benefited in the beginning. Now the slatted units and milking parlours built with EU grants are idle so I do not have much faith in grants, including for alternative energy. The system must stand on its own. We do not have to buy wind or water because it will continue to rain and we will always have plenty of water, despite the warnings about droughts. When the Bill is passed, I hope heads will be put together. If nothing is done about this issue, regardless of which party is in Government, inflation will rocket and all our economic endeavours will go to waste. The construction industry is the mainstay of the economy and long may it continue to be. However, if the price of oil continues to rise, the building industry will come to a stop, which our economy cannot afford. It has taken Ireland long to reach this point in its economic development. We want it to be the best economy in the world. I hope there are at least another 25 years in the building industry so that the same standards enjoyed by other countries are attained. Then Ireland can surpass them and proper health and roads services will be provided. A proper roads system is required if an alternative energy system is to be built up.

The provision of alternative energy must be seriously examined sooner rather than later. I am delighted the process has begun in some ways. From the meeting at Kells, which the Minister also attended, I was struck by the number of people that attended alternative energy courses. They are willing to follow the example of Sweden and other countries in providing alternative energy sources. Growing trees as an alternative energy sources has its advantages. With grants and subsidies land does not have to be given over to production. We must consider replanting much of our land for alternative energy sources. Although one will not see such trees growing to their full extent, in 30 or 40 years they will become part of an energy system.

Incineration is an easy way of providing alternative energy but it is one we should not choose. I am against it because, although living in east Meath, I have had experience of mismanagement of these industries. I do not agree with producing energy from incineration. Although the issue has gone down the road of no return, the Fine Gael Party will come up with an alternative to incineration as an energy provider.

A fortune has been spent on educating young people in recycling. Despite this, on every road where the ditches are being cut for the spring, one sees discarded bags of rubbish. People seem to be abandoning the idea of recycling because of the opting for incineration in waste management. It is a despicable scene when one travels the roads of counties Meath and Louth to see people throwing bags of rubbish into ditches. The educational endeavours given to recycling will be abandoned as people believe all waste will simply be thrown into a furnace.

When the Minister takes on a matter he always sees it to the end. I hope he will reconsider the idea of incineration as a waste management process and alternative energy source. Ireland does not have the heart for it. The expertise is not available to us to ensure it will be done right. I am against the idea of a foreign company coming into our country and running an incinerator. They should go back to their own countries and let the Irish look after their own waste management. In other countries there are shortages in securing waste for energy production. Allowing them to buy our waste should be considered. I hope in the next six months an alternative to incineration will be put to the people.

The effects of nuclear energy have been shown recently in television programmes on the aftermath of Chernobyl. No one will want to see that happen in Ireland, especially when the United Kingdom is vulnerable. Ireland may not be noted for its sunshine. Although a solar energy system can cost up to €5,500 to be installed in a home, the systems can be very good for heating. The proper insulation of homes cuts down dramatically on the use of oil. From the experience of friends I know the heating only has be to put on for an hour in the evening and it will last through the night. Better insulation must be promoted through grants.

Ireland has available land, strong wind currents and good rainfalls to promote alternative energy production. Going outside these is not feasible. A grant system is not particularly fair when one is already paying it through one's taxes. Enough new taxes have been introduced in the past five years. There will be a tax for using the toilet next. If the Minister is serious on this, we must consider our resources. A continued oil supply will soon become a problem. The sooner alternative energy is brought forward, the better because it will ensure inflation does not rise any further. Mortgages are already expensive. The one thing that will drive them up is the price of oil. If Ireland could provide 30% of its own energy supplies, inflation would be held to the minimum.

Farmers have been driven off the land by wrong Government and EU policies. The Government's lack of interest in farming is shown by allowing seven farmers a week walk off the land. Dairy farmers recently took a reduction of six cent a gallon for milk. The price to the consumer has increased by 300%, yet dairy farmers have taken a 15p — in old currency — reduction in price in the past 18 years. Farmers cannot survive any longer. Although a grant payment of 9 cent a gallon for milk will be introduced, many farmers have indicated to me they will get out of farming. An alternative for farming must be introduced. I know one farmer who was burning his wheat, a food source, to provide energy. When the Minister takes on an issue, he sees it to the end. Although Fine Gael will be going loggerheads to take four out of the six seats in Meath at the next election, as a fellow Meath man I have no problem sitting down with the Minister to address this important issue.

It is appropriate the Bill is being debated on the same day as a debate took place on how our oil and gas reserves are under the control of foreign multinationals. The Government is using two inadequate reports on the safety of the Corrib oil pipeline to justify the project and proceeding against the wishes of most people in the area.

Alternative energy supplies became the focus of debate following the publication of the Forfás report on the future availability of oil supplies. The report suggested the possibility of nuclear energy fulfilling Ireland's energy demand. That has been overwhelmingly rejected by the entire spectrum of opinion. I am glad that members of the Government are at one on this issue. There is all-party support in opposing the use of nuclear energy as an alternative energy source. That is hardly surprising given the ongoing concerns regarding the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant. The eastern seaboard is sitting on a time-bomb regarding the plant. Forfás also referred to replacing some of our dependence on fossil fuels through the use of alternative sources, most notably wind and wave power, and biofuels. Wave power is the least debated of these sources. We are an island with access to Atlantic currents, a possible alternative source. The currents on the west coast could generate enough electricity to surpass even what is being produced by wind power now. This source has not been investigated properly. The opportunity exists to harness this resource and it should be taken up.

Wind power has enormous potential. One report suggests that the current proportion of electricity supplied from this source could be increased to 20% of demand with no increase in costs to the consumer. The landscape of this country and the winds it generates offer great potential for the development of wind energy. We do not utilise it properly and for those in rural areas where land lies idle, better use of this resource would be welcome. Objectors who oppose and prevent small and medium size farmers from using their land to increase wind farming are preventing the exploitation of a major renewable energy source.

There was an argument in west Limerick and north Kerry about the dangers to the hen harrier to prevent the development of wind farms in that area. The hen harrier could be resettled in another area easily according to wildlife experts. The process has been held up even though land that has no agricultural value is available along the entire west coast. Deputy McEntee mentioned that seven farmers leave the land every week and I have heard figures as high as ten per week. If this facility were in place, land could be used to contribute to our energy needs while maintaining the way of life in rural areas.

The installation of turbines would require an increase in the amount of land involved but this is estimated to be 0.5% at most. Given the number of suitable sites that are not in agricultural use, that should not present a problem. This is a small investment for a potentially huge return.

A number of wind projects are in operation but concern has been voiced over the awarding of contracts. I am not making accusations but allegations have been levelled that one company is being favoured because of political connections. This suspicion must be dispelled.

It is vital that the sector is properly regulated and that the State takes a proactive role in research and development and, in practical terms, through the ESB, establishes wind farms. It will be argued on an ideological basis that the State should have no role in such an area but that argument overlooks the reason utilities were developed under public control in the first instance. Private enterprise is uninterested, incapable or solely concerned with increasing profits. It only becomes involved in projects which offer substantial financial benefit. We are talking, however, about energy, something that affects us all and that should not be about profit; it should be about securing the resources at an affordable price for those who use it.

The same argument can be made for biofuels. This State has enormous potential for the production of energy crops, especially under the single farm payment. The relevant Departments increasingly recognise this through the various grant schemes available. There was a presentation on this in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture and Food yesterday. With the closure of the beet processing factories in Mallow and Carlow, a huge vacuum exists for the 3,800 beet growers who now have no income. I am glad to see beet is now being considered as an ingredient for biofuel production. Beet growers could continue to grow the crop provided there is a plant that can process it for biofuels. It is of concern that there is no obligation on Greencore, in spite of the closure of both factories, to make them available if it does not want to. I argue that there is an obligation on the Government and the Minister for Agriculture and Food to ensure that what was created by the labour of small farmers before it was sold off to the private sector should continue to be available for biofuel production.

Not only should we be able to meet the EU targets for the proportion of vehicle biofuel supplies, we could pave the way for a more ambitious sector that would benefit farmers and those involved in processing. Unless steps are taken to encourage a strong Irish processing sector, in the future we will be as dependent on biofuel imports as we now are on fossil fuel imports.

I urge the Minister as part of a review of the energy sector to encourage indigenous, renewable energy sources and to reconsider the current terms and conditions governing the control of our island's gas reserves.

This is an important Bill that deals with a subject that has been widely discussed in recent years. We must now take action. Young people wish to see clean energy that does not damage the environment and we have the opportunity to put a policy in place that will achieve that for thousands of years to come.

We all know how reliant we are on oil and we have seen its price go through the roof in recent months. From getting up in the morning until going to bed, we depend on a reliable supply of electricity. Deputy Durkan said it is only when the lights go out that we know we are in serious trouble. If the lights go out we will be in serious trouble. Many people have contacted me, as a public representative, in recent years and especially in the past two years.

Debate adjourned.