Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Vol. 949 No. 3

Priority Questions

National Broadband Plan

Timmy Dooley


44. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the status of the national broadband plan; the deadline by which 100% of premises will have access to broadband; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22087/17]

The purpose of this question is to ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the status of the national broadband plan, the deadline by which 100% of premises to be covered by the plan will have access to broadband and if he will make a comprehensive statement to the House.

I thank Deputy Dooley for his question. The Government's national broadband plan, NBP, will provide high-speed broadband access to all premises in Ireland, regardless of location. The NBP has been a catalyst in encouraging investment by the telecoms sector. That investment has meant that, to date, approximately 1.4 million, or 61 %, of the 2.3 million premises in Ireland can get high-speed broadband of a minimum of 30 Mbps. In April, I signed a commitment agreement with Eir to roll out broadband to an additional 300,000 premises in rural areas on a commercial basis.  Eir has committed to concluding this work over the next 85 weeks at an average of one premises being passed every minute of every working day. By the end of 2018, therefore, I expect that 77 % of premises will get high-speed broadband from commercial service providers.

A formal procurement process is under way to select a company or companies that will roll out a new high-speed broadband network within the State intervention area, which comprises approximately 540,000, or 23%, of premises.

The timeframe for the procurement continues to be dependent on a range of factors including the complexities that may be encountered by the procurement teams and bidders during the procurement process. During the Department's extensive stakeholder consultations in 2015, telecommunications service providers indicated a three to five year timeframe to roll out a network of the scale envisaged under the national broadband plan, once contracts are in place.

Shorter term measures to enhance broadband availability, particularly in rural Ireland, are included in the report of the mobile phone and broadband taskforce. I have also signed regulations allowing ComReg to proceed with a 2017 allocation of spectrum in the 3.6 GHz radio spectrum band. This will provide an 86% increase in the total spectrum available for mobile and fixed wireless services. In addition, I have secured an €8 million provision in 2017 for RTE to allow it to commence work to free up the 700 MHz spectrum band which is particularly suited to rural environments. These initiatives should assist in enhancing the quality of mobile phone and data services across Ireland and particularly in rural Ireland. My Department's website, www.dccae.ie, and www.broadband.gov.ie provide comprehensive information including broadband roll-out per county, a copy of the Eir commitment agreement and information on the mobile phone and broadband taskforce.

I look forward to checking out the website to see all of that information, but the one piece of information I suspect will not be there is some kind of a timeline or deadline by which the Minister will have signed the contract. Will the Minister even give us an expected date for the issuance of the contract? I know there have been pre-discussions with selected bidders, and that is all fine, but the Minister needs to put a timeline in place that identifies when the contract is going to be signed. I listened with interest to the Minister on "Morning Ireland" last Friday when he was asked and pressed about achievements by him and his colleagues in government and things they had done. The Minister, Deputy Naughten, spoke of the progress in broadband. It was telling that he said broadband is to be brought to one home or premises in rural Ireland every minute of every working day for the next 86 weeks.

It is 85 weeks now.

Eir is doing that. That is the subject of a commercial decision by a contractor who talked about this in 2015. The Government argued the toss and procrastinated - during a period when Deputy Naughten was and was not the Minister - and it sought a commitment that Eir was going to do it. This allowed the Government to take those 300,000 premises out from the bundle to be funded through State intervention. Technically, the Government's problem has been simplified further. It is now back to some 500,000 premises as there are 300,000 less to do. It does not all lie at the Minister's door but it does lie at the door of the Government. Can the Government stop riding on the back of Eir's commitment on a commercial basis and tell the Chamber when it will publish a timeline for the signing of the contract? We will then proceed with the three or five years that the contractors need to roll it out. We need a commitment. If the Minister is serious about managing his Department he needs to set a date by which the contract will be signed.

The aim of the national broadband plan is to deliver high-speed broadband to every single premises in the State on a commercial and non-commercial basis. Because of the work being done on the national broadband plan we have now ensured that commercial companies, on a commercial basis, are spending €1.7 million every single day and they have been spending that for the last four years. The only reason that Eir sought a commitment agreement with me was because of the national broadband plan and because of the intervention area within the plan. We have been able to tie Eir down to specific targets. They were to have passed 40,000 homes by 31 March last but they have passed 41,000 homes. Deputy Dooley knows, more than anyone in this House, that Eir has previously given very hollow commitments to communities up and down this country and that Eir has actually failed to deliver on them. Now Eir is tied in to a contract where it will be penalised if it does not deliver on it.

The national broadband plan will entail a 25-year contract. We do not want a situation like we had in the past with the Three contract; by the time the contract was signed and rolled out the technology was obsolete. That will not happen in this case. This is a very complex set of negotiations. The contract documents run to 1,000 pages in total and the supplementary documentation is a further 1,000 pages. I am committed to ensuring that we actually deliver to every single home in the country and I am not going to get tied up in dates. Some 12 months ago 52% of premises in the State had access to high-speed broadband. On foot of the commitment agreement and the work we have done over the last 12 months, within the next 85 weeks 77% of premises will have access to high-speed broadband. That is one in four premises in Ireland, the vast majority in rural areas, which will have access to high-speed broadband and the majority of those will be getting up to 1,000 Mbps.

I carry no torch for Eir, but it is a little bit rich of the Minister to criticise Eir or any commercial company for their inability to deliver on commitments. This has been at the Government's door - a Government that the Minister is part of - since 2012. At that stage high-speed broadband was supposed to have been rolled out within three years. We are now in 2017 and a tender has not issued. The Minister must start concentrating on the component that falls at the Government's door, which is the intervention area; the piece that is not commercially viable that the State must fund. The Minister must get the tender documents together and pick a date. He speaks of the project being for 25 years but from the time it was talked about in 2012 it will be 25 years before it will even have started. While the Minister, Deputy Naughten, thinks that dates are not important, I am sure he is dealing with constituents on a daily basis and knows there are children in schools who need access to high-speed broadband to do their studies and reports. These students will have gone through the entire cycle of secondary and tertiary education and still there will be no broadband in their homes. It is important. The Minister is telling us it will be a 25-year plan and that it must be done big. This is fine, but it is having an impact on the daily lives of so many families and small businesses in their inability to gain access to high-speed networks. I hear stories from families where the parents are dropping their children into towns with laptops and iPads to go in to Starbucks, McDonald's or Milano's and such places, in order to get internet access so they can prepare for exams. This is pathetic. People are looking for the Minister to show an understanding of the seriousness of the issue and put in place a deadline, which would force people in the Department, and people who support it, to meet those deadlines. We need action here.

I assure Deputy Dooley that we are getting action because I am not waiting around at all. This is why, as part of the negotiations for the programme for Government, I ensured that we established a mobile phone and broadband taskforce to look at areas where we could fast track the investment of wireless mobile broadband right across the State. This is happening currently. There is not a corner of the country where one does not see the signs up for Imagine; and the best of luck to that company in rolling out its network. We can see the announcements made by Westnet and Ripplecom. There will also be an announcement by another wireless broadband company in the coming weeks. Broadband is being rolled out currently. I want to see the high-speed broadband network rolled out as quickly as possible but it is a fact that we are pushing the roll-out of all avenues in respect of broadband, and the task force is being successful in assisting communications companies in rolling it out across the country.

It is important to remember that every single second level school in the State has access to a minimum of 100 Mbps thanks to the funding that has already been put in place by my Department. The feedback I am getting from schools across the State is that while students would love access to 300 Mbps or 1,000 Mbps, schools are getting access to broadband, mobile broadband and wireless broadband. As soon as is humanly possible they will also get access to high-speed broadband. This is why we have been successful in starting this process. The first communities in Ireland that will have 1,000 Mbps, and which will be in the gigabit society, are rural communities, on foot of the commitment agreement to which we have already signed up.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Brian Stanley


45. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the specific steps and actions being taken to meet obligations in various sectors in view of the publication by the Environmental Protection Agency on greenhouse gas emissions and renewable energy targets. [21951/17]

Bríd Smith


47. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the measures he plans to take to achieve targets on greenhouse gas emissions (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21824/17]

If the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will allow me a point of order, there is a small issue I want to raise in respect of Priority Questions. I submitted a priority question about the post office networks and received a reply stating that the Minister has no responsibility to Dáil Éireann for this matter under Standing Order 36, and that it is an operational matter for the board and management of An Post. I opened the Questions Paper today to find Question No. 68 was allowed, which asks the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment a question regarding the post offices. I thought the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, had sorted out this political bun fight as to who was responsible. I had the impression from all the reports over the last couple of weeks that the matter had landed on the desk of the Minister, Deputy Naughten. Members raised it as far back as nearly a year ago. It is very unfair to us and to the public. Somebody needs to take responsibility.

The current question is in respect of climate action. A recent EPA report shows that we are far behind on our obligations. What actions are being taken in the various sectors?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 45 and 47 together.

If I might first respond briefly to Deputy Stanley's point, I am taking responsibility for the post office network but legal responsibility has not yet formally transferred over. I was quite willing to answer questions on An Post and had replies prepared for it but that is a decision that was made outside my control.

Ireland has legally binding emissions reduction targets for each year between 2013 and 2020 under the 2009 EU effort-sharing decision. For the year 2020 itself, the target set for Ireland is that emissions should be 20% below their value in 2005. This target represents Ireland’s contribution to the overall EU objective of reducing its emissions by 30% by 2020 compared with 1990 levels. Ireland, Denmark and Luxembourg share the most demanding 2020 reduction target allocated to EU member states under this decision. 

On 13 April, the Environmental Protection Agency published its latest projections for Irish greenhouse gas emissions covering the period to 2035. For 2020, the year to which the Deputy’s question refers, the EPA’s projections indicate that emissions from sectors of the economy covered by the 20% reduction target could be between 4% and 6% below 2005 levels by 2020. This represents a deterioration compared with previous projections. This deterioration was not unexpected, given the welcome return of economic growth to Ireland in recent years. It does nevertheless confirm that Ireland’s greenhouse emissions continue to track broader trends in the economy, and serves to underline the difficult choices ahead as we try to reduce emissions in line with our international commitments.

In order to address the gap to Ireland’s 2020 targets and to begin to lay the foundation for the more ambitious reductions that Ireland will need to make towards 2030 and beyond, it will be necessary to pursue a range of further emissions reduction measures through the first and successive national mitigation plans. The objective of the national mitigation plan is to set out, on a whole-of-Government basis, what Ireland is doing and is planning to do to further our transition to a low carbon, climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable economy by 2050. The plan will reflect, in particular, the central roles of key Ministers responsible for electricity generation, the built environment, transport and agriculture, forestry and land use sectors.  It must also be recognised that the first plan is a work in progress, reflecting the reality of where we are in our decarbonisation transition, having regard to a number of factors including curtailed public and private investment over the course of recent years. The first plan cannot, therefore, provide a complete roadmap to achieving the national transition objective to 2050. It will, however, begin the process of development of medium to long-term options to ensure that we are well positioned to take the necessary actions in future decades. This will be an ongoing process aimed at incremental and permanent decarbonisation. The plan will become a living document; it will be made accessible on my Department's website, will be subject to annual progress reports, and will be updated on an ongoing basis as analysis, dialogue and technological innovation generate further cost-effective sectoral mitigation options. Recognising that funding climate action to the required level presents an enormous challenge for Ireland, a key part of this process will be to evaluate Exchequer and non-Exchequer options for financing Ireland's transition.  

I also recognise the need to foster wider societal engagement with the climate challenge, motivate changes in behaviour and create structures at local, regional and national levels to support the generation of ideas and their translation into appropriate cost-effective actions. To progress this, I recently announced a national dialogue on climate action to provide for an inclusive process of engagement and consensus-building across society, aimed at enabling the transformation to a low carbon and climate-resilient future.

In his reply, the Minister said the upturn in the economy and the fact that we were going to miss the targets completely could not have been foreseen. It was foreseen. Several of us raised the fact that this was going to happen when there was an economic recovery. We raised it while the legislation was going through the House and the committee. We pointed out that the absence of binding sectoral targets would lead us to where we are now, namely, to a carbon cliff. It is clear from the transcripts that I and others were saying this. Electricity consumption is to experience a 40% reduction by 2020 and we are only at 25%. The contribution from transport is supposed to be 10% and we are at 3.3% according to the EPA report. The contribution of renewables to heat should be 12% but at best we will hit 6.5%. We are not even halfway there in most cases. Outside the emissions trading system, ETS sector, we are going to be somewhere between 4% and 6% overall, and that is if we are being hopeful. The figure should be 20% below 2005 levels. This is a catastrophe. What is the financial cost to the State going to be, never mind the cost in embarrassment?

I take the Deputy's point about binding sectoral targets. We are engaging with my colleagues, the Ministers for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Transport, Tourism and Sport and Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government to give consideration to putting a process in place. I do not think we should be looking at binding targets at the moment. It is a long way to 2030 and 2050. It is also important to remember that we are currently in negotiations in respect of these targets. Do targets need to be put in place? Absolutely. That is something I am working on with my ministerial colleagues.

On the renewable energy targets, the Deputy is right that electricity is a 40% target. At the moment we are at 27.3% and the projection is that by 2020 we will have reached our 40%. In respect of heat, the target is 12%. We will be somewhere between 10% and 11% based on current projections. For transport, the target is 10% and we will be somewhere between 8% and 9%, based on projections. I acknowledge we are going to fall short according to current projections and we have work to do. We are not, however, significantly short, based on the projections. I would confidently predict that we will reach our target on the electricity side if we can deal with the international challenge, now called the Irish problem, of having a 75% loading on the grid of a volatile energy source, namely, wind. That work is ongoing. We will soon reach a 65% loading and, with technological developments and the DS3 programme, we expect to hit 75%.

The Minister's officials and advisers are very optimistic people. I cannot see how transport is going to reach 8% or 9% by 2020, given the rate at which we are going in the opposite direction. There will need to be a great number of electric cars put on the road to turn that one around. I am trying to be honest.

There needs to be an honest assessment of this because we are not in a good place. We have hit a carbon cliff. We are trying to play catch-up and we need specific measures. What specific measures are being put in place? What is happening in transport? The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport should be in the Chamber telling us. We need to find sectoral targets. Does the Minister not agree at this stage?

I wish to ask the Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten, a particular question regarding the Minister with responsibility for local government. I realise that the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government may be distracted with the housing issue and other matters, but he has a major role to play. For God's sake, there is supposed to be reform of local authorities. There is a role for local authorities as the tier of government closest to the people. Why are we not engaging with local authorities in the task of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions as well as engaging communities through the local authorities?

We are engaging with local authorities both in respect of the mitigation plan and through the forthcoming adaptation plan.

Specific reference was made to reaching our targets on transport. The vast bulk of those targets will be made up with the biofuels obligation. However, we are looking at further low-emission vehicle incentives. We are looking at how we can stimulate the electric vehicles sector. We are looking at supports for low-emission vehicles. We are looking at reforming the motor tax system and supporting eco-driving. Several initiatives are in the mix at the moment. I expect to see progress on these over the coming months. Some of these will be part of the whole budgetary process. Therefore, I cannot tie myself into making commitments until I have the financial resources to do it. Discussions are ongoing with the European Investment Bank and further afield in respect of accessing resources to help us to meet our targets. Funding other than Exchequer funding is involved. There are some novel initiatives.

Another point on transport relates to broadband. Rolling out high-speed broadband throughout rural Ireland would mean that people would have to travel less. We could establish hubs throughout the country to allow people to either work remotely or from their local town rather than having to travel to a city. That would reduce transport needs. There are challenges globally and at European level in respect of transport, but there are also challenges unique to us and we need to look at unique solutions for those.

There are some in this world who will deny that climate change is actually a problem. Some of them control the most important and powerful countries in the world.

They control the counties too – like Kerry.

Indeed. In case people did not hear Deputy Stanley, he referred to County Kerry.

I am astonished at the lack of urgency from the Minister and the Government. There is no sense that we are in trouble. In fact, the estimates for the scale of possible fines for not reaching our targets by 2030 are in the region of between €3.5 billion and €5.5 billion. If the estimate of not dealing with the polluter pays principle relating to water charges was on this scale, everyone would be screaming mad about it. However, no one is screaming mad about the dreadful position we are in regarding emissions.

Some of the better scientists in the world associated with the Stop Climate Chaos coalition have rated Ireland's achievements as "F", which is low indeed. This rating is in the document before me and contains a big black "F" for failure. This failure is a catastrophe for us not only because of the level of fines but because of the actual environment and climate that we live in. I am keen for the Minister to address that question. Does the Minister have a sense of urgency?

I assume, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, that I will get an opportunity to come back in. Is that correct?

First, Deputy Bríd Smith is right. There are people who deny the existence of climate change. However, no one who came to my constituency during the winter of 2015-2016 would deny the issue of climate change. I have seen the impact of it, just as Deputy Stanley has seen it. We know the exact nature of that impact. Deputy Dooley has seen it in his constituency as well.

Deputy Bríd Smith referred to a lack of urgency. The major challenge is that the implications will emerge over time. We are looking out to 2030, 2050 and beyond. We need to bring that closer to home. That is why the review in the policy area in respect of air quality is so important. It will have an impact on improving air quality. Four people per day are dying directly as a result of poor air quality in this country. If we can reduce particulate matter – black carbon, which is soot – and improve air quality throughout the country, we will have a knock-on impact not only in respect of health status but by improving the pressures on our health service and dealing with climate at the same time. We need to break it down from that point of view. We need to bring urgency to how we deal with this matter, here and now.

Another point is important. Deputy Bríd Smith is correct in respect of figures somewhere between €3.5 billion and €5.5. billion. I do not have the exact figures but the Deputy is correct: they are substantial. We are working up those figures in order that we might provide not only a justification of the cost but also an indication of how we can stimulate elements of the economy to ensure that we can create jobs and drive this agenda forward.

A final supplementary question from Deputy Bríd Smith.

Do I not get to come back?

Yes, with a final supplementary.

I believe more energy is spent on looking for greater flexibility in how we can measure our targets rather than actually reducing them. I will offer two examples. One has already been mentioned and it relates to transport. We have a budget of some €10 billion for transport and we intend spending two thirds of it on roads. That does not deal with what needs to be dealt with, which is getting cars off the roads and expanding public transport. Two thirds of the €10 billion will go on roads, yet we have no problem seeing the demise of a national transport company on the basis of losses of between €7 million and €9 million per year. Meanwhile, Transport Infrastructure Ireland sits on €100 million while twiddling its thumbs. It does not know what to do with the money.

The other matter is not necessarily the responsibility of the Minister. This is why we need joined-up thinking on the part of Government. I am referring to the question of beef and beef exports. We are increasing the volume of beef for export. We are doing deals with Saudi Arabia and we have seen the consequences of that already. We are doing deals with Egypt and we are seeing the consequences of that as well. These are political consequences, but the consequences for us amount to not dealing with our emissions. In fact, we are increasing them. There is no real attempt to join up the thinking and look at where we can reduce our emissions by having proper public transport infrastructure and by not growing the volume of beef or exporting more beef.

Finally, I will quote the Minister. He has said in the past that the reality of our problem is that we are on a journey seeking a carbon-free impact from human activity and that this will only succeed through social acceptance and engagement. I maintain that it is not a journey but a fight. In fact, it is battle with companies and the system of capitalism. They are addicted to fossil fuels because they get vast profits from them. Until we challenge that, we will not be properly challenging the question of climate change.

I am glad Deputy Bríd Smith raised the issue of agriculture. In today's Irish Independent farming supplement, this issue came up in the context of Brexit. An article pointed out that Brexit will force farmers to look at competition issues and how efficient beef production is in this country compared to other European and international players.

Colleagues in the House from rural Ireland will know that the vast majority of suckler farmers are using the payments they get from Brussels to subsidise farming practices. That is unsustainable in the long term. There are ways whereby we can make agriculture more efficient from a carbon perspective, as well as ways to ensure that farmers get a far greater return for the product they are producing. In fairness, the beef data and genomics programme is an innovative step to start that process. It is a difficult process. We are trying to shoehorn into the beef sector technology advances that have taken 25 years to develop in the dairy sector. It is a step in the right direction. It is seen internationally as an innovative measure to deal with the real and practical problems. We need to come up with solutions across the board. These include using broadband to deal with our transport issues, as well as using other novel initiatives. We should not always be replicating what is going on elsewhere. There are major opportunities in the context of the oceans and our natural resources.

North-South Interconnector

Timmy Dooley


46. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment when he will implement the motion regarding the North-South interconnector, which was passed on 16 February 2017; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22088/17]

When will the Minister implement the motion regarding the North-South interconnector which was passed on 16 February 2017? Will he make a statement on the matter?

On 19 December 2016, An Bord Pleanála granted planning permission for the North-South interconnector project in Ireland. The decision concluded a lengthy planning process which included an oral hearing completed over 11 weeks from March to May of last year. The planning decision is currently the subject of judicial review proceedings. The planning process for the section of the project in Northern Ireland is ongoing, with an oral hearing concluding on 27 February 2017.

In light of the motions passed by Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann, I requested officials in my Department to prepare proposals for an updated independent study that will bring further clarity to the relative cost and technical merits of the overhead and underground solutions for the North-South interconnector. In preparing the terms of reference for this study and to fulfil the commitment made at a meeting held with public representatives and local community groups in Leinster House on 8 February, my officials held meetings with representatives of the North East Pylon Pressure Campaign on 28 March and the Monaghan Anti-Pylon Committee on 3 April. This engagement was important in facilitating local representative groups' input into the terms of reference drafting process. I have approved the terms of reference for the study and published them on my Department's website yesterday. Construction of the project is not planned to commence before 2018 and I intend that this study will be completed and published before the end of this year.

I have had an opportunity to review the document and, in fairness, the Minister did give me advance notice of it. Unfortunately, however, as far as my party and I are concerned, as are those to whom I have spoken in the area, the terms of reference are not complete. It does not include the requirement as set out in the motion that was passed by this House on 16 February to "evaluate the potential impacts of both undergrounding and overgrounding the North-South interconnector on surrounding areas, considering such aspects as [the] impact on local tourism, health, landscape, agriculture, heritage, etc."

I understand the Minister has cited some concerns in the Office of the Attorney General in relation to same and some conflict that may arise between decisions that have been taken by An Bord Pleanála. I have had an opportunity to seek legal advice on behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party relating to such an adjudication. There appears to be no reason whatsoever the provision could not form part of the analysis the Minister proposes to undertake. The role of An Bord Pleanála relates to any planning request or application that has already been adjudged. That is fine. If a decision is ultimately taken to put an application forward to underground a project, An Bord Pleanála can or may wish not to take into account any information that would arise from this particular exercise.

The Fianna Fáil Party does not accept the Minister's decision to exclude the provision I have already outlined. I ask the Minister to reconsider that in the spirit of the decision that was taken in this House on 16 February.

The terms of reference fulfil the central point of the motion that was passed in the House, which was to "examine the technical feasibility and cost of undergrounding the North-South interconnector, taking into account the most recent developments in technology and experience gained from existing projects abroad". As the Deputy knows, at the meeting on 8 February, an example was given relating to the project from Aachen to Liège. We are now looking at that. The terms of reference are an exact transcription of what was passed by both Houses. The second aspect is also being taken on board. The third aspect, which the Deputy is raising, is to "evaluate the potential impacts of both undergrounding and overgrounding the North-South interconnector on surrounding areas, considering such aspects as ... local tourism, health, landscape, agriculture [and] heritage".

As the Deputy knows, the issues relating to the visual impact of the proposed development and the concerns relating to health and impact on residential property in proximity to the route and so forth were all taken into consideration by An Bord Pleanála. It stated, "Whilst the landscape and visual impacts of the development, and the possibility of localised impacts on property, are acknowledged, having regard to the demonstrated strategic need for the development, the approach taken by the applicant in terms of route selection and detailed design of the development, which has sought to minimise landscape and visual effects, it is considered that the residual impacts which occur only in close proximity to the development are acceptable."

The Minister stated that the central point to the motion was what it was and then he acted upon it. I put it to the Minister that it is not within his gift to decide the central point of any motion. The central point of a motion is the absolute and express provisions as set out in the motion in its entirety. If the Minister were to be genuine and honourable about this, he would respect the full extent of the motion that was passed democratically in this House and he would have, as he should have, transposed the motion in its entirety and let those provisions form the basis for the review. I still fail to understand why he is taking the approach he is taking. I do not accept, nor does the legal advice available to me suggest, that there is any necessity to exclude the provision the Minister has outlined which, in my view, is a central and important part of the motion. I fail to understand why the Minister did it. I certainly do not think there is any link whatsoever between the provision in this particular exercise and what decisions An Bord Pleanála has made or might make in any future application.

An Bord Pleanála has made its decision and the Deputy is aware that there are a number of applications for judicial review - I am a named party in one of them - before the courts at the moment. It is not possible to quantify the impacts with any degree of certainty in relation to this and, therefore, it is a qualitative assessment. The statutory planning process, which includes An Bord Pleanála, is the appropriate method by which such impacts are assessed and evaluated. I have an overarching duty, unless lawfully challenging a decision, to respect the decisions of the lawfully established bodies, which is An Bord Pleanála in this instance.

Question No. 47 answered with Question No. 45.

Renewable Energy Generation

Maureen O'Sullivan


48. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if he will clarify Ireland's position in relation to the 2020 renewable energy targets; and his plans to invest substantially in renewable energies in line with the increase in power usage across the national grid, in particular in forms of renewable energy that are not yet properly utilised such as wave and ocean current technology. [21894/17]

My question relates to Ireland's position on the 2020 renewable energy targets, the plans to invest in renewable energies and where we are in terms of wave and ocean technology.

I thank Deputy O'Sullivan for this question. The 2009 EU renewable energy directive sets Ireland a legally binding target of meeting 16% of our energy requirements from renewable sources by 2020.  Good progress has been made to date but the target remains challenging, particularly in light of economic growth and a growing demand for energy.  Figures provided by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, for 2015 indicate that 9.1% of the overall 16% target has been met by renewable sources.

The Government has adopted a range of policy measures and schemes to incentivise the use of renewable energy.  The primary support mechanism in the electricity sector is the Renewable Energy Feed In Tariff, REFIT, scheme, which supports the development of a range of renewable electricity technologies including hydro, biomass combustion, biomass combined heat and power, landfill gas and onshore wind.

Ireland has made considerable progress in the decarbonisation of our electricity sector in recent years, with over 25% of our electricity coming from renewable sources in 2016. This progress, while welcome, will need to accelerate with pace in the coming years.

With regard to future policy initiatives, my Department is developing a proposed new renewable electricity support scheme and renewable heat incentive scheme designed to assist in meeting our renewable energy sources for electricity, RES-E, and renewable energy sources for heat, RES-H, targets. The introduction of any new scheme, including the overall costs and technologies to be supported, will be the subject of Government approval and state aid clearance from the European Commission.

In the transport sector, Ireland aims to meet its renewable target mainly through the increased use of sustainable biofuels, with electric vehicles also making a small contribution. The biofuel obligation scheme was increased from 6% to 8% by volume from 1 January 2017.  A public consultation on future increases to the biofuel obligation scheme, required to meet the 2020 renewable transport target, will take place later this year.

Ireland has one of the best offshore renewable energy resources in the world, and offshore renewable energy will have an important role in Ireland’s future renewable energy mix.  While offshore wind has globally been developed successfully, wave and tidal energy is still at the research and development stage. Notwithstanding the development of promising experimental devices, much more research, development and trials are required to bring wave energy technology to commercial viability.

The Government's policy on the sustainable development of our indigenous offshore wind, wave and tidal energy resources is set out in the 2014 offshore renewable energy development plan.

The Minister knows from his involvement with the Association of European Parliamentarians with Africa, AWEPA, the effect of policies and practices from the developed world on the developing world, its people and their livelihoods, that is, that those least responsible for the effects of climate change are paying the most. I was reading the speech the Minister gave last month on putting the "eco" into the economy. He noted the connection between the two words "ecology" and "economy" and their derivation from the Greek word for "household". He made the point that the EU cannot lead or deliver without the full participation of all the member states, so we need to use less energy and we need to use the energy we are using more efficiently. I know progress is being made but it is disappointing to read that we are one of four member states of Europe not expected to make the 2020 targets. The target is hardly excessive and we know that failure to reach it would be very costly. The Minister has said it will be challenging but does he accept that it can be realised? I again make the plea that offshore renewable energy remain in Irish hands and Irish control.

The Deputy said the target is hardly excessive. The cost-effective target for Ireland, on which the Commission has published information, was 7%. Our target was set at 20%, so it was an excessive target. However, leaving that aside, that was the target that was set and to which the Government signed up at the time and we need to try to get as close as possible to it and plough ahead to make sure we hit our 2030 target. That is my objective.

The Deputy is right that ocean energy has huge potential and we need to invest in it. Nine tenths of the territory of Ireland is under the sea, and our ocean energy development plan states that there is potential to develop up to 4.5 GW in offshore wind and 1.5 GW in wave and tidal energy. There is a huge opportunity in this regard, and to seize it we are supporting the development of a number of prototypes. Last year, the Government, through the SEAI, funded 17 prototypes; this year, we will fund another 16. Some of them are making significant progress in developing technology in this area. Sea Power Limited used the quarter-scale Galway Bay test site between November of last year and March of this year for a sea power platform on wave energy. It seemed to be quite successful. We have seen a number of other companies examining this and it is my intention to support them and, through the strategic infrastructure fund, if required, to fund them.

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland's figure on clean renewable energy and what it has saved was very striking. I think it was €1 billion in fossil fuel imports. That is highly significant. It is interesting to hear what the Minister says about offshore wind, hydro and tidal wave energy. We are over-reliant on fossil fuels and we know the cost of that is €4.6 billion annually. It is disappointing to see the increase in emissions. The irony is that as the economy does better, our use of emissions increases. Wind power is so fraught in Ireland yet it works so well in other countries. I think we can learn from the mistakes of the past in this regard. The offshore floating wind turbines will be interesting but, again, I go back to the point that we need to keep it in our control so that it is for the benefit of Ireland and not of a multinational company that will take it over.

Deputy O'Sullivan has hit the nail on the head, particularly regarding onshore wind. We have put far too many eggs in the one basket in respect of onshore wind, and she is right that most of the beneficiaries have been offshore in that regard. The new structures we will put in place in respect of planning guidelines and the renewable electricity support scheme will very much be oriented towards communities and supporting communities themselves regarding renewable technologies.

We are at an early developmental stage regarding offshore energy and are trying to support companies involved in it but it is important to remember that as 88% of all our energy needs are imported at present, we need to drive that down. If we, like Donald Trump, denied the impact of climate change, we would still need to put in the investment because we have renewable energy resources here. We need to capitalise on those and we need to have a sustainable energy source in this country rather than being dependent on imported fossil fuels. That, as energy Minister, must be my objective, not to mention my priority as climate Minister.