Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Vol. 949 No. 3

Other Questions

Renewable Energy Projects

Bríd Smith


49. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his views on whether the recent announcement of a joint ESB and Bord na Móna solar energy enterprise represents a large enough investment in solar energy in view of the scale of the climate crisis and the poor history the State has in embracing solar power; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21826/17]

John Curran


73. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his policy regarding the provision of national solar power guidelines further to the recent launch of a proposed large-scale solar farm by ESB and Bord na Móna in County Roscommon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21891/17]

Following on from what we have been talking about, renewables, the Minister recently announced that ESB and Bord na Móna are to engage in a joint solar energy project. Could he clarify exactly what is the investment from both companies and what the scale of the project will be? I have heard different figures and am not sure whether I am correct in saying they are investing €5 million each. Is the State giving any subsidy to this? I would love to be enthusiastic about this but I have strong misgivings about what I am reading.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 49 and 73 together.

To clarify, my understanding is that it is €5 million between the two companies and the State is not putting money into the project. If there are any supplementary questions, I will deal with them in a minute.

As Minister with responsibility for energy and climate action, I am fully aware of the major challenge facing Ireland to live up to the ambition of the Paris Agreement on climate change. I have just concluded the public consultation on the draft national mitigation plan, which will continue the process of transitioning Ireland to a low-carbon, climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable economy by 2050. The national mitigation plan will be submitted to Government for approval in June.

Against this backdrop, the recent commercial decision between Bord na Móna and the ESB to develop a solar photovoltaic, PV, project is a welcome announcement. It is increasingly recognised that solar PV has the potential to contribute to meeting Ireland's renewable energy and climate change objectives.

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 in pace in the coming years. To support this continuing progress, my Department is currently working on developing a new renewable electricity support scheme. This involves examining the introduction of supports for a range of renewable energy technologies, including solar PV - both rooftop and ground-mounted. To date, only around 6 MW of solar PV has been installed in Ireland, almost entirely on rooftops.

Solar undoubtedly has a key role to play in the transition to a low-carbon energy future and presents significant opportunities for citizens and the economy as a whole. The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland recently published a report, entitled Ireland's Solar Value Chain Opportunity, showing that the cost of solar PV modules has fallen by 80% since 2009 and is set to continue to fall in future years. The reduction in solar PV prices will lead to solar becoming more cost-effective and thus likely to take a greater share of new renewable energy developments in the future. This drop in cost will be reflected in the design of any new support scheme.

The recent agreement to build a solar PV project builds on the existing partnership between Bord na Móna and the ESB in onshore wind.

Calls for the introduction of solar planning guidelines are matters for the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government.

I will ask the Minister about the figures for subsidies for renewables in general because the Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg, in 2014 stated that 10% of the public service obligation, PSO, levy we all pay on our electricity bills goes to renewables and that the vast bulk actually goes to fossil fuel sources, not renewables. I would argue that this is a real tragedy and I am sceptical, therefore, about the project. It is brilliant there is a move towards this but I am disappointed to hear it is just €5 million between the two companies. I do not believe the Minister has a commitment to solar energy. In an address last November, apparently, he all but ruled out the adoption of solar energy, warning that the technology could quadruple the levy paid by consumers on their ESB bills.

However, the Minister cited figures showing that solar energy costs are decreasing and sounded more enthusiastic than previously about its potential in terms of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. Globally, we are failing to support the science of solar energy. It is estimated that in 2014 the global bill for fossil fuels stood at €490 billion, while subsidies to aid the application of renewable energies stood at €112 billion. This lack of commitment globally is reflected in the lack of urgency the Government has shown to this source of renewable energy.

I apologise to the Deputy as I thought I had figures on the PSO with me but I do not have them to hand. I will have my officials revert to her later with them.

Does the Minister accept the figure I gave?

Is it far off the mark?

The PSO subsidy for fossil fuels, which is for peat, is declining. There is no subsidy in place for Edenderry and the two remaining subsidies, for Lanesboro and Shannonbridge, will expire in 2019. The PSO for renewable energies has been ramping up and accounts for the largest share. The proportion provided to renewables will reach between 80% and 90% by 2019. I will get the figures for the Deputy because I am speaking from memory.

On the comments I made last September, some people clearly need to visit an audiologist.

I read about the Minister's comments.

I am not questioning what the Deputy said. However, an agenda is being spun on this issue. I stated that the applications submitted to provide solar power would provide power far in excess of the country's energy needs. Farmers are signing contracts with solar power companies and there is panic among members of the farming community about the scale involved. Farmers are concerned that it will be similar to what occurred in the area of wind power and many are worried about what they have signed up for.

The Minister should conclude. We are out of time.

I will conclude by citing a number of figures. The applications to provide solar power would deliver 3.9 GW of solar power to the grid. National demand for electricity in summer stands at 3.6 GW, while total national demand in winter is 4.5 GW. This means applications to provide solar energy almost match total energy demand, which is not realistic.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the discussion on an issue in which I have considerable interest. The programme for Government is extremely light in terms of its narrative on solar power. The Minister hit the nail on the head when he indicated that the output of proposed solar power projects would meet national energy demand. The problem in this area was identified by An Bord Pleanála when, in a ruling refusing a planning application in the south east, it pointed out that it did so in the absence of national guidelines. It stated, "There is a lack of guidance at national, regional and local level in relation to the appropriate location, scale and distribution of future proposals for solar power." Moreover, it was not satisfied that the proposed development "would not be premature pending the adoption of national, regional or local guidance or strategy for solar power." If we do not organise and adopt a strategy and proper planning process for solar power, the chaotic scenario described by the Minister will arise.

The Minister indicated that prices for solar power are declining. While it is understandable that companies would like to enter the solar power market, the sector is crying out for a Government strategy and direct guidelines. Solar power cannot provide a solution to all our demands for renewable energy but it has a role to play. It is up to the Government to provide guidelines to ensure we have a sustainable programme.

Solar power has a role to play. I had the piece on solar power written into the programme for Government. Anyone who claims I am not positively disposed towards this form of energy is wrong. Nevertheless, I will not have a scenario in which farmers are tied into contracts which bind them to solar power companies for five years when, in real terms, the chances of the project getting off the ground are small. The current applications for grid connection would provide 3.9 GW of solar power. This means that on a summer's day when average demand for electricity is 3.6 GW, we could shut down every power generation plant and wind turbine in the country and still have excess electricity on the grid. As this is not a realistic scenario, I set out to bring an element of realism to the discussion. I will address the issue of grid access in a moment.

While I do not disagree with the figures provided by the Minister on applications to the grid, the issue is that planning permission has not been secured for many of them. As such, it is not the case that these projects could all commence tomorrow and connect to the grid.

The specific point I am raising is the need to introduce guidelines to manage the development of solar power. An Bord Pleanála stated that we need local and national guidelines and a strategy as otherwise the scenario presented by the Minister will arise in respect of the large number of applications for grid connection. The Government must play a proactive role.

As the Minister indicated when he referred to the application made by the ESB and Bord na Móna, the price of solar modules has fallen by 80% since 2009. This is the driving force behind growth in the sector, which we must manage. Solar power is a renewable source of energy which has a role to play but Government action is required. This is the link in the chain in which I want the Minister to become involved.

Two issues arise. The matter raised by the Deputy is one for the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government who deals with the planning process.

The Minister could speak to his colleague given the need for joined-up thinking.

I spoke to the Minister on this matter prior to the comments and decisions by An Bord Pleanála. While the ultimate decision in this matter is one for the regulator, I have publicly expressed my concerns about current access to the grid through gate access where a secondary market has been established in which connections are regarded as assets and traded as such. I do not want this to happen in future and I have expressed my views on the matter to the regulator. I hope the committee will also engage with the regulator on the issue as the committee is the authority to which the regulator is answerable.

Question No. 50 replied to with Written Answers.

National Mitigation Plan

Eamon Ryan


51. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the modelling which underpins the national mitigation plan; the key assumptions regarding the use of biomass in power generation; and his views on the future of carbon capture and storage. [21887/17]

The Minister recently described our climate ambition as economically reckless. I will throw his criticism back at him by asking where his economic analysis is. It is clear that we have no mitigation plan with which anyone agrees. The head of the climate advisory committee stated the plan lacked substance, analysis and detail, while the head of the Environmental Protection Agency described the plan in similar terms. Let us have a real economic debate on where we are going on climate. From where does the economic analysis and modelling underpinning the plan come?

Part of the development of the national mitigation plan has been the preparation of robust technical, environmental and economic analysis to evaluate a variety of impacts of a range of different mitigation options.  Environmental analysis, through strategic environmental and appropriate assessments, is being carried out by RPS Group on behalf of my Department. In this context, the strategic environmental assessment report and the appropriate assessment Natura impact statement were published for public consultation alongside the draft national mitigation plan.

My Department has been supported in the preparation of technical and economic analysis informing the draft plan by relevant Departments and State Agencies, in addition to experts contracted by my Department for this work. A key focus of this work has been to prepare a series of greenhouse gas mitigation options using broadly comparable criteria for assessing their possible costs and benefits within the framework of the public expenditure code published by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

The draft national mitigation plan is also underpinned by the official inventories and projections of greenhouse gas emissions for Ireland, which are prepared and published annually by the Environmental Protection Agency.

These data underpin the draft plan's assessment of the gap to meeting our targets for 2020 for the sectors of the economy outside the emissions trading system as well as the potential emissions reduction requirements arising from the European Commission's draft effort-sharing regulation proposal for 2030. The EPA published updated inventories and projections data on 13 April and I intend that these will be reflected in the assessments contained in the final mitigation plan.

The draft plan notes the role of peat in power generation. While it is recognised that Ireland's limited biomass resource would be more efficiently deployed in the heating sector in the long term, the use of biomass in peat stations will help to meet Ireland's renewable energy target and reduce carbon emissions in the sector. Support is available under REFIT 3 for biomass technologies, including the co-firing of biomass at three peat power stations. Bord na Móna has stated that it intends to cease the harvesting of peat for electricity generation by 2030.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The company has committed to replacing large-scale peat production with alternative indigenous energy sources such as biomass. In keeping with the energy White Paper, this will contribute to the decarbonisation of electricity while also helping to maintain sustainable levels of employment in the midlands.

Carbon capture storage, CCS, as a bridging solution is compatible with the move to decarbonisation of power generation, allowing a reduction of emissions during the transition. While research at a global level remains ongoing though, the commercial realisation of CCS technology has been limited to date. Officials in my Department have also met Ervia, the parent company of Gas Networks Ireland, to discuss the potential for CCS in Ireland.

By 2030, the balance of peat will have been burned and we will have lost the carbon store. Where is the Minister's economic analysis? Am I to take from his response that the economic analysis is being provided by the RPS Group or, as mentioned in the middle of his response, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform? Let us have this debate. I will bring out Lord Nicholas Stern and his economic analysis, the World Economic Forum and the International Energy Agency to back up the case for ambition on climate change. Who is it in government or the public service - and why - that is opposed to any ambition on climate issues? Where is the economic argument that this will make sense for our country? Where is the economic analysis telling us that delaying for ten years while other countries get ahead in terms of economic opportunities is the right thing to do? That is what is happening. I want to see the economic analysis that underpins the Minister's lack of ambition, and then I will bring my list of people with this economic thinking to show why ambition makes sense when it comes to tackling climate change.

We are speaking from the same hymn sheet. The Deputy is right, in that a great deal of expert advice is available to us. We must utilise it to make the economic arguments. As I told Deputy Smyth, this is not just a question of considering the long term, given that there are short-term wins for everyone in respect of air quality, which has a direct impact on our health services. A whole-of-Government approach is needed, not just an examination of the long-term economic impact.

A part of the problem that we are examining in the context of the mitigation plan is that the analysis being used by the Government in terms of capital investment in this field does not accurately reflect the challenges being faced. We are considering how to revise that. Deputy Smyth cited the penalties that we will face by 2030, somewhere between €3.5 billion and €5.5 billion, but I do not envisage that we should be looking at that.

Deputy Eamon Ryan is correct that there are huge economic opportunities for Ireland in this regard. We have unique offerings that we must exploit. We need the support of every economic skill available to us inside and outside Government to make that argument.

I agree with the Minister, but the cost-benefit analyses within the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform are out of date and at fault. We need a whole-of-Government approach, but if the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport does not seem to have the slightest interest and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine wants to be counted out, we have a problem. If so, why is the Minister playing this as a question of ambition being the problem? In response to criticisms of the national mitigation plan, why did he claim that our ambition and economic analysis were the core of the problem when the core is actually in the heart of Government, the public service and Departments that do not care about climate change and do not see it as an opportunity for this country to modernise and lead? Surely that is what we need to draw attention to, not an excess of ambition in government, but a lack thereof. That is the core of the problem and must change, starting with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and its economic analysis, with which I have fundamentally disagreed over the years.

No, my criticism related to the 2020 targets to which we signed up, in that we did not have the economic analysis that should have been available to us. The Commission has since held up its hands and said that the realistic cost-effective target that should have been set for us was 7%, not 20%, but that is irrelevant at this stage. It is in the past, and we have those targets now. We must try to get as close to them as possible and ensure that we have targets that we can achieve by 2030.

A large challenge lies ahead. The Deputy is right, in that, as the Minister in charge, I must have the economic facts and figures in order to make the case. The systems in government need to be reformed to reflect that. I need everyone's support if that is to be done. I have spoken with the Climate Change Advisory Council on this matter. There is much expertise inside and outside the council. I have told NGOs and the like that I need support. We need to test the robustness of the case, which will be done in-house and externally, but we all need to work together and make the economic case that justifies this level of spending, not just in the long term, but in the short term as regards air quality. One in five children in this country suffers from asthma and there are four deaths per day as a result of poor air quality. We can deal with the challenges of today, not just the long term, by making an investment in this area.

Broadband Service Provision

Bernard Durkan


52. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the progress to date in the provision of high quality broadband in all areas throughout the country with particular reference to County Kildare; if regulation of the broadband network can be invigorated to ensure that the services work to optimum efficiency and quality; the way in which provision can be made to ensure the availability of high quality broadband to fringe areas to which service has not be extended with a view to their inclusion at an early date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21860/17]

This question relates to the importance of broadband and its provision in all areas of the country without exception, but with particular reference to County Kildare and those fringe areas that seem to have fallen between two stools and where domestic and business needs must be met as a matter of priority.

I thank the Deputy for his question. The Government's national broadband plan will provide high speed broadband access of a minimum of 30 Mbps to all premises in Ireland regardless of location. The plan has been a catalyst in encouraging investment by the telecoms sector of €1.7 million per day for the past four years in order to bring broadband of at least 30 Mbps to 1.4 million, or 61%, of the 2.3 million premises in Ireland. This footprint is expanding.

In April, I signed a commitment agreement with Eir, which will provide 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 passing one premises every minute of every working day. My Department is monitoring this roll-out.

There are approximately 89,000 premises in County Kildare, some 13,000, or 15%, of which are located in the amber area on the State intervention map. Approximately 76,000, or 85% of premises, are located in the commercial blue area and will be served by commercial operators, including some 9,000, or 12%, under the Eir commitment agreement. Information on Eir's planned rural deployment is available at fibrerollout.ie.

A formal procurement process is in train to select a company or companies to roll out a new high speed broadband network within the State intervention area, comprising approximately 540,000 premises, or 23%, across the country. The timeframe for procurement continues to be dependent on a range of factors, including the complexities that may be encountered by the procurement team and bidders during the procurement process.

Shorter term measures to enhance broadband availability include the implementation of the mobile broadband and task force recommendations. I have signed regulations allowing ComReg to proceed with the 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.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

In addition, I have secured a €8 million provision for RTE to allow it to free up the 700 MHz spectrum band. This band is particularly suited to rural environments where the signal can travel long distances. These initiatives should assist in enhancing the quality of mobile phone and data services across Ireland, particularly in rural areas.

My Department website, www.dccae.gov.ie, and www.broadband.gov.ie provides comprehensive information, including broadband roll-out per county information, a copy of the Eir commitment agreement and information on the mobile and broadband task force.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply and the campaign to provide broadband, which is now accelerating. The work to date has been laudable and welcome, but it still leaves a number of areas in the amber region to which the Minister referred. They are concerned that they might be left in that condition for a protracted period. In anticipation of the extended broadband facilities, most people have business plans that they want and need to advance at an early stage. Will the Minister give them some reassurance?

Twelve months ago when I took over as Minister, 52% of premises had access to high speed broadband.

Within the next 85 weeks, 77% of premises will have access to high speed broadband. During my period as Minister, one in four premises in this country, the vast majority of them rural premises, will have access to high speed broadband, many of them receiving up to 1,000 Mbps, which is the fastest possible broadband speed in the world.

The national broadband plan has also stimulated investment across the commercial companies, which are spending €1.7 million per day. It will be seen that, across the amber areas, companies like Imagine have put up signage advertising up to 70 Mbps. Westnet and Ripplecom have made announcements and there will be a further announcement by a wireless company in the next few weeks in regard to the rollout.

I know there are concerns among people in amber areas across the country. Let me say this to them. One of the biggest amber areas in the country is in my constituency so I am more determined than anyone in the House to ensure this issue is resolved. It will be resolved in the short term through supporting the investment in mobile and wireless broadband services, which at least provide people with a service that can deal with the issues to which Deputy Dooley referred earlier in regard to children doing their homework and so forth, and can ensure that people have access to services such as video streaming. In the longer term, this will mean we can provide high speed broadband to every one of those premises.

We all acknowledge the work that has been done. We fully support it and congratulate the Minister for undertaking it. However, I want to emphasise the position of those people who have been a long time waiting, who have over a number of years made business plans they want to advance and who are entirely reliant on access to high quality, high speed broadband in order to continue their businesses. They want to work from home and eliminate transport costs and road congestion. Can we reassure such people that help is within sight with a reasonable timeframe?

There are two issues. First, I am committed to making sure the national broadband plan rolls out a long-term solution to those homes and businesses as soon as possible. With regard to the Deputy's specific point on businesses, I was with a business last month in my constituency outside the town of Ballinasloe and its representatives made the same complaint to me, in that they are just outside the intervention area under the Eir commitment agreement. I was able to identify three solutions for them, two of which involved a fibre cable that runs at the edge of their site and the other was a mobile solution, and there were also two additional potential wireless solutions. There are a number of solutions out there and, while they may not be the ideal solutions, they are short-term solutions to deal with these problems.

A broadband officer has been appointed in every local authority and I encourage people to make contact with their local broadband officer to find out what networks are available in those areas. At this stage, there are very few areas that do not have access to some type of broadband service. In regard to mobile broadband services, we are in particular seeking to identify black spots across the country and find out what work we can do with the mobile companies to address those black spots, both in regard to voice and data. We are working with the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, on that at present.

Illegal Dumping

Niamh Smyth


53. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his plans to assist county councils deal with incidents of illegal dumping; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21898/17]

I have raised the issue of illegal dumping before with the Minister in the Chamber and I know that, since then, he has launched a programme in regard to the local authorities that involves drones, surveillance equipment and so on. I want to cite four particular incidents in County Cavan in recent weeks. Some 31 bags of rubbish were dumped beside the Town Lake in Bailieborough. Bags of rubbish and other household refuse were dumped beside a lovely scenic spot at Lough Sillan in Shercock. In regard to Erica's Forest in Cootehill, which also involves Monaghan County Council, I received telephone calls and photographs were sent to me on Saturday morning because another beautiful scenic area was destroyed with rubbish. Castletara community alert telephoned me over the weekend to say that household furniture had been dumped.

The programme for Government contains a specific commitment to work with local authorities to tackle the problem of illegal dumping and to develop effective deterrents to discourage people from engaging in this anti-social behaviour. In accordance with this commitment, my Department developed an anti-dumping initiative to work in partnership with local authorities and community organisations in identifying high risk or problem areas, developing appropriate enforcement responses and carrying out clean-up operations.

Applications for funding from local authorities were invited for consideration by the relevant waste enforcement regional lead authority subject to the selection criteria developed for this purpose. This includes monitoring and surveillance of dumping black spots and the development of an integrated and effective approach to dealing with this issue. An initial allocation of €650,000 was made available to support this initiative. Funding is being prioritised for projects where community groups and other State agencies work in partnership to clean up and prevent illegal dumping, and where effective enforcement actions are being undertaken by local authorities.

I have been advised that 111 applications have been received by the waste enforcement regional lead authorities from all over the country and I understand that local authorities are currently being notified by the lead authority of the projects that have been approved for funding. Given this very positive response and the quality of the applications submitted, it is my intention to make further funds available to support a second phase of this initiative in 2017 and I will be making an announcement in this regard shortly.

This comes on an historic day for Cavan as the county launches its Cavan diaspora engagement strategy. As part of that, it is outlined that 40,000 visitors will come to Cavan as part of the Taste of Cavan festival. Part of the strategy is to increase visitor numbers to counties such as Cavan and Monaghan and to link in with those who have left our waters to go to England and America and encourage those people back. This strategy was launched today in Leinster House.

On another issue, while the surveillance equipment is wonderful, I believe it will not work until we have the manpower on the ground. From my experience of dealing with the local authority to try to address these issues, I know staff are being pulled from cleaning up problem areas to trying to prosecute the culprits who are responsible for this blight on our countryside.

An increased sum of approximately €9 million has been provided to resource local authorities on the enforcement side. The most effective tool in that regard is probably on-the-spot fines and I accept we need to improve surveillance. As I said, 111 projects have been submitted. The total cost of the projects submitted is some €1.2 million whereas I had an initial allocation of €650,000. I said at the time I announced this that I would not be found wanting if additional projects came in, and I will not be found wanting. I understand six projects from the Deputy's constituency have been submitted. Where communities are coming together, I believe they need to be supported. The initiative promoting the county of Cavan is very positive.

I believe that what is going on in regard to illegal dumping is economic sabotage of communities across the country. It also has a huge impact in regard to the amenities because if there is rubbish, and vermin are attracted to that, people will not bring their children to those amenities, although I and many other parents would love to do that at weekends. On top of that, local authority resources that could be used for many other purposes are being tied up in clean-ups. We want to try to clamp down on this and that is why I will be in a position to resource and improve all of the successful projects.

I thank the Minister. Again, I think surveillance equipment is very important. I understand that Cavan has two full-time staff to cover the entire county and Monaghan County Council has one full-time staff member. There has been a massive reduction in the number of staff allocated to this job, which I see as one of the most important things we can do for our counties and constituencies. The Cavan diaspora engagement strategy needs that kind of back-up so we can have a beautiful countryside for people to visit.

I will cite one other incident, that of 120 tyres dumped along the N2 into Monaghan. The Minister knows as well as I do there is a huge problem of tyres being dumped across the countryside, for example, 120 in one particular spot. If there is one member of staff in a local authority trying to deal with that, to clean up the mess after it and to find the culprits and prosecute, the local authorities need more manpower, along with the equipment for which the Minister is making available an allocation of funding.

First, to correct the record, the annual grant paid for enforcement to local authorities is €7.2 million. There are 120 enforcement officers across the country-----

It must be in Cavan.

Specifically dealing with the issue Deputy Niamh Smyth raised regarding the 120 truck tyres that were dumped on the N2 in Monaghan, the estimated cost of removing those was €1,400. I hope to be in a position within the next couple of weeks to make a specific announcement on the tyre sector and to have it robustly regulated. In fairness, the sector is working quite closely with me in that regard and we are looking at mechanisms to deal with the specific problems the Deputy highlighted. It is not only in Monaghan and Cavan. This is right across the country where we have mountains of tyres being stored up. I hope to be in a position, working with the sector, to address these problems.

Brexit Issues

Brian Stanley


54. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the discussions which have taken place in regard to the future of the part of the Irish strategic oil reserve physically held in the UK after the UK leaves the European Union. [21837/17]

My question pertains to the parts of our strategic oil reserves that are held in Britain or in the North because a serious situation could arise with Brexit. I ask what discussions have taken place at European level or with the British Government in this regard.

Ireland holds 90 days of emergency oil stocks, in accordance with International Energy Agency, IEA, rules and EU legislation, to be used in the event of a supply disruption.

The majority of these stocks are held in Ireland and some stocks are held in other EU member states, including the United Kingdom. Ireland has entered into bilateral agreements with those member states, including the UK, where our stocks are stored. EU Directive 2009/119/EC places an obligation on EU member states to maintain oil stocks within the Community at all times. Under the current legislation, when the UK leaves the EU, the stocks held in the UK would not be counted as part of our 90-day obligation under that directive.

It should be noted, however, that the UK is also a member of the IEA and therefore the continued holding of oil stocks in the UK, even after Brexit, would count towards the IEA's 90-day oil stocks obligation. After the UK leaves the EU, it still will be a member of the IEA and will continue to participate in the IEA collective actions that would be activated in the event of an oil crisis.

My officials and I take every opportunity to discuss the potential impacts of Brexit with our EU and UK colleagues, including with the European Commission task force and officials from the UK's Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and the Department for Exiting the European Union.

As the Deputy may be aware, one of the four key Brexit energy priorities identified by the Government is accommodating Ireland's ability to meet EU obligations post Brexit. One of the main issues under this priority is the obligation on EU member states under EU Directive 2009/119/EC to maintain emergency oil stocks within the Community. My strong preference is that the current position remains, whereby stocks held by Ireland in the UK, including Northern Ireland, are counted as part of our 90-day emergency stocks obligation.

I should point out that, in line with the Government’s energy policy White Paper of December 2015, the National Oil Reserves Agency, NORA, is continuing to maximise the level of its stocks held on the island of Ireland subject to storage availability and value for money considerations. This policy of maximising stocks in Ireland precedes the UK Brexit decision.

This is an important issue, given that we are so dependent on imported oil and fossil fuels. We import 100% of our oil demands and 95.3% of our gas demands. Obviously, with the Brexit discussions, the rule of thumb is there are no certainties regarding anything.

I welcome the fact that discussions have taken place. If I heard the Minister correctly, he stated that the part of our oil reserves held in the UK following Brexit would not be counted as part of the 90-day emergency supply. The Minister might clarify that.

For EU rules it would not be counted, but for the International Energy Agency rules, it would.

The Minister also stated his own preference was-----

To maintain those reserves in the UK.

-----to maintain those reserves in the UK. The question here is, what proportion of those are held in the North? Hopefully, there will be an assembly up and running, an Executive and - who knows - even maybe a united Ireland fairly soon. With those institutions coming back into place, the more of those oil reserves that are on the island of Ireland, the more secure our oil resources are and the quicker they can be accessed, particularly in times of conflict, etc.

I agree wholeheartedly with Deputy Stanley.

To give the Deputy the figures, approximately 57% of Ireland's strategic oil reserve is held in Ireland, 20% is held in the UK, 9% in Northern Ireland and 11% in Scotland. The remaining 23% is held in the other EU countries, Denmark, Sweden and Spain. The reserve held in Northern Ireland is held in Derry and in Cloghan Point - those are the two storage facilities. We are refurbishing existing storage facilities in Great Island in County Wexford and in Poolbeg here in Dublin, and Irving Oil would have a substantial amount of it in Whitegate.

If we were to move away from the UK if we did not get a derogation to this particular EU directive, it would probably mean that we would have to store that in France, and more likely, in Spain because it is probably the only place where there is any bit of capacity at present. It makes far more sense to hold it on the island of Ireland than having that in France or in Spain. It makes far more sense to store that in Scotland than in France or Spain because of accessibility and it is my objective, as part of these negotiations, to ensure that we get a derogation that complies with what are the International Energy Agency rules anyway.

The Minister stated that there are facilities being refurbished in Wexford and at Poolbeg. Are those belonging to private companies? Who is funding their refurbishment? There was a State oil facility off Cork but it is in the hands of the private sector at present. The Minister might outline the situation with those facilities.

Given the constant volatile situation in the Middle East and in the big oil producing countries, there is always a vulnerability around oil. We are in a particularly precarious situation. The Minister's opinion that the oil reserves be held in the State or in countries near to the State until we increase our capacity is the correct one, but we are in a very vulnerable position because we are so dependent on fossil fuels. We had a discussion earlier about the need to accelerate the drive away from that dependency. It is also costing us nearly €6 billion a year that is going out of the country on imported fossil fuels. The Minister might answer those questions about Wexford and Poolbeg.

My long-term objective is not to increase capacity. My long-term objective is to drive down the need for fossil fuels in the first place.

To answer the Deputy's specific question in the short term, NORA funds the purchasing, financing and holding of strategic oil stocks by way of a 0.02 cent levy per litre on certain petroleum products in the State. NORA has reached an agreement with the ESB for the leasing of redundant oil storage at its site at Poolbeg in Dublin. Refurbishing of this facility for the storage of approximately 120,000 tonnes of Ireland's oil reserves has commenced. The completion of this project could provide a valuable increase in the oil reserves stored in Dublin Port, through which approximately half of all Ireland's oil product is transported. That project is expected to be completed in 2019. In addition, NORA has negotiated with SSE for the leasing of 55,000 tonnes of redundant storage at its site at Great Island in Wexford. It is hoped to complete this project in 2019. That will bring onto the island far more capacity than would have been the case.

In tandem with bringing that capacity back into the State, as well as trying to reduce overall consumption and develop alternative renewable energy sources on the island, we believe we can have a substantial amount of our needs based here in the longer term. Ultimately, it is my intention that we would not have a need for a significant amount of strategic oil reserves because we would no longer be dependent on imported fossil fuels, which is running at approximately €4.8 billion a year.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.