I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I welcome the opportunity to introduce the Bill, which I introduced to the House just over a year ago. It will reduce energy costs for householders and businesses, contribute to the State's requirements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and grow renewable energy, as well as reducing the level of imported fossil fuels.
The Bill aims to grow small-scale renewable energy, which has a big part to play in our energy future. Microgeneration allows for self-consumption to reduce energy bills, and the Bill allows for excess electricity to be exported back into the grid, which will add to the State's sources of renewable energy and, importantly, give extra income to households, businesses and farmers to pay for the costs of installation for microgeneration. The State is far behind on its climate change obligations and we continue to play catch-up with our European neighbours.
The world must triple its efforts or face catastrophic climate change, according to a United Nations report on greenhouse gas emissions which was published today and which we all heard loud and clear. The report also found we are extremely unlikely to keep the rise in global temperatures to below 2° Celsius or possibly even 3° Celsius, and warned of catastrophic risks ahead. The report is yet another warning that highlights the global situation, as well as the failure of our State to deal with the issue. In June, the Climate Action Network put Ireland second last in the European Union for combatting climate change. Drastic and wholesale action is required. The State is a laggard in regard to climate change, as even the Taoiseach admitted.
Irish householders produces 60% more greenhouse gas emissions than the EU average because of our considerable reliance on oil for heating and fossil fuels, which are key factors. We need to give householders alternatives through renewable energy.
As a State and as taxpayers, we face hundreds of millions of euro worth of fines in 2020 and beyond because we have not reduced our greenhouse gas emissions or grown our renewable energy portfolio sufficiently because of the inaction of the Government and its predecessors. We must take seriously the vital requirement to broaden the sources of renewable energy on this island. We will need to do this if we are to combat climate change and create security of energy supply. We import almost €5 billion worth of fossil fuels but this is not environmentally or economically sustainable.
Electricity will be a vital energy source because it will be used more for home heating through heat pumps for transport as the number of electric vehicles on the road grows. We need to expand because we know that electric vehicles will be the only show in town in 2030.
Irish households and businesses have the fourth highest electricity prices in the EU. We also pay a carbon tax and a public service obligation levy, which supports large-scale renewable energy. Nonetheless, energy prices continue to rise and the major electricity suppliers increased their prices in July and August. It is time to allow ordinary people to reduce their household bills and to involve citizens, households and businesses in growing our renewable energy sources.
Members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action visited the Tipperary Energy Agency and Cloughjordan today. We saw the eco-village and visited projects such as the swimming pool in Nenagh town, a rural school outside Nenagh and a household in Nenagh. We saw at first hand microgeneration and energy conservation at work. We heard how a school halved its energy bills. If the school could feed its excess electricity back to the grid at times when it is not being used it would benefit the school financially, as well as the State by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and producing more electricity from a renewable source.
We do not propose anything earth-shattering. We must remember that a pilot scheme once existed where a tariff was offered by Electric Ireland for microgeneration, and a scheme also existed in the North of Ireland. Schemes exist across the EU. In Germany, for example, payments have been made for decades, and 31% of renewable energy capacity is owned by individuals, with farmers owning 10%.
The lack of a feed-in tariff is a further sign of the lack of imagination from the Government and previous Governments in regard to renewable energy. To date, our renewable energy has been almost completely based on large-scale onshore wind but it is not a good model and we know the reason is we did not involve communities. If we are realistically to combat climate change and create security of energy supply on this island, it will be from a range of sources of energy, such as solar photovoltaic, PV, hydro, biogas, small-scale wind and many others.
The Government must realise the significant potential in microgeneration. A pilot scheme supporting solar PV has been established, which we admit is a start but crucially, it does not include a feed-in tariff. There is also a push from Europe for microgeneration under the clean energy package. This will establish a regulatory framework for household self-consumption under Article 20.
We must recognise that the electricity grid of the near future will be different from what we have now, and the Government must see this change and be prepared. The future will be very different, with households generating their own electricity to supply their homes and charge the batteries for their cars. We will cut down on the 10% of electricity lost in transmission and we will directly involve people and communities in the production of energy.
The Government's White Paper in 2015 stated that we will be “exploring the scope to provide market support for micro generation”. It also stated "The energy system will change from one that is almost exclusively Government and utility led, to one where citizens and communities will increasingly be participants in energy efficiency and in renewable energy generation and distribution."
The Citizens' Assembly also recommended that we have a feed-in tariff for microgeneration. This Sinn Féin Bill has the support of Friends of the Earth, Stop Climate Chaos, An Taisce and Trócaire. It is also being considered by farming organisations and many others. We saw the future at first hand today in Nenagh and Cloughjordan in Tipperary and we saw how the future will be across the country. We must move it into the mainstream, however, and do across the whole country what those towns are doing.
I cannot see why a Government which is committed to climate change, as the Government says it is and as I hope it is, and which is committed to addressing our energy security supply and to citizen involvement in renewable energy, would oppose the Bill. I ask for a coalition tonight to support the Bill and push forward with it. We need to involve citizens, reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and reduce bills for households, businesses and farmers.