Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

North-South Interconnector

Brendan Smith


51. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his views on the need to provide the North-South interconnector as proposed by EirGrid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53166/18]

Brendan Smith


58. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his views on the 2018 electricity generation report published by EirGrid and a company (details supplied) on the proposed North-South interconnector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53165/18]

I wish the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, and the Minister of State at the Departments of Rural and Community Development and Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Canney well in their new roles.

As the Minister is aware, we have been told relentlessly since 2006 that the lights would go out in Northern Ireland unless the North-South interconnector was built as a matter of urgency. The 2018 electricity generation report recently published by EirGrid and the System Operator for Northern Ireland, SONI, shows a remarkable turnaround from a situation with a significant power deficit to that of a significant power surplus in Northern Ireland for the next ten years, even accounting for a very high level of forecasted demand, which is a demand that is unlikely ever to be reached. It is time that the Minister and the Department questioned the necessity for this North-South interconnector project going any further in the planning stage.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 51 and 58 together.

I am surprised that the Deputy is suggesting that we would isolate our grid in that way. One of the constraints on introducing renewables into our grid is the lack of interconnection. The single electricity market for the island of Ireland has brought many economic and social benefits, both North and South. It depends on the degree of interconnection. Currently, just 300 MW of electricity supply across the existing North-South interconnector is permitted to ensure that electricity is securely provided to customers. The new North-South interconnector will facilitate substantial increases in capacity transfers, thereby facilitating a more effective single electricity market.

Interconnection helps to ensure that only the most efficient and low-carbon generation is brought into the grid. The interconnector also substantially increases the capacity to connect up to an estimated 900 MW of renewables to our grid. Currently, 30% of our electricity comes from renewables, but as part of our strategy to meet our climate commitments, we need to almost double that proportion as Deputy Canney outlined.

The North-South interconnector has been subject to economic analysis and the benefit-to-cost ratio is very positive. The interconnector is expected to bring savings in the single electricity market of €20 million per annum from its inception, rising to between €40 million and €60 million per annum by 2030. Much of these savings result from reductions in network constraints that will accrue from its delivery.

While the project has received planning consent in Ireland and Northern Ireland, these decisions are subject to ongoing legal challenges in both jurisdictions. The development of the interconnector, including associated procurement activities, are operational matters for EirGrid and ESB Networks.

The generation capacity statement 2018 covers both Northern Ireland and Ireland, and is produced jointly between SONI and EirGrid. This is in line with their regulatory requirements to publish forecast information about the power system, including an assessment of the balance between supply and demand. The generation capacity statement is updated annually to ensure an adequate capacity is available in the market on an all-island basis and to plan accordingly.

I am advised that the increase in generation capacity as shown in the generation capacity statement published by the transmission system operator does not impact on the need for the interconnector. It is also important to note that the increase in Northern Ireland generation capacity shown is likely to be temporary in nature. The main increase is from the assumed continued availability of the coal-fired Kilroot generating units and two of the older and less efficient Ballylumford units. The long-term continued operation of these generators is not sustainable in the context of decarbonisation of the industry. In fact, since the generation capacity statement was published, the Utility Regulator for Northern Ireland granted derogation requests on 9 November to AES for the two Ballylumford units, totalling 250 MW, from the requirement to give three years’ notice of closure.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I never suggested that we should not have an all-Ireland electricity market - far from it - and I have always advocated that we develop an all-Ireland economy. I am saying that we have been fed a diet of suggestions that the lights will go out in Northern Ireland in 2019 if the North-South interconnector is not built. The most recent report shows that there will be a surplus of electricity, even under present structures, as opposed to the deficit that we were told would result for a long time. I have many quotes from EirGrid and SONI, their counterparts and other affiliated bodies, stating that the lights would go out if the North-South interconnector was not built.

I am sure that the Minister is fully aware of the grave concern in communities in Monaghan, Cavan and his home county of Meath about the actions of EirGrid and the bullying manner in which this project has been proposed all along. We had the farce of an oral hearing with An Bord Pleanála where all of us in this House, regardless of political parties, and local public representatives made detailed oral presentations at those hearings but we might as well have been talking to ourselves at home because the report did not even have the courtesy to refer to the concerns outlined by Ministers, Senators, Deputies and councillors from Cavan, Monaghan and Meath.

I am sure that the Minister is fully aware that the communities in Meath, Cavan and Monaghan do not accept the proposal as it stands to have these transmission cables overground should that project ever proceed.

I am conscious that we were just talking about the challenges of climate change and how we will respond to it. One of the responses is undoubtedly to have better interconnection in our grid. There is not only this North-South interconnector which would allow 900 MW of renewable energy to come onto our grid, but also the project for an interconnector between Ireland and France. We need interconnection if we are to have an electricity market that is capable of decarbonisation. It is an absolute challenge for us as a nation to deal with this.

I accept that any change is challenging. I have not been involved in the planning process but I know from others that people had strong feelings. The planning process has been set up to be independent of the political system. That was done for very good reason and I am around long enough to know why it was done. We have to respect the independence of our planning system.

As I explained in the reply, the reason there is capacity to meet demand at the moment and the lights will not be going out is the extended life of coal-burning stations, two of which are now slotted for closure. Of course there will be contingencies to keep the lights on, but in terms of planning for the grid for the long term, interconnection is essential.

I thank the Minister. I would not question the need for an independent planning system. We are all fully aware of the need for that and the way it works. When members of Government, Members of the Oireachtas and public representatives from local authorities go to the bother of making detailed presentations at oral hearings, it would be expected that the inspector's report would at least refer to them or take some cognisance of the views of elected people. Those bodies may be removed from the political system but they cannot just disregard public representatives either.

There is an issue that may not be in the Minister's brief that I want to bring to his attention. The Minister referred to An Bord Pleanála giving approval in December 2016 and that approval carried nine conditions. The local communities in Meath, Cavan and Monaghan have stated all along that EirGrid could not proceed without breaching those conditions laid down by an Bord Pleanála, but EirGrid has passed the ball onto ESB Networks to meet all local authorities to force them to bend and sign off on the conditions. All local authorities and planning executives met ESB Networks on 6 September and our position and the position of local community groups which have been very active on this issue over a number of years is that ESB Networks has no right to meet local authorities at this stage on this project. It is an EirGrid project and not an ESB Networks project. I would like it if the Minister would have that matter investigated in his Department.

If there is to be an independent planning process, the representations of Ministers or Deputies cannot be treated in a better fashion than anyone else. The point of having an independent process is that it is not open to influence by political-----

But we booked an oral public hearing.

That is the point of it being independent. It is that Ministers will not be pressurising it or that the planning authority will not provide special access for one group of people as opposed to the other, because that undermines the independence of the process. We know what the planning process is like. It does not always produce the outcome that is wanted and I acknowledge that, but it is fair and public representatives are not treated better than individuals who are representing themselves, and that is as it should be. The quality of the planning is the argument that they have to deal with.

There were qualitative arguments from public representatives as well.

I am not aware of the details of the planning conditions and I will get back to the Deputy on that, but generally speaking, in planning conditions it is not unusual that they would require something to be done to the satisfaction of a local authority.

In virtually every planning permission granted, the roads must be completed to the standard of the local authority or whatever. I will check the provision to which the Deputy refers.

The other point we need to bear in mind is that two independent reports showed that the underground proposal, which is what many people are advocating, would be three times as expensive. They showed also that our system of compensation is fair and reasonable and better than that in many other countries. We are trying to be fair to people but the planning system is independent of Government.

EirGrid has not tried to be fair to local communities.

Electricity Generation

Aindrias Moynihan


52. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if consideration will be given to a grant scheme for microgeneration of electricity to allow communities and individuals to develop small scale local power plants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53173/18]

Pat Deering


57. Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the steps he is taking to increase the amount of electricity being generated from renewable sources; and the further steps he is taking to develop microgeneration. [53193/18]

Timmy Dooley


92. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the position regarding the development of facilities to support the sale of electricity back to the grid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53179/18]

First, I congratulate the Minister, Deputy Bruton, and the Minister of State on their appointments.

The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, report brought into sharp focus the scale of the task ahead in terms of climate change and the need to intensify our efforts over the next 12 years. There is a willingness on the part of the public in that regard where they want to take the various steps needed. One of those steps is micro-generation. Different pilot schemes have run over the years and I am conscious the Minister of State has one in play now, but how quickly will he scale up that pilot scheme to ensure a full, open scheme is available in which the maximum number of communities and the public can take part? People genuinely want to engage and do what they can in respect of climate change.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 52, 57 and 92 together.

I strongly support a route to market for citizens and communities to generate their own renewable energy and to receive a fair price for doing so. Indeed, Ireland has been involved in developing the EU's Clean Energy Package which entitles renewable self-consumers to receive remuneration for excess electricity exported to the grid.

Significant work has already been carried out in this area by my Department and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, working with industry stakeholders, including the Micro Renewable Energy Federation.  However, more work needs to be done before we can introduce a legal framework to fully implement this approach.

One challenge is to design a remuneration regime for microgeneration as per the new directive, which reflects the market value of that electricity fed into the grid and also to work out how it would impact on network charges and on the public service obligation, paid by other users for exported electricity taking the benefits of self-consumption into account.

In July 2018, a new pilot scheme to support microgeneration was introduced, initially targeting domestic self-consumption through a grant scheme for solar PV installation and battery storage. Over 3,000 applicants have expressed an interest to date and approximately 200 rebate claims are in process for payment by the SEAI, which is administering the scheme on behalf of the Department.

A review next year of the pilot scheme will inform potential future phases of support for microgeneration.

The Department currently also offers supports to communities and small and medium enterprises, SMEs, to install solar PV and other energy efficiency measures through the SEAI-led sustainable energy communities and Better Energy communities schemes.

To go back to my original question, how quickly will the Minister scale up that pilot scheme? Various pilot schemes were run in 2008. The ESB ran one previously also. The Minister of State has had one running for several months and he is talking about doing a review next year. The IPCC set out that we have 12 years to take action on climate change. The strongest message it sent was urgency. A greater level of urgency is needed to deal with this challenge and the Minister of State is talking about having that review conducted some time next year. How quickly can he get it done? I do not want one of those 12 years to be lost doing a pilot scheme. How quickly will the new scheme be up and running? He has already seen different aspects of the older schemes so we need to know how quickly he will do that. Also, what kind of targets will the Minister of State set in respect of it? Will there be opportunities for communities to take part and will that participation be widespread?

Likewise, I ask the Minister of State about the amount of electricity that can be generated from renewable sources. We have seen some areas move towards solar farms, for example, but it is a very slow process. The farmer might get permission but he or she might have to wait a number of years to get connected to the grid. There is no incentive in that regard. We saw in recent times where there may be development of wind turbines, which I believe have a huge part to play, but there is a huge disincentive in that regard. There has been an increase in commercial rates, for example. I am aware that the rate for one of those turbines has increased from €40,000 to €120,000. That is a major disincentive to the entire process. What can we do in that regard? As mentioned earlier, the clock is ticking very fast. To move fast in this regard, we need incentivisation for all sectors, in particular the renewable sectors. What plans are in place to deal with these in the short term?

Microgeneration is a very small part of the overall plan. It is important for communities and that we do that in a way that will work. It is expensive and we need to make sure that whatever scheme we bring in will be cost effective. That is the reason the pilot has been done. It will be renewed this year and will be brought forward. We are looking at other schemes. As I said earlier, the big schemes such as offshore and on-shore energy, wind farms and solar are where we might get the bigger hits in terms of creating more sustainable energy.

Referring to Deputy Deering, we know the problem is the delays in getting the processes and the consent to do the work. I would point out a number of aspects in that regard. The action plans for local authorities have been published, which will help them speed up the process by which planning permissions can be granted.

Also, the action plan on climate change is being prepared by the Minister, Deputy Bruton. That is a cross-departmental plan which will be brought forward in the spring. We need to make sure that we examine the deficiencies in our system so that we can create the environment that will allow people get on with these worthy projects. That is what the action plan is all about.

I thank the Minister of State. He is right that microgeneration is just one of the many components needed. We want to give the maximum number of individual households and community groups the opportunity to play their part but they need to have that opportunity as soon as possible. How soon will the Minister of State have that scheme open and up and running for them? The pilot has been running for several months. As I pointed out, the clock is ticking. I do not want to see one of the 12 years spent on a pilot scheme. When will that new scheme be available to ensure the widest number of people can have an opportunity to participate in it? We need to go from talking the talk not just to walking the walk but running. The Minister of State is starting from a position where he is well behind. We need this scheme to be up and running as quickly as possible to allow the maximum number of individual households and community groups, and not just commercial interests, take part in it.

I welcome the progress made on the action plan for local authorities and on the planning process also. However, the major blockage seems to be the connection to the grid, particularly from a solar farm viewpoint. The planning process could have been completed. The owner of the solar farm, for example, could be waiting a number of years before he or she will see payback in that regard. That is a huge disincentive. We want to get more of those facilities available, which will have a huge part to play in take-up of the scheme. That has to be addressed.

The planning process around wind turbines needs to be addressed also. We have been waiting on the regulations around those for a number of years. Again, that is a drawback in that regard. The clock is ticking and we need to see progress sooner rather than later.

To respond to Deputy Moynihan first, 3,000 applicants have expressed an interest in the microgeneration pilot scheme currently in play but only 200 have looked for a rebate. We are not just walking; we are running.

Two hundred are running out of many thousands.

The other thing I want to say is that communities and small businesses are also being supported through schemes led by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland like the sustainable energy communities scheme and the better energy community scheme. They are for smaller communities like the communities Deputy Moynihan is talking about and the communities I know as well. Communities can apply for these schemes and they operate in rural areas. It is important that communities apply and know these schemes are running for them to apply to through the SEAI.

I agree with Deputy Deering's comment that we have much work to do in co-ordinating the entire effort so that we squeeze down the time it takes to get all the processes right. That will help to get all these people connected to the grid, and we are working on that.

National Broadband Plan Implementation

James Browne


53. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment to outline the position regarding the roll-out of the national broadband plan in County Wexford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52786/18]

Will the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment outline the position regarding the roll-out of the national broadband plan in County Wexford?

The national broadband plan aims to ensure that every home, school and business in Ireland, regardless of how remote or rural, has access to high-speed broadband. This is being achieved through a combination of commercial investment throughout Ireland and State intervention in those mostly rural areas where commercial operators acting alone are unlikely to invest.

Since December 2015 the number of premises with access to high-speed broadband in Wexford has increased by over 17,000, a 44% increase. In total, the number of premises in Wexford with access to high-speed broadband is over 58,000, some 71% of the total premises in Wexford. Another 2,300 will be served by Eir's planned rural deployment. The remaining 22,000 homes, schools and businesses in Wexford will be connected under the Government's national broadband plan.

In April 2017 the Department published an updated high-speed broadband map, which is available at www.broadband.gov.ie. The map shows the areas targeted by commercial operators to provide high-speed broadband services and the areas that will be included in the State intervention area under the national broadband plan. The map is colour coded and searchable by address or Eircode.

The procurement process to appoint a bidder for the State intervention network is now at the final stage. The priority is to bring the procurement process to a fair and impartial conclusion as quickly as possible. The Department will now conclude its assessment of the final tender submission received from the bidders on 18 September 2018 and a recommendation will be brought to Government in the coming weeks.

I asked the question because of the deep frustration felt by the people in County Wexford in not being able to access fibre broadband in the rural areas. Fibre broadband is crucial to bridging the digital divide between rural and urban Ireland. This affects individuals in their houses, people trying to access information for children who are doing their homework, those applying for medical cards and people trying to set up a business. It affects farming communities who need broadband to develop efficiency in their farms as well as health and safety procedures. Many farmers these days are working alone on farms. They have no one to help them. Having access to broadband allows them to put in place health and safety facilities on their farms.

This is a matter of deep frustration for the people in Wexford and throughout the country. The programme for Government proposes that every house and business is to have broadband by 2020. Can the Minister of State confirm that this is still the plan?

As a Deputy from a rural part of the country, I understand the frustrations. Everyone accepts that broadband is essential, just like water, electricity and sewerage. Broadband is now essential in every home.

The Government commitment is to provide broadband to every house. The tender process is coming to a conclusion. The final evaluation is taking place. It will be concluded in the coming weeks. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, will bring a report to Cabinet once it is completed.

It is my hope that we will reach the targets that we have set out. What we have to do is work towards that. Progress is being made and has been made, but not for everyone and that is the problem. The Deputy will be aware of that. I have set out the figures for Wexford, including the number of houses with access. The percentages have gone up but still we have many people who do not have it. We are trying to fill in these gaps.

The percentages have gone up because of the commercial operators. What I am concerned about is the rural areas where the commercial operators have said they are not going to. The contract or tender was supposed to be signed in summer 2017. That has been set way behind. Does the Minister of State still believe that every house and business in rural Ireland will be connected to broadband by 2020? Is it still on schedule? Does the Minister of State believe it is on schedule or not? The question is very simple.

Let us be exact about it. The final tender bid came in September this year. It is probably one of the largest tenders that we will have in the State for a long time. We want to ensure the evaluation process is correct, value for money is secured and it is a fair contract for everyone. That is the first step. Timing will be part of the tender and roll-out. I am not going to say to Deputy Browne exactly when it will be done until the tender evaluation process is complete and a report is brought to Government, but we will be working towards that and I imagine everyone in the House hopes that will happen.

Energy Efficiency

Seán Sherlock


54. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment to outline the engagement he has had with the Department of Education and Skills on the decarbonisation of school buildings. [53138/18]

The Joint Committee on Climate Action is sitting currently in response to the Citizens' Assembly report. Committee members visited Tipperary recently. I note the Chairman of the committee is present and the Vice Chairman was present up to a moment ago. We had the good fortune to visit Youghalarra national school. That school has converted to heat exchange technology. Effectively, the school has been decarbonised. It is a wonderful project. The school has decarbonised its heating provision and has moved away from oil and gas into using the grid for heat exchange.

One challenge put to committee members in the course of our interactions was that schools are finding it hard to use or deploy this technology. Has the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment had any interaction with the Minister for Education and Skills? In other words, has the Minister spoken with himself about this?

I thank the Deputy. I had some interest from the other side of the counter on this question when I was in the Department of Education and Skills.

The most recent report on public buildings shows that schools are one sector where the greatest ground has to be made up. Schools are well short of the targets that are generally being achieved. To be fair, the targets are being achieved in higher education rather well but not in schools. We all know the reason for that. They do not have access to resources and so on.

However, two points are really positive. The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland has been working with schools. There is a €14 million investment plan for the end of 2019. The idea is to test approaches and build best practice and building capacity for an energy refit programme for larger-scale schools. A total of 16 schools have been upgraded to date and more are planned for 2019. The Department of Education and Skills is exploring how the programme could be further scaled up.

Energy measures delivered include improving the energy efficiency of the building fabric, installing more efficient and cleaner heating systems and upgrading to smarter electrical systems. Outcomes are positive, improving the energy performance of the schools by as much as 40% in some cases as well as improving the teaching and learning environment for staff and students.

The community initiative that the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, referred to is, in many cases, improving schools. There have been some private sector initiatives that have worked with schools with outstanding results as well.

Another positive point is that the Department of Education and Skills has committed in its ten year financial envelope to deep energy refit for its pre-2008 school body. There is momentum within the Department. I hope that by combining the successful pilots that are up-and-running in many parts of the country we can roll out an effective programme. I will be talking to the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, to see how we can accelerate this delivery.

I welcome the Minister's response. Could a formal engagement be made between the Ministers to put in place some type of service level agreement or memorandum of understanding? Can we develop an understanding for those who are tendering for these projects so that it would be as seamless as possible? Applications would have to measure up to the regulatory framework naturally, but the process should not be overly burdensome in terms of the bureaucracy or bells and whistles that contractors have to go through to roll out these projects at a speedier pace.

I have spoken to the Minister, Deputy Joe McHugh, and he is up for something in this area if we can develop a scheme. One issue will be access to funding because 80% of the Department capital funding is simply to cope with population growth.

We need smart access to funding, to exploit the pilot schemes and deepen community involvement to achieve a broader range of interests who are interested in helping this to happen. We see how we can work together to develop clusters where this would occur. At least building blocks are emerging to enable something to happen.

Energy Efficiency

Eamon Ryan


55. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the percentage of the heat available from a planned €40 million district heating system utilising heat from the Poolbeg incinerator that will be utilised; and the purposes for which this resource could be utilised for. [53168/18]

The use of waste heat from the Poolbeg incinerator to heat parts of Dublin is a big practical project we could undertake that would benefit the economy and turn what is currently a waste resource into a precious one. I welcome the seeking of €20 million from the climate action fund, but I am keen to get the details of what is planned with this very welcome project. I presume it is part of a staged development whereby we will think far bigger and look at how all of the waste heat from the Poolbeg peninsula is used.

An application by Dublin City Council to capture heat from the waste heat generated at the Dublin waste to energy plant and pipe it into homes and businesses in the Poolbeg, Ringsend and Docklands area of Dublin was successful in being approved for up to €20 million of support from the climate action fund. I understand up to 90MW of waste heat is produced at the Dublin waste to energy plant that has the potential to heat the equivalent of 50,000 homes and would otherwise be released into the atmosphere. The proportion of this heat to be used as part of the district heating project will depend on the level of heat demand connected to the network and is expected to grow over the lifetime of the project. I have visited the plant and understand from the operators that the project also has the potential to double the energy efficiency of the plant.

The detailed validation of the project is under way. However, the project has the potential to significantly reduce carbon emissions.  The reduction has been estimated at over 30,000 tonnes of carbon over a ten-year period for the initial phases of the project. I should also mention a similar project in south County Dublin on a slightly smaller scale in the same group. I hope these two significant district heating projects will achieve their potential.

I very much welcome the project. I understand we are looking at the initial phase where it will connect to new housing and businesses in the docklands, including on the Irish Glass Bottle site and the new build commercial premises in the north inner city along the quays. That is all very welcome, but I am very keen that we be much more ambitious. There are some pipes in place that would allow us to extend the project further up the river to new developing areas, including the Heuston Park Quarter. We should be looking at a range of other developments. It will require the council's support but also that of the Government to install the piping needed to enable further connections to be made. The figure of 90MW of waste heat to which the Minister referred is not insignificant. We could go further if we were to connect to other power stations on the Poolbeg peninsula where there is waste heat going into the River Liffey. Are there plans to provide for that level of scaling up and to take a much more ambitious approach?

The climate action fund was an attempt to help bottom-up thinking to see what was possible. It is significant that two schemes which were successful were district heating schemes, the one in Dublin city with a figure of €20 million and the one in Tallaght in the area of South Dublin County Council with a figure of €4.5 million. It signals to me that there is potential in this area. When I was there, the city manager noted that they had already laid some pipes and had a network of several buildings that could be connected. They have done some homework to make this a possibility. I will look at the potential to further extend the number of schemes and would welcome new ideas in that regard. That is what the climate action fund is about and most of the initiatives are related to creating better frameworks that could be expanded further, of which clearly this is one.

That is true. We are retrofitting under the district heating scheme, but we should also look at every other industrial facility across the country to see where there is waste heat to see if we can trap it and use it. One of our biggest problems is less in the area of electrification than heat capture where we are furthest behind our targets. We will not meet them through the use of biomass alone. We must stop burning fossil fuel for heat. The district heating scheme is the key and obvious beneficiary. As welcome as the project is - 30,000 tonnes is not an insignificant saving in emissions - in the context of a 100 million tonne gap which we have to close, it is a drop in the ocean. We need to start to scale up our ambitions across a range of areas. While these two pilot projects are welcome, we should be looking at every industrial facility in the State to see where there is waste heat that we could use to facilitate industry and local communities and to think much bigger about the possibilities.

I agree. Ultimately, I must be conscious of the cost effectiveness of the different measures which must enter into the calculation. I think it is 50:50 in these cases, where the State is putting in half of the funds, while the other half is raised elsewhere. We must look at the cost effectiveness of this and any subsequent heating project. I presume this project had an edge because the piping necessary had already been fitted at design stage and retrofitting was not required. I am looking to ensure our standards and regulations will make it easier in the future, as well as developing feasible projects in the near term.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

John Curran


56. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the range in which he expects Ireland to miss its 2020 greenhouse gas emission targets; the sectoral breakdown of these targets; the estimated range of fines Ireland is likely to face for failing to meet targets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53204/18]

The Minister will be aware that Ireland will miss its 2020 emissions targets by a significant amount. Can he give a sectoral breakdown of where he expects the targets to be missed by 2020 and the associated costs to the Exchequer as a result of our failing to reach them?

Under the 2009 effort sharing decision which put in place binding annual emissions targets for each year between 2013 and 2020 for sectors outside the EU emissions trading system, Ireland must achieve reductions of 20% relative to 2005 levels of emissions. The actual trends show that under the influence of the economic crash, Irish emissions were below target ceilings in the years 2013 to 2015, inclusive. However, as recovery took hold, it became clear that we had not broken the link between economic recovery and emissions which rose significantly above the target ceiling in 2017. The latest projections, published in May by the EPA, indicate that emissions from those sectors of the economy covered by the effort sharing decision could be on aggregate be 17 million tonnes, or 5%, above the cumulative target for the period. However, more worryingly, the 2020 levels are projected to be only between 0% and 1% below 2005 levels by 2020.  This puts us in a very bad starting position to meet our 2030 targets.

The EU system does not fix separate targets for different sectors. The effort sharing decision allows member states to meet their targets using unused emissions allowances from earlier years, or through purchasing allowances from other member states or on international markets. Ireland has certain accumulated credits already acquired. However, I am advised that Ireland will need to purchase allowances to meet projected shortfalls in 2019 and 2020. My Department estimates the costs of this requirement to be in the region of €6 million to €13 million, depending on the price and final quantity of allowances required.

The recently agreed effort sharing regulation sets out binding annual emission targets for EU member states in the period 2021 to 2030, inclusive.

Ireland's target for 2030 is to achieve a 30% reduction in emissions relative to 2005. I have recently secured Government approval to prepare an all-of-Government plan which will set out the actions to be taken to make Ireland a leader in responding to climate change and to set out how Ireland will meet its targets for the period to 2030 at the very least.

I thank the Minister for his response and I wish him well in his position. It is a critical role. Young people are very cognisant of the challenges ahead of us and they are up for the type of change that is necessary. I asked the actual cost because it is important to realise that if we do not address this, a significant cost to the Exchequer will arise and, as years pass, it will grow. As the Minister rightly said, we have credits from the recession years. That has brought us up to 2017 or thereabouts, and we will pay as we go forward from there.

It is critically important that the key elements for which the Government has responsibility are implemented. The Minister spoke about microgeneration and solar power. One advance in renewable energy that has not happened is a growth in the significance of commercial solar power. In 2015, 0.01% of electricity was generated from solar power. That figure has only grown to 0.04%. It is a tiny proportion of the whole. This is mostly because the Government has failed to produce guidelines around solar power. It has come up time and again. There is plan after plan, and planning application after planning application is granted, but we have not seen commercial solar power connected to the grid as a deliverable source of renewable energy as it should be.

The Deputy has raised a couple of points. He is absolutely right. The net figure was 17 million tonnes. That has been priced. We had credits already but we have also acquired credits. What we are going out into the market with now is not even 17 million tonnes' worth. The gap will get bigger in the future.

The Deputy is right about commercial solar power. It is not solely about the planning guidelines. Commercial solar power is more expensive. It has not won out at auctions or successfully competed for any Renewable Energy Feed In Tariff, REFIT, schemes. As Deputy Canney was describing, one would expect offshore or onshore wind again to dominate the next auctions in 2019. However, we may see the start of some inroads made by solar power. That is important. It is still more expensive, but those costs are coming down very dramatically.

As Deputy Deering was saying, in combination with it becoming more cost-effective, we need to make sure that the guidelines are fair. I know there has been an issue with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government saying that no guidelines are needed as the guidelines are already there. As part of this process I will have a conversation with the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to see if we need to issue some sort of clarification so that decisions can be taken where appropriate. There are guidelines - it is not true to say that there are not - but some people seem to be waiting for further guidelines to be issued.

I do not want to devote my whole contribution to solar power, but I must make the point that something is wrong whether guidelines are required or not. We do not have the output that we should have. It is fine to say that we will have further wind power and so forth. To achieve reliability and continuity, we need a mix of renewables rather than being overly dependent on one source or another.

The other comment I want to make concerns transport. It is interesting to note that it was only last week that the low-emission bus trial began in Dublin. The Government had been talking about that for ages. The Minister has to take responsibility across all the Departments in Government, not just his own. Funds and programmes have been made available but the actual implementation is very slow. I have been asking the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport about low-emission buses for Dublin for a considerable time. This does not account for a huge output but it leads by example. It sets a precedent for transport infrastructure for Dublin in the future. The Government has a key role to play in that. There is a carbon reduction programme in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport with about €5 million available to it. I understand that the vast bulk of that money has not even been used this year.

These are the challenges facing the Minister. We can have scheme after scheme and programme after programme, but if the implementation is not there, we will not make progress. To return to the point I made at the beginning, while our fines are relatively low, the annual costs of failing to meet those targets will grow if we continue on the path we are on because of the credits carried forward from the recession.

I do not want any misunderstanding. To be clear, I am not taking responsibility for delivery across all Departments. I have been given the job of developing a plan. In this case it will be about holding other Departments to account. It will be as much the Taoiseach's responsibility as my own to oversee delivery. I cannot go to every Department and tell them what to do.

The Deputy is absolutely right. We need to create a framework in which we can start to address this collectively. Carbon must be factored into every decision we take. It was promising to hear the Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform state that the price of carbon in public spending decisions ought to be €100 per tonne for 2030 and €265 per tonne for 2050. That Department is beginning to think in terms of a rapid ramping up of the cost of carbon-intensive activities. It is important that this message gets through to decision-makers, whether it pertains to low-emission vehicles, diesel, buses or whatever. My job is to make sure that agenda is brought forward.

Question No. 57 answered with Question No. 52.
Question No. 58 answered with Question No. 51.

Food Waste

Hildegarde Naughton


59. Deputy Hildegarde Naughton asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the steps which can be taken to reduce food waste, particularly in supermarkets. [53196/18]

The Minister will be aware that more than 1 million tonnes of food waste are disposed of each year in Ireland. In recognition of the 2015 agreement on the United Nations sustainable development goals and the EU circular economy package, the previous Minister indicated that he wished to promote food waste prevention at a national level. I would like the Minister to outline the steps that can be taken to minimise food waste, particularly in our supermarkets.

Globally, one third of all food produced for human consumption is estimated to be wasted each year. Per household, food waste is thought to cost €700 per annum in Ireland. Our ambition is to halve that by 2030. In Ireland, we waste close to 1 million tonnes of food every year. About a third of that arises in retail and catering, with a somewhat smaller share of waste accounted for by consumers and a somewhat larger share coming from producers. While supermarkets are directly responsible for the disposal of only 2% of food waste, their influence across the supply chain from farm to fork makes them central actors in combating our national food waste problem.

Recognising this, my Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, sought to involve major supermarkets in our efforts to reduce food waste. Aldi, BWG Foods, Lidl, Musgrave and Tesco have all participated in my Department’s action group on food waste. This has involved signing up to the food waste charter, promising to stop food waste, and signing up to the FoodCloud food donation network. I visited FoodCloud's premises lately. It is astounding to see how much food is saved through that mechanism. Participants in the food waste action group will also implement the collection and sharing of food waste data. I believe we can build on this foundation with further initiatives with the sector to encourage better practices by producers and consumers all along the food chain.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I welcome the steps taken by the Department to work with these retailers to tackle or reduce food waste. The Minister of State mentioned retailers signing a food waste charter and agreeing to a food waste policy. A lot of that appears to be based on voluntary codes. Does the Minister of State feel that is adequate or is regulation needed in this area?

The agreements in place at the moment are effective. We have to keep monitoring them. When I visited the FoodCloud facility here in Dublin and saw the amount of food that is distributed from there every day, it opened my eyes to the amount of food that would otherwise be thrown in the bin. We will also be changing thinking, through education in both national and secondary schools, about food waste and how it should be dealt with. Our approach works from the bottom up. We are going to get this sorted out. Deputies should remember that €700 of waste is generated per household each year. If a household saved half of that, it would be a saving worth €350. It is so tangible and simple. People have to think. Education is one part of it. Several steps have been taken in that regard. The EPA and local authorities are running campaigns online and on the ground to equip households.

There is a number of initiatives. Education, not regulation, is the way to go.

I welcome the Minister of State's response. Government could do more. I welcome the initiatives that are taken to encourage citizens. There is a great awareness out there among citizens but we could encourage citizens and retailers to put a more serious effort into tackling this issue.

I agree that education is the way to go. Education played a key role in the Reduce, Reuse and Recycle campaign a number of years ago. The children led the way on that. Education certainly is a good step forward in tackling this.

To give the Deputy some figures, according to the EPA, 60% of food waste is avoidable waste, such as leftovers and gone-off fruit and vegetables, 20% is potentially avoidable, such as bread crusts and potato skins, and 20% is unavoidable, such as chicken bones and fruit and vegetable peelings. We need to educate in this regard.

I note the following initiatives. Stop Food Waste, which is a website campaign, provides expert resources aimed at householders and communities. Stop Food Waste Challenges are community-based initiatives. The website mywaste.ie is a recently launched website and media campaign which provides answers to specific householder queries. A specific Christmas-focused campaign will be launched across Ireland through social media, this week and next week.

Climate Change Policy

Tom Neville


60. Deputy Tom Neville asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his views on whether enough is being done by Ireland to tackle climate disruption; if he will set sectoral targets to reduce emissions; and his plans to tackle climate disruption. [53191/18]

What are the views of the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment on whether enough is being done by Ireland to tackle climate disruption? Will he set sectoral targets to reduce emissions? What are his plans to tackle climate disruption?

As I indicated to Deputy Curran earlier, the position as of today is that, cumulatively, we will have missed our 2013 to 2020 targets by 5%. After the crash, we looked grand but once the recovery started, we began to go seriously off-track. The more worrying projection is that in 2020 we will be 95% off our targeted starting point. We will be 1% down on 2005 emissions; we were supposed to be 20% down. That is a bad starting point for the period 2020 to 2030. That is why the Government has given me sanction to go and draw up a whole-of-Government approach.

I agree with Deputy Neville that we will have to set sectoral targets. That will be difficult because there are all sorts of different sectors. There is the public service itself, which I believe should be leading by example; commerce, industry and agriculture; and, on the more domestic side, waste, transport, energy and residential. Each of these sectors will have to make a contribution. The most effective contribution from different sectors will depend on the ease with which they can adjust and the cost of that adjustment.

I believe the suggestion in Deputy Neville's question is correct that we need to identify targets across the sectors and the sort of policy tools that would deliver those targets. There will be an element of trying to work out what are the most effective tools and what targets can we realistically expect to achieve but we need to set stretched targets in every one of the sectors that I mentioned.

I thank the Minister for his reply.

As I stated from the outset, we need to set these targets, but these have to be achievable and tangible targets that the Departments can buy into and also have an overall measure to get to where we want to get to. As the Minister stated, we will be 95% behind. We are coming from a low base.

Like some of my colleagues here, I sit on the Joint Committee on Climate Action. The committee has toured where efficiencies can be made.

We also must be mindful when making decisions on where we need to go that we have set up the alternatives for these particular industries. Agriculture is one of our major industries and perhaps the major natural resource of the country. When we approach this issue, I hear much in the debate that we must look at viable alternatives for this sector to be able to help those involved to move and also be mindful that the agricultural sector is the most carbon efficient in the EU from a dairy perspective. In beef, it is in the top five. Production must be kept where it is because the demand is there and we do not want production to move to off-shore places that are not as carbon efficient. We must be mindful of all these matters.

As I have said to the Minister previously, communication and a communication strategy will be key in implementing this as well. I would like to know the communication trajectory in relation to this.

This is a tricky area. Teagasc has indicated that, potentially, there are 9 million tonnes in carbon reductions that could be achieve in agriculture. They have looked at better farming methods, sequestration through forestry and other methods, and biofuels. There is theoretical potential. It is about how we capture that potential.

Deputy Neville is correct. The Irish beef sector is roughly 10% more efficient in carbon terms than the rest of Europe. We are much better in milk. We are approximately 33% more efficient in milk, pork and chicken. We have an edge. However, the non-ETS targets system does not give us credit for that. One would have to move agriculture into the ETS sector to get credits. Agriculture has not been put into that cap-and-trade part of the system.

We have to work with developing initiatives that could see us realising those theoretical gains that have been outlined by Teagasc. Clearly the size of the herd will be a factor because the herd size is very significant in this regard.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.