Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 2 Jun 2022

Vol. 1023 No. 3

Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Energy Prices

Rose Conway-Walsh


90. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications if Ireland's electricity market is characterised by very limited interconnection, with gas having a strong influence on the price of electricity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28483/22]

Does Ireland's electricity market have limited interconnection and does gas play a strong role in setting the price of electricity? I ask this question because those elements were the justification for an exemption given to Spain and Portugal from the EU rules in this regard. Now that the EU has extended that exemption to all member states, will the Department consider actions to stop gas from setting the price of all electricity and to reduce the overall cost of the intolerably high electricity bills people are facing?

My written response to this question is quite similar to one I gave to a previous question. If I may take that response as given, I will answer the Deputy's question more directly and provide some further information. First, electricity interconnection with other countries is a critical way of bringing down the price of electricity here and giving us security. As we move to very high renewable penetration on a European regional basis, I see the development of what has been called a European super grid, that is, a mesh network grid that also connects into offshore renewable assets, as a way of reducing the cost of developing the latter.

There is real progress in this regard. The Greenlink interconnector is under construction and will be delivered in a very short timeframe - within the next two years, as I understand it. The Celtic interconnector connecting Ireland and France has just been approved through the An Bord Pleanála process and we expect it go to construction and be delivered in a similarly timely manner. We should not stop at that. Indeed, we are looking at a whole range of different areas. One of the issues I discussed with the European Commissioner when I met her this morning was how such a mesh network grid could help to meet our needs.

There has been a wider debate at the European Council on this whole issue in terms of market design and whether the whole of Europe should go with the approach the Spanish, Italian and other governments have been advocating. The clear consensus and view at the European Council is not to take that approach. The view is that it would be seen as a potential dismantling of the market system and would fatally undermine investment, regulation and development of the solutions we need here and now. We need to do a massive scaling up, beyond compare with anything done before, in the development of interconnection infrastructure, including offshore wind, in particular, but also solar and other power supplies. We must continue to review the market system. However, there is a clear majority view at European Council level not to go down the Spanish and Italian route. The view is we need to see what measures can be taken to protect consumers but that we should not fundamentally dismantle the existing European regulatory and market system.

I am still concerned by any argument that sees a benefit in high gas prices. Yes, what the Minister outlined will make it profitable to invest in renewables and to attract more companies to invest in renewable projects. However, it does not fit in with a just transition. Is it another market-led approach that will leave ordinary people shouldering the heaviest burden? People cannot see what the Minister is doing right here and now to reduce their huge electricity bills. They want action now, not in six months' or 12 months' time. Is it his view that people just have to bear these higher prices in order to attract more investors to renewable energy projects? Will he comment on the situation whereby gas prices are dictating electricity prices?

It is not my view that we should just grin and bear it. Not at all. The key problem we have is that some 50% of our power generation, including the power needed to run the lights in this Chamber, is coming from gas generation, when averaged out over a year. There are short-term and immediate actions around social welfare, taxation and other measures, as we discussed, that are needed to help householders through this difficult period. However, there is a fundamental switch we need to make. The reason I do not support dismantling the investment, regulatory and market system we have is that this system is needed to invest in switching to alternatives. We will continue to need gas infrastructure and gas power generation, although not liquefied natural gas, LNG, in my view. We will need back-up gas power generation that uses less gas. Switching away from the use of gas is the critical way of protecting householders. In both our offshore generation and our existing RESS, which I have just been discussing with Deputy O'Rourke, we have the mechanisms to do that. This will be the way of protecting Irish householders.

I accept there are issues with the approach taken by Spain and Portugal and that other approaches have been put forward, such as windfall taxes. However, the core issue remains the same, namely, that gas cannot be allowed to set the price for all electricity if, as the Taoiseach said on Tuesday, we are entering into a new era of high energy prices. I agree we need to go from 40% to 80% renewables in the next decade, both for climate reasons and for energy security. However, we cannot be in a situation where we have even higher levels of renewable electricity generation but gas continues to set the price. How high do gas prices have to go before concrete action is taken in this regard?

The Deputy referred to moving away completely from the market system and going with the Spanish approach. As I said, the European Council is not taking that approach. However, this does not mean we should not look at the market rules and mechanisms to see whether there are ways in which we can move away from gas being the defining price setter. We will work with the Commission and the Council to look at whatever the options are. At the moment, the fact gas is accounting for such a large percentage of our generation in Ireland, regardless of the European rules, means de facto it is setting the real cost to Irish consumers. The price is set by our high fossil fuel usage. We need to switch away from that. We will continue to review the market rules with the European Commission.

Energy Prices

Neasa Hourigan


91. Deputy Neasa Hourigan asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the steps his Department can take to ease the gas price increases that are being experienced by residents of an area in Dublin (details supplied), who, as a result of a district heating system, are paying commercial rates; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28541/22]

What steps can the Minister's Department take to ease the gas price increases that are being experienced by residents of Custom House Square, Dublin 1, who, as a result of a district heating system, are paying commercial rates?

I understand the development in question is heated by way of a local heating system, which is fuelled by natural gas. Gas and electricity retail markets in Ireland operate within a European regulatory regime, as we have just discussed, wherein those markets are commercial, liberalised and competitive. I am acutely aware of the impact current, internationally influenced, energy price increases are having on people and families. For that reason, the Government has introduced a series of measures to try to alleviate the impact, particularly on lower-income households.

Considerations in this regard will also encompass pre-existing district heating and local heating schemes already operating in Ireland.

Deputy Ó Murchú brought a similar issue in Louth to my attention, where a local heating system is powered by gas. I am aware of the development in the Deputy's constituency. There are only a small number of such systems, but they have been badly hit by the impact of very high wholesale gas market prices. Our Department, through the steering group, will examine measures to explore what ways we can assist such developments to get out of what is now a high-priced system. It will not be an easy switch, but I am very much willing to investigate what policy levers we can seek to use in this regard.

I thank the Minister for his answer. I am interested in the differentiation we are making between local heating systems and district heating systems. It is not one with which I am familiar. In the case of the situation in the Custom House Square, there is a gas-based district heating system operated by Frontline Energy. Those residents are paying four times the higher end of the rates available to residential customers. We are all talking about the cost of living now, but this is causing considerable strain. Deputy Ó Murchú raised this issue with the Minister as well. I believe it is impacting Carlinn Hall estate in Dundalk.

In both cases, residents are paying prices that are just through the roof. We are now into the summer months and, hopefully, people will be able to make choices to reduce their heating costs. I take the point that there is a steering group on the regulation of district heating systems. We are also, though, on a timeline here in respect of autumn and people then heading into months of high energy use. I flag this point to the Minister.

Absolutely. District heating is going to play an extremely important role in the decarbonisation of the heating sector. There are certain areas, especially where waste heat is available, where this approach will be the preferred solution compared to retrofitting or insulating buildings. It can have real advantages and offer protection for our country. There are slight variations and different forms of these systems. Local heating systems, such as the two in question here, and especially where a specific development is concerned, be that an apartment or housing development, usually consist of a shared heating system, typically with a management fee structure. District heating, as I see it being developed, is more designed on municipal lines across a whole range of different developments and is planned by municipal local authorities and energy companies to help to funnel waste heat to a variety of areas.

These local heating schemes, which exist across the world and are effective, do not tend to use gas as the preferred heating solution. Typically, these types of systems use woodchip biomass or other similar supplies of fuel. One of the things we might do in conjunction with the Deputies is look at their constituencies to explore if there might be ways in which alternative fuels might be used to try to get these developments out of paying expensive gas market prices.

I see the differentiation being made by the Minister. To be honest, I do not know enough about Carlinn Hall to say what the situation is there either way. It is incredibly important, however, that we get this right. I am glad there is a steering committee and I agree district heating must be a major source and option in respect of providing power. I very much hope to see the steering group examine options such as combined heat and power, CHP, systems. I know from a previous portion of my life that such systems work well and especially in tight urban areas, such as in my constituency with Custom House Square. Therefore, I welcome this development, but I again flag the importance of the timeline in respect of the autumn and of ensuring there is some intervention in this regard between now and the onset of those autumn months for these residents now experiencing huge costs. I also highlight the importance, reputationally, of ensuring we do not make the concept of district heating a problem for people. We must make it a good choice and the best choice.

We must deal with this issue of communal heating systems. I have spoken many times to the Minister previously about Carlinn Hall. In fairness to Deputy Hourigan, she got to the point that we have a slight break for the moment because of the time of year but that we must examine this issue now. The gas-fed nature of these systems must be dealt with under planning laws. This is an aberration that happened in Britain and Ireland. The laws have been changed in Britain. We need a Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, grant system that will deliver a change back to using other fuels, and perhaps biofuels of some sort. Equally, we must investigate mitigations, because people are under incredible pressure trying to pay large bills.

I endorse and echo Deputy Hourigan's comments. This is a matter we should be examining. Regarding district heating, we must get the planning right in this regard. Under the national planning framework, the population of our regional cities is set to increase by 60% in the next 20 years. We talk about the need to plan that increase in population around the provision of sustainable transport options, but we must also plan district heating systems. We must be co-locating industries that generate waste heat with residential developments to enable that waste heat to be provided to those residential areas.

We need to switch away from every possible use of gas. It will, though, have an interim role to play in a variety of areas. Regarding heating in buildings, and especially in new buildings, I agree with Deputy Leddin about the need to switch away from using gas connections as the future of heating and towards a range of other options, such as electric, biomass and other alternative sources. Codema, Dublin's energy agency, has done some good work in this area. My colleague, Ciarán Cuffe MEP, shared an interesting graphic from that agency on Twitter recently. It showed a map of the areas in Dublin, my city, where there is potential in this regard. We will have to do the same thing in every city and in every council area. I have been going out to discuss the local climate plans with members of councils across the country. One of the first things I say on such occasions is that as those councils work on their development plans they must explore where there is potential for district heating and where there is waste heat and also examine how we can design new residential communities which can avail of low-cost district heating systems and local heating solutions. Therefore, I agree with all three Deputies that this is the direction we must take.

Energy Policy

Bríd Smith


92. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications if sectoral carbon budgets targets can be met if the State also supports the building of liquified natural gas terminals and if this is in line with current climate science; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28375/22]

This question is on the sectoral carbon budgets, but more in line with how these fit with the building of a liquified natural gas, LNG, terminal. It is clear from the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, report this week that we have a serious problem in this regard. It stems not just from the failure to implement the Government's plan but from the Government's plan itself. Even if the sectoral carbon budgets are to be set at the high end of our ambitions, that will still leave us with a serious emissions gap. The problem is that we are not even hitting those targets. The Minister talks about doubling down on the efforts being made. We seem to be living in parallel universes in this regard, however, with talk of ambitions, efforts, strategies, plans and targets. Will the Minister make a statement on this matter?

The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021 commits Ireland to a legally-binding target of a climate neutral economy no later than 2050 and a reduction in emissions of 51% by 2030, compared to 2018 levels. Following the process set out in the Act, the carbon budget programme proposed by the Climate Change Advisory Council, CCAC, was approved by the Government on 21 February 2022, and subsequently adopted by the Oireachtas on 6 April 2022. This carbon budget programme comprises three successive five-year carbon budgets, namely, from 2021 to 2025, from 2026 to 2030 and from 2031 to 2035. Under the Act, as Minister, I must now prepare, within the limits of the agreed carbon budget programme, the maximum amount of greenhouse gas emissions, GHG, permitted in different sectors of the economy during a budget period, including in the electricity sector. Work on this is ongoing.

The Government's policy statement on importing fracked gas, which I understand was one part of the question the Deputy asked-----

Yes, sorry, it was LNG. The Government's policy statement on the importing of fracked gas was approved by the Government and published in May 2021. The policy statement provides that, pending the outcome of a review of the security of energy supply of Ireland's electricity and natural gas systems currently being carried out by my Department, it would not be appropriate for the development of any LNG terminals in Ireland to be permitted or proceeded with. This review is to be completed by later this year.

Therefore, pending the review where the energy security issue will be examined in light of all the hype around the war in Ukraine, we may, indeed, have an LNG terminal. I think there is a disconnect between what is happening and the rhetoric we are getting. The Government's inaction is clear on things like data centres in respect of their huge consumption of our energy. In this context, there is the strong possibility of an LNG terminal at Shannon. This is because there is ambivalence and ambiguity among all the party leaders, which is strongly reflected in a leaflet distributed around Shannon from New Fortress Energy and that quotes the three leaders of the Government parties in a favourable way.

Now we find out that the Tánaiste will meet the billionaire, snake oil salesman, Wes Edens, to discuss the project at a meeting set up by an enthusiastic Fine Gael councillor, Mike Kennelly. What we have here is a coterie of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Deputies pushing the siting of an LNG terminal in this area with utter disregard for the implications for the climate and our target ambitions.

The Deputy really should not name people in the Chamber who are not present.

I am just stating a fact. The leaflet was signed by the very man, Wes Edens.

I heard the Tánaiste state in this House not too long ago, and I agree with him, that the future in regard to Shannon is in hydrogen. Let us consider Cork Harbour and the Shannon Estuary, where much of our heavy industry is located. It is where much of our electricity generation, oil refineries and pharmaceuticals are based, all of which will switch to hydrogen. It is also the location in which we will bring ashore the off-shore wind. That, through electrolysis converted to hydrogen, gives us the perfect, secure, indigenous, gas-alternative green hydrogen, not blue. The Shannon Estuary task force is undergoing its work at present. I look forward to its views and will tell it that the correct and best investment for us is to switch to a green hydrogen alternative.

Anytime I talk to people with real expertise in the energy area, in thinking forward five to ten years and considering what the best investment is, they believe the hydrogen alternative is the way to go. Frans Timmermans, the Vice President of the European Commission, gave an important speech in recent weeks. He set out how ports, particularly those that develop hydrogen, could be the centre of the new economy. I believe that will be the future for both Cork and Shannon.

I understand the Minister's beliefs and I think he holds them sincerely, but they clash with the continued push from many Deputies and people outside this House, such as local councillors and other business interests, for the LNG terminal at Shannon. An Bord Pleanála will make a decision on that soon. I would argue that the board has been hugely compromised in recent weeks, according to information that has come out about board members. Let us call it for what it is. This will be money-grubbing based on the likely profits of Mr. Edens and his followers from this project. It is the same attitude King Louis XV of France had when he said après moi, le déluge, after me comes the deluge. In other words, it really does not matter what happens after this Government. We build an LNG terminal, make money from it now, and the supporters of more fossil fuel infrastructure will be delighted. Once the floods have receded, who will pick up the pieces? This will be a huge kick in the stomach to the climate movement, Fridays for Future movement and local campaigns against the siting of an LNG terminal.

I am a big supporter of green hydrogen, off-shore wind, biomass and so on. The faster we can move in that direction, the better. I also support Deputy Bríd Smith in that we should not burn anymore LNG or fossil fuels; rather we should be reducing them. However, we are dependent on a pipeline from Moffat. The Minister, Deputy McGrath, told me earlier this week that there is a contingency plan if there is a squeeze in that supply this winter. What is that contingency plan?

We are right to talk about data centres and LNG, we must manage the data centres, and I do not believe that we need to build any LNG infrastructure. The Minister is correct in that there is a better way forward. However, we should not ignore the fact that electricity generation accounts for just about 15% of our emissions. The real challenge with carbon emission is in transport and agriculture, which accounts for 60% of our emissions. If we continually talk about the effects of data centres and LNG while not talking about the impacts of transport and agriculture, we will not meet our carbon emission reduction targets.

In the provision of energy, we must get three things right. We must get the price right because we have to protect our householders. We must get the environment right and stop the planet from burning due to the local pollution that comes with a lot of fossil fuel use. We also must secure energy supply. I believe the development of hydrogen back-up power, storage and usage in power generation and in industries makes energy sense on all three criteria. To answer Deputy Stanton, our circumstances are different to other countries. We are not at risk, in the same way other countries are, because of the switching off of Russian gas. We are at risk of the higher prices because it is a fungible market. However, the real security risk for us is our reliance on fossil fuels, as was mentioned earlier. Those LNG ships, which people have said give security, have shown in the past year that they do not provide security. There is no guarantee. When the UK gas regulator found itself in the middle of the high-price crisis, it inquired if it could get ships. No, it could not because they were going to Asia. They turned around in the Atlantic and moved the other way. There is no real security in that route, whereas with the hydrogen alternative, we know wind can be converted into hydrogen and stored locally. We are not dependent on anyone else. Everyone is now looking at that as the major investment development.

We are developing a hydrogen strategy that will be developed at the same time as the energy security review and the Shannon strategy. I believe all three will come up with a sound, basic, commonsense energy analysis. In the context of five to ten years from now, that is the investment we should make.

Do I get to come back in?

Sorry Deputy, your time is up. You came in twice.

Energy Policy

Darren O'Rourke


93. Deputy Darren O'Rourke asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications if his attention has been drawn to some households in multi-unit complexes not receiving the full electricity credit, due to the fact that there is only one shared meter point reference number; if he will address this anomaly to ensure that each household benefits from the full payment support; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28380/22]

Has the attention of the Minister been drawn to the fact that some households in multi-unit complexes have not received the full electricity credit because there is only one shared meter point reference number, MPRN, in the complex? Will he address this anomaly in order to ensure that each household benefits from the full payment support? This issue was raised during discussions on the relevant legislation. It has now become a reality for some people.

The Electricity Costs (Domestic Electricity Accounts) Emergency Measures Act 2022 established a scheme for the making of a once-off electricity costs emergency benefit payment to each domestic electricity account in 2022 having regard to the exceptional rise in energy prices. The credit of €176.22, excluding VAT, which suppliers began applying in April, will be applied to remaining domestic electricity accounts through May and June and includes prepay meters.

The scheme is one important part of the measures the Government has had to introduce since the last budget to help people through this difficult high-price period. The scheme is operated by ESB Networks and electricity suppliers with oversight by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities. To deliver such a widely applicable scheme in a tight timeframe, a single eligibility criterion of a meter point registration number with the credit being applied automatically to all domestic electricity accounts held with suppliers on 29 March was a necessary way of delivering it.

The majority of residential tenants will hold their own domestic electricity accounts and, therefore, will receive the credit directly. In other cases, there may be tenancy agreements in place where tenants pay their share of each bill. In such cases, they will benefit from the payment because the bill will be reduced by the amount of the credit.

As I understand it, as the Deputy mentioned, a small proportion may have other arrangements in place whereby electricity costs are part of the rental cost. In cases where tenants in rental accommodation have disputes relating to tenancies, including any terms relating to electricity payments, these may be referred to the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, for dispute resolution. That was the design from the start. In any such circumstances, tenants have a mechanism to seek a direction from the RTB and I encourage any such residents to do so. My understanding is that the vast majority of households, some 98%, have received the credit or it is due in their bill. If credit is left out, residents should contact the RTB where they will hopefully get satisfaction and receive the credit.

I am not entirely sure that is the avenue but perhaps it is. This is an issue that has been raised by residents of multi-unit apartment blocks. In one case, my colleague, Deputy Mythen, a representative for Wexford, raised the issue about council apartments on George's Street in Wexford. In that case, Wexford County Council confirmed that because there is only one ESB MPRN in the property, the eight apartments have to share the €200 credit.

That leaves each household with just €25 in support. Do we have an indication of how many households are affected in such a way? In this case, we have gone to the CRU and Wexford County Council. Is the Minister indicating that they have an opportunity? If they cannot go to the RTB, who should they go to?

The RTB is the best option, and the scheme was designed as such from the very start. In those cases, it is the local representatives working through the council who should make sure that they have it. There is a basic principle that every householder in the country, regardless of their tenancy arrangements, is due to get the credit. If there is a council, such as Wexford County Council, denying that right or Government intention, it is then a matter for the local representatives to perhaps bring the matter to the council management’s attention. This is designed to go to the householder, be that a council tenant or whomever.

I thank the Minister for that. Obviously, people are experiencing huge frustration. In the cases to which I refer, they are getting €25 rather than €200. Elsewhere, people are getting multiple payments of €200. There is a deep inequity there. I do not think this is the only such example. I take it from this exchange that the spirit and intent is that the payment of €200 would be made to people who receive energy bills. If they can take the issue to their local authority, such as, for example, Wexford County Council, or the RTB, that is welcome.

Climate Change Policy

Bríd Smith


94. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the progress that is being made on sectoral carbon emissions limits; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28374/22]

I will pay attention to the number of times I come in this time.

I am watching the Deputy. I will be timing her when she speaks.

Okay. I will follow up on an earlier line of argument in the context of how we are falling short of our commitments in respect of our emissions reduction targets. Yesterday’s EPA report shows that we are falling well short of what is in the climate action plan, which is law. Friends of the Earth issued a number of statements yesterday and did a very good job in pointing out many problems that exist, including that coal use has increased to meet growing electricity demand. That demand comes, in particular, data centres. Will the Minister make a statement on how we are going to reduce our emissions?

The main reason coal use increased is because the price of gas went up so high that coal came in earlier on the merit order. We are also in a very tight situation in terms of power generation, not only because of data centres but also as a result of a variety of other issues.

I attended and addressed at the EPA conference yesterday. I said that, critically, the response is in the establishment of six acceleration teams. One team would work on each of the following: the development of offshore wind; the development of sustainable mobility; the development of heating solutions, some of which were mentioned earlier; the acceleration of a just transition and the statutory commission; the communication of this climate issue; and, most importantly, the examination of how we develop and accelerate a land-use review that optimises matters in the context of rural development, decarbonisation, biodiversity restoration and the reduction of pollution.

We can and will meet these targets. We have to do it not just for the moral obligation and because we have national targets, but also because they are European targets. There are slight variations to different accounting rules, but the basic trend and direction are clear. The European and Irish economies are going green. That has to be done for security, health and environmental reasons, but also because such economies are more stable and represent a better investment. It will take time to ramp up. There are difficulties at local political level when making particular investment decisions. I refer, for example, to decisions relating to reallocating road space, the delivery of the sort of new forestry we need and a range of other matters.

Data centres will have to live within the climate limits. Everyone will. Every Department will have to go to the maximum of the ranges that we set out within the carbon budget this House discussed in the context of the sectoral targets. That is the scale of the collective leap needed. No one is exempt or will have an opt-out. No industry, data centres included, can see its future without living within those limits. I echo what Deputy Leddin said; that cannot be our only focus. We must address, as the EPA did yesterday, the real challenge we have in transport, agriculture and energy use. Transport and agriculture are the ones in respect of which we have to apply political pressure, attention and focus in order to facilitate a switch to a better way, which is what we can do.

The emphasis here is on what you choose to pick out of it. Friends of the Earth is right. The amount of energy from the national grid used by Data centres is absolutely shocking. It currently stands at around 14% and is set to rise to 30% by 2030. These kind of figures are unbelievable. The Minister seems to live in a fantastical world where, on the one hand, the Chair of the climate committee believes that we need more data centres if we have no more renewables but where, on the other, the problem is cows and cars. The Minister needs to look at the facts. There is a real problem in that we cannot attempt to reach our targets if we continue with this policy. New Fortress Energy is distributing leaflets around Shannon quoting the Minister and others. It thinks it can convince the population that it is doing the right thing. We are on a hiding to nothing because lots of people are going to make lots of profits out of this crisis. We have to call a halt to this. Let us be absolutely clear: responsibility for that rests on the Minister's shoulders. The policy of promoting data centres, on the one hand, and saying, “Nothing to see here, move on”, on the other, is absolutely hypocritical.

No one is saying that. The Deputy should recognise that no new data centres have been approved since September 2020. I have been very clear. EirGrid and the CRU have both recognised that in terms of the development of that industry. Digital industries here employ more than 140,000 people and we need to hold onto those jobs. The industry recognises that, as EirGrid, the CRU and I, as Minister, have clearly stated, it has to live within the climate limits.

It is true that the scale of the change we need to make is very challenging. We have an immediate challenge in terms of a tight power supply. However, there are signs that people want to make this change and be part of the solution. They see it as a better way forward. It is happening in how we are retrofitting buildings. The SEAI plans introduced in February are starting to be delivered. Deputy O’Rourke and I disagreed on the numbers. For example, we have pretty much reached the goal of 400 warmer homes per month. I highlight pick numerous other examples whereby in transport, agriculture and energy, we are starting to make the switch. I think the Irish people want that. Our job is to focus on where the real challenge lies.

I will sum matters up by saying that any attempt to develop an LNG terminal in this country will be met with the ire of the climate movement that the Minister once represented. I feel he will let the members of that movement down in vast numbers if this development goes ahead. It cannot just be down to an energy review and An Bord Pleanála; it has to be down to our national and global climate commitments and obligations. If we have power outages because of the data centres taking too much power from our national grid, then the policy we have adopted is insane. Again, responsibility in that regard rests on the Minister’s shoulders. He is not representing the youth of this country who came out and marched in the thousands. When you look at what is happening across the globe, for example, in India, Africa and Australia, you can see that people are terrified by the knowledge of what is coming down the track. If sectoral budgets support data centre expansion and if the Minister leaves the renewable energy market to the private sector, we are going to fail. We have to be very clear: no LNG terminal, no private market in renewable energy and an end to the proliferation of data centres.

I ask the Deputies to keep it brief. There are others who have been sitting in the House since the start and who are still waiting to ask their questions.

As a long-time supporter of renewable energy and tapping into all resources in that regard, I would point out the necessity, as the Minister did, to ensure that we have a balanced approach and achieve one before we lose the other, otherwise we could find ourselves in the midst of a full energy shortage similar to those that have been experienced in other parts of the world.

I thank the Acting Chair for letting me in again. I recognise that I have spoken a few times. I just have to correct the claim that was made a few minutes ago that I, as Chair of the joint committee, believe we should have more data centres. I said that the proposed moratorium in law is a very blunt instrument.

There is an effective moratorium in place as it is. There has not been a data centre connection for the past two years. I just wanted to correct the record on that point. I thank the Acting Chairman.

The Climate Action Plan 2021 sets out where we are going. The plan will be revised and assessed this autumn. We learn by doing. This will make for a better country. Waving fingers at or blaming people is no good. Doing this as a device of politics whereby someone is identified as being to blame or having responsibility does not work.

This country is well placed to make the leap. One of the reasons for this is that in recent years we have worked in a collaborative and collective way and recognised that where there are hard decisions to be made, we will make them because at least it is collective. They will be hard decisions, particularly, as I have said, in respect of transport and the need to reallocate road space. In truth, where I find real challenge is in that area.

There will also be hard decisions - but, I believe, the right ones - in the areas of agriculture, forestry and land use. We have a real issue with land use because the figures issued yesterday show that it is a further source of rather than a sink for carbon. That is also the case for industry. Certain industries are going to find it hard and will have to have to adapt and accommodate to the climate challenge. On this side of the House and in our party, we will show real leadership in standing up for what we have always stood up for, namely, ecological justice matched by social justice on the part of government, both local and central, and the Opposition, which has a role to play.

Wind Energy Generation

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire


95. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications if he will discuss the engagements his Department has had with the offshore wind sector; the potential for offshore wind that has been identified, particularly in Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28009/22]

The Minister and I have spoken before about the enormous potential of Cork Harbour not only in employment terms but also in respect of the significant reduction in emissions because the offshore wind proposals in the long term can power homes for hundreds of thousands of people. In the first instance, there are issues to ensure that we get the benefit of this in regard to employment because there are skills shortages. What is the Department doing in conjunction with, for example, Skillnet Ireland and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to ensure that the shortages that exist in engineering and various other occupations can be filled in order that we can get the employment benefit from offshore wind in Cork?

The key measure for the development of offshore wind will be the acceleration task force that I mentioned in reply to the previous question. We have four or five key tasks to do in offshore renewables. We have to give the consent now for the first phase of the offshore wind projects, get them through planning - some of them will get through and others will not - and get them under contract in order to start construction. The first phase will be mainly on the east coast. When we start phase 2, we will need to get the consenting done in the next two and a half to three years. That phase will be moving south and west, together with further projects on the east coast. In response to this issue, we need to work out a hydrogen strategy in order that we can connect with what happens when energy is brought ashore. We must also look at how we store and share information.

We must also get to phase 3 of the offshore development. This will be the enduring regime - the really big project with an enormous scale of power. As I said earlier, it is deepwater ports like Cork, Shannon and a number of others where we will have the biggest and best opportunities in this regard. This will be State-led and cannot be a Klondike-type regime where everyone runs out, stakes their claim and says "This is my patch and I will decide how it is developed".

EirGrid will have a critical role in designing how we bring this energy ashore and how we ship it, share it and use it. We have to develop our ports such as Cork and elsewhere to facilitate the deployment of these first turbines.

We must also look at the grid, in particular in Dublin city, where there is a significant grid development. We need to bring the power ashore but we also need to heat our homes with heat pumps and power our cars by alternative means.

What we need to do, therefore, is look at the grid, our ports and the first three phases. The project acceleration team is critical because it will bring in different Departments and Government agencies, including the Departments of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, because they have a critical role in ensuring that we match the deployment of the power with job opportunities, and that we also have the people to power it into the future.

I have previously put on record my view that Cork can be a world leader in this area because of the depth of the harbour and the potential for bigger projects, including floating offshore wind projects, to be located there.

The Minister spoke earlier about resourcing of An Bord Pleanála, the CRU and EirGrid. The Maritime Area Regulatory Authority is going to be vitally important in ensuring that we get the benefits in this regard. Does the Minister have a clear plan as to how these bodies are going to be adequately resourced, the number of staff they will need and for how long?

I recently attended at a wind energy conference, Our Offshore Renewable Energy Opportunity – Is Ireland Ready?, at the National Maritime College of Ireland in Cork. One of the points raised was that the seafood working group had not yet been convened. That was in February. Can the Minister indicate whether that working group has been convened, particularly as we need to avoid conflicts with those who are already using the sea in those areas?

My understanding is that the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage recently announced the appointment of Captain Robert McCabe as chairperson of the seafood offshore renewable energy working group. This group will dovetail with this acceleration task force so, yes, it is starting its work.

The scale and the speed required are beyond compare. In the context of these deployment ports, Cork has a real potential advantage because it has deepwater berths where one needs at least a 10 m quayside and the quay needs to be able to hold a 1,500 tonne piece of metal or concrete, if it is floating facility. These must be delivered in the Port of Cork and elsewhere in the next three years in order that the construction at sea can start in 2026 or 2027. We must get these projects through planning and get investment in, all of which must be done while we are engaging in the auction process. I am confident that we will do it. Every other north-west European country is doing the same thing at massive scale.

One of the things I was discussing with the European Commissioner this morning is how we co-ordinate with other European countries and the UK in order that this massive expansion in cabling, shipping, steel and electrolysers can be delivered in a co-ordinated way. That is key.

I thank the Minister. I ask him again if there is a plan for the resourcing of those key bodies. How clear a signal can the Minister give to those who are planning offshore floating wind projects about the timeline for and scale of the auction? Those details are not in place as yet. Those involved need a clear signal.

This phase will not include offshore floating wind projects, but phase 2 and phase 3 certainly will. As we go into the western waters, where it becomes deep very suddenly, these facilities will have to be floating in order for them to work. Close to shore, there is not as much depth. There is real development-----

Can the Minister indicate approximately when this will happen?

The consents in the phase 2 process must be agreed in the next two and a half to three years. That is the timeline so that we meet our 5 GW target by the end of the decade.

The third phase, or the enduring regime, is where this really opens up. Returning to what we were discussing earlier, with many of these projects, the potential deployment of offshore renewables for hydrogen so storage, and so on, could be part of that regime. It is not just what goes out, but how we bring it ashore, store it and use it. That is where the ports have such a critical role to play. Frans Timmermans, Vice President of the European Commission, gave a very important speech in Rotterdam three weeks ago in which he set out the European vision for that. I am of the view that that vision would apply to Cork, Shannon and elsewhere.

I thank the Minister. We have literally two minutes left for questions. If Deputy Burke would like to use one minute of this time, I will allow then one minute for the Minister to reply.

Renewable Energy Generation

Colm Burke


96. Deputy Colm Burke asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications his Department’s strategy towards expanding the possibility for more households to switch to sources of renewable energy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27964/22]

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle very much. Can the Minister outline the strategy towards expanding the possibility of more households switching to renewable energy? Sufficient effort is not being made on that. Can the Minister outline his proposals in the context of making more information available and accessible to households across the country.

We launched a microgeneration support scheme in December. The scheme is targeting support for 380 MW of installed microgeneration capacity, to contribute to the target of up to 2.5 GW of solar renewables. The microgeneration support scheme domestic solar photovoltaic grant is available from the SEAI, with grant levels up to a maximum of €2,400 available.

On 15 February, I signed the regulations that create an obligation on suppliers to offer the clean export guarantee tariff to new and existing micro and small-scale generators so that they will receive payment for excess renewable electricity they export to the grid, reflective of the market value. Some suppliers have already advertised their clean export guarantee tariff. Eligible microgenerators will start receiving tariff remuneration from 1 July next, depending on their billing cycle. Under the national energy security framework, the Government has also announced a fully funded scheme for medically vulnerable people with high electricity usage to install rooftop solar photovoltaic. That is a targeted measure there to where we help those at most risk of fuel poverty.

That is only the start of it and we need to go further into the farming and business communities with roof top solar provision on public, industrial and on-farm buildings and the price for that will also be coming through for that.

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