Dáil Éireann - Volume 491 - 03 June, 1998

Priority Questions. - Electricity Generation.

20. Mr. Currie asked the Minister for Public Enterprise if her attention has been drawn to proposals by the Northern Ireland electricity service to build a power station in the Republic to compete with the ESB; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13064/98]

Mrs. O'Rourke: The EU directive concerning the Internal Market in electricity came into force on 19 February 1997. It must be implemented by February 2000.

It requires that approximately 28 per cent of the Irish electricity market be opened to competition at that time, increasing to 32 per cent by 2003. This will allow independent electricity generators to contract directly with eligible customers for the supply of electricity. Eligible customers will be those who will be free to choose their electricity supplier in the competitive market.

Customers consuming more than 100 giga watt hours — GWh — per year, which represents about 8 per cent of electricity sold, are automatically eligible. The remaining 20 per cent is likely to comprise customers consuming more than 4GWh per year. The majority of customers, which were known as the captive market when I took office and are now known as the franchise market, will continue to be supplied exclusively by the ESB.

The directive provides for new generation to be acquired by tendering or by authorisation. The proposals I published on 15 May last, which were circulated to the main spokespersons, set out the manner in which it is intended the directive will be implemented. It is proposed that firms wishing to establish generating stations here would be authorised, that is, granted a licence by the regulatory authority.

The proposed legislation to implement the EU electricity directive enables me as the Minister to issue the first licences required to initiate the new arrangements for the electricity industry. These will be licences issued to the ESB to generate, transmit, distribute and supply electricity. Any other undertaking operating or ready to commence the generation or supply of electricity at [1112] the time of vesting of the new arrangements will also be licensed. Thereafter, all licences will be issued by the regulatory authority.

An Ceann Comhairle: The two minutes available for the Minister to reply have expired. The remaining part of the reply will be included in the Official Report.

Additional Information I am aware that Northern Ireland Electricity and also Marathon have expressed their intention to establish power stations here. Other independent power producers have expressed a similar interest.

At present the regulatory authority for the electricity sector is the ESB. Under the Electricity Supply Acts, it is charged with responsibility for issuing permits to other undertakings who wish to generate and supply electricity. This will continue to be the case until such time as the provisions of the EU electricity directive are implemented by new legislation passed by the Oireachtas.

Mr. Currie: My question related to the proposal by the Northern Ireland electricity service to build a power station in the Republic to compete with the ESB.

Mrs. O'Rourke: The Deputy also asked me to make a statement.

Mr. Currie: Was that aspect covered in the additional information in the Minister's reply?

Mrs. O'Rourke: Yes.

Mr. Currie: Perhaps the Minister could provide further information on that matter in her reply to supplementary questions. I understand the Northern Ireland electricity service expects to acquire a site within the next 12 to 18 months. It estimates that it will cost £150 million and will be located on the east coast. Does the Minister agree in the context of the recent British-Irish Agreement that this may be the first occasion for the fullest possible co-operation on energy matters? Does she consider that an opportunity exists for an agreed energy policy for the entire island and possibly a single regulatory agency? Is she aware of the possibilities and potential which exist to signpost the way forward in relation to energy and co-operation in the future?

Mrs. O'Rourke: I am aware that Northern Ireland Electricity and also Marathon have expressed their intention to establish power stations here. Other independent power producers have expressed a similar interest.

At present the regulatory authority for the electricity sector is the ESB. Under the Electricity Supply Acts, it is charged with responsibility for issuing permits to other undertakings who wish to generate and supply electricity. This will continue to be the case until such time as the EU electricity [1113] directive is implemented by new legislation passed by the Oireachtas.

I appreciate the potential of the new NorthSouth bodies, specifically regarding the generation and supply of electricity. However, the matter is subject to the EU directive and the subsequent implementation of legislation. Nevertheless, the Deputy's ideas are exciting, particularly his proposal regarding the regulatory authority.

Mr. Currie: Does the Minister agree that the EU directive does not preclude co-operation? It encourages co-operation on this matter and I hope it will be initiated without delay.

Mrs. O'Rourke: The idea is exciting and interesting. The directive was framed before peace, which we all hope will be permanent, was achieved. The matter can be revisited.

Mr. Currie: It will come up again.