Seanad Éireann - Volume 91 - 14 February, 1979

Private Business. - Electricity (Supply) (Amendment) Bill, 1978: Second and Subsequent Stages.

Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Minister of State at the Department of Industry, Commerce and Energy (Mr. R. Burke): The purpose of this Bill is two-fold—to give statutory authority to the ESB's existing consultancy and advisory services work; and to increase to £1,200 million the existing statutory limit of £700 million on total expenditure by the ESB for capital purposes. Senators will be aware that the primary function of the ESB under the Electricity Supply Acts is to ensure the adequate supply and distribution of electricity throughout the State. This is the reason for their existence and they have a standing remit from the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy and his predecessors to ensure that electricity is at no time in short supply. The board have a number of other functions which I need not detail but these are subsidiary to their main function.

Since their establishment over 50 years ago the ESB have themselves carried out all design work on planning of power stations and on transmission and distribution lines, in this manner [73] gradually building-up a competent body of professional and technical staff covering a wide variety of specialised fields, including areas not directly related to the electricity supply industry, for example, fisheries. Though there have been periods when demand for electricity was stagnant, over the past 50 years or so as a whole there has been a steady growth in the demand for electricity which necessitated frequent additions to generating, transmission and distribution capacity. A brief comparison of the scale of operations in recent years with the scale in the early years is instructive.

In the year ended 31 March 1930 the ESB generated 60 million units of electricity, some 43 million of which were sold to less than 50,000 customers; total revenue was less than £500,000. In the year ended 31 March 1978 the corresponding figures were 8,800 million units generated of which 7,300 million were sold to nearly one million customers, total revenue being £210 million.

The recession in recent years resulted in a fall in demand for electricity with the result that provision of new generating capacity was put off as long as possible and proposals for further expansion were deferred. With the fall-off in electricity demand the board found themselves with surplus capacity among their highly-skilled professional and technical staff. At about that time Córas Tráchtála indicated that there were openings abroad for ESB expertise and, with the consent of the then Minister for Transport and Power, the board ventured into the overseas consultancy and advisory services work early in 1975. The primary purpose of this radical development was to utilise the surplus staff capacity then available in the board by taking up the slack and in this manner protect employment.

I am pleased to tell the House that the results of the board's overseas venture have been encouraging. In all, work has been undertaken for electricity utilities in fifteen countries, but the board's major effort has been concentrated in Bahrain and in Saudi Arabia. In Bahrain an average of up to 60 staff of all disciplines have been seconded to bring the managerial, financial and technical [74] aspects of the Bahrain State Electricity Directorate up to international standard.

A recent report by an independent Swedish consultant recommended that the ESB be retained until an adequate standard is reached in Bahrain. I feel that this reflects creditably on the board. In Saudi Arabia the board have been appointed consultants for the management of two regional electrification schemes including tender assessment, design approvals, supervision of construction, commissioning and overall financial management of the projects. There are several other areas where the board have succeeded in winning, on merit alone, useful contracts, but Senators will probably think it unnecessary for me to indicate them in detail. Let me say, however, that the ESB are alert all the time to the possibilities inherent in selling their expertise and specialised knowledge in those areas or countries where there is a demand for them.

A satisfactory feature of the board's overseas involvement has been its extension from ESB staff going abroad on assignments to foreign staff coming to Ireland for training. For example, about 90 engineers and technicians from Nigeria have already been trained in Ireland and are now back home successfully operating a new power station there; a further 29 Nigerians are in training at present and there are good prospects, I am told, of further substantial numbers of trainees being sent here.

A major Saudi Arabian training contract has been secured with 32 staff from that country attending an English language school in Dublin for six months before undergoing a 12 months training course in the ESB. These examples serve to illustrate the wide-ranging scope of the board's activities and the possibilities that have been opened-up since they embarked on their overseas venture.

In addition to overseas consultancy and advisory services work the ESB have also engaged to some extent in consultancy work at home, in areas where they have and are known to have special expertise not otherwise available within the country. Their services have been utilised by a number of public bodies or enterprises in this country, including the [75] Dublin Port and Docks Board, Bord Gáis and AnCO. Whilst the ESB have been careful not to trespass on the field traditionally served by the consulting engineering profession in Ireland and have given assurances to this effect, I am particularly concerned that there should be no cause whatever for legitimate complaint by established consultants here about the nature and extent of the board's consultancy operations. I have therefore sought and obtained from the board a positive undertaking that they will not interfere with the activities of other Irish consultants who have the competence to carry out the relevant project work in Ireland.

I am confident that this undertaking will allay any fears that may have been entertained as to the nature of the board's activities in this field. In these circumstances I am disposed to agree that the ESB should be authorised to engage in consultancy work at home to an extent consistent with full compliance with their undertaking to me. It is my intention nonetheless to keep the board's activities as consultants under periodic review.

The Bill provides that expenditure on consultancy work shall not exceed revenue, and I have arranged that the ESB will prepare separate accounts for inclusion in their annual report to me which will show clearly all relevant financial aspects of their consultancy activities. In this regard I should like to mention that in the three years ending 31 March 1978 the excess of income over expenditure on consultancy work, after allowing for all salaries, expenses, promotional costs and overheads, was about £1 million. Apart from this favourable financial outturn, and the enhanced international status which we have acquired, it is worth noting that the ESB involvement in these large foreign assignments has drawn the attention of various public and private purchasing agencies to the possibilities of doing other kinds of business with Ireland, and as a result substantial exports of industrial goods have taken place to these areas.

The ESB have kept in close touch all along both with my Department and [76] with the Department of Foreign Affairs as to their overseas activities. I will, however, be consulting with the Minister for Foreign Affairs in advance of any future commitments which the board may propose to enter into in connection with their overseas business. The Government regard this as a necessary step to ensure the closest possible cooperation and mutual understanding between the board and the Government Departments concerned.

The undertaking of consultancy work overseas does not appear to come within the ESB's statutory powers as laid down in the Electricity Supply Acts, and there may also be some doubt that such work at home is covered by existing legislation. The board have found the lack of clear statutory authority to be a disadvantage on several occasions when contracts were being negotiated. I am, therefore, promoting this legislation to eliminate any problems which the absence of statutory authority might create for the ESB in negotiating successfully for contracts or commissions.

I now come to the other purpose of this Bill, which is to provide for an increase in the limit of capital expenditure by the board from £700 million to £1,200 million. The existing statutory limit on capital expenditure by the ESB was fixed by the Electricity (Supply) Act, 1974 at £700 million. The total capital expenditure approved by the board to date has risen to a figure little short of £700 million. Whilst actual expenditure to date by the board only amounts to about £600 million or so, the standing practice is that proposals for capital expenditure are not approved by the board unless the total of the proposed expenditure, aggregated with previous expenditure and commitments to expenditure, is less than the statutory limit. As further commitments to substantial additional expenditure by the board will shortly arise it is necessary, therefore, to increase the statutory limit.

Senators will be aware that the electricity supply industry is largely capital-intensive and that the ensuring of an adequate supply of electricity in compliance with their remit necessitates heavy levels of capital expenditure by [77] the board virtually every year. As the lead-times with capital investments in the electricity sector tend to be long the ESB must always look well ahead when formulating their capital programme. The board tell me that, during the year ended 31 March 1978, growth in electricity demand showed an 8.2 per cent increase over the previous year and the indications are that this level of growth is being maintained during the current year. The ESB viewpoint, with which I broadly agree, is that they must plan ahead for an average growth rate in electricity demand of 8.5 per cent per annum over the next decade, but with an inbuilt strategy of maximum flexibility to respond to fluctuations in growth above or below the 8.5 per cent level.

The existing generating capacity of the board's system is about 2,540 megawatts. The Poolbeg station extension which is expected to come into commission very shortly will add 270 MW to the system whilst a further 80 MW generating capacity will come available when the industrial dispute at Marina has concluded. The new station at Aghada, which is expected to come on-stream sometime in 1980, and the extensions to the Shannonbridge and Lanesborough stations expected to be completed about 1983-84, will between them add another 350 MW to the system. This makes for a total capacity of 3,240 MW. The cost of all new generating capacity, either already provided or in course of provision, is within the existing £700 million capital expenditure limit.

To meet the projected growth requirements over the next decade, the board expect that they will have to approve over the next two years or so of further capital expenditure totalling about £500 million on provision of new generating capacity, additional and ancillary transmission and distribution lines, new premises and other miscellaneous items. Actual expenditure of this magnitude will not, of course, arise in the next two years or so but will be spread over a number of years up to 1985 or thereabouts.

I am, therefore, providing in this Bill for an increase of £500 million in the existing statutory limit on capital expenditure [78] by the ESB, bringing the total permitted capital outlay by the board to £1,200 million.

Before I elaborate on the purposes to which the proposed £500 million capital expenditure by the board will be put it might be useful if I reminded the House that essentially all that the ESB are proposing to do is to meet their expected consumer demand. Senators are, no doubt, aware that electricity cannot be stored and that, therefore, sufficient generating capacity must always be available to the ESB to enable them to meet demand as and when it arises, if shortages of electricity with all the inconveniences and hardship that such shortages would entail are not to arise. Last year the ESB consumed 2.23 MTOE—million tonnes of oil equivalent—some 67 per cent of which comprised imported oil. As of now the best available estimates suggest that the ESB will consume 5.5 MTOE by 1990. How best to meet this increased requirement is the problem.

For a number of years past the ESB, like most other electricity utilities, have largely relied on oil as their primary energy feedstock mainly because of its cheapness, ready availability and versatility. Oil, however, is no longer cheap and there is no guarantee as to its continued availability in the future. In an uncertain energy world it would be foolhardy to ignore these facts; it would also be foolish to forget that oil is a finite resource and that demand for it over the world as a whole is increasing. The inescapable conclusion is that we must lessen our existing near-75 per cent level of dependence on imported oil as much as we can. In our circumstances this can best be achieved by adopting the right policies in respect of the electricity generation programme. That is why I recently sanctioned the provision of a major coal-fired station and also why I will not permit the ESB to construct any more generating stations to be fuelled by imported oil.

Whilst I am hopeful that we can arrange in the not-too-distant future interconnection with the EEC electricity grid, with all the mutual advantages to member states to be derived therefrom, we must ensure at the same time that we [79] have optimum diversification in our generating plant programme at home.

A large part of the £500 million proposed expenditure will be committed to the new coal-fired station which is expected to come on-stream about 1985, but there are other items and it might be helpful if I gave an approximate break-down of the total:

£ million

New coal-fired station including provision for full site development works such as jetties, roadways and buildings as well as turbines, boilers and ancillary equipment for 2×300 MW units

350

Distribution system arising out of the need to provide electricity supply to an additional 25-30,000 customers each year

60

Transmission lines to provide improved supply to consumers, especially in outlying areas

20

Premises such as new district and area offices, and related items

20

Miscellaneous including provision for peak-load plant (small turbines) to meet sudden heavy demands for electricity

50

500

This break-down is indicative only, and not definitive, but what I should like to make clear to Senators is that no provision is being made at this stage for capital expenditure on the ESB nuclear project. Though this project was approved in principle by the then Government almost exactly five years ago there is no question of it now being proceeded with until the Government have fully assessed all the energy options now open to us, and made up their minds as to the nature and extent of the generating capacity needed to meet our expected electricity needs in the coming decade and beyond. In this regard I have been impressed by the public reaction generally to, and understanding of, our major energy problems following the publication some months ago of the Energy-Ireland discussion document. As I have already indicated, any submissions by [80] interested parties on this very important question will be fully considered by the Government.

As I have already indicated elsewhere I will be putting my proposals in the matter to the Government in the near future. If the Government should decide not to over-rule the existing decision of the last Government and that the ESB nuclear project should be processed further in accordance with the 1973 decision, a period of 18-24 months to permit of assembling of the ESB nuclear team, updating of plans and preparation of specifications, inviting tenders and so on will elapse from the date of the Government decision before there will be any question of acceptance of tenders and thus of an irrevocable commitment to the project arising. I wish to make it very clear that before this final commitment stage is reached it will be necessary to place before the Oireachtas proposals to increase the ESB capital expenditure limits to cover nuclear station costs. Senators are thus guaranteed an opportunity for full debate on this issue before there can be any commitment by the ESB to building a nuclear station.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Mr. McCartin: While we welcome the provisions of this Bill which facilitate the varied expanding operations of the ESB I will deal briefly with the Minister's last point. While it is always reassuring to know that both Houses will have the opportunity to have a full debate on the whole question of nuclear energy before any decisions are finally taken by the Government, nevertheless that is hardly sufficient assurance to satisfy the public generally who have taken such an interest in this matter over the last few years. The longer this question goes on not only do the costs double from year to year but the question of pollution risks, danger to the environment, health and so on, become more serious as time goes on.

While on the one hand I accept the possibility that technology and science will reduce the risks, on the other hand through the years the public have experienced disasters, such as the recent disaster which happened in spite of all the assurances engineers and qualified [81] people could give us. In spite of all the best brains and best intentions of planners, things will go wrong. As our society makes progress, more of these weaknesses will come to light, more serious situations will develop and the number of people who take a direct interest in such questions will increase. Their views will be more educated and their political muscle will be strong. For all these reasons a full and public discussion should start now on the whole question of nuclear energy. We should set aside a year in which the maximum opportunity would be given to everybody with an interest in this subject to have their say, to listen to the experts, to advise the Government and the public generally. I do not think this creates any problems for the Government. As time goes on, it can only make the weighty decisions the Government have to make easier and it can only create a situation in which the public have complete confidence. I have complete confidence. I know nobody in the Department of Industry, Commerce and Energy will take unnecessary risks.

There are many people, even educated and concerned people, who do not understand the workings of these Departments, who still see behind the doors of Merrion Street and Kildare Street the faceless people making the decisions. Sometimes they may even consider them heartless. While I do not see the situation like that, I think a full and open discussion on the whole question—call it an inquiry if you like—should take place. If this has been done, all the matters have been teased out, and all the experts have given their evidence publicly, the position of the Government will be more viable. When the Government eventually make their decision there is no reason why we should expect any disasters, but should things go wrong, even to a small extent, the Government will be more in the open than they will if decisions are taken without such an inquiry.

I welcome the provision of the extra capital for the ESB and I welcome their expansion and development, particularly into the whole business of consultancy work and the supply of expertise and technology abroad. It is a wonderful development that after our own experiences [82] here we have found within the organisation a surplus of brains, energy and expertise which we can export to our own profit and to the benefit of the people who need it.

I would have thought entirely unnecessary the guarantees the Minister gave us regarding the whole question of competition by the ESB in their consultancy work with native industrialists, consultants, or whatever they may be. I am not one of those people who is caught up in any ideological sense in the question of State or semi-State bodies as against private enterprise. I have a completely open mind. If a semi-State body, like the ESB, are in a position to go out on the open market and compete on fair terms with private individuals, I see no reason in the world why they would not be allowed to do that, assuming, of course, that that particular side of their operation is not subsidised from their profits which are made in the other areas in which they have a complete monopoly. On the other hand, I would deny to the ESB, or to any other semi-State body, the right to put themselves above competition from other sections. The ESB have in the past been put into that position. That gives rise to several questions.

The question of personnel in the ESB came up in recent years—I did not know at what level it developed. When a person wires private houses, industries, and so on, the ESB ask for a certificate showing that he was competent to do the work. That should not be the question. The question should be whether the work is adequate and not whether the person has a certificate, or belongs to a particular union. While I would give the ESB the right to compete, I would not deny to anybody the right to compete with them. The same situation arises where individuals have built houses in country areas, sometimes in remote areas. In the past they got subsidised supply, but at the moment these people who did not wisely calculate the cost of such connections are being faced with frightening bills for what I would say is a comparatively small amount of work. If I say to those people that that is the cost to the ESB, that they cannot do it any cheaper and that the customers must [83] pay that amount, and if they come back and say that they want to put up those poles themselves and connect that service, the ESB will say that they may not do that. I do not think the ESB should have the right to say that. The individuals concerned should have the right to do their own servicing, provided always that that meets with the standards and specifications required for safety and all other reasons.

The other question I would like to raise in this connection is that the Irish consumer cannot at any time, nor is he educated in any way to, know whether he is getting the supply of energy worth that money. The average consumer has no idea what the cost of generating the power which he buys and pays for is, and he has no idea and no way of comparing it with what it costs in other countries. At one stage I set out to establish whether industrialists who use a lot of electricity are getting it at a competitive rate. From the facts and figures that are available from other countries, it would take some of the ESB experts to advise us what the real position is. This is a subject on which the Minister should make it his business to educate the public and to inform us from time to time whether this supply is being sold to us at a competitive rate, since especially the company which supplies it is in a monopoly position.

On the question of energy, which is an important matter at the moment, on the one hand we see the Electricity Supply Board advertising units, trying to sell their energy—and this may be what is economically right for them to do in the context of their own business—but on the other hand, we know that for every unit sold coal or oil has been imported that is costing our economy a lot of money. There is not sufficient emphasis on the fact that we need to conserve energy. We will now look at the question of the nuclear station and what it may cost—£400 million was the figure we heard in 1977, but the cost may be £700 million or £1,000 million before we get around to it. We do not know where the money will come from and nobody has provided us with figures about how long [84] it would take to pay it back or what our requirements will be. It is a very complicated subject. We need not go into that aspect yet. If the necessary steps were taken to conserve energy we would not need to face that problem for some years to come. The average person building a house will not consider what it will cost to keep that house heated in one year or two years' time. He will be more concerned about the cost of putting in double glazing or insulating the attic and so on. The Government by way of an incentive should encourage house builders to insulate homes.

The whole approach to this subject has been that energy could be generated from fresh air without any cost. For years back there was not very much engineering advice into the design of houses available. Even a casual observer could see that there has been an absolute waste of energy in almost every house that has been built in the last 20 years. The same is true in factories and other places. Similarly, we have powergoing to loss at night. Power cannot be stored and most industries close down and demand eases off at 9 o'clock. If industry was sufficiently educated huge savings could be made. Industrialists could organise some of their plants and equipment to work during the hours when power is being generated and going to loss.

From my experience of the Electricity Supply Board in my area I have high regard for them. I do not come into this House deliberately praising semi-State bodies when they do not deserve it, but as a person working in an area that needs a lot of development, I have always observed the sensitivity of the ESB to the need for extra jobs and their absolute and immediate concern for anybody engaged in the creation of employment. As a farmer living in a rural area I have noticed the same concern for the welfare of livestock and the other complications that arise in times of breakdowns. The behaviour of the ESB, certainly in my area, is exemplary and I only wish that some of the other semi-State bodies who have similar monopoly would display the same standards of efficiency and the same concern.

[85] This leaves me with the question that I still do not know whether they are sufficiently efficient to sell us a product at a competitive price and whether by the use of that product it is possible to compete with the rest of our European neighbours.

We must contrast the plight of three or four ESB workers coming out in the middle of a stormy windy night looking for the breakdowns, concerned to fix them and worried lest livestock and other goods are lost with the power suddenly going off with somebody deciding to go on strike 50 or 100 miles away When we contrast the two sides certainly we have to ask ourselves what is wrong in this area.

I do not want to go into the details of this because I am not sufficiently conscious of it but I am sufficiently aware of the reaction of the workers generally. I am sufficiently aware of what human nature is all about and how people, who are given responsibility and are respected will not let down the public. For that reason I believe there is something seriously wrong when we can have the sort of breakdowns through industrial action we have had in the past few years with the ESB. I am completely convinced that money will not solve this problem, it is not a question of wages. It is a question of building up the right relationship and getting management to come to a proper understanding with the staff that work with them and giving the staff some vision of what their real responsibilities are. If they are left inside pressing switches and buttons where they become machines and do not see themselves directly involved in the giving of a service which lies in industry and work and on which economic competitiveness depends they will become frustrated. If we can bridge that gap and let those people realise the importance of their position within the industry. I genuinely believe that this problem will not occur again and again. I do not think it can be solved by extra wages or better working conditions. I believe it can be solved by better human relationships between the people concerned, the people at the top and the public generally. Generally speaking, I regard the ESB as a great organisation and one of the best [86] of our semi-State bodies. Therefore I would like to know a little about costs and competitiveness. I welcome the Bill.

Mr. Donnelly: I intend to be fairly brief in my comments in welcoming the Bill, which is of major proportions in the impact it is likely to have in the field of energy and the related benefits which that brings to our economy and to our society. The Minister's speech impressed me particularly because it touched on a number of important and sensitive areas and, I feel, in a reassuring, constructive way. I am particularly pleased to note the emphasis on diversion from oil to coal burning units. This has the obvious advantage of lessening our dependence on what was becoming an increasingly expensive commodity and also diversifies into a commodity which, for a number of reasons, is much more reliable in its supply.

We all know what has been happening in the past few months in Iran, one of the major oil producing countries. Even a quick examination of the globe as to the situation and the circumstances of the oil producing countries indicates that generally, apart from problems of the question of the reserves of oil, there are particular problems associated with the political and social problems that exist in the predominant oil producing countries, I believe that there is very great evidence to indicate that the continuity of supply and the great security which that gives is much more available to us in diverting, as indicated in the Minister's opening speech, to coal rather than oil. There are a great number of coal producing countries which have more stable political systems, which have a more natural access for us. I believe that this type of diversion to coal will bring a surety as to continuity of supply which in time could become every bit as big an advantage as avoiding the escalating costs which have occurred in the acquisition of oil over the past five or six years. That point was made towards the end of the Minister's speech but it strikes me as one of the most important and particularly to be welcomed.

I would also like to stress the need for continuing emphasis on conservation of energy. I feel that an energy conservation [87] policy pursued to its national benefit can only reduce the cost of imports of the basic fuels which are involved but can divert money from foreign purchases into job creation at home. A developing attitude towards conservation will give rise to industries based on conservation and providing the materials and consequently employment in a conservation industry, of which a far greater proportion of the raw materials will be available in this country. A particular advantage for economic reasons at home is that we can provide employment here in providing service and materials for the work of conservation to be financed in the main by moneys which would otherwise have gone in importing basic fuels. Not only, therefore, do we make progress in the field of conservation, but in so doing, realistically and intelligently we will provide employment and new industrial outlets here at home.

The provision of expertise abroad by the ESB is a development which has been clearly successful and is to be welcomed both for its success and operation. It is a very worthwhile and progressive development by our State services in developing countries and in Third World countries. It brings a degree of expertise which is put to great use in the countries in which it is applied and it also establishes Irish goodwill in these countries and Irish influence in these countries. In addition to that, it forges the industrial link and helps the industrial advancement of this country. It provides a base for a follow-up service which can continue for the benefit of both the country availing of the service and this country for generations to come. In the past, industrial and imperial-type countries believed in setting up certain industries in the colonies mainly with a view to supplying them with their own goods to keep the industries going. It was a form of industrial exploitation. Here we have a case where it is of direct service to the country, mutually agreed, mutually progressed and advanced on an entirely non-colonial basis. We are one of the countries most suited to provide that type of service in the new and emerging [88] world. The ESB, in so far as they have been providing that service, are to be congratulated.

The Minister's concluding remarks on the question of nuclear energy are greatly welcomed. It shows a breath of realism and common sense, which the debate on nuclear energy theatened to eliminate from the situation. I was glad to hear his reference to the Government considering all the options. One point I would make generally is that there is a certain difficulty in public debate on this matter and in any question of a public investigation or hearing that we are, of course, dealing with a highly technical, complex and complicated subject It is very difficult for the average member of the public to make an assessment which we would be happy with. I appeal to the experts, the engineers and the scientists, to be very mindful of this and when engaging in debate on the matter to do so with the full realisation of their responsibility to the public in the matter and to resist the temptation to win a debate in a highly technical and rarified atmosphere among experts. We are dealing with an issue which is very important and we know it can become extremely emotive. The best machinery for ensuring a mature and a beneficial debate for the public is that the ordinary individual, exercising his ordinary concern and. common sense, has an opportunity to do so. He is greatly in the hands of experts in this debate. I appeal that the debate be conducted by experts in such a way that the public can exercise their judgment and can participate.

On the question of an inquiry or a commission I believe that that is not necessarily an issue at the moment. I feel the time span which the Minister has indicated in his remarks will be of great benefit. The time span as indicated at 24 months before any advancement to tenders gives ample time to assess the position here at home and to avail of the experience being gained abroad in this type of debate which is taking place in practically all of the developed countries. Those are the points which I consider to be of most concern on a particularly important Bill for the economy and our society, and I welcome it.

[89] Mrs. Hussey: I would like to make a very brief contribution to this debate because I feel that it cannot pass without every opportunity being taken to say some words on the final part of the Minister's speech. We are all very glad that there will be further debate on the question of nuclear energy and that no irrevocable decisions are being taken in the name of the people of the country. It is a very strong belief of mine that this debate should not be confined to politicians or scientists.

Of course it is a very complex technical issue. The whole question of the future energy requirements of this country is a very complex and technical issue but one which vitally affects every one of us. Every energy crisis throws the country into total chaos and brings a great deal of hardship to a lot of people. It seems obvious that the dependence on oil is a very bad thing. Oil and politics are inextricably connected and they do not mix any better than oil and water. For that reason alone, we must seek out every possible means of lessening our dependence on oil.

Of course, it is an emotive subject. It is an excellent thing to find people in a small democracy becoming emotional about subjects like nuclear energy which so very closely concerns them. I deprecate the inclination of people to give out about things because they are an emotive issue. If one were to listen to people chiding one on that score one would hardly ever speak on any subject. One becomes motivated to speak on subjects because they affect one in very many cases, and this particularly applies to women.

The case has not been made against a public inquiry. I cannot understand the extraordinary reluctance there is to have a full open inquiry on this issue. Our judges are appointed to make decisions for the people and they constantly make them and interpret issues for the people. Therefore, we should have a public inquiry with judges at its head to decide on this extraordinary major issue and let the scientists, the technicians and the politicians put their arguments into layman's language because this country is made up of laymen and laywomen. I believe that this debate has only just [90] begun and is by no means closed, and the Government are aware that the people have given them no mandate to go ahead with nuclear power. I would like to give that small contribution to this debate and hope for a bigger one in the future.

Mrs. Cassidy: It is fitting to preface the few remarks I have to make by repeating in this House the introductory words used by the Minister when moving the Second Reading of the Bill in Dáil Éireann and emphasised by the Minister of State in his speech to us this evening:

... the primary function of the ESB under the Electricity Supply Act is to ensure the adequate supply and distribution of electricity throughout the State. This is the reason for their existence, and they have a standing remit from me and my predecessors to ensure that electricity is at no time in short supply. The board have a number of other functions which I need not detail but these are subsidiary to its main function.

This criterion of the board's main function and statutory obligations appears to have been accepted in the Dáil by the leading speaker for the Opposition, Deputy John Kelly, when he introduced his speech with the words “I wish to begin by taking up a couple of points which in the overall context of the Minister's speech may be relatively marginal.”

We learn from the Minister that the ESB have had and still apparently have a surplus capacity among their highly skilled professional and technical staff, and that this surplus has been employed for electricity utilities in up to 15 different countries around the world, including Bahrein, Saudia Arabia and Nigeria. One of the purposes of the Bill before the House is to give legislative sanction to the subsidiary functions and operations of the board.

I feel bound to suggest that before the ESB can properly or lawfully employ their technicians in subsidiary functions they must first satisfy the nation that they have discharged, are discharging and will discharge their main function so [91] distinctly set out by the Minister in the words to which I have just referred. I suggest that they employ their surplus highly skilled professional and technical staff to work under the following main headings. First, to consolidate and improve the efficiency of existing domestic installations. I have lived with my family for over 20 years in an area where the slightest snowfall will bring an immediate blackout which will take sometimes up to 48 hours to correct. Indeed, on one occasion, we were without electricity for three continuous weeks, and this notwithstanding the fact that in a small town a mile from our house the supply of electricity is rarely interrupted.

This suggests that if the ESB took steps to see that the electrical installations in our area were as good as those in the adjoining towns they would be taking steps—and I quote the Minister —“to ensure the adequate supply and distribution of electricity throughout the State and to ensure that electricity is at no time in short supply”. One has only to read the national newspapers to see that there is nothing unique about our area, and that indeed many other areas, particularly backward areas, have similar interference.

My second recommendation to the board would be to create better management-labour relations, to reduce the incidence of industrial action when a strike or other form of industrial protest is made, to have the negotiating skill to deal with it in an intelligent, understanding, sympathetic and diplomatic way. My final recommendation is, by skilful anticipation and detailed and interested concern for the working conditions of all groups in the employment of the board, to know the areas of friction, unrest and dissatisfaction in time to iron them out before a strike instead of negotiating a settlement when the public are in the dark and industry crippled, a settlement which in all probability could have been reached before the strike.

I suggest that if there is a case to be made for sending some of the board's highly skilled technical staff abroad they might be sent to Norway or some such [92] country, where they might learn how to prevent a fall of snow from throwing wide areas of the country into darkness. Again, if there is a case for sending the board's highly skilled professional people abroad, might we not benefit from a study of management-labour relations in Germany as recently suggested by the Minister for Finance? My suggestion is a simple one: “Put your own house in order; charity begins at home.” Of course it is important for the board to have prestige with the black man in the jungle and the Arab in the desert, but I exhort them to seek the respect and the confidence of the Irishman, whether he he an ordinary householder, a farmer or an industrialist, before spreading their missionary wings any further.

Since the major part of the Bill before the House, however, is to provide for an increase in the limit of capital expenditure by the board for the reasons stated by the Minister, I must commend the Bill to the House and ask only that the observations that I have made be borne in mind by the Minister and by the board in the exercise by them of their new statutory powers.

Mr. Kilbride: I welcome this Bill and I would like to add my voice to the observations already made by my colleague, Senator McCartin, in regard to the standards that I see in the service provided by the ESB as a semi-State institution. I must make a general observation on the structure of that service and the extent to which it is pruned in the light of the difficulties which the ESB find themselves confronted with in providing a service, particularly in rural areas.

It is common knowledge to every member of the House that single phase electricity is provided in most rural areas. It is found, where milking machines or electrical equipment are installed to bring farming into line with modern industrial standards of efficiency, that the current is not sufficient to enable the uninterrupted use of the particular motors used in agricultural services on the farm. The ESB have a constant deluge of complaints because television and lighting effects in homes are almost eliminated. It is almost a blackout in some areas. If a second [93] motor is installed or two or three extensive dairies are using single phase current in an adjacent area people have had the experience of not having television during the time milking was being carried on. It is the same in regard to lighting in many of the areas.

The Minister should examine how long it is since we looked at the standard of electric current that we are sending into rural areas and the difference now existing between what is required of electricity users in rural areas compared with what was the case in the 1920's or 1930's. Everybody will agree that in those days electricity from 1926 on was in its infancy. It was to a very major extent not found in any rural area, and when it was extended in the 1930's or immediately after the world war very many people felt that was the full complement of everything that we might expect and all that we might ever need. Since we have become more industrialised and we have a higher standard of living in the rural areas many people are installing electric appliances, which is putting a demand on single phase current which I do not think it was really intended to meet.

We must provide a better standard of wiring and a higher voltage output. I understand that where we had 220 volts in single phase, in order to conserve electricity and to lessen the immediate consumption in particular areas the ESB dropped the voltage to 212 or 215. That is one of the reasons why there is less power in the electricity provided for use on farms and in homesteads. I suggest that the Minister should ask the ESB to consider upgrading the output and transmission of current. It is hardly right to load extra units of consumption on to particular lines which are not able to carry them and at the same time for the ESB to go abroad to show their exertise and, I hope, earn money. The Minister should ask the ESB to take particular stock of that aspect of the ESB service.

Nuclear energy generation has been commented on by all the speakers I have heard. In the United States the authority who are the custodians of what is known as “the catechism of safety” in regard to the generation and control of nuclear waste have said: “We are no longer [94] depending on this standard. We have been proven wrong and that standard is no longer regarded as safe”. In other words, they were an authority a few months ago, and today they admit they are not an authority. That is enough to make us realise that an inquiry is vital into all the implications of the generation and disposal of nuclear waste, and the use of electricity generated from nuclear energy.

I understand that people who are not living in the immediate vicinity of a nuclear station are liable to contamination and that we have yet to learn a great deal about the implications of the use of nuclear energy and the extent to which it radiates into vast areas. It behoves the ESB, the Government and the people to look at this aspect with great seriousness. If a human killer disease with the disastrous effects myxomatosis has on rabbits was being promoted we would be all rushing to kill the person who was promoting it. We would be inclined to shoot him. We would feel he should be shot. Yet this has that effect on human beings and we are afraid to face up to it. We are afraid to implement the machinery—that is if we have machinery—to inquire into its safety or otherwise or to get somebody in authority to make a pronouncement on whether it is safe or can be tolerated.

Electricity is the last word in the use of energy. It puts at the fingertips of the individual the means of providing the heat and comfort that make life worth living, and the provision of which is a must for all of us. In other places I have defended the Government's idea of looking at this question and I trust they will look at it with full responsibility and ensure that, before a nuclear station is built, there will be a full guarantee of safety. They see, as most of us see that circumstances are radically changed on the basis of what the United States Authority have admitted about the safety factor in the generation of nuclear power. I do not want to say that the people who suggested a public debate were naïve and talking about something that is above our heads. It is very much above our heads. We should not ask lay people to give a decision on something of which they have no experience except [95] to the extent that they know it is dangerous. We heard and we saw on television hair-raising examples of the effects of nuclear generation given by people who are anti-nuclear generation.

I should like again to emphasise the importance of upgrading ESB service to the rural population. The dispersal of small industries into these areas makes it necessary to have a higher standard of electric power than we have at present. I appreciate that the ESB are doing a fine job despite the inhibitions placed on them because of the many years which have elapsed since the start of the provision of rural electricity. I welcome the Bill and I wish the Minister success.

Mr. Lambert: It gives me particular pleasure to support the contents of this Bill, which we should not overlook in the looming problem of nuclear energy. We are looking at an essential ingredient of our life as a nation: the continued provision of a high-quality electricity service for our people at home, at work, on the farms, and in industry. It is as basic as that.

For 13 years I had the satisfaction of participating in the deliberations and forward planning of the ESB as a member of the Electricity Supply Board to which I had the honour of being reappointed by different Governments. I am aware, therefore, of the conscientious commitment of the directors and management. I was glad to hear the complimentary remarks made by the Leas-Chathaoirleach and Senator Kilbride because they are there to serve the community to the best of their ability and to ensure the availability of electricity in parallel with our economic growth and at minimum cost to the Irish consumer.

For almost 50 years, the board's policy was the promotion of the use of electricity, but owing to the dramatic change of circumstances brought about by the oil crisis the marketing policy had to be re-adjusted so that objectives were focused on load shaping rather than stimulation of growth per se. As the Minister said, even so the ESB experienced a growth in demand for electricity of over 8 per cent over the [96] previous year. Because usage is closely linked with the rate of economic development in the country as a whole, it is obvious that the demand will continue to increase. It is, therefore, vitally important to allow the board to plan ahead so as to ensure sufficient supply of electricity to meet our projected economic and social progress, with all its implications of job creation and opportunities for our young people in the future. We must bear in mind that we still have a low usage of electricity per head of population when compared with other European countries. The momentum of our increasing agricultural and industrial development will bring a significant increased demand for power in the next decade. Taking all the factors into account, it would seem prudent that we should be planning to meet a growth rate in electricity demand of the order of 8½ per cent over the next ten years.

From my experience as a board member, I am conscious of the need for forward planning in this regard. The long time of seven years or more required for the construction of a generation station demands that we take steps now to meet the requirements of the mid-eighties and beyond. Looking back over the 51 years of development of the ESB the prospect of building a coal-fired station was hardly contemplated in the past. It is, therefore, a major step to allocate £350 million for the projected coal-fired station in County Clare. This decision, with the extended use of turf at Shannonbridge and Lanesboro in line with Bord na Mona's third development programme, is an obvious one in order to reduce our over-dependence on oil. I am glad that, as a safeguard, this new station will be capable not only of burning coal but of being adapted for oil or gas. This decision is very much to be welcomed.

In considering this whole area of the various options open to us, I am mindful at my age of the fact that, were it not for the foresight of people like Seán Lemass and Erskine Childers, and their commitment to the development of our natural resources of turf for electricity generation, we would be even more greatly dependant on imported oil today. The determination displayed by these [97] men—and let us not forget it—added new concepts in the area of electricity generation. Even though they were criticised at the time, it is an example of the approach we should take in our efforts to meet the future needs of our community.

Looking ahead to the potential growth beyond the mid-eighties, like everybody else, I agree that we must consider urgently the introduction of nuclear power. The availability of a nuclear station on the electricity system would help to secure the much-needed spread of fuel types and so provide protection against the effects of a sudden threat of withdrawal of one source as occurred in the oil crisis of 1973. It is my view that a rational appraisal should be made of the nuclear option without blurring the issue by the introduction of a high level of emotionalism which, regrettably, has come to characterise much of the debate on this topic in recent months.

Fears of the new and unknown are understandable and must be recognised. However, I would hope that, on examination, it would be found that nuclear power offers this country the additional resource of electricity generation, and a safe one at that, for the 1980s and beyond.

In relation to the capital provisions of this Bill, it is appropriate to point out that the ESB in their 50 years of existence have not at any time asked for a subsidy from the taxpayer. I know Members of this House are aware that we are discussing the granting of statutory approval to the ESB to expand the necessary capital requirement for their programmes by an additional £500 million. However, it is important to make it clearer to the public at large that the ESB will have to raise this capital through internal resources and by borrowings on the home and foreign markets at the going rate of interest. It is a measure of the ESB's standing with the financial institutions here and abroad that they have been successful in raising capital in the past for their development programme. It is important in the future that this financial soundness of operation is sustained and thus the ability of the ESB to borrow externally should not be prejudiced by demands from other [98] State bodies without the full knowledge of the facts concerning our total national borrowing powers projected forward on an annual basis for the next decade, a point I stressed in the debate on the Appropriation Bill before Christmas.

The Minister also mentioned that some of the statutory increase will be allocated to new premises. It was one of my ambitions when I was on the board to try and ensure that new premises, particularly in the area of office facilities, should be the most advanced in the country. In fact, an ESB office should be a prototype of energy conservation involving the latest building techniques, heating and lighting installations, and should exemplify this objective as well as the economic utilisation of space to keep administration costs to the minimum. In other words, I should like to see the concept of office design reach the standard of technical expertise which we expect from the ESB and that they would show the same imagination and initiative in the area of developing new premises.

Another aspect of the Bill which has been discussed by Senators is the consultancy advisory service. I remember when this consultancy activity was undertaken following the oil crisis in 1973 and the recession which followed. It provided the board with an opportunity to avail of some surplus manpower arising at the time. It has now developed into a substantial activity, to the great credit of the ESB, and added, as some other Senators have mentioned, considerable prestige to the image of Ireland abroad. It has earned valuable foreign currency and helped to bring an increase in recruitment now that the recession is over. It also had off-spin benefits for other Irish industries because foreign countries are aware of our existence on the market place.

At home the ESB are probably the organisation with the widest possible contact with the community as a whole. They now serve one million customers. I know that, within the last year or so, the board have made a special effort to improve and broaden their customer contacts. Whilst one is aware of Senator Cassidy's comments, a customer information leaflet outlining the board's credit policy has been sent to all [99] domestic customers. They have endeavoured to emphasise they they are willing to discuss his problems with any customer in relation to his electricity charges or other problems. In introducing the saving stamp scheme some years ago the board showed an awareness of the easy payment system, and the free electricity allowance scheme which they operate on behalf of the Department of Social Welfare is unique in Europe and the envy of many countries.

In dealing with so many customers—we are talking about a million, a third of the population—it is not possible to avoid difficulties and problems. I hope Senators who hear individual complaints will keep this in mind. The board have displayed an awareness of their social responsibility which will come out very well in the social audit in the public companies called for recently by the Minister for Finance.

The importance of rural electrification was touched on by Senator Kilbride. There was a problem when I was on the board. Difficulties arose about the interpretation of the Electricity Supply (Amendment) Act. 1976, and the subsidy provided under the Act was a great limitation to the capacity of the ESB to extend rural electrification as rapidly as required. As far as top management are concerned, I should like to take the opportunity to pay a short tribute to the late Dr. Tom Murray who headed the organisation during their time of greatest expansion and unprecedented social change. He was a man totally concerned with the welfare of our largest organisation. He was a most conscientious man and a man of great integrity. Indeed, I am proud to be able to recall his commitment to his great responsibilities and his dedicated service to the ESB and his fellow men.

We are fortunate that he has been succeeded in recent years by such a triumvirate of business and technical expertise embraced by the Chairman, Professor Charles Dillon, the Chief Executive, Jimmy Kelly, and Assistant-Chief Executive Paddy Moriarty. When I left the board over a year ago, I approved [100] of the up-dating of the organisation structure which the Chief Executive was initiating by a regrouping of functions amongst the directors and heads of departments to meet the challenge of the future. They were doing more research into improving the efficiency of fuel utilisation which will have great financial benefits. I know corporate planning is in keeping with the ESB's reputation amongst the top 500 companies in Europe. I have been impressed by their monitoring procedures which are now part of their corporate planning to improve productivity in the financial performance at all levels of the organisation.

It is difficult to understand that, in a well-structured and efficient organisation like the ESB, who have improved their communications system with the staff enormously—and I can personally vouch for this—and shown internally deep concern and continual research into all aspects of industrial relations, there are still extreme pockets of dissatisfaction which can threaten our community from time to time. Unhappily, like everybody else, I can recall outages. For instance, I was in Slgio last August and I witnessed tourists struggling in the dark trying to get even a cold meal. I have heard of old people suffering because their electricity was cut off and we have had other examples of this, less dramatic, in recent times. With such a committed management, with improved communications amongst the staff, with much better than most working conditions, and with better than most security of employment, some logical solution must be found for this national problem of unofficial disputes.

The appointment of four worker seats to the board must bring new hope in this direction and certainly the contribution of worker participation towards more stable industrial relations in this and other State bodies will be anxiously monitored by the private sector. Generally speaking, unless some moderate solution is found in relation to the pay demands in the public sector, there is little hope of Irish manufacturing industry matching such demands, or being able to pay the increased overheads which will materialise and still [101] survive in free competition with other EEC industries.

Finally, as someone deeply involved in Irish manufacture, I am keenly aware of the central role played by electricity in our industrial life, just as I am aware of the dedicated commitment within the board. I wish them and the Minister well in the effective evolvement of the plans which this Bill will make possible.

Mr. Jago: I will be very brief. There are just a few points I wish to make. The first purpose of this Bill is to increase the ceiling of financial allocations to the ESB from £700 million to £1,200 million. Everybody is in agreement with that, because we all look on the ESB as one of our successful bodies.

The ESB's first venture was the Shannon Scheme which was our first attempt at converting one of our own resources into energy. During the period from 1939 to 1946, the war years, we first saw the signs of the expertise which was developing in the ESB. They could not get parts to keep the installation going, and yet they were able to manufacture what was necessary with their own expertise and keep this country going. Since then, they have also extended their field into our own resources by their peat stations. Now we have another own recource, our gas stations. Unfortunately we have not got sufficient resources of our own to convert into the energy we require. I am glad to see that in the programme ahead we have the Marina gas station, the Aghada station, the extension to Lanesboro, and the extension to Shannonbridge, all of which are converting our own resources into energy.

Like Senator Lambert I am glad to see that we have now been able to change the policy which almost became established that we would not use coal. World conditions are changing and, with the increase in the price of oil and the uncertainty in the price of oil, it is to be welcomed that we are getting the new coal-fired station in County Clare by 1985.

I do not wish to make any comment on nuclear energy. The Minister has stated that a decision has not yet been made on whether we will go ahead. If we do, we have still got two years to wait, [102] and an awful lot can happen in two years. In the meantime, if we have to make any preparations like town planning, we should make them to safeguard ourselves.

There is the question of conservation of energy. I am glad to see that at Lanesboro the ESB and An Foras Talúntais have combined together to endeavour to use waste heat by cultivation under glass and I hope it is successful. There could be more co-operation in the field of conservation between our State bodies who are under different ministries. I have one practical example. As Senators are aware, the Institute for Industrial Research and Standards give a free service to industry but they do not give a free service to other sections of our community. In the case of a small hospital in which I was interested, three years ago we brought in the Institute for Industrial Research and Standards, and the fuel bill for 1977 was less than the fuel bill for 1976, and the fuel bill for 1978 was less than the fuel bill for 1977, which I attribute completely to the advice given by the Institute for Industrial Research and Standards. Therefore I feel this service should be extended outside industry as well.

One of our alternative sources is wind power. We know than any wind power installation can be very small, but there can be a lot of them, and they could be provided by private enterprise. There is a feeling abroad today that the ESB does not welcome this. They feel any electricity being manufactured by private enterprise prevents their sale. In this field, the ESB should make every effort to assist anybody who has the initiative to move ahead to endeavour to use wind-power for electricity. Research on wave power is going on in Scotland and that research should tell us the right way to go, too, and I understand there is also research, in a small way, in UCC in Cork. The third one is the use of biomass. I understand that the acreage involved in this is preventing us from going ahead with research. I do not think that should be the case. We should go ahead and research in the field of biomass.

The second part of the Bill is to give [103] the ESB the legal authority for the consultative services which they have succeeded in establishing abroad. We welcome those services, especially when we see that they brought in £1 million foreign currency to us. I do not agree, however, with some speakers that we should give the ESB a free hand in the domestic field. This consultative service commenced because of the recession. At that time there was a satisfactory private domestic consultative service in this country. If you are going to allow complete freedom to the ESB within our country, it would affect that. More important still is the ESB's concentration could be taken away from abroad and centred on home and we want them to maintain and carry out on the very good work which they have started.

There is one area where the ESB may not continue to compete, and that is the field of retail trade, retail selling of equipment. Having looked at it in the ESB accounts I do not think it is suitable for the ESB. I do not think it is their main aim, and it should be left to private industry. There is, however, another area in which they should do more, and that is the area of safety. The ESB should be given power to do more. At present if there is an installation in a private house the ESB test it to see that it is satisfactory before putting in a meter. Nobody tests it five years later or ten years later when alterations and wear and tear can make it dangerous. The ESB should be responsible for periodic inspection of all installations, not alone in private houses. We have electrical regulations under the factory inspectorate; the ESB should have that power. With those few remarks, I welcome the Bill.

Minister of State at the Department of Industry, Commerce and Energy (Mr. R. Burke): I would like to commence by thanking Senators for the warm welcome they have given to this Bill and for their stated appreciation of what is in my view the primary function of the ESB under the Electricity Supply Acts, and that is the ensuring of adequate supply and distribution of electricity throughout the State. I am glad that this very important primary function is [104] recognised by the various contributors to the debate from both sides of the House. Within our rapidly expanding industrial programme and as our nation becomes industrialised, the need for an adequate supply of electricity becomes more and more obvious.

I should like to refer to a number of the individual points. On the question of consultancy, I welcome the points made by the various Senators. I would mention to Senator Cassidy that the ESB at present have no surplus staff. The rising demand for electricity has absorbed the slack that there was within the staff. Work at home is very much of first importance to the ESB. The Minister has been at pains to ensure that there is no decline in standards at home by over-concentration on work abroad. As regards the individual situation in which Senator Cassidy found herself, I deeply regret it. I, regretfully, found myself in a similar situation on Christmas Eve. This is, unfortunately, a problem of weather difficulties. I appreciate the Senator's point with regard to Norway and the fact that the ESB should have a look at the situation there. I shall bring the Senator's various points to the attention of the ESB.

I also want to refer to the concern mentioned by Senator Jago and by a number of other Senators, about the overlap of State and semi-State operations. Particular care is being taken to avoid conflict between the consulting engineering profession and the ESB. In the early years of the programme, in either 1975 or 1976, there were a number of complaints by established consulting engineers about the ESB trespassing on their traditional field. However, in the last number of months I am glad to say that there have been absolutely no complaints. We in the Government are very conscious of the need to avoid such complaints.

As I mentioned in my opening remarks we must all recognise and appreciate the work that the ESB have done since they have gone into the consultancy field abroad; the contacts that they have built up; the money that they have earned for this country; the goodwill that they have generated, not only for their own organisation and for [105] the country but also for many exporters. They have opened up tremendous fields of opportunities abroad for our exporters. This is something that we must all recognise and encourage.

Great emphasis was laid by various Senators, including Senator Donnelly on the subject of conservation. This is a matter that is recognised by the Government. It is intended to put increasing emphasis on the whole question of a proper and effective conservation programme. Last week, in the budget statement, the Minister for Finance referred to the importance of conservation and extra efforts being put in in the coming year to have a fully effective conservation programme. It is selfevident that it is a total waste of resources merely to generate electricity if we are not, at the same time, planning our buildings and various offices in such a way as to make sure that we are getting the greatest benefit of the power which we are generating. I particularly take the point made by Senator Lambert that the ESB should be the leaders in the field of design of offices and of premises to make the best use of the power generated and also that they should be the leaders in conservation. Not only should they be the leaders but should be seen to be the leaders. I accept that point totally and I shall pass it on to the ESB. I have no doubt the Senator himself will pass it on on a number of occasions. It is a very worthwhile point.

I am also grateful to the Senators for recognising the importance of getting away from our over-dependence on oil and diversification into gas and coal. What this Bill is primarily about is the new coal-fired station in County Clare. The indicative rather than definitive sums that were mentioned, as I said earlier, show that of the extra £500 million involved, £350 million approximately is to be spent on the provision of a 600 MW coal-burning station in County Clare.

This coal-burning station will be capable of conversion to native oil if such is found in economic quantities off the west coast, which we hope will come true.

While we are removing our dependence on imported oil we are merely [106] transferring it, at the moment, on to imported coal and this also has problems. We are happy enough that at least our supply of coal is from countries which have more stable regimes that those from which we are getting our oil at the moment. It is, however, still imported coal and the further we can get away from this level of dependence on imported fuel the better.

The events in the Middle East over the last couple of months must have shown anybody who had doubts about the level of our dependence on imported oil that we should not continue that dependence on imported oil. No country with the programmes and the targets that we have set for ourselves, with the accompanying need for energy and electricity generation, can depend for its basic fuel for this electricity generation on supppliers from such politically volatile areas as the Middle East. The Government have been examining this whole energy question. Last July the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy, published a document “Energy— Ireland” on the options for the years ahead to the turn of the century, which set out the various options facing this country. This document was widely distributed, I should have been happier if it had got greater coverage. However, for the section of people who have read it, it sets out clearly the various options available to us and it lays great emphasis on the importance of removing ourselves from this over-dependence on oil. It also mentions the nuclear option.

There was some reference made by most Senators at one stage or another to the nuclear option and there were, as usual, some emotive words about the safety factors, and the Rasmussen Report and other items were mentioned. It is an option we must consider at this stage. A Government decision, in principle, was made in November 1973, at the time of the last oil crisis. Surely, with the way things are looking from present reports, we are in for another difficult period unless Iranian oil comes on-stream very soon and the situation in that country settles down. The nuclear option is spelled out in the Government energy options report. The Government are to review, in the next couple of [107] weeks, the decision of the previous Government, which was the decision, in principle, made in 1973 and declared in 1975 at the request of the ESB. Even when they review it it will be merely a decision, in principle, to go ahead with the planning stage and no firm contractual commitments have to be entered into for an 18 to 24 months period.

The question of a public inquiry or some sort of inquiry was mentioned by a number of Senators. I would remind the Senators that there will be an inquiry into this nuclear proposal. When the planning application is eventually decided by the Wexford County Council, no matter which way it goes, there will be a public oral hearing. The Government have not closed their minds to some other type of inquiry but nobody has yet suggested what form it should take. We are open to suggestions.

Senator Hussey made the point that there should be an inquiry chaired by judges who would tell the Government as to what decision should be made or not made. The Government were elected by the people to make financial decisions on behalf of the people. Judges are not elected by the people to make those decisions. It is up to the Government to make decisions and to decide whether in the best interests of the country decision X or decision Y should be made. As far as the safety and other factors are concerned, there is no doubt that many of those will be considered at the oral hearing in regard to the planning application. However, as I have already said, the Government have not closed their minds finally to the idea of some sort of inquiry, if for no other reason that to go through the democratic process of being seen to take some of the heat out of the situation and remove the head of steam that has been building up. I am not clear in my own mind whether the head of steam is being generated, by some of the people involved, for motives other than those that they proclaim from the rooftops.

The question of alternative energy sources were mentioned, wind power, wave power and biomass. From calculations and on the levels of technology [108] available at this stage, it is estimated that they would meet only five per cent of our energy needs by the turn of the century. Surely we cannot work out and develop and plan a proper energy policy on the basis of the contribution of five per cent from alternative sources. However, I do see that after the turn of the century, when the level of technology has been increased, there will be great potential for alternative energy sources. The question of industrial problems was mentioned. We all regret the industrial problems, not only in the ESB but in many other semi-State organisations and in the private sector. It is my firm hope and the hope of the Government and of everybody in this country that we shall see an end to the disputes that have taken place. We all want to see this country going forward and we all want to see that sufficient jobs will be created for our young people leaving school; for those who at present are unemployed and for the school leavers in the years ahead. This should be the great national aim. We hope that it will be calmly achieved. It can only be achieved with industrial peace, which we as politicians and genuinely concerned citizens all hope for.

There were a number of other points mentioned by various Senators about the level of the power in the farming areas. There has been such an increase in the demand for electricity in some areas that sometimes there are deficiencies. The ESB try, as far as possible, to make good these deficiencies as quickly as possible. If any Senator has any particular item or area about which he is concerned, if he writes to me privately on it, I shall be delighted to examine it.

In regard to the question of cost and the education of the public and generation costs and so on, and the consequent costs to the consuming public, the ESB do set out in their annual financial reports the various costs involved.

The highly technical subject of nuclear energy was mentioned by Senator Donnelly. I could not agree with him more. As a layman on the subject I find that you can get two technical people on either side of an argument to prove exactly the opposite point of view, using exactly the same set of figures. [109] Senator Hussey mentioned that there is not a mandate to proceed with nuclear power.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. R. Burke: The Government have a mandate, on the basis that there was already a Government decision in 1973. Therefore, the question of a mandate does not arise. For the other Senators' contributions and the general welcome given to this Bill, I am grateful and, in conclusion, I would join with Senator Lambert and other Senators who referred to the work being done by the management and staff, generally, of the [110] ESB. This country owes them a great debt of gratitude and it also owes a debt of gratitude to the foresight of men like Seán Lemass and Erskine Childers. Thank you.

Question put and agreed to.

Agreed to take remaining Stages today.

Bill put through Committee, reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.

The Seanad adjourned at 8.20 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 21 February 1979.