Seanad Éireann - Volume 141 - 15 February, 1995
Energy Policy: Motion.
Mr. Townsend Mr. Townsend
Mr. Townsend: I move:
That Seanad Éireann welcomes the energy policy as outlined in the Government of Renewal programme, particularly in the area of conservation and supports the production of energy from renewable sources.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and hope that he makes as big an impact in his present Ministry as he did in his last one.
The primary function of agriculture in Europe in the past has been mainly directed towards providing food to sustain a growing population. The position has now changed radically with agriculture possessing the capacity to produce food greatly in excess of demand. Consequently, a number of measures, including set-aside land, have been introduced to curtail food production in the EU. This has accelerated research to utilise land, particularly set-aside land for growing crops which can be used to produce non-food products, including biofuels which can replace imported fossil types. Consequently, in order to utilise the land and associated human resources no longer required in the production of raw materials for food, new uses must be found if the economic and social balance of rural areas is to be maintained. Alternative outlets for farm crops such as cereals, sugar beet and fodder beet, grass and fibre crops are urgently needed.
Future growth in the agricultural industry will largely depend on the development of non-food farming and it is suggested that in the right economic circumstances many jobs could be created and substantial amounts of land currently set-aside could be used to supply feedstocks for a range of industries.
 Using biomass, including conventional agricultural crops, as energy sources is now under intensive investigation. Some biomass can be used as fuel without modification. This is largely confined to the burning of materials such as wood or straw for direct heat or as feedstock for producing electricity. While such uses will undoubtedly be of considerable importance in the future, liquid biofuels offer more immediate prospects.
The use of biofuels is now actively promoted by the European Commission. An upper limit of 10 per cent tax on biofuels is recommended for EU member states. A recent Commission proposal suggested that biofuels should constitute 5 per cent of the EU's total transport fuel by the year 2000. This would absorb the production of approximately six million hectares. It is essential that procedures are now put in place by this Government so that Ireland will be in a position to capitalise on this new opportunity. Already extensive demonstration projects on using plant oils, mainly rapeseed oil, as fuels are in place in France, Germany and Italy.
A number of industrial plants to produce esterified oil — rapeseed methyl ester or RME — are in operation or under construction in France and Germany. Esterified oil is mainly used in blends with diesel oil to power urban/city transport vehicles. Projects are supported by national Governments together with city and town councils. I am also delighted that Teagasc's Oak Park research centre in Carlow has led the way in this country in this whole area and has demonstrated the possibility of using such biofuels in buses, farm vehicles and boats. Liquid biofuels can be produced from a wide range of biomass feedstocks. They may be used alone or in mixtures with fossil fuels. The two biofuels most developed to date are ethanol and plant oils.
Bioethanol can be produced from a wide range of crops, particularly those which contain high levels of sugar or  starch. In Brazil ethanol for fuel is produced from sugar cane and in the USA from maize. In Ireland sugar beet, fodder beet, cereals and potatoes are the most likely of the currently grown crops. Production of ethanol from cereals is well established in the brewing industries.
Starch from potatoes is also commonly used for ethanol production in continental Europe. While the technology to produce ethanol from cereals, and to a lesser extent sugar beet/fodder, is well known there is a need to further examine their potential in light of new developments and more enlightened EU policies towards renewable fuels. Production of the feedstock raw materials would present no technical difficulties in this country. The existing sugar processing and malting industries should be capable of producing fuel alcohol without excessive capital investment.
Ethanol alone or in a petroleum mix is a well proven fuel. Ethanol could be used as an octane enhancer in Irish petroleum based fuels with considerable environmental advantage. Exemption from tax, plus lower priced cereals and other crops — as emerged in CAP proposals — together with other appropriate measures could make this economically attractive. The economic production of bioethanol in Ireland would, of course, require a political decision to waive the excise duty involved and/or an EU policy decision that ethanol should be used as an octane booster in petrol.
In recent years several significant developments have taken place which have rekindled interest in oil seed rape as a biodiesel fuel:
(i) development of engines which can burn unrefined rape seed oil; (ii) development of a new process to allow RSO to be burned in most conventional diesel engines; (iii) increasing concern about atmospheric pollution — the urban traffic problem and the more widespread concern about atmospheric CO2 levels; (iv) uncertainly about mineral fuel supplies  in the long term; (v) overproduction of crops for food use with a consequent increased interest in non-food uses of traditional and novel crops; (vi) CAP reform proposals encompassing land set-aside.
Cold pressed and esterified rape oils are now under commercial type demonstration tests in a number of EU countries, particularly France, Germany and Italy. Commercialisation is also at an advanced stage in Austria. The high cost of biodiesel relative to fossil fuels has been the main constraint to expanding its use to date. This could alter greatly if the carbon tax proposals come into effect in the EU. Exemption of biofuels from present fuel taxes by Governments would also be a critical factor. Policy in this direction has already been implemented in France.
I am proposing that the present Government puts in place procedures which would de-excise bioderived fuels, taking into account the greater environmental and economic good which would accrue from such a measure. It is now possible under the reformed CAP to use set-aside land to grow crops for non-food use and this should also have a positive impact especially if the excise difficulty is tackled.
Because of its low pollutant potential relative to diesel, biodiesel could have major benefit in cities with high traffic density and in environmentally sensitive areas. Dublin buses, for example, could use biodiesel with consequent environmental benefit. Vegetable based fuel oil could be used in motor powered boats and cruisers.
Production and use of liquid biofuels in Ireland would have the following advantages. It would afford the opportunity for additional use of land, including set-aside, and reduce dependency on imported fossil fuels. It would improve the environment, reduce CO2 emissions at local, regional and global levels and reduce sulphur containing derivatives. It reduces non-combustible hydrocarbons, the risk of water/soil contamination —  which is harmful to plant and animal life — and provides a clean extraction/ processing operation. It would improve the trade balance and afford additional employment opportunity in production, processing and distribution. It would mean additional income for farmers growing oil seed rape, additional activity in the crop production supplies sector, additional personnel in the construction and operation of processing plants and additional personnel in the transport of raw materials and end products.
As well as this being highly desirable, there is also an urgency in this important area because when GATT negotiations were being finalised the Blair House Agreement limited the area of oil seed that can be produced for biodiesel use to about 850,000 hectares. I believe that France and Germany produced in excess of 120,000 hectares in 1994 alone. Italy also has a substantial area and what concerns me is that, at this rate, the total area will be taken up quickly. If the Government does not become involved immediately to copperfasten an allocation for the country we might lose this opportunity forever. I am, therefore, requesting the Minister to take whatever action is needed to maximise Ireland's potential in this area.
Ms Kelly Ms Kelly
Ms Kelly: I second the motion. I will deal with a slightly different aspect of bioenergy. The challenge that faces us at the end of the 20th century is how the limited resources of this planet may be used to support a population of 5.4 billion people without using up all of those resources to the detriment of future generations. We must realise that the fossil fuels we now predominantly use are finite and cannot be replenished at the rate they are being consumed. Environmentalists agree there are three interconnected and interrelated problems that the world faces: growth of population, energy consumption and disposal of waste. Since 1900 world consumption of primary energy has risen from 600 million tonnes of oil to 8.2  billion tonnes in 1990. In the developed world ever increasing quantities of waste are being generated. It must remembered that there is no convenient global rubbish bin. Whatever we waste we keep with us on this planet.
The agricultural, industrial and domestic sectors produce a wide variety of organic waste. In the natural environment organic waste is decomposed and easily recycled into the biosystem. Difficulties arise from the concentration of waste production, be it in towns and cities or large animal intensive farms. The question we must face is how we can utilise this production of waste to our advantage. Micro-organisms can be harnessed to treat large quantities of waste and recycle these wastes into useful products. This can be done aerobically or anaerobically. The difference is that aerobically the energy from the waste is released as free energy, anaerobic bacteria convert organic material, in the absence of oxygen, to a mixture of gaseous products, principally methane CH4 and CO2. In this way the energy contained in waste products can be converted to more accessible and useful forms.
Agriculture can be used as a form of energy production. The concentration of pig production has grown from large, widely spread units to a concentration of huge units. In the Loughsheelin area in 1968 there were 68 units and over 9,000 pig-finishing places; in 1982 the number of units had decreased to 45 but the number of places had increased to 39,000. When one considers that one pig produces as much waste as four people that presents a major problem. Yet this effluent can and is being used in anaerobic digester units to harness this waste — which would be a problem — into biogas which is then used to run farm machinery and heat farm pig units.
For example, at the Bethehern Abbey Farm, Portglenone in Northern Ireland there is a 210 cubic metre digester tank which treats the waste from 300 beef cattle, a 20,000 chicken unit and the silage effluent from 2,000 tonnes of silage. The biogas is used to heat the monastery  and the grain drying unit. The liquid effluent — which is high in nitrogen — is used as a fertiliser and the solids, having been heat-treated to rid them of pathogens, are then used as compost. One can have then, within the farm unit, a complete energy cycle that uses waste products to run machinery, heat the house and the farm production units.
This anaerobic digester system can also be used in urban areas to treat municipal sewage waste. In Denmark near the town of Odense the sewage plant produces not only enough bioenergy to fuel the plant itself and supply its energy requirements but provides energy for a housing district in the locality. In Tullamore the 300 cubic metre continuous system produced almost enough energy to satisfy the plant's overall requirements. I feel more can be done in Ireland to deal with the twin problems of waste disposal and the need to rid ourselves of our over-dependence on fossil fuels as a source of energy.
The Limerick County Enterprise Board is currently promoting the extraction of gases from the county's old landfill sites as a means of alternative energy. When one considers that a tonne of municipal sewage waste can yield between 60 and 90 cubic metres of biogas and 390 kilograms of compost one can see that usage of a source — which is there and otherwise giving us a problem — is something we should encourage. Pilot projects are in use in other parts of Ireland, for example, North Kerry Products, Carberry Milk Products and Pfizers Chemical Corporation are all using this system to combine the elimination of waste from their plants with the production of energy. The harnessing of waste to produce energy helps solve two problems: how to have energy and how to dispose of waste.
Mr. Cassidy Mr. Cassidy
Mr. Cassidy: I welcome the motion and support the concept, on this very windy evening, when much energy will be expended elsewhere in the city at a  very famous sporting event. I welcome the Minister to the House and I congratulate him on his reappointment. It is nice that the midlands got a Minister of State.
The demand for energy in the next ten to 20 years will greatly outstrip the capacity of existing resources and may pose a serious threat to the environment. The Government motion to introduce a progressive energy policy is timely and this debate affords us an opportunity to express our views on this important matter. We must take a fresh look at our energy policies and the Government must clearly spell out its intentions on these issues which are important and relevant to the people. It must not be deterred from dealing with these issues because of an ideological attitude, especially among our friends in the Labour Party.
Conservation is important for the future of our country. There is widespread and unnecessary waste of energy resources and millions of pounds could be saved by the introduction of an energy conservation policy. Business and private consumers know that electricity is wasted, and this could be avoided. Advice and initiatives are invaluable in the energy conservation drive and this could make a large contribution to the elimination of electricity waste. Electricity is wasted in our homes and businesses. Everyone who uses electricity, whether in motors or for light, knows how much we rely on it. This is brought home to us in a special way when there is a power failure. We even rely on electricity in this distinguished building.
As regards the development of alternative energy, the work done by the Government and the ESB to date has been disappointing. Since the building of Ardnacrusha in 1929 little work has been done on the generation of electricity from water resources, apart from Turlough Hill. Lough Derg and the mountains around the lake offer great opportunities for the construction of pump storage facilities, similar to those  at Turlough Hill. There is enough water at present to generate electricity. However, the ESB has adopted a policy of using imported coal at Moneypoint and imported oil at Tarbert. I live in the midlands and the lake district where there are enormous opportunities to use the same ideas as those used in the Wicklow mountains. While I have no objection to these projects, which are welcome in those areas, they are based on expensive imported products, and this is brought home to us during an oil crisis.
The Minister of State is aware of the great national resource in the peatlands of the midland counties of Kildare, Laois, Offaly, Meath, Westmeath, Longford, Roscommon, Cavan and Carlow and of how important this area and peat and its products are to us. We await the announcement of the power station in the midlands and we know the Minister will not be found wanting in bringing this to a successful conclusion. I need not tell the Minister how important this is for the villages of Carbury and Rochfortbridge which were built as a result of the employment provided in these peatlands. We are the proud representatives of the people who sent us here. Perhaps the Minister could tell us if progress is being made in relation to this power station.
As an island we have a great opportunity to develop electricity from wind and wave power. The waves off the west coast must be our most valuable resource but we are not using it to its full potential. Small projects based on wave power would provide energy for cities, such as Galway or Cork, or small towns. Research would have to be carried out to make this a viable proposition but it would be cost effective.
I concur with the previous speakers and I can identify with them because I also come from rural Ireland. I agree with the suggestions put forward for the Minister's approval. A distinguished father of this House and a holder of the Offices of Cathaoirleach and Leas-Chathaoirleach piloted a project for the past number of years where his motor  car — the Lord Mayor of Dublin has a similar car — is run on oil grown from the products of set aside land. This could be used to keep imports down.
The amount of money spent to pay for oil to run motor cars in this country must be enormous. If one considers the increase in motor transport during the next ten or 20 years, it is mind boggling to think what could be saved if the use of this alternative fuel was encouraged. I am not familiar with the agricultural community, although I married a person from it, but enormous wealth is generated in this area. The former Senator from Laoighis-Offaly had his motor car on the most popular television show on RTE 1 a few months ago. I wish that project luck.
I concur with references made about the waste of energy at Lough Sheelin in the parish of Castlepollard, Castletown and Finnea. This is in the heart of pig fattening country which gives reasonable employment. Resources were wasted there until the former Tánaiste, Mr. John Wilson, used a dredging unit on that lake and brought it back to its former glory. An enormous amount of energy could be used from pig production. The Minister faces a great challenge in this area and there are marvellous opportunities for him to make his mark here.
How many times have we heard the name of the late Donogh O'Malley mentioned in both Houses and in every cumann and club throughout the country? He made his mark in education. Surely here is an opportunity for a distinguished Member, the Minister for State, Deputy Stagg, to pioneer a change in imports. We pay for oil while we have great natural resources, and many suggestions have been made in this debate alone.
This motion has been put down by the Labour Party. Fianna Fáil concurs with it but we do not want it placed on the agenda if nothing happens afterwards. I suggest to our friends in Government of all persuasions that we have another discussion on this matter in 12 months, to see what the Minister  and his Department have done to achieve these aims and what support we can give them.
Mr. Dardis Mr. Dardis
Mr. Dardis: Senator Cassidy's confidence in the stability of the Government is reassuring.
Ms Kelly Ms Kelly
Ms Kelly: It is well founded.
Acting Chairman (Mr. Sherlock) Acting Chairman (Mr. Sherlock)
Acting Chairman (Mr. Sherlock): That is a good note on which to end. Senator, your time is up.
Mr. Cassidy Mr. Cassidy
Mr. Cassidy: I was about to conclude. We are used to being in Government. Whoever is in Government, the current parties or ourselves, should come back here in 12 months so that we can monitor progress. An enormous saving could be made by the Exchequer. We could give our old age pensioners a £10 increase rather than giving that money to the oil barons of Iran or another country.
Mr. Ross Mr. Ross
Mr. Ross: Forgive me if I am slightly puzzled by the tone of this debate because I am always slightly suspicious when I find all sides in agreement on a motion. As discussed so far this is a motion on which we can all agree. We are all in favour of fresh air, a clean environment and what is called here “energy conservation and the production of energy from renewable sources”.
We all know we do not conserve enough energy and some of the statistics bandied about this House this evening are not only true but staggering. It is fairly easy for a Government to remedy these statistics with an education programme. Ms Sue Scott of the ESRI, an expert on domestic energy, said two months ago that fewer than 60 per cent of Irish homes have a lagging jacket, even though there is a return on that payment in a short period. She also said more than 60 per cent had attic insulation, which has a payback period of three to four years. In other words, we do not know anything about energy conservation but we agree it is a good thing,  which is half of this evening's motion. No one has said anything on that topic with which anyone will disagree. It is so obvious it is almost bland.
While we have concentrated on that part of the motion so far, the energy policy in A Government of Renewal can be supported by us all, as far as it goes. However, it does not recognise we are facing an energy crisis because the two great energy providers, Bord na Móna and the ESB, are in a critical position. I would like to hear from the Minister not just what he will do for renewable energy causes or how much he will do to encourage people to conserve energy but what he intends to do about these bodies which will implement and effect his policy.
As the Minister knows there is an EU competition directive on the way which will mean dramatic changes. The ESB has been crying out for a price rise, which has been denied since 1986 — probably for good reasons — but it cannot continue to operate unless it is allowed to do so on a commercial basis. In the future a lot of energy will be generated from abroad and imported. The ESB will be subject to open competition whether we like it or not. A clear policy on this must be pronounced by the Government in the near future.
In July 1994 the ESB itself produced a document, ESB in Transition; it is a cri de coeur to the last Government which applies to this one also. From the point of view of this great provider of energy the position is totally unsatisfactory and alarming. In the few minutes I have I will concentrate on the relationship between the ESB and Bord na Móna and how the Government intends to resolve it. This is not an easy problem because the relationship is almost incestuous and the bodies and successive Governments have been unable to resolve it. The problem is that the relationship is totally artificial and cannot be sustained in a competitive environment. I hope to hear the Minister say what he intends to do in this case.
The document states:
 Neither peat-fired electricity nor alternative energy sources can compete with conventional fossil fuels in their present state of development. If Government policy decrees their use [“decrees” is a strong word, “dictates” could have been used — in other words, if the ESB is forced to use peat-fired electricity], they must be allowed to operate outside the free market environment, with the extra costs of the power they generate shared fairly among all electricity users.
To my simple mind that means peat-fired electricity is no longer economic and is uncompetitive and if the Government insists or decrees the ESB must use it, then we must acknowledge it is operating outside the free market. That is the ESB's point of view. It is a strong point of view and no doubt the Minister will be able to contradict it but it has been expressed by a semi-State body which is not lacking in guilt on uncompetitive practices in the past.
The document goes on to state, under the heading “Use of Peat”:
Government policy requires the use of milled peat for electricity generation with a view to maintaining a native fuel contribution to long term electricity production while utilising the resource as efficiently and economically as possible. Peat is very significant to the economy of the midlands [which is exactly what Senator Cassidy said].
For a variety of reasons, however, relating to the nature of the fuel, the high cost of energy conversion and the capital structure of Bord na Móna itself, electricity produced by existing stations is expensive. These stations are run as base load plants even though the electricity output is dearer than from other sources. This cost is passed on to the electricity customer and represents about 5 per cent of the electricity bill as present.
In an industry where generation competition will be a major factor, the additional costs associated with continued or expanded use of milled peat will have to be clearly and transparently  identified and charged as a cost on all electricity users irrespective of the source of production. Similar provisions for local fuels already exist in the UK and Germany. [In other words if we are going to have this type of electricity, the costs must be transparent so that we are aware of them.] Given the inevitable decline in milled peat usage as ageing plants close, a proposal to build new milled peat capacity in line with stated Government policy is under discussion. The price of power from such plant is unlikely to be competitive with alternative production costs.
They are saying that we can, if we wish, use peat to generate electricity and we can force the ESB to do so but it will be working in an uncompetitive environment. The ESB, in thinly coded language, is saying to the Government that this is unacceptable but it cannot do anything about it.
We must look at not only the ESB but Bord na Móna. The twin energy providers of this nation are in a state of bankruptcy. They are both bust. They have Government loans and net deficits that are unsustainable. Recently the Minister apparently has let it be known that the huge debt of Bord na Móna is to be moved off the balance sheet of Bord na Móna to the NTMA. Perhaps we could be enlightened about this. That is not the right way to run an energy policy: to signal to the ESB and to Bord na Móna — Bord na Móna's debt is £170 million — that such debts can be incurred with a faulty energy policy and can then be removed from the balance sheet.
Dr. Henry Dr. Henry
Dr. Henry: I welcome the Minister and the debate on this motion. It is important to remember that the need to find renewable sources of energy is not just an Irish problem. It is an international problem and I wish to discuss it from that point of view.
The cases made by Senator Townsend for crop growing as a source of energy and by Senator Kelly for the use of biogas have been ably made. However, there are other sources of renewable energy in this country which we could  investigate. Senator Ross has just pointed out how uneconomic are some of the sources we are using at present. Perhaps the economy of some alternative methods might be more competitive in this country than in others.
In the Seanad I have often tried to press the point that this country with its well educated — particularly with the introduction of free third level education — graduates should put more time and energy into research and development. We should try to become the centre for research and development into renewable sources of energy within the European Union and try to secure support and funding for that from other countries in the Union. We have the personnel. We have excellent engineering graduates, chemists, physicists and back-up personnel from the regional technical colleges so we would have no shortage of well qualified technical personnel to do such research.
In many cases we will find that we have the raw materials. Senator Townsend pointed out that land in set-aside can be used for the production of rape seed and so forth. Senator Kelly is quite right in saying that there is plenty of methane gas produced here while Senator Cassidy mentioned areas where it could be produced. As far as I know, only 15 per cent of the gas produced by both landfills and slurry has been garnered for productive use. Surely we could do research in these areas so that more could be produced.
If we have one raw material it is wind. While there is a wind farm and research centre in County Mayo there is an enormous amount of research to be done. It is well known that 100 windmills do not produce the same amount of power as one windmill multiplied by 100 because they interfere with each other. However, surely there is the possibility of researching what size units would constitute maximum benefit units and so forth. We could also investigate if they are only applicable for small towns or for just one farm.
Tidal energy has been looked at in the past but because of the salt in the sea there have been great difficulties. Sometimes I wonder if this has not been  rubbished by vested interests. New alloys, plastics and coatings for machinery are produced every day. I have heard distinguished people in the energy sector say that there is great scope for further research and development in this area. With all countries becoming more interested in the global decrease in the availability of fossil fuels it is an area worth investigating.
Solar energy is being utilised. Look at the new civic offices which use solar energy. Perhaps we should look at what is the maximum efficiency unit for various constructions bearing in mind that while we have plenty of cloud cover we also, for much of the year, have very long days so that one can make up for what is lost as a result of cloud cover.
These are other areas worthy of research. Geothermal energy is being used in Temple Bar. We have tremendous ground water at a temperature of between 13 to 15 degrees Centigrade all the time. It has been there for hundreds or thousands of years and it has the advantage over other sources I have mentioned in that it is a constant source of energy.
Senator Cassidy mentioned Turlough Hill and the damming of rivers. That suggestion appears to have gone out of fashion but perhaps it should be looked at again particularly when one looks at the economy of scale in the fossil fuel plants we are using at present.
These sources can be looked at from a research and development point of view with this country acting as the European Union centre for such activities. In addition, recognising that many of the sources are intermittent, we could look at the serious criticism levelled at them, for example, the problem of slotting them into the national electricity or gas grids. We could investigate what size units they could supply, etc. Having the personnel for such research and having the raw materials readily available, perhaps we should try to put forward a comprehensive project on the investigation of alternative sources of renewable energy to the European Union. We might be surprised at the support we could get from other countries which do  not have these resources so readily available.
Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications (Mr. Stagg) Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications (Mr. Stagg)
Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications (Mr. Stagg): It is an honour and privilege for me to address this motion this evening and I commend the Senators who proposed it for affording me the opportunity to do so.
While debate in the Oireachtas since the formation of the Government of Renewal has focused primarily on overall policy issues — with the emphasis of late on its fiscal and economic policies — it is timely that the Legislature should now focus attention on the pillars on which overall Government policy is constructed. One such crucial pillar is in the energy area and, in particular, in the energy conservation and renewables sphere. While the two areas are inextricably interwoven, for the sake of clarity I propose to cover them separately. However, first let me set out Government policy objectives in these areas as enunciated in the policy agreement A Government of Renewal.
That policy agreement recognises the economic as well as the environmental case for energy conservation. It subscribes to the belief that progress must be made in this area through a combination of incentive and charges. To this end the following objectives are set: to contribute to the preparation of a pan-European taxation policy on carbon and fossil fuel inputs, commonly known as carbon tax; to implement a national energy conservation programme for local authority housing and the homes of those living on low incomes; the provision of advice and support for improved energy use in business, including an examination of extending the BES to those companies which would install energy saving technologies; the strengthening of the policy making function of the Department of Energy in order to oversee a coherent national energy policy guiding the activities of the State energy utilities — the ESB, BGE, Bord na Móna and INPC; the setting of targets for electricity generation from renewable sources and removing any remaining obstacles such as the lack  of proper pricing and adequate incentives to their integration with the national grid. These overall objectives encapsulate a few objectives in this area and are, in essence, the major points of reference en route to policy ends.
The thesis underlying these objectives is fairly straightforward. The message is that energy efficiency and conservation matters to all of us. By using energy wisely we can reduce cost, improve the environment and create jobs in the country, all without sacrificing comfort. Energy wasted is money wasted is opportunity foregone.
Energy is an unavoidable requirement for activity in all sectors of the economy. In a country such as Ireland, where economic development is incomplete, there is an increasing demand for energy. It is therefore critical, from both an environmental and economic perspective, to ensure that such demand is moderated and efficiency maximised. This can be achieved by raising awareness of the importance of energy efficiency and by ensuring efficient and rational use. Ensuring that energy is consumed as efficiently as possible is one of the three primary objectives of Irish energy policy.
In Ireland, surveys in a number of sectors over the past number of years have confirmed the potential to save up to 20 per cent of current energy consumption and, at present, that 20 per cent final cost to the consumer is the unbelievable figure of £2,500 million per year. That is the saving that could be achieved according to the surveys which have been carried out on a 20 per cent reduction of present use, by the effective use of that energy. Government programmes in recent years have increased awareness, but it is recognised that an enhanced and concentrated effort in that regard is now needed. The promotion of energy conservation is therefore identified as a high priority for the Government.
There are, of course, many ways in which one can look at the cost of energy conservation. These varying views, such as the macroeconomics' view, the environmental view and the social view, place different demands on Government.  It is a function of Government to adjudicate on the various competing and conflicting demands and to chart a balanced and reasoned policy response. That policy response must reduce energy consumption, improve the environment, enhance industrial competitiveness, contribute to employment, respond to EU policy, demonstrate benefits of energy conservation and increase the awareness of energy efficiency.
The Economic Infrastructure Operational Programme sets out clearly what we hope to achieve in the energy conservation and renewable areas up to the end of the century. I am happy to say that we have already begun to see results. The highlight of the energy conservation element of the programme is the establishment of an Irish Energy Centre. The driving force behind the establishment of the centre is the need to give a renewed impetus to the energy conservation area. Policy in this area has tended down the years to be reactive rather than proactive. That is not to denigrate the very valuable work done in the past, especially when most needed at times of energy crises.
Maintaining an energy conservation presence has now paid dividends on two fronts especially: a body of expertise has been built up and will be quick to deliver on the new programme initiatives and real resources have been allocated to the sector for the period of the Operational Programme 1994-99. A total of £36 million is being made available to the conservation and renewable area in a combination of EU and Exchequer funds over the operational programme period.
The purpose of the Irish Energy Centre is to devise and deliver energy conservation grant schemes on behalf of my Department, to deliver technical advice on energy conservation issues to all sectors of the economy, to raise energy awareness levels throughout the country through publicity, promotional and information campaigns and to co-ordinate the different aspects of the overall energy conservation programme.
The Irish Energy Centre is a novel departure in public service terms, with  an independent public profile and linked to a National Energy Advisory Board. The centre is a joint initiative between my Department and Forbairt and will be funded primarily through a mixture of Exchequer and EU moneys. It will have a budget of £21 million approximately over the next five years.
In one of my first ministerial acts in this new area, I finalised the Memorandum of Understanding with Forbairt necessary to solidify the IEC's standing and to formally launch it. This is a unique accommodation between a semi-State agency and a line Department other than its parent Department. It is an arrangement which overcomes some of the inherent rigidities in the public policy system and it is a model which could be used elsewhere. It allows for a target driven relationship between my Department, Forbairt and the Irish Energy Centre. One of the targets is the realisation of energy savings of £50 million by 1999. My Department is in the process of agreeing a whole range of ambitious targets with regard to all the centre's activities. In addition, the centre is a State agency and I would encourage industry and the public to use it to the full.
The establishment of the Irish Energy Centre recognises that, in order to promote energy efficiency effectively, it is necessary to create a new culture with regard to energy consumption, to provide detailed advise and expert guidance with regard to best practice in individual centres, to encourage the development of companies offering energy audit facilities and advise and provide incentives to companies to invest in new systems and technology. A proper infrastructure is required to develop and co-ordinate activities within this programme and the centre, with its regional presence, responds to that need.
The Irish Energy Centre has already launched a number of measures, and others are at an advanced planning stage. Already there are two grant schemes in place, the energy audit grant scheme and the energy efficiency investment grant scheme. Under the audit  scheme, grants of up to 40 per cent are available to energy users in the industrial, commercial and institutional sectors towards the cost of hiring consultants to conduct energy audits and to advise on the steps to be taken to improve energy efficiency. A total of £1.6 million is available for this scheme.
Under the energy efficiency investment scheme grant assistance will be provided to energy users in the business and institutional sectors for investment in energy efficient technologies. This scheme covers the implementation of the recommendations of energy audits and provides grant support for investment in targeted energy efficient technologies. A total of £3.6 million is available under this scheme.
The industrial sector is one of the most reactive to financial signals. The impact of expenditure in the sector is relatively easy to measure. The services sector is no less reactive. However, the services sector's costs are not a significant element of its overall expenditure. Nevertheless, this sector is an important user of energy and it is therefore important to encourage energy conservation. This measure addresses both sectors.
The provision of technical advice is an important element of the Irish Energy Centre's remit. This covers the provision of technical advice and support to industrial and commercial companies, including seminars on specific energy conservation, and an initial point of contact for advice on energy efficiency matters will be provided. In addition, the preparation and publication of a series of good practice guides on critical areas will be provided. Aspects, such as the efficient use of fuel, will be covered and action will be taken in specific subsectoral areas, including the agri-food and dairy industries. Each good practice guide will have the back up of workshops held on a regional basis. The provision of training for architects, surveyors, engineers and managers in energy analysis skills will also be provided, which meets the point made by Senator Henry.
As I have already indicated, the Irish Energy Centre will be organised on a  regional basis. In this regard, the centre recently invited proposals for regionally based bodies, who would provide national services in the areas of renewable energies and professional training in energy conservation and efficiency. The Irish Energy Centre will place contracts of two to three years duration for the operation of two such offices. These offices will be located so as to give the Irish Energy Centre a real presence throughout the country. It is, therefore, a truly national initiative. These new offices will complement the existing outlets at Sligo and Cork.
The centre's promotional work will include initiatives such as the co-ordination of an annual national energy awareness week, market research on energy conservation attitudes and a series of education initiatives such as the current transition year display project and a cross-Border schools project. These educational projects seek to involve and interest schoolgoers in energy conservation issues. An interest forged at an early age tends to remain with children and, additionally, they also get their parents involved in these projects.
The cross-Border project is a joint initiative between the Irish Energy Centre and Co-operation North and one which my Department has been very pleased to support. As well as encouraging the study of energy related topics, the project helps to build understanding between the participating students, North and South, as the prizes involve an exchange programme. Further promotion through the sponsorship of the high profile television programme “Our House” will continue and also the use of appropriate media to increase the profile of energy conservation and efficiency.
Funding will also be provided for initiatives which will promote the energy conservation message. Actions to be carried out will include encouraging the establishment of audit and house certification companies, to which I will refer in more detail later: developing companies to help provide energy conservation measures for the elderly and  low income groups, to which I will also return later; and examining the potential for using renewable energy sources.
The National Energy Advisory Board is another important element in the renewed vigour with which energy conservation and renewables issues are being tackled. The board is interposed between me, as Minister, and the centre's executive and is charged with the task of co-ordinating the implementation of Government policy in relation to energy efficiency, renewable energy and research across the various energy utilities.
The board's membership is drawn from the ESB, Bord na Móna, the Irish National Petroleum Corporation, Bord Gáis Éireann and the social partners. It provides a cross sectoral forum within which to examine the progress of programmes in these fields. It also avoids unnecessary overlap between the agencies. It has also a key role in identifying gaps in the overall strategy and proposing measures to fill these. It allows for more co-ordination in the energy conservation and efficiency efforts of the individual members of the board.
I will now deal with the area of renewable energy, for which I thank Members for homing in on in their contributions so far. Renewable energy offers undoubted benefits, both in terms of sustainable development and protection of the environment. Some renewable technologies are already economically competitive today; others could become so in five to ten years. This development process must be encouraged and supported.
It is of interest to note that only 2 per cent of Ireland's energy requirement is currently being provided by renewables and, in line with current overall EU trends, the biggest contributor to this share comes from biomass, particularly wood. However, other renewables such as hydropower, wind and solar energy are also represented. It is this increasing degree of diversification in recent years which is, perhaps, the most welcome trend.
The main initiative at the moment is the ongoing alternative energy requirement scheme being run by the ESB at  the request of my Department. Under this scheme, independent contractors will develop up to 75 megawatts of new installed electricity generating capacity utilising alternative energy sources by 1997. The ESB will contract to purchase this electricity. The sources will include combined heat and power and renewable energy such as hydro, wind, landfill gas, biomass and waste, many of which have been referred to by Members.
The scheme known as the 75 megawatt alternative energy requirement comprises a combination of price support and grant aid, the eventual cost of which will be transparently identified and passed on to the consumer by the ESB. The price per kilowatt payable under the AER is set down in two tariffs for contracted electricity purchase — an average of 4p for renewable energy generators and 3p for combined heat and power generators using fossil fuels.
To date, the ESB has assessed the projects for technical merit and issued connection quotes to the successful applicants. These applicants then submitted business plans and grant applications before 3 January 1995 and the ESB assessed them for commercial viability. The ESB finalised a set of recommendations to my Department which were received in my office yesterday evening. The ESB report is currently being examined by my officials and a final decision on the precise contribution to be made by each technology will be made by me in the very near future.
Following the completion of the competitive process, it is intended to build on this scheme and the setting of further policy will be determined on the basis of conclusions drawn from the current scheme. I am very pleased by the healthy and enthusiastic response to the present scheme with applications far exceeding the available 75 megawatts. This is a factor which will be very much to the fore in my examination of the future options.
Regarding the domestic sector, the following initiatives are at present being pursued. My Department is currently in consultation with the Department of the  Environment on the implementation of a national energy conservation strategy for local authority homes. Indeed, I am proud to recall from my time at the Department of the Environment that I was responsible for two major initiatives on local authority housing. I sanctioned the installation of full central heating systems in houses — the practice up until then had been to install back-boilers or ranges with no radiator outlets. Additionally, I sanctioned the replacement of external doors and windows with more durable hardwood or weather proof material. Both these initiatives increased the comfort levels in local authority homes and, of course, contributed to energy conservation.
As mentioned earlier, in a separate initiative the IEC and my Department are currently devising a strategy targeted at the homes of the elderly and those on low incomes. This will entail the extension of the energy action model, which will be known to many Senators. We plan to tap into the dynamism of the local area or community approach which is involved in energy action. In addition, the Irish Energy Centre is currently working on an energy conservation booklet for households.
My Department is also in consultation with the Department of the Environment regarding the amendment of the building regulations. This amendment arises from the need to strengthen the energy conservation elements of the regulations so as to provide for the energy ratings of buildings. Home energy rating is a priority for my Department and a pilot scheme has been running for the last two years. Rating involves a measure of the energy use of a home or building and it provides an index against which the relative energy efficiency of a house can be assessed. It is the equivalent of the miles per gallon usage of a car and would, in the same way, provide invaluable information to home owners and prospective tenants and purchasers. My Department is committed to the widespread adoption of home energy rating and is, at present, pursuing the matter vigorously with the Department of the Environment.
 The IEC, as mentioned already, and of course the ESB through its demand side management initiatives, will deliver advice and support right across the business spectrum. A large part of the thinking behind our energy conservation programme was the growth of service and support companies in the independent sector and the creation of new jobs there. The programme will create the conditions for that growth to take place and these companies will complement the activities of the centre and the ESB.
The implementation of an energy policy has to have due regard for its potential effects on the environment. There is close co-operation and consultation between my Department and the Department of the Environment to ensure that energy considerations are integrated into environmental policy and environmental considerations are implemented into energy policy.
In essence, the primary objective is that a balanced approach is pursued and that any environmental measures which are adopted should not lead to the imposition of excessive energy costs on industry and other economic sectors with little or no environmental benefit. The recent establishment of a green network of Departments has given added impetus to the integration of environmental considerations into key sectoral policies and general decision making processes. This is a formal forum where representatives from key Departments meet on a regular basis to consider current environmental developments and how they might impinge on their spheres of responsibility.
It is also true to say that the increased emphasis being placed by the Government on energy conservation and efficiency and on the development of renewable energy sources will also be environmentally friendly and will contribute to the realisation of our targets for the stabilisation and limitation of greenhouse gas emissions and acid particulates.
We are in times of great change in the energy sector and, as has been said by a number of speakers and as I said at the outset, I welcome this debate and the contributions made on all sides on the  House. I am taking careful note of contributions made and I look forward to fulfilling the invitation issued to me by Senator Cassidy to return in a year's time and to account for my stewardship as to how I have managed the brief.
Mr. Enright Mr. Enright
Mr. Enright: At the outset, I wish the Minister of State a happy and positive period in office in the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications.
We should not underestimate the importance of the Energy side of the Department and the work of the ESB and Bord na Móna. The Minister dealt with renewable energy. This is of immense importance. We must examine the position where only 2 per cent of our energy requirements come from renewable energy sources. There have been many attempts to date to generate further electricity from biomass and wood, for example, but they have not been as successful as we would wish. However, I hope the ESB, in conjunction with Bord na Móna, will continue these initiatives and research because the issue is of immense importance.
I welcome the policies set out in A Government of Renewal with regard to energy. One item mentioned is the strengthening of the policy making function of the Department of Energy in order to oversee a coherent national energy policy, guiding the activities of the State energy utilities, the ESB, Bord Gáis Éireann, Bord na Móna and INBC. It is important that there is a positive overall approach to energy. In the past I have requested successive Governments to produce a White Paper on energy policy but without success. A White Paper, which later becomes Government policy, takes a long time to prepare but in the past number of years we have not been sufficiently prepared for the changes that are taking place. I ask the Minister and the Government to consider preparing a White Paper, not just for the lifetime of this Government but for future Governments so that they can decide the priorities best suited for the years ahead. Such a policy would be of immense importance to everybody.
 Other speakers mentioned the debts incurred by the ESB and Bord na Móna. I admit that I have a vested interest in the working of the ESB and Bord na Móna because I reside in an area surrounded by bogs. No matter which direction I take from my house in the morning, I encounter people employed by the ESB and Bord na Móna. Since they have played a major part in the economic life of the midlands, I am interested in this subject. However, Bord na Móna's overall capital debt is in the region of £120 million. This debt was incurred by the company as a direct result of the policies of successive Governments who directed it at different times to proceed with building power stations and briquette factories, to buy bogs, to arrange drainage of the bog at a massive cost and then the other briquette factories which were planned did not go ahead because of the considerable costs involved. On occasion I feel very hurt and angry when people say that Bord na Móna accumulated that debt. To date, it has received no capital funding from anybody and anything it has achieved has been by its own hard work.
Mr. Cassidy Mr. Cassidy
Mr. Cassidy: Hear, hear.
Mr. Enright Mr. Enright
Mr. Enright: I pay tribute to the late Todd Andrews and others like him who had a vision of Ireland and the role of the ESB and Bord na Móna. We need vision as to where we are going. It should be clearly understood that if the £120 million debt continues to hang over Bord na Móna, it will bring down the company; I have no doubt about that. In the past, people referred to Bord na Móna as the jewel in the crown of semi-State bodies. This was correct because the company had a great record. It was held up as an example to all other competing boards. During the various oil crises, Bord na Móna was directed by the Government to expand and develop. This resulted in the company incurring substantial debts and the consequent problems. However, if the debt problem is allowed to continue, it  will sink the ship of Bord na Móna. This cannot be allowed.
In The Irish Times last Saturday and the Irish Independent last Tuesday references were made to the point that perhaps the National Treasury Management Agency or some such body could take over Bord na Móna's debt. I make the strongest appeal to the Minister to take such measures, to ensure this debt is removed and then to proceed to provide equity to Bord na Móna. There are a number of power stations in County Offaly, Shannonbridge, Ferbane and Rhode, and every effort must be made to keep them going. Bord na Móna and the ESB have great futures. We should remember that we are a sovereign and independent nation and we must have our own energy source. The day we have no alternative to imported energy is the day the country is weakened. This is why the ESB and Bord na Móna must be strengthened and supported, particularly by this House.
Mr. Dardis Mr. Dardis
Mr. Dardis: I congratulate my constituency colleague, Deputy Stagg, on his appointment as Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications. I commend him for his work as Minister of State for housing. I am glad to see him in the House this evening. We could defeat this motion and it would be interesting to see the outcome of a vote. I am constantly tempted now, given the delicate balance in the Government, to see the outcome of a vote.
Ms Kelly Ms Kelly
Ms Kelly: The Senator should not be mischievous.
Mr. Enright Mr. Enright
Mr. Enright: This deserves delicate support.
Mr. Dardis Mr. Dardis
Mr. Dardis: On the assumption that Members may be detained at a sporting fixture elsewhere, which I understand has been abandoned due to crowd trouble——
Mr. Enright Mr. Enright
Mr. Enright: Regrettably.
Mr. Dardis Mr. Dardis
Mr. Dardis: ——which is most regrettable, we will not force it to a division.  It is also interesting to speculate to what extent the hot air, which is occasionally generated in this House, could contribute to a reduction in the national energy need. Perhaps this could be harnessed at times.
I wish to raise a number of specific matters with the Minister, one of which will not surprise him, that is, the Europeat power station and its possible future. Given the Minister's constituency, he is aware of what has happened to the rural communities of west Kildare and parts of Counties Offaly and Laois and the job losses in the ESB and Bord na Móna over the years.
For the last eight or nine months the carrot has been held out to people in that area that Europeat 1 will be constructed by Bord na Móna. It was in the National Plan which was submitted to Brussels; it was “opened” on about 16 occasions by the former Minister, Deputy Cowen, but we still do not know whether it is to come. It is incumbent on the new Administration to let the people know exactly what is the position of Europeat 1. Is it to be built and if so when and where? There will be a lead in period of about three years before it will be up and running.
The station itself will not create many jobs, although 60 jobs in the area concerned would be significant, but there would be a significant spin-off in the peatland communities through the work of Bord na Móna.
Senator Ross cast some doubts on the efficiency of these stations. He spoke about transparency. He was reading from a document produced by the ESB so the conclusion is probably not very surprising. In this case, as in the other cases the Minister has mentioned where we would be using electricity from hydro or wind generation, the power would be sold to the ESB at a commercial rate because these companies would have to generate the power at a commercial rate.
The old element of cross subsidisation and hiding the true costs does not arise in this case. It is imperative that the uncertainty surrounding this development be removed. I realise it was subject to scrutiny by Brussels and that was  used as an excuse for the delay, but how long will it take before we know the answer? A station of this size and nature, given the technology which is now available, can be operated efficiently and profitably — there are precedents in Finland of which we are aware. Some of the criticisms made in respect of its viability are wide of the mark. It can be operated economically.
The motion addresses the question of alternative sources of energy. I commend Senator Townsend and his colleagues for their approach to the debate. It is unquestionable that the supply of fossil fuels which is available and which is being frittered away will diminish as time goes on. At some point in the future we will have to rely on alternatives to produce energy. There is a superficial attraction in saying that oil seed rape should be used for fuel or that beet and potatoes can be converted into fuel. However, the cost is a central question. All I have read about his matter suggests that there is a negative energy balance in producing a litre of fuel. In other words, more energy goes into the system than will come out at the other end.
Experiments were conducted on a commercial scale in France where some of that theory was tested and unless there was a significant degree of subsidisation from the state these schemes would not operate. One gets to a point when the fossil fuels become so scarce and expensive that they are no longer viable. However we are some way from that point.
I, like many other Senators, find it absolutely objectionable — I speak as a practising cereal grower — to have land producing nothing. It is difficult to come to terms with that psychologically and it is difficult to explain to a starving world. Superficially, it is attractive to suggest that oil seed rape or other fuel crops should be grown to provide energy. As a farmer it is my view that unless the product was substantially subsidised coming out of a set aside field I would not be able to produce it at a profit if it were to be viable fuel. That needs to be addressed, probably at European level.
 I have to dispute what Senator Cassidy said about Lough Sheelin being restored to its former glory. It is far from its former glory, but that is by the way and underlines the Minister's and my interest in angling. The economics of methane digestion from pig units are extremely questionable except on large units with a big supply of slurry available. I know studies have shown that there would be a pay back period of five years. However, one would need fairly significant subsidisation to achieve the energy savings required.
Wind farms would appear to be the most viable option. I have seen them in Denmark and I know they work. Given that on the west coast of Ireland the highest mean wind speeds in Europe prevail, it would seem that a strong case could be made for the development of wind farms. I do not see why that could not be done on a private commercial scale apart from State input into the process.
The Minister referred to hydropower and solar power. With regard to angling there are worries that there is to be a significant number of hydro units put into rivers on a private basis, particularly in salmon rivers, that could damage the stocks. We are confronted with a conflict between the development of tourism and what might happen. One other solution is nuclear energy but I would not recommend it and I am sure it would get no support in the House. That debate is well and truly over and it will not be reopened.
I share Senator Enright's suggestion that we have to produce a national vision of the scale produced by those who created the ESB and other facilities in the early part of the century. We need to look at our policy and ask if it is radical enough to meet the needs of the next century. Is it radical enough to respond to the decline in fossil fuels and to respond to the increases in energy costs?
The carbon tax worries me. I know the Minister did not say he would introduce it — he said he would have an input into the policy at European level. I do not want him to adopt the green  agenda on that matter. With regard to Turlough Hill the energy balance is questionable. One is using energy off peak to pump water to the top of a hill so that it can be reintroduced into the system at peak times and when the need arises. The energy balance is questionable but I can see the strategic and economic reasons for doing it.
Mr. Finneran Mr. Finneran
Mr. Finneran: I welcome the Minister and I wish him well in his new portfolio. I thank him for his help and co-operation when he was at the Department of the Environment dealing with housing. He was most approachable with regard to issues which were important to those involved with local authorities. I have no doubt that he will give his full energy to his present portfolio.
Energy, its conservation and energy policy are important issues at present. Their importance is brought to the fore in light of ongoing discussions about two of our commercial State bodies, the ESB and Bord na Móna. I welcome what the Minister said about the extension of offices. He did not home in on an area where there is considerable loss — our generating plants.
Dr. Paul Monaghan of UCG is one of 15 experts in Europe who combined their expertise and have presented a report which proves beyond doubt that efficiency from a generating station is approximately 35 per cent and that 55 per cent at least goes into the atmosphere. It is wasted because it is emitted through coolers or whatever. Dr. Monaghan and others have suggested an alternative generating process known as combined heat and power or CHP, which has been implemented in Finland and in America. The question of CHP is exciting given that some Members have spoken about a vision for the future. The report presented by Dr. Paul Monaghan and his colleagues should be studied in depth by the Government, public representatives and semi-State bodies.
I refer to some of the ideas put forward by Dr. Monaghan in relation to a vision of generating capacity in the year 2000. The report recommends a combined CHP plant approximately 5 to 10 megawatts located at or near a peat bog  supplying electricity to the ESB grid and supplying heat to housing, industry, horticulture, fish farming and hotel and leisure facilities. He explains why it should be 5 to 10 megawatts rather than 80 or 120 and why the location is important, that is, beside towns, industrial estates, etc. I investigated the situation in Finland to see if such a system works. In Finland a combined heat and power peat burning plant supplies power to a town of 65,000.
The vision we should have as regards generating capacity over the next 20, 30 or 40 years should home in on research on combined heat and power. If 100 acres of glasshouses were located close to a power station, heating costs would be considerably reduced because at present 50 to 55 per cent of heat is emitted into the atmosphere or into a cooling system. While we might consider lagging jackets and other measures important, their benefits are minuscule compared to the considerable loss of energy at generating stations. We have the most inefficient generating capacity in Europe, and possibly in the developed world. Even in our most modern plant, the coal burning plant at Moneypoint, there is up to a 35 per cent loss in efficiency. Although it is hard to believe, these are the facts.
While a short debate in the House will not resolve the matter, it gives us an opportunity to highlight the inefficiencies in the present system. I do not blame any Minister or the semi-State bodies in this regard. They have had to work under stringent conditions over the years and with financial handicaps. It now time to review the situation and to consider the vision which is being spoken about as regards generating efficiency. The Minister and the Department must use the technology and research compiled by experts all over Europe. They must look at the system which has been implemented in the United States and in Finland because this country is more suited to that type of development.
While it may seem appropriate to have one large power station — I am told departmental officials will say it is  totally uneconomical to have a second or a third generation station at this time — experts will tell us that we should have five small stations. The Minister should investigate that before opting for one large peat power station. If he initiates a debate or asks the officials to wait until somebody looks at the options, he will have done a good job.
There are large deposits of peat in this country and in my area alone there are 19,000 acres of unused peat. In 1984, 250 people worked on these bogs, while ten or 12 work there today. I hope more people will be employed seasonally and that the works in Derrynafada in Ballyforan will be maintained. The development of our peat resources are of vital importance and has a vital role to play provided we do proper research and use proper technology. If we do that, we will not only develop our peat resources, which would be environmentally friendly, but we will provide opportunities in terms of energy to other areas, including industry.
Ms O'Sullivan Ms O'Sullivan
Ms O'Sullivan: I welcome the Minister to the House. The debate has been interesting and a number of new ideas and concepts have been discussed. In many ways Senator Enright and the two previous speakers touched on what this motion is about. We must try to be as self-sufficient and as environmentally friendly as possible in terms of the energy we use. At present only 2 per cent of our energy comes from renewable resources. It is only a small percentage in terms the EU objectives of doubling the 1991 contribution of renewal energy sources to a total EU energy demand of 8 per cent by the year 2005. We have a long way to go in this regard.
Senator Mooney's call that we should return to this debate in a year's time was wise — we will probably need to return to it for many years. In that context, I support what Senator Henry said — that we need to concentrate on research and development because we have a long way to go in replacing non-renewable energy with renewable energy sources. I welcome the fact that an energy centre and an advisory board have been set up and that we have systems in place to  improve the situation, including energy audits and various grants, to ensure that industries will take steps to make their technology more efficient.
Senator Finneran referred to the wasting of energy by many of our systems, both domestically and industrially. Appliances that are often not efficient are used in many homes. I understand there is a forthcoming EU directive on labelling appliances with regard to their energy efficiency. This will contribute to an increased awareness of the problem.
Awareness is one of the problems which does not yet impinge very much on our consciousness. We did not begin to think about issues such as making homes more energy efficient until fairly recently. Indeed, the Minister referred to his tenure in the Department of the Environment; that issue has only begun to be addressed in the last few years in relation to local authority housing. In many ways, we are only beginning this debate and taking action on the issue. Those actions that have already been taken are to be welcomed.
There are many kinds of energy sources available to us — some of them, such as wind and solar power, have been referred to already. There have been some experiments with solar energy but since we do not get a lot of sun here, that would not be a great factor. However, wind and wave power would be two sources that could be used more. We should support whatever research is being done in those areas. As the Minister again pointed out, there is much scope and potential for job creation in many of these areas and there are many new areas that need to be tested and tried out.
Members from the midlands talked about the turf generating stations; many people referred to stations close to where they live. I grew up about two miles from Ardnacrusha power station in the shadow of the Headrace, which is the canal that brings the water from the River Shannon at O'Brien's Bridge to Ardnacrusha, where it generates electricity. It is then returned through the Tailrace to the River Shannon. This was regarded as a miracle at the time it was  built. Elderly people around the region said people came from all over Ireland to see this wonderful construction, which was built with the assistance of German engineers. It was an extraordinary technological feat at the time. As Senator Dardis said, maybe we need men of vision to use their imagination.
The concept of generating energy through hydroelectric power has served us well. It would have been our main source of energy at certain stages, although this is not the case now. There is a perfection about it in so far as the water is used and then goes back into the river. I would like hydroelectricity to be part of our energy policy in the future. Ardnacrusha has served the Irish people well, although it currently constitutes only a small part of our national grid.
I welcome the points the Minister made regarding the ESB. Obviously the ESB is crucial to the use of renewable energy because it controls the national grid and will be vital in bringing other forms of energy into the national grid.
This is an important debate not only on the national but on the world stage. The world resources are running out. We owe it to future generations as well as our own to think seriously about these issues and to ensure that action is taken on them. The Minister indicated that he would take up Senator Mooney's suggestion that we return to this debate in a year's time. We will need to return to it many times in the future until the percentage of energy from alternative sources is much higher and we are using renewable resources to a much greater extent than at present.
Mr. Farrell Mr. Farrell
Mr. Farrell: Like Senator O'Sullivan, I was reared close to Ballyshannon and the hydroelectric scheme there. While there is now great praise for those schemes, I wonder if they would be built today? What would be the environmental impact today? We would be told about the damage to fish stocks, etc., although after all these years no damage has been done to the environment. Hydroelectric power is the cheapest form of energy to harness. I know we have many rivers, but when the ESB  decided to buy electricity from private generators, some of those who looked at using rivers for generating electricity were told they would damage the environment. To become involved in hydroelectric schemes today would be well nigh impossible.
There should be a greater concentration on solar power. Not enough research has been put into developing solar systems for private houses. Most houses have central heating but more research could be done into making units to harness solar energy. They could then be sold to augment central heating systems. That would certainly save fuel because most houses are heated either by oil or gas. Wave power was tried as a source of power but the main problem would be harnessing them. Waves are hard to control and we all know the damage they can do. However, that problem could be overcome if enough energy was used to develop a means of doing it.
Oil companies may not be too interested in anyone doing research into an energy which would cut into their business. A number of people have experimented with running cars without petrol. Ex-Deputy McDonald has a car which runs on waste oil. He told me that even after 180,000 miles it was still going strong. He did not get any financial backing to get this project off the ground. I wonder why no one has looked at that. Nothing pollutes our atmosphere as much as the car. The modern car has been improved but it still burns the same fuel. Many experiments were carried out on using methane gas as a power source for farm enterprises. Farmers used methane to supply their greenhouse and home heating. This may be an area where more research could be done. In that way we could again produce energy to do the work at home.
Mr. Sherlock Mr. Sherlock
Mr. Sherlock: I welcome the Minister and hope he will be invited to my home town of Mallow within the next 12 months. Cork County Council and Mallow Urban District Council have put forward a proposal for the development of a national natural energy park in  Mallow and some progress has been made and research done. It will be based on renewable energy resources and a pilot scheme is under way. In Mallow we already have power from geothermal wells and I look forward to the project being expanded and properly resourced. All alternative sources of energy will be explored in that national energy park. It appears, from the early debate on the issue that the potential is enormous.
One of the focuses of the Government's programme is the principle of sustainable development. This impacts on a range of policy areas from energy production to planning practices. During the past few decades we have been slowly killing the environmental goose which lays the golden egg. The Government has its work cut out to reverse this damage. In this regard I particularly welcome the Government programme's commitment to set targets for electricity generation from renewable sources.
Over the past few years I watched State enterprises, such as Irish Steel, wrestling with Government indifference. I welcome the Government programme's commitment to revitalise public enterprise and ensure that change is managed in the best interest of employees, taxpayers and consumers. Workers in the ESB have adopted a constructive approach to the demands of EU deregulation. However, change must be negotiated rather than imposed. The original proposal for the loss of 2,900 jobs by closing half of the country's 103 ESB offices is likely to run into both union and public opposition. I am also extremely concerned about the proposal to scrap the intervention of the welfare authorities in cases where individuals cannot meet their bills.
It is vital that the different companies in the State sector be brought into line with EU deregulation policies and made more competitive. However, any attempt to unilaterally impose new structures at the expense of workers and local communities will only lead to the kind of dispute that could have devastating wider economic implications. Social and environmental sustainability  are two sides of the same coin and must be treated as such by our policy makers.
Mr. Cassidy Mr. Cassidy
Mr. Cassidy: Senator Sherlock is in Government now. This is the time to do it.
Mr. Sherlock Mr. Sherlock
Mr. Sherlock: I fully support the motion.
Mr. Townsend Mr. Townsend
Mr. Townsend: This is a very useful debate and we heard many exciting things. The Minister's speech on energy conservation was excellent and contains food for thought. I was disappointed with the part of the speech dealing with the production of energy from renewable sources. This might be more appropriate to the brief of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry.
When we entered the EU over 20 years ago we forgot about our fishing industry, even though there was a large quota to be gained. I am afraid that if we are not on the ball in relation to renewable energy sources, we might fall into the same trap. When the GATT negotiations were being finalised, the Blair House Agreement limited the area of oilseed that can be produced for biodiesel use to about 850,000 acres. The farmers and Governments of France, Germany and Italy are not fools. They have already taken up a large amount of this quota already. We should not take our eye off the ball but seek to get some of this quota and keep our options open.
People spoke about the price of biodiesel. This diesel can be used in any diesel car without the need to modify its engine. The main arguments against its use are the costs of producing it and excise duty. I am told by people at the research station in Oak Park that they are developing another crop which will be able to produce biodiesel at half the cost of producing it from rape seed. I am almost certain that the EU will demand that each member state use a certain amount of oil or diesel from renewable sources and if we are not producing such oil or diesel we will have to obtain it from other countries and forego the excise duty on it.
 In recent times there has not been much talk about the Government jet.
Mr. Cassidy Mr. Cassidy
Mr. Cassidy: It is still going around.
Mr. Townsend Mr. Townsend
Mr. Townsend: I suggest that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry should inquire if he can borrow it for half a day to go to Europe and nail down a quota so that we will not be in the same position as the fishing industry when it came to looking for a quota over the past 20 years which we could have obtained at the beginning.
Mr. Cassidy Mr. Cassidy
Mr. Cassidy: Not as much in Leinster, more in Munster.
Question put and agreed to.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: When it is proposed to sit again?
Ms O'Sullivan Ms O'Sullivan
Ms O'Sullivan: At 10.30 tomorrow morning.
Seanad Éireann 141 Energy Policy: Motion.