Senator O’ Reilly- We must take a proactive approach to securing access to the grid for wind energy projects like Galetech Energy in Cootehill, Co. Cavan

Sitting Time: 11:50 Sitting Date:04/11/2010

Statements on Climate Change

Senator Joe O’Reilly: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Cuffe, and hope we will have a fruitful discussion on this important area.
Climate change is proving to be one of the most defining issues of the 21st century. The Stern report, which was instrumental in bringing about the United Kingdom’s climate change legislation, strongly advised that the cost of inaction in terms of addressing climate change would be far greater than the cost of taking action now.
Since the Industrial Revolution in the mid-18th century, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased at a very significant rate and the effect of human activity since 1750 has been one of global warming. Over the past 100 years the average global temperature has increased by 0.74o Celsius and 11 of the past 12 years rank among the warmest since 1850.
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We have seen the effects of global warming in Ireland. Since 1980 the average temperature here has increased by 0.42° Celsius per decade. The number of days of frost has also significantly decreased, with the greatest decreases recorded at Clones and Shannon weather stations. We are also more than aware that rainfall levels have increased at an extraordinary rate. We need only think back to the devastation caused by heavy rainfall in the west and south last year when homes and livelihoods were washed away by torrential flooding. The human cost of global warming is clear and the prospect of such severe weather events becoming a recurring reality appears ever more likely.
The impact of global warming on Ireland is long-ranging. Agriculture will be affected as livestock feed changes from grass to maize, the humble potato becomes virtually unviable and the need for irrigation increases in the east of the country. In terms of water supply an increase in winter flooding will place significant pressure on water supply infrastructure during dry summers. A tragic point to note is the possible extinction of many native and iconic species of bird, such as the curlew and long-eared owl, both of which are synonymous with our heritage and culture. It is imperative that these species are protected.
The climate change law will be paramount in helping Ireland to position itself as a low carbon society and will facilitate it in meeting its European Union and international commitments. Section 4 of the Climate Change Bill 2010 produced by the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security states: “It is the duty of the Taoiseach to ensure that the State’s net carbon account for the year 2050 is at least 80% lower than the 1990 baseline.” It is imperative that we achieve the target set out in the section, particularly given that Ireland depends on fossil fuels to meet more than 90% of its energy needs. Such dependence has many disadvantages, especially in terms of security of supply with finite fossil fuel resources diminishing daily and the geopolitical concerns surrounding the countries that supply us with oil. These factors are fast becoming a reality and need to be given due consideration when we discuss the future of Ireland’s energy needs.
Ireland’s emission reduction targets need to be tougher. Adoption of the Climate Change Bill would ensure the Oireachtas agrees tougher targets. These are set out in section 5(2) which states: “The Taoiseach may, having had regard to scientific evidence, technological developments and national energy policy, establish more stringent targets than the targets established by the European Union.”
Ireland is more than well positioned to reduce its carbon emissions and become a pioneer in renewable energy. New scientific developments that further the case for climate change are emerging daily. It is the responsibility of national leaders to pay attention to these developments and recommendations. Making the Taoiseach ultimately accountable for meeting climate change targets would have two distinct advantages. First, given that the Taoiseach’s authority extends across Departments, this would encourage cross-party involvement which has numerous benefits. Second, the engagement of the Oireachtas in the project means there is a certain level of accountability at parliamentary level.
The Irish corporate leaders group on climate change argues that climate change legislation needs to be enacted before the end of the year to ensure certainty for business. According to the group, the Government’s recent announcement that emissions will be reduced by 3% per annum between now and 2020 is too vague to provide any decent level of certainty. In its view, the Bill should include legally binding, five year targets and set out clearly how a balance will be struck between cutting emissions in the household and purchasing overseas credits.
Promoting energy efficiency has distinct benefits. While the environmental benefits of energy efficiency are frequently and correctly spoken about, energy efficiency also presents opportunities and benefits for society as a whole. Part 5 of the Bill deals with incentives and grant support to schemes that would provide financial assistance to individuals and assist Ireland meet its carbon emission targets.
I spoke on the Order of Business about an important issue on which immediate action should be taken. I refer to the need to introduce a programme of nationwide insulation schemes, particularly for low income households. Such a programme has the potential to reduce carbon emissions and cut the cost of living for householders. In light of these twin benefits, the merits of introducing such a scheme are a no-brainer, particularly when one considers the high cost of home heating bills for many individuals, particularly low income households. In the current economic climate we must embrace these types of incentives and examine various means of reducing the cost of home heating and energy related bills. The scheme I propose would deliver a tax return to the Exchequer, the State would benefit from cheaper tender costs in the procurement process and the construction industry would benefit. It is essential, therefore, that a national scheme is introduced in the short term.
Part 4 of the proposed legislation would establish a new body known as the office of climate change and renewable energy which would perform all the functions outlined in the Bill. This is a most welcome development as it would result in the establishment of a separate body able to advise on national policy and climate change and support negotiations at European and international level. In so doing, it would give to the various elements of the proposed Bill the support they deserve. I am heartened, therefore, to learn from the Minister of State that the joint committee’s Bill will essentially be adopted by the Government. It would be bizarre if that were not the case given the all-party support given to the legislation in the joint committee.
Section 14(2) states the office of climate change and renewable energy “shall co-ordinate and support in particular initiatives which promote the accelerated deployment of electric vehicles, energy efficiency, renewable resources including wind, tidal, solar, ocean, biomass and biofuel energy.” Gaeltacht Energy in County Cavan is an excellent wind energy company which is in the national finals of the enterprise awards. It has informed me that it has the potential to create several hundred permanent jobs and up to 2,000 temporary construction jobs. To do so, it must secure access to the grid. This requires a review of the current gateway system, under which projects that are ready for the grid are being held up by projects for which planning permission has not yet been secured. This company has many good projects around the country that are worthy of consideration and is only one of many companies involved in wind energy. Ireland also needs to focus on biofuels, an area on which the House recently introduced legislation.
I welcome the Climate Change Bill 2010, as I would welcome any legislation which not only benefits the environment but provides for significant gains for citizens.
We must embrace a national insulation scheme and. We must also strengthen our efforts in the area of tidal energy.
I am sceptical of the Government’s commitment to the railways. For a long time, I have supported efforts to establish a rail link from Dublin to Navan and, subsequently, from Navan to Kingscourt along an existing rail line. My colleague on the Government side, Deputy Martin Brady, who has family connections to the region, also supports this objective.
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All these proactive steps must be taken to do something to give expression to the principles, philosophy and terms of the Bill and of the second report of the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security. Real action is needed from now on and that is my commendation to the Minister of State.

Senator Joe O'Reilly representing Cavan & Monaghan 2010. | An ExSite website