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Penrose raises natural gas extensions for Westmeath in Dail

12 October 2017

Statement by Willie Penrose TD
Spokesperson on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Rural & Community Affairs

Labour TD for Westmeath, Willie Penrose TD has welcomed the commitment from Minister Denis Naughton to review the criteria for the connection of rural towns to the natural gas grid having raised the issue in the Dáil. Deputy Penrose wants to know if the criteria will be revised to ensure towns such as Kinnegad, Kilbeggan, Moate, Castlepollard and Delvin will be connected to the national gas grid.

Deputy Penrose said:

"While a main gas line stretches from Mullingar to Athlone, running east to west across the county, apart from serving those main towns there are many smaller urban settlements not included.

"I raised in the Dáil the Minister responsible what plans are in place to ensure connections to the gas network can be facilitated to other towns and villages in Westmeath.

"In 2015, the then Commission for Energy Regulation approved a new network connections policy, which created the opportunity to reassess the feasibility of connecting certain towns to the gas network.

"With much talk from the Government on supporting rural Ireland, it's now critical this issue is progressed to ensure towns can benefit by being connected to critical infrastructure.

"An interim report is due by the end of 2017 that will examine the wider costs and benefits of gas network extensions, to include possible climate and decarbonisation aspects, as well as regional and rural development benefits such as supporting rural centres.

"I hope as soon as this review is completed that towns such as Kinnegad, Kilbeggan, Moate, Castlepollard and Delvin can be considered for connected to the national gas grid.

"It's important that the revises the criteria for gas connections to ensure these towns are given the chance of securing this vital infrastructure."

ENDS

Dáil Question
499. To ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if a company (details supplied) plans to extend its networks to facilitate connection threats for towns and villages throughout County Westmeath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. Willie Penrose TD.


Reply from the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Denis Naughton TD


The development and expansion of the natural gas network is in the first instance a commercial matter for Gas Networks Ireland (GNI), which is mandated under Section 8 of the Gas Act 1976, as amended, to develop and maintain a national system for the supply of natural gas that is both economical and efficient.
The Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) is statutorily responsible for all aspects of the assessment and licensing of prospective operators who wish to develop and/or operate a gas distribution system within the State under the Gas (Interim) (Regulation) Act 2002. In 2015, the then Commission for Energy Regulation approved a new network connections policy, which created the opportunity to reassess the feasibility of connecting certain towns to the gas network. The CRU policy stipulates that in order for any town to be connected to the gas network, certain economic criteria need to be met as a prerequisite. The policy framework provides that, over a certain period, the costs of connecting the town to the network are recouped through the actual consumption of gas and the associated tariffs. This is designed by CRU to obviate against uneconomic projects which would increase costs for all gas consumers. The key factor which would qualify a town, or group of towns, in any future review would be a significant increase in demand for natural gas, usually resulting from the addition of a new large industrial or commercial facility.
The gas network in County Westmeath currently stretches east-west across the county, covering Athlone and Mullingar. Further extensions of the gas networks in the county may be possible, but will be subject to assessment in accordance with the connections policy approved by the CRU. I understand that Kinnegad, Kilbeggan and Moate were assessed under the "New Towns Analysis Phase 3" report dated 9th April 2010, published by Gaslink, the predecessor of GNI, including on its website. This assessment found that these towns did not qualify for connection on economic grounds at that time.
The question of whether network extensions should, where economically feasible and in line with our energy policy goals in the White Paper, provide for the possibility of future connections in order to contribute to regional and rural development needs to be addressed, in my view. At the launch of the Action Plan for Rural Development I set out my view that there are communities partly or sometimes wholly excluded from basic criteria of modern convenience and comfort, in terms of communications, energy efficiency and fuel poverty. My long-standing position on the gas network is that it should be developed generally in rural Ireland to provide natural gas to as many areas as possible. Accordingly, and against the backdrop of the energy policy White Paper, I commissioned a study on the wider costs and benefits of gas network extensions, to include possible climate and decarbonisation aspects, as well as regional and rural development benefits such as supporting rural centres. Following the conclusion of a procurement process, my Department last week appointed a consultant through the Office of Government Procurement tendering process. The contract arrangements provide that the consultant will deliver a preliminary report by year-end 2017, in accordance with the tender requirements.
This project involves a high-level study that will address issues relating to the wider decarbonisation, air quality, climate and emissions and regional and rural development benefits from additional network extensions. It is provided that particular account will be taken of, but not limited to, the following: wider economic and environmental costs/benefits; economics and funding and; potential alternative uses for the network such as renewable gas and hydrogen.