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Water bills could quadruple for Irish businesses

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17 October 2012, source edie newsroom

The price of water would quadruple in Ireland if European trends are applied, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and it is therefore crucial that businesses tackle water efficiency.

Talking at Resource Ireland, James Hogan, from the EPA’s Green Business initiative, said that the average cost of cold water was €2 per cu m in Ireland. However, in countries like Germany this cost was as high as €8, and he suggested prices could rise similarly in Ireland.

Hogan explained that it was essential for companies to monitor their water meters on a weekly basis because annual bills would not reveal leaks until vast sums of money had already been lost.

It is also crucial for companies to start harvesting rainwater in Ireland because there is such an abundant supply said Hogan, explaining that green water was far cheaper than blue water and could be used for purposes such as toilet flushing.

He used the example of the money saving potential power of water efficiency of Stilorgan hotel which detected it had 25 leaks. Fixing these reduced their water usage by half and saved them €64,826 a year.

The worst offenders in buildings for water wastage are facilities such as urinals. According to Hogan each urinal, which he described as “designed leaks” cost businesses €800 a year.

Other advice Hogan gave included the overnight test for leakage whereby businesses turn all water consumption off and read the metre over night. If there is a constant drainage it is likely there is a leak.

The Green Business Programme offers free advice and onsite visits to companies looking to increase their water efficiency.

Live from Resource Ireland in Dublin

Problems with water charges mounting for Government

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The Irish Times – Friday, August 31, 2012 by OLIVIA KELLY

ANALYSIS : Opposition to the new water charge is likely to grow if all households cannot be metered

MINISTER FOR the Environment Phil Hogan gave a hostage to fortune last April when he set a target for water meter installation to start this year and charges to follow in 2014.

There has been little evidence of progress since. This is not necessarily surprising given the massive undertaking involved in setting up a new water utility from scratch, and in the transfer of services, infrastructure and staff from 34 city and county councils to one subsidiary of Bord Gáis.

Bord Gáis has issued tenders in the last few weeks seeking to put together a panel of consultants to provide advice on the establishment of the utility, Irish Water, and its management over the next four years. It is also in talks with the Department of the Environment, local authorities and unions over an implementation plan for the new entity. However, it is not yet able to say when it will advertise tenders for water meters.

The Government is committed under the EU/IMF rescue plan to start charging households for water in 2014. However, it is not committed to the installation of water meters. The Government could decide to apply a flat charge to all households or a charge based on household size, but it has determined metering is the fairest way to charge.

Less than a week after Mr Hogan made his announcement last April, a senior Dublin City Council official said approximately one-third of homes could not be metered, because they shared supply pipes with neighbours, or their mains water supply entered the house under their back gardens. This was not just a problem with apartments but with a large proportion of the national housing stock, particularly in estates built from the 1940s to 1960s.

The Government initially dismissed the claim. It later accepted these houses were not suitable for meters but put the national figure closer to 20 per cent. The local authority professional officers section of Siptu, which represents council engineers, agrees metering is the fairest way of charging but said the cost of upfront universal metering could not be justified.

It puts this cost at more than €1.2 billion, and has advised the Government to introduce meters over a number of decades, as has been done in the UK and keep to a flat charge until all meters are in place and a system that has public confidence has been established.

The Government has said there will be no upfront charge for meters but householders will pay an average of €39 per annum over 20 years as part of a standing charge. Water industry experts dispute this figure saying costs over and above putting a meter in the ground, such as reading and maintaining meters and running a billing system, have not been taken into account. All these charges will have to be paid as part of a standing charge for the meter, estimated by industry figures at between €100 and €150, before the per unit usage charges are applied.

Given the opposition to the flat rate household charge it is understandable the Government would be reluctant to introduce a flat water charge, but if all households cannot be metered, claims the charge is unfair could become more vocal


Smart Energy Systems help Banagher Tidy Towns in their waste minimisation efforts

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Leading water conservation company Smart Energy Systems presented their Water and Energy Saving Household kit to the Banagher local community at an exhibition held in the Super Value Mall in Banagher last weekend (April 2012).  The exhibition  concentrated on water saving in the home and the idea was to build awareness and education of water saving methods and the simple products that can be used to save water.  Rainwater butts were also on exhibition and it is hoped that rainwater harvesting will be adopted by a number of households which will bring direct benefits in terms of reduced water bills.  Other benefits include;

–          Reduced dependency on mains water
–          Help conserve precious water sources
–          Do not require energy input

The exhibition was a great success and it is hoped that many other towns will adopt similar measures in waste minimisation.

Minister: "Water services will remain in public ownership."

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Natasha Wiseman – 26 April 2012 source Edie.Net.

The evolving national water utility in the Republic of Ireland will not be a private enterprise, minister Fergus O’Dowd of the Department of the Environment has told a water industry gathering.

“The Government proposal to create a new water utility is not about privatisation of water resources, nor is it a precursor to such privatisation”, he said. “Water services will remain in public ownership.”

The minister was speaking at the Water Ireland 2012 conference hosted by WWT in Dublin yesterday (April 25). He admitted that there had been a lot of “speculation and some confusion” about what the Government has planned on water service delivery.

Mr O’Dowd promised a €600m (£491m) annual capital investment to raise standards and the roll out the compulsory metering programme, a significant rise from the €370m (£303m) being invested in the current year. However he acknowledged the challenge this posed to the state in the current financial climate.

The minister stressed that the new water utility, Irish Water would be an independent state-owned company within the public gas utility, Bord Gáis. He said that the utility would have an Irish language name too.

Minister O’Dowd said that Ireland’s water resources meant it was “positioned well” in terms of competitiveness and “needed to attract more water intensive industries”, but that this would need to be underpinned by a more sustainable approach to its water resources.

While admitting that the funding model for Irish Water was undecided, the minister said, “Unless we address key funding organisation issues, we will constrain our capacity to gain from this natural advantage.”

He spoke of the need for steady state investment in the water distribution network complemented by domestic metering, expansion of treatment facilities and upgrade of water service infrastructure across the country to ensure public health and environmental compliance. He said cost efficiencies could be leveraged by operating at the national level.

He also promised the establishment of an independent economic regulator, a function assigned to the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER).

Gabriel D’Arcy, chief executive of Bord na Mona agreed that funding was going to be a “massive challenge”, but that there was “a crying need for some of the changes being proposed.” He pointed to the wider context introduction of utility in Irish society.

The rationale “needs to be communicated”, he said. “I believe people would be willing to contribute to a safe and secure water supply if they can see fairness in the system.” he said.

John Mullins, group chief executive of Bord Gáis said he was pleased to hear about the additional funding from the minister and urged the establishment of a consumer council.

Natasha Wiseman

Strong argument against handling over Uisce na hEireann to Bord Gais

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According to the Irish Independent….

BORD Gais is probably the best semi-state operating in Ireland today. It is certainly the best among our large semi-states and John Mullins, who is being hounded from his office for no good reason, is probably the best chief executive.

That still does not mean the Government was right to give Bord Gais responsibility for Uisce na hEireann or whatever the nation’s new water provider will eventually be christened.

There are two strong arguments against handing over Uisce na hEireann to Bord Gais.

The first is the example of the National Treasury Management Agency which has been overloaded with unrelated tasks that have sapped morale, distracted senior management and destroyed the NTMA’s reputation.

The temptation for Government is obvious in both cases. The NTMA and Bord Gais are both well run along commercial lines but with a strong ethos of public service.

The alternatives, such as the Department of Finance or the ESB, are grim. Why not ask the outperformer to take on another task and avoid duplication.

The problem with mission creep is that it can destroy the existing organisation. Bord Gais will see its workforce jump from 1,000 people to 5,000 once it takes over the water system.

Most of the new employees will come from a very different culture to the one forged by John Mullins and is akin to hitching a racehorse to a caravan.

The NTMA already resembles one of those Swiss army knives with so many corkscrews, magnifying glasses and saws that it is too heavy to use properly.

Bord Gais could easily go the same way. It already sells gas and electricity while building and operating windmills.

Trying to improve the often dire quality of water in the regions could well overwhelm Bord Gais and destroy its reputation in the same way that NAMA has overwhelmed and destroyed the NTMA at a time when the the country’s future depends on re-entering the bond markets.


The second strong argument against Bord Gais taking over Uisce na hEireann is simple; no other organisation was effectively allowed to tender for the contract and this is bad practice.

While there were presentations from Bord na Mona, another semi-state interested in taking over the water company, no private company was invited and it would have been impossible for a private company to make a serious offer without firm information about costs.

Before handing over the valuable assets of Irish Water to a company that is mostly owned by the State but also owned by Bord Gais employees, the Government should have made a real effort to value Uisce na hEireann and then considered the alternatives.

The decision to bypass the scores of excellent water companies around Europe and hand the nation’s waterworks to a gas company instead smacks of panic.

Voters are (rightly) crying foul about the cost of meters but the real scandal is that yet again the Government is handing over a valuable asset for nothing and risks destroying another valuable asset at the same time.

On tap: A short history of Irish water charges

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The Irish Times – Saturday, April 21, 2012.  Harry McGee

The first serious blow against domestic charges was struck shortly after Fianna Fáil came to power in 1977. Its manifesto in that election had promised to abolish domestic rates, and it came good on the promise in the budget of early 1978. Deprived of this funding, local authorities became dependent on a central government fund and were described by critics as “toothless”.

In 1985, the then tánaiste, Dick Spring of Labour (pictured), partially reversed the decision when he facilitated the introduction of a local-authority domestic-service levy.

But in 1985, when local authorities tried to reintroduce water charges, they encountered varying degrees of opposition, at its most concerted in Dublin. Dublin Corporation and county council eventually decided not to reintroduce the domestic service and water charges, leaving an anomaly between the capital and the rest of the country, where everyone else was paying water charges.

The issue re-emerged in 1994 when Dublin County Council was split into three. A fresh attempt was made to introduce water charges in Fingal, South Dublin and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown county-council areas. A campaign opposing the charge continued for more than two years, involving disconnections and court cases, some of which were successfully appealed.

The decisive moment came in 1996, when a byelection was held in Dublin West following the death of Brian Lenihan snr. While his son Brian, who has also since died, won the seat, he was only a hair’s breadth ahead of Joe Higgins, who stood as an anti-water-charge candidate and polled 23 per cent of first preferences.

In that byelection, the Labour candidate Michael O’Donovan got less than 4 per cent of the vote, and it was widely thought that then environment minister Brendan Howlin’s decision to abolish water charges (which were then flat charges) was in response to the byelection defeat.

He did so despite a report prepared for his department by consultants KPMG that recommended the introduction of meters.

Between then and last year’s general election, Labour has opposed water charges. In the Dáil debate on the Water Services Bill (which was long-fingered) Eamon Gilmore, then Labour’s environment spokesman, said: “The legislation is a thinly disguised attempt to privatise the water supply. Going hand in hand with that is a formula to get around the 1997 Act and reintroduce water charges by another name, be that a rent for the meter or a straight-up charge. It is our duty as an opposition to oppose this legislation.”

It sounds very like the argument currently being used by opponents of Irish Water.

The Green Party did want water to be metered but could not convince Fianna Fáil to include it in their programme for government in 2007. However, it was included in the revised programme in 2009. Subsequently, the introduction of meters formed part of the memorandum of understanding agreed with the troika in late 2010.

In its programme for government the Fine Gael and Labour coalition also stated that its objective was to install water meters in every household in Ireland.

For Labour, that represented a change, given the party had opposed the charges in opposition.