The Minister for the Environment has sought legal advice on how the EU carbon emissions trading scheme is being applied to the cement sector, on foot of a complaint that it discriminates against the State’s only producer of "green" cement. In a letter to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Dick Roche said it would therefore be "inappropriate" for him to comment on issues raised in a hearing last week attended by representatives of Ecocem Ltd and the Cement Manufacturers Association.
At the hearing, Ecocem managing director Donal Ó Riain described the current formulation of the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) as "anti-competitive" and warned it would force his company to close if the rules were not altered by the Government.
The "green" [slag] cement manufactured by Ecocem produces virtually no carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, while ordinary cement manufacturers generate a tonne of C02 for every tonne of cement they produce - and they are now competing with Ecocem for raw materials. Mr Ó Riain said its rivals were being unfairly subsidised by the CO2 credits they receive under the ETS.
Traditional cement manufacturers receive free carbon credits based on their level of CO2 emissions, but Ecocem is excluded because the cement it produces from ground granulated blast-furnace slag (GGBS) from the steel industry is a clean technology with no emissions.
Cement manufacturers in the ETS receive one carbon credit, worth about €23 per tonne, for every tonne of GGBS that they purchase for about €15 a tonne.
Mr Ó Riain told the Oireachtas committee that clean technology companies such as Ecocem should be allocated free credits to "reward the positive impact they are having on the Irish environment and to eliminate discrimination in the sourcing of essential raw materials."
The Cement Manufacturers Association told the committee that purchases of GGBS would enable its members to cut the industry’s CO2 emissions by 150,000 tonnes a year, or just four per cent of their annual output. By contrast, Ecocem generates 270,000 tonnes of CO2 savings with a production of 300,000 tonnes of "green cement".