Energy Minister Alex White said there are 36 towns with populations of more than 10,000 people which are currently connected to the natural gas network.
However, he said six of those — Killarney, Tralee, Letterkenny, Enniscorthy, Wexford, and Sligo — “are currently without a gas supply”.
The minister pointed out that the development and expansion of the natural gas network is, in the first instance, a commercial matter for Gaslink which is mandated to develop and maintain a national system for the supply of gas which is “both economical and efficient”.
He said the Commission for Energy Regulation had, in 2006, approved a gas connections policy on assessing the feasibility of connecting new towns to the network.
“In order for any town to be connected to the gas network, certain economic criteria need to be satisfied,” he said in answer to a parliamentary question from Fianna Fáil’s Éamon Ó Cuív.
“The policy provides that the construction and operating costs of connecting a town, or group of towns, to the network are recovered through the consumption of gas and the associated network charges.
“The distance of a town from the gas network is the major factor determining the costs of building a gas pipeline. The anticipated industrial or commercial gas usage in the town largely determines the revenue from gas network charges which must balance the connection costs. Uneconomic gas pipeline projects would unfairly increase energy costs for all gas consumers.”
Jim Finucane, mayor of Tralee — which has no supply despite a population of 24,000 people — said an all-party committee from Kerry County Council is due to meet with the minister later this month regarding the Shannon Liquified Natural Gas project which would see gas produced at a terminal near Ballylongford if it was progressed.
“We have a project that is going seven to eight years — the company has spent €67m on it. We have this project sitting on our doorstep. But we are waiting on the machinations of the State.”
Mr Finucane said interest had already been expressed in bringing the Shannon pipeline through Listowel and onto Tralee. He said it could also be extended to Killarney. He is insistent that Kerry and the country in general cannot afford to lose a project that would provide an alternative source of energy, as well as positive knock-on benefits like jobs.