In the November 2011 issue of eolas, Gabriel D’Arcy made a strident case for his company to take on the delivery of water services. Bord Na Móna is well placed to take on the mantle of the new Irish Water company. The semi-state company is in good shape financially with a cash balance of €200 million at the end of its last financial year (March 2011). Its debt levels are well below of other semi-states which gives it flexibility on its balance sheet to invest the capital required to overhaul Ireland’s water infrastructure.
The Government has a difficult dilemma in deciding whether to set up a new stand alone ‘NewCo’ or integrate it into one of the existing semi state utilities. It addition to Bord na Móna, ESB and Bord Gáis Energy have expressed an interest in taking on the new water services operations. Whilst there is some merit in having a fresh start with the ‘NewCo’ approach, there are significant challenges, particularly in establishing utility operations which are ‘vital’ services.
Bord na Móna has highlighted the advantages it would bring to any new water company. The semi-state company has over 20 years experience in waste water activities and established a water infrastructure team in 2007 to investigate opportunities in water infrastructure. Bord na Móna has also worked with Dublin City Council on the Dublin-Shannon water infrastructure project over the past four years.
“Over 75 years ago, Bord na Móna was given the challenge of providing Ireland with an indigenous secure energy solution through the management of our peat resource, states D’Arcy. “Today we have the opportunity to take all that knowledge and capability to provide the country with a sustainable water company for the benefit of our economy, environment and communities. Irish Water will focus on creating significant and enduring value as well as ensuring healthy water supplies for our customers.”
The semi-state has diversified from its core peat energy business and has a good track record of acquiring and integrating other businesses into the Bord na Móna group. The company has the scale to take on the operation of a water utility, with over 100,000 customer invoices processed each month.
Its plan for establishing Irish Water as part of the Bord na Móna group would see the development of a self-financing full service water utility by the time that domestic charges are introduced on 1 January 2014. D’Arcy sees the development of a new water utility as having a much wider impact: “With the existing climate change scenario almost half the world’s population will be living in areas of high water stress by 2030. Education and innovative technology development are at the core of solving our water issues. In Ireland we can lead the way by harvesting the best water resource in the world that will give us a competitive advantage to stimulate our economic growth.”
D’Arcy has also argued that his company’s approach is a perceived win for the Government’s NewERA project and a relatively quick win at that.