Green Bill Obliges 30% Community Ownership of Renewable Energy Projects

The new Greens’ Bill on community ownership seeks to grasp the economic opportunity offered by the energy transition, amending planning regulations to enable community co-ownership of all new renewable energy developments.

Lacking clear political leadership, the Irish state’s initiatives on the energy transition and community energy lack boldness. While discussions at the Citizens’ Assembly on Climate change are providing an opportunity to take stock, most debate on the subject is full of the dull language of grudging obligations to meet targets being (unjustly) imposed by foreign bodies, like the EU or International organisations. This type of immature language is used right throughout the published National Climate Change Mitigation Plan and in other policy documents. Through this uninspiring approach, we are on track to miss most of the international commitments that we have made, across a range of areas, including renewable energy.

Too long our communities have been excluded from the benefits of renewable energy, while having most of the inconveniences imposed on them. Given how developments have occurred to date, they could be forgiven for feeling that talk of an energy transition is really about the transfer of wealth from communities to developers and landowners. Even when projects do build in local ownership and benefits, lack of clear national guidelines are often a barrier. This was the case in a community wind project I worked on in Waterford recently. The ongoing review of Wind Development Guidelines were a shifting ground offering no clarity on issues of public concern, issues on which the project ultimately fell.

This lack of clarity and singular vision relates not only to wind. Our Department of Agriculture encouraged hundreds of Irish farmers to plant energy crops expecting a government Renewable Heat Incentive which was promised 5 years ago. It still hasn’t happened. Division and silo-thinking (which is a political responsibility) between our departments of energy and agriculture mean that there is no clarity for potential producers and processors of energy.

SEAI’s Sustainable Energy Communities and Better Energy Communities Programmes are steps in the right direction. These steps offer some technical and capital support for projects. However, there is still no explicit high level political commitment to develop a decentralised fully locally owned energy system. The new Renewable Energy Support Scheme (RESS) being proposed by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment looks like it will continue the Irish state’s model of corporate-owned renewables, with token support for community involvement and ownership. That is why the current Bill on community ownership of renewables can be an important step along the road to an energy transition where everyone benefits.

This Bill will help jumpstart a national movement for energy independence in Ireland. Models for such a movement are not difficult to find. Germany now has more than a quarter of its electricity from renewable energy; more than half of the total installed renewable energy capacity is locally owned, with almost 1000 renewable energy cooperatives established. Germany and Denmark offer examples of resilient local energy economy.  Closer to home, our green industrial revolution of local energy cooperatives could easily model itself on the movement founded by Horace Plunkett over 100 years ago, where, in just 10 years from 1885 to 1895, over 300 agricultural cooperatives were established with over 300,000 members.

Energy must be seen as a service to society, not as a means of wealth-extraction by private companies or state monopolies, facilitated by the state. People can be mobilised behind a vision of energy independence and sovereignty, and the benefits it brings. This requires bold decision making on land-use and energy and greater coordination between the departments of Energy and Agriculture. Along with our current Bill for community ownership, we must allow priority grid access for community energy; support microgeneration by introducing legislation allowing medium-size licensed energy suppliers and easing ComReg’s collateral requirements on community energy supply companies. We must also grasp the microgeneration opportunity for domestic energy production through rooftop solar and other technologies. There must also be support for those that have worked hard to secure energy sovereignty for the Irish people over the last few decades. This is why the Greens are proposing the establishment of a Just Transition Commission, where the rights of workers and local communities are protected against the impact of factory closures (such as the workers in Bord na Mona Peat Factories in Littleton in Tipperary).

The transition must be about improving the welfare of our people, to make Ireland a fairer, greener, wealthier country. Localising ownership of the means of energy production, and localising the benefits. Let’s do it.

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We need a national movement for Energy Independence

“The transition to clean-energy production is an opportunity to make Irish citizens the owners of the Energy that they use,” according to Green Party Spokesperson on Energy, Gearóíd Fitzgibbon

People can be mobilised behind a vision of energy independence and sovereignty once they benefit from the transition. We need a national movement for Energy Independence in Ireland.

Energy must be seen as a service to society, not as a means of wealth-extraction by private corporations or state monopolies, facilitated by the state.

While civil servants largely understand the extent of the technical challenge, they lack a deep commitment to energy democracy. For their part, the politicians have not provided the necessary vision and leadership. The Greens want to set that vision of a national movement for Energy Independence, and this Dáil term will be proposing two landmark pieces of legislation: The Community Energy Bill and the Just Transition Commission Bill.

Currently, many of our communities are excluded and feel that renewable energy is really about the transfer of wealth from the community to developers and landowners. Our green industrial revolution must be based on the Irish maxim: ‘ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na ndaoine’.

The Green Party wants support for regional energy co-operatives, backed up by local Government and a national energy board office, to be the key lever in the creation of a decentralised community energy system.

There must also be support for those that have worked hard to secure energy sovereignty for the Irish people over the last few decades. For this reason we need a just and fair transition where the rights of workers and local communities are protected against the sudden fossil fuel factory closures (such as the workers in Bord na Mona Peat Factories in Tipperary and the Midlands).

We need to make the transition about improving the welfare of our people, to make Ireland a fairer, greener, wealthier country. Not about grudgingly meeting EU or International targets. That is uninspiring, and simply does not motivate most people. Taking ownership of the means of energy production, we localise the benefits.

To achieve this we need bold decision making on land-use and energy. We need greater coordination between the departments of Energy and Agriculture – even consider joining up these departments. Our Department of Agriculture encouraged hundreds of Irish farmers to plant energy crops expecting a government Renewable Heat Incentive which was promised 5 years ago. It still hasn’t happened. The division between our departments of energy and agriculture mean that there is not clarity for potential producers and processors of energy.

Among the radical steps, we need to:
1. Establish a National Office for Energy Cooperatives modelled on the German model, to give communities the benefits of the energy transition, not large corporates. We welcome elements of the new proposed Renewable Energy Support Scheme however it excludes microgeneration or any serious look at land management in Ireland, and continually favours corporate over community, co-operative, or not-for-profit actors. The current Renewable Energy Support Scheme only requires that projects be offered to local communities. In Germany alone, more than 750 renewable energy cooperatives have been established in the last five years, which are owned by 150,000 German citizens. Communities must be facilitated in developing and running their own renewable energy systems and accessing an equitable share in the projects surrounding them. This will ensure we are all able to benefit from the transition to a low carbon economy, not just large multi-nationals.

2. Allow priority grid access for community energy – Decentralised Energy Production must be a key part of the Renewables Revolution in Ireland: Localising our energy system offers us an opportunity to revitalise Ireland, and breather life into our towns and communities. Our policies on land use management, energy and broadband are tools to do this.

3. We need national coordination between the departments of Energy and Agriculture to establish clear goals and policies for land management in Ireland, which fast tracks renewables, microgeneration and which will continually favours community, co-operative, or not-for-profit actors over corporate approaches. If this means temporarily joining up these departments, LET’S DO IT.

4. We need support for a Just and Fair Transition where the rights of workers and local communities are protected against the impact of factory closures (such as the workers in Bord na Mona Peat Factories).

5. On microgeneration, we must introduce legislation Allowing for Medium-Size Licensed Energy Suppliers: Current legal structures surrounding licensed energy suppliers do not facilitate the creation of small, innovative energy suppliers. A supplier-lite can only have up to 200 customers – which is unviable. If you decide to grow over 200 customers you have to become a large utility, which means incurring significant start-up costs, billing system, IT collateral costs etc. of €20-40,000.

6. Easing Collateral Requirements: If you are a supply company you need a collateral account in place. Example: if your turnover for customers is €100,000 you need 2 and a half times turnover in a collateral account – you need the equivalent of €250,000. If generation hasn’t’ met supply and demand is between 250 and 500. Collateral needs to be paid on 400KW. From business and set up costs perspective this collateral requirement is a challenge.

Gearóid calls for Greenway investment in Tipperary

stolen rail pic
map of Stolen Railway – (Trish Purcell, NTLP)

The Green Party has called for Tipperary to be prioritised in upcoming investment in Greenways. The call was made in the Party’s submission to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport’s consultation on the Future Development of Greenways.

Speaking today, Green Party Representative in Tipperary, Gearóid Fitzgibbon, said: “Greenways should be a key part of our public transport network. Not only do they provide great walking and cycling experiences for recreation, they also have a transformative effect on areas in which they are built – they can provide a major boost for the local economy, as well as the obvious health benefits.

“We want Tipperary to be prioritised in the upcoming Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport strategy on Greenways.

“Tipperary offers two potential routes for greenways which could provide great benefit to underserved rural areas. Both of these have strong community backing, and the potential to add value to existing tourist offerings. The “Stolen Railway” is the remains of a rail link that existed for just 10 years between 1868 and 1878 between Birr and Portumna, which crosses the northernmost parish of north Tippe

rary has considerable potential as a future greenway project. The route was identified in the Lorrha Rathcabbin Community Action Plan 2016-2019 which was completed in 2016 by North Tipperary LEADER Partnership with funding under the Social Inclusion programme. Utilising the redundant transport infrastructure of the Stolen Railway as an off road pedestrian/cycle route could make it an exemplar of sustainable development of rural recreation and activity based tourism. This route could provide the basis of a day cycle tour that takes in the sites of Portumna, Lorrha, Lakeen Castle and Birr. It would also link into the existing Ormond Way and 300km Beara Breifne Way.

“The disused rail line between Roscrea and Portumna which closed in the 1960s also offers a significant opportunity. An existing Tipperary and Offaly Greenway Committee has secured agreement from landowners along the route to carry out a feasibility study on the project. This trail could in turn connect with the Grand Canal Greenway plan. Working with local committees like the Social and Community Enterprise group in Lorrha Rathcabbin (SCÉAL), and the Tipperary and Offaly Greenway Committee could provide a major environmental and economic boost for the entire region.

“State investment in cycle infrastructure in general, and greenways in particular, has consistently ranked highly in cost-benefit analysis. In addition to providing a valuable local transport link and recreational resource, greenways yield benefits to public health and to local economies. The priority in the development of a Greenways Strategy should be a firm commitment to make the necessary investment of public funds to provide this infrastructure.” For further information/comment, contact Gearóid on: 085 7409023

bear bref pic
Beara Breifne Way in Lorrha (by Trish Purcell, NTLP)

 

Private towns and The End of The Small Shop

           A recent campervan trip to the continent had us driving through Britain and France. There, you are struck by the giant retail parks – Harvey Norman, Halfords, HomeStore, B&Q, Carrefour, Intermarché, Cora, E. Leclerc,  etc. Everywhere the same pattern – giant retail parks and old towns closing down.
In Britain, you passed through towns, that you knew were finished, Their high streets had just the right mix of bargain bin discount stores, betting shops and boarded up local stores, to show which way the wind was blowing.

In France, one is even more surprised – in the country that so vaunts its local food, small shops and markets, the battle is long lost. Most medium sized towns are pretty much closed in terms of small shops and businesses – it’s all happening in the local Intermarché.

Even some of the cities are struggling – the city of Rennes that I visited 15 years before, seems a shadow of itself. Enormous retail parks have been built on or just off the ring road around the city, including an IKEA. Hollowed out with classic doughnut ‘development,’ the city centre has been left to the students, graffiti artists, and strung out. frequenting its many bars and pubs.

The giant retail parks on the edge of our cities and towns mark a huge change, in the life that grew up around crossroads, river crossings, lakes, around mountain passes, local sources of industry, coal, steel, agriculture.

Our market centres gave us the town square, high street, the town hall, the agora or public space. Our democracy itself, you could argue, originated in the public square, where people met, discussed or demonstrated. The new retail parks are private towns. Controlled by large companies. Company laws apply, enforced by the company police.

– And sure isn’t that just what people want? Aren’t you comfortable in your romantic notions of local food, and small local shops? People don’t live like that anymore. People lead busy lives, and the few hours they have off at the weekend, they want to be able to go to one place and get everything they need… QUICKLY!

– Sure, but was this a decision we made together? “Ok so we’re going to close the local shops, and build large new private towns on the edge of towns, that people must drive to. It will be quicker for people to get their shopping done, are everyone will be happier.” Is that what we all decided? Did the planners say we needed that? Or did a weak civic political society drift into that, led by the bigger budgets and bigger wallets of superstore developers?

What does that mean for our towns and cities?

The quote that England was a “nation of shopkeepers” meant, in the words of economist Adam Smith, that it was nation “whose government was influenced by shopkeepers”, a reference to the civic mindedness of England’s commerical class, and small business owners. What now for such or similar nations?

Is a self-employed small shopkeeper necessarily more civic minded than the employee of the large multiple, working week to week? And what will be the impact on our countries, further down this road, if we are all more transient, if all our public spaces are privately owned, and we all work week to week.

We get a ‘proletarianisation’ of small business. Does this mean we invest the same in our locality as a town of 20 or 30 independently owning small shopkeepers? Do I volunteer with my local sports club or community group – if I know that, very possibly, I’m out of here in a few months? Could it mean another shift in power away from the already frayed active citizen?

According to Professor Kevin M. Leyden from the School of Political Science and Sociology at NUI Galway,  ‘Small local shops have an economic multiplier effect as they use local solicitors, accountants and web designers. They advertise in local media. Profit tends to stay in the area while the corporate supermarket pays dividends to shareholders. Crucially, the local shop has been the first job for many young people. It has been estimated that up to 52% of a local shops revenue is recirculated in the local economy compared to only 13.6% of a national chain’s revenue.’ (source: P.10, Report on the Community Retail Conference, Horse & Jockey, Tipperary).

There should a moratorium on ALL new shopping centre developments until a thorough study is done of the impact of this, and taxes should be levied on out of town shopping developments, to balance the scales with in-town shops, where people have to pay for parking.

Principled Campaign Doubles Green Vote in Tipperary

On behalf of Tipperary Greens and myself, I want to thank the 1341 citizens of Tipperary who chose to put a No.1 on the ballot paper beside myself and the Greens, and the 10000 plus voters who gave a No.2 or high preference.

You have doubled our vote as a percentage of votes cast from 0.8% to 1.7%

It was a good showing with a short run in and a small but dedicated team. We got to talk about the potential of localising energy to transform our local economy. We also got to challenge the other candidates on how politics is done in Ireland.

Some of the campaign team at the count centre in ThurlesI want to thank everyone who helped out or assisted in any way. The enthusiasm and belief of our campaign team inspiring. 75 people donated €3700 in just over a month – these were friends, family, colleagues and others who I did not know before. Their support allowed us to get into the arena and compete.

We ran a strong and principled campaign. I would like to see us go on from here and build a network of rural green supporters and activists.

Still a long way off - but in the arena

I ask anyone who gave a vote or a preference to consider getting involved. Let’s ensure that the unique green perspective is given to community issues in Tipperary – whether on planning, the economy, the environment or issues of social justice.

Get in touch on tipperarygreen@gmail.com text 083-8109522 or facebook.com/TipperaryGreens

Nationally with 2 Green TD’s now in the Dáil (Eamon Ryan and Catherine Martin) and at 2.72% of the national vote, the Greens return to being a nationally funded party.

Pre-Voting Message from Gearóid

Final campaign message final editIt has been a great honour to take part in the general election campaign in Tipperary

I stood in the election to raise the issues of changing our energy system and moving away from the favours based politics that we have become known for. Having worked with communities for the last 10 years, I understand the difference these changes can make to the county.

With a local subscriber-financed campaign, and the support of a dedicated team, we have tried to make a difference in this campaign.

Whatever your colour, I ask you to give me your number 1 vote tomorrow and send a message to the country that Tipperary is ready to lead again. With our transferrable vote system, if your no. 1 doesn’t make the cut, your no.2 is still as good as a no. 1.

I thank you for your support.

If you have time, do share the following text with friends & colleagues: “Gearóid Fitzgibbon is running in the election on the themes of localising our energy system and better politics. Do consider giving him a 1 on Friday to put this on the agenda for the county and country. More info here gfitzgibbon.wordpress.com  ”

Don’t forget to like our campaign page Gearóid Facebook Campaign Page

On this blog http://www.gfitzgibbon.wordpress.com we also have video, audio and other clips.
On twitter @gearoid4green @TippGreens
Finally you can listen to my campaign song – composed, and performed by myself – http://www.bit.ly/newtipperary
Beir bua,
Gearóid
Radio/Audio clips: Audio clips with Gearóid
Youtube: Gearoid4Green

Community Development Legend endorses Fitzgibbon Policy on Closing TDs Offices

One of the key messages of Gearóid Fitzgibbon’s campaign is to put an end to our habit of selecting our politicians on the basis of personal often imaginary favours done for the public. Gearóid is proposing to close down the local constituency offices – work done here would be better carried out in the Citizen Information Service.

Gearóid outside the Canon Hayes Resource Centre
Gearóid outside the Canon Hayes Resource Centre

After the recent Tipperary MidWest Radio election debate (Tuesday February 16th), Gearóid spoke with Tom Fitzgerald, volunteer chairperson of the Canon Hayes Resource Centre in Tipperary Town, and a legend of community development. While not publicly backing any party, Tom told Gearóid that for years he has endorsed the closing of the constituency offices. “Muintir na Tíre were the original group to propose the set-up of the Citizen Information Service. This is where people should get information, free of any favours or political string-pulling.”

Tom Fitzgerald has been doing community development work before it was even called that. In the 1950’s he began working with Canon Hayes, founder of Muintir na Tíre. “Fr. Hayes referred to community development as ‘practical Christianity’. He began his work in 1923, after the civil war; he kept peace and good relations between people in communities. The two firmly believed that change comes from the bottom up. They opened town halls and community offices in communities which brought them to life.

“He was a bit of a revolutionary to the rest of the Church, they should have given him freedom…and time”, recalled Tom Fitzgerald during his chat with Gearóid.
In 1957, Canon Hayes died, and Tom Fitzgerald continues his work to this day. Tom Fitzgerald also looks up to Pope Francis and his work; he sees that he is doing the same kind of ‘practical Christianity’ that Canon Hayes used to talk about and do.

‘Community development’, ‘practical Christianity’ or whatever name you call it is all about the people, what they have a right to and taking action at a local level so the people can achieve this right.

Gearóid Fitzgibbon is passionate about people’s right to free information without the middleman. To show his commitment to this, he will donate 35% of the €87,258 T.D.’s salary to the Citizen’s Information Centre if elected. According to Gearóid, “People have a right to the information they need. To make it a right and not a privilege, we need to replace these constituency offices with improved Citizen’s Information and Advocacy Centres – and put an end to these taxfunded vote-getting machines.”