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.