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.

Advertisements

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)

 

Fitzgibbon Wants Tipperary to Lead Ireland’s Energy Transition

“One simple solution can immediately put money circulating into rural economies: Stop the waste of energy.” This was the key message of our campaign launch on Thursday evening of Tipperary Green Party.

Speaking at my campaign lauch on the theme of “Creating Rural Jobs and Investment”, Green Party Leader Eamon Ryan spoke about his own roots in the Glen of Aherlow, and how he felt green economics can have a real impact on rural communities: “I commend Gearóid for stepping forward. The impact of community development work is limited unless our country gets strong political direction. He is as good a candidate as they get – he is doing in his real life what we are all talking about.”

A number of other of guests spoke, including Con Harrington. According to Con, “You get enthused by being involved. Gearóid has brought huge enthusiasm into our community – if the rest of Tipperary know what he has done, I’m sure they would back him. The more support he gets, the more attention will be paid to his message”

I also spoke on how locally owned energy can be turned into local invesment, “The exclusive focus on Foreign Direct Investment is ignoring the massive opportunity in cutting our country’s yearly €5.7billion spend on imported energy. In Tipperary that’s €300 million per year leaving the county. Our own local authority could easily tap into European Investment Bank funding to do this across the county, to be paid back over 15-20 years. We need our government to mandate our local authorities to do this. Tipperary should be leading here. For every 1 million spent on retrofit, 25 jobs are created.”

Gearóid Fitzgibbon's campaign team with Eamon Ryan
Gearóid Fitzgibbon’s campaign team with Eamon Ryan
Gearóid Fitzgibbon speaking at his campaign lauch
Gearóid Fitzgibbon speaking at his campaign lauch
Patrick Lambe, Gearóid Fitzgibbon and Eamon Ryan
Patrick Lambe, Gearóid Fitzgibbon and Eamon Ryan
Sean O'Farrell and Con Harrington
Sean O’Farrell and Con Harrington
Tippereary Jersey signed by Eamon Ryan
Tippereary Jersey signed by Eamon Ryan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jenny Tellstrom, Gearoid Fitzgibbon and Eamon Ryan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In wrapping up we thanked everyone who had attended and helped out – and the event sponsors – The Apple Farm, Longways Cider, and the Green Sheep.

My final comment was “My motivation for standing in the election is to highlight the need to use energy as a driver of rural communities. We need to develop community energy initiatives. We should have a network of 200 or 300 energy co-operatives in Ireland, like what has developed in Germany. When Horace Plunkett went out with one or two staff in the1890s, within five or six years you had 400 or 500 agricultural co-operatives set up with almost 200,000 members. Our agriculture sector is missing this opportunity. Our own state or ICOS are not backing it. For most of Tipperary’s towns and villages, there is no recovery to keep going, and Richard Bruton will never come and cut a ribbon announcing the latest arm of Google or Linked In. We need local solutions.”

Green Meet up Thurles, Sunday 2-3.30pm

creating a green voice in Tipperary

Tipperary Greens are holding a discussion/campaign organising meeting in Cabragh Wetlands environmental education centre near Thurles this Sunday 13th December 2-3.30pm.

The objective of the meeting is to have a discussion with the selected candidate Gearóid Fitzgibbon on the campaign goals, so that it inspires those involved/potentially involved! Refreshments will be provided. For more information email tipperarygreen@gmail.com or call 085-7409023. You can follow our 2016 General Election Candidate on @Gearoid4Green All are Welcome.

Cabragh Wetlands is located on the Cabragh Road between Thurles & HolyCross – past the old sugar factory. More information on their website http://www.cabraghwetlands.ie