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A Snapshot of Transition in Ireland: the Fight for Community Energy

For many years energy, climate change or Transition were not on people’s radar in Ireland, but circumstances have been changing and people are now waking up to our energy challenges. A few years ago there was an application to drill for oil in Dublin Bay, the government also considered selling our woodlands, fracking continues to threaten areas, Shell is still being fought on the west coast, industrial wind farms and the grid infrastructure for electricity export woke the midlands up. This meant that in 2013 a lot more people than usual were thinking and talking about energy. The time seemed right for a national conversation. 

In November 2013 the Transition hub LEAF – Laois Environmental Action Forum, supported by Claiming Our Future, hosted an open space conversation on Ireland's energy future. 120 people showed up from all over the island and helped each other learn a little more about the challenges and our energy options. Central to the day was the experience and insight the Transition groups from around the country brought.

Theresa O’Donohoe (right).

Theresa O'Donohoe (right).

The People’s Energy Charter – PEC emerged and a working group was established to consider where to go next with our ideas of forming a national energy vision. Transition Ireland and Northern Ireland  TINI, held a meeting and decided to drive PEC. All the Transition groups with energy projects got involved. Community groups engaged in energy projects or lobbying on energy issues came on board. We also had a lot of interest from the environmental NGO and social enterprise sectors.

Perfect Timing

Coincidentally, May 2014 saw the first step in the process of writing a national policy, or the White Paper on Energy. The Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, DCENR, had planned to finalise the process and launch the White Paper before the end of 2014. We met with some DCENR officials and stated our concerns about the lack of public engagement in energy plans. The practice of developer-led wind energy in order to address our emissions proved counter productive as it was done divisively, with little or no consultation. This only succeeded in mobilising communities against wind farms. We knew that if we are to ever transition the process has to be right. 

Ireland

Community energy projects are hard to come by in Ireland. One community owned wind farm took 12 years to build. It was clear that policy did not support community energy projects. Many ideas get nowhere because there are too many obstacles. We felt addressing this would be a great help in the community-led transition efforts so we set about infiltrating national policy. Committed to the belief that no “one size fits all” dictate works we agreed that PEC would be calling for “Comprehensive Public Participation in Irelands Energy Policies, Plans and Projects”. This meant an immediate campaign to ensure that as many people as possible would be accommodated in the consultation process. We could not have planned it better; the White Paper consultation came just when we were empowered and organised enough to engage with it effectively and collaboratively.

Behind the scenes – collaboration and communication 

Besides the work being done by initiatives in TINI, Friends of the Earth Ireland were coordinating a group looking at community energy - a European initiative called Community PowerEnergy Co-ops IrelandTipperary Energy Agency,Transition Kerry and others experienced in the community energy sector all collaborated and contributed to the policy submissions. Stop Climate Chaos and other climate groups also put in a lot of effort. We all sent in individual or group submissions as well as working on a joint document. We also used every opportunity to meet with officials and the Minister. We mobilised everyone we could and used every avenue available to get our message through. It was difficult for the politicians and civil servants to ignore all of us.  

Ireland

Systems Change

The whole consultation process was revolutionised. Instead of a 6 week call for submissions the department hosted 12 live streamed, interactive workshops, 4 of them regional and an extended consultation period. This pushed the completion date out by a year. “Irelands Transition to a Low Carbon Energy Future” was eventually launched in December 2015. 

Climate Change is central to the message, with a national vision - a massive change in Irish policy:

“A radical transformation of Ireland’s energy system is required to meet our climate policy objectives. This transformation will result in a low carbon energy system by 2050. By this we mean that GHG emissions from the energy sector will be reduced by between 80% and 95%, compared to 1990 levels. By 2100 our GHG emissions will have fallen to zero or below.” 

A whole chapter is dedicated to engaging the consumer including community energy: 

“Achieving our energy transition, and the vision set out in chapter two of this White Paper, will be a huge collective national undertaking. It will depend on the active engagement of citizens and communities. It will also require a deeper national awareness of the nature and scale of the challenge, and the development of consensus about the broad policy measures required to meet it.”  

Another indication that we made an impact:

“The development of this White Paper revealed a wide citizen and community desire to be consulted on, and participate in, Ireland’s energy transition and the development of energy- related projects. We acknowledge the need to develop mechanisms and instruments to make this happen. We will work to widen the opportunity for participation”  

One of the actions is establishing a national energy forum to have a national conversation on the energy transition. PEC and others are now onto the conversation about how this might manifest on the ground. The next chapter :)

Ireland

There’s no way I could go into greater detail about the workload that went into this systems change here but I did collate a blog post detailing some of the work and the outcome in greater detail. Also I can only tell my side of the story as the wonderful work of my collaborators is their tale to tell. 

By the way, we engage quite a lot in policy. We have done a lot to have Transition-type food solutions incorporated into county development plans and national policy. It really helped at a local level but the direct impact was not as deliberate or obvious.

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