Launch of National Economic and Social Council NESC report “Wind Energy in Ireland : Building Community Engagement and Social Support”

I will start by posting my 5 minute speech.

“Speaking as a co-founder of Transition Ireland & Northern Ireland and convener of the *People’s Energy Charter, I am delighted that the word transition appears in this report at least 100 times. Even more welcome is it’s context and intent. I sincerely expect that the People’s Energy Charter – PEC and Transition Ireland and Northern Ireland – TINI will welcome it and not allow it to sit on a shelf 🙂

I am going to propose 2 practical steps that can be taken to start the process.

A recommendation on page 21 suggests that “At national level, an energy transition process would seem to have three overlapping features.”
It must be:

  • Intentional
  • Participatory
  • Problem-solving

This is what we have been doing in the Transition movement since 2006. A transition initiative begins, in any community, when a group of people intentionally set out to raise awareness of climate change, resource depletion including peak oil and the subsequent economic contraction. The group seek widespread participation to create a workable vision for their community. The focus is always on problem solving and addressing the challenges we face as a species.

So what needs to happen next?

The People’s Energy Charter have been calling for comprehensive public participation in national energy plans, policies and projects. One way of doing that could be the transition way.

For a healthy transition community it is important to get as diverse and focused a group as possible. Lots of people with a common aim. The ideal first public meeting would be attended by people from all the local groups, associations, local authority, church, men, women, old and young. Transition Ireland and Northern Ireland have given great thought to how this could work.

How could we take intentional steps?
My first proposal is a national scale event replicating the ideal community meeting. That is by bringing the national executives of organisations that are rooted in communities throughout the country, together, to better understand the urgent challenges we face. To introduce the transition process and where they may be able to facilitate, engage and move it forward. It would lead the way for bringing many more people to the collaborating table. It would definitely be an intentional action to get the ball rolling – staging a national scenario showing how it could work at local level.

Bodies such as :

  • GAA – Gaelic Athletic Association and other sporting bodies
  • Tidy Towns
  • ICA – Irish Country Woman’s Association
  • IFA – Irish Farmers Association
  • Youth groups- Foroige, Comhairle Na nÓg, Green Schools, Scouts
  • Rural Link
  • Energy agencies
  • Transition groups
  • Community fora
  • Religious institutions
  • Credit unions
  • State agencies, NGOs, The Wheel and institutional state companies could also be involved – Seai – Sustainable Energy Authority Ireland, IEN – Irish Environmental Network member group branches, Bord Na Mona, Coillte etc. other possibilities IWFA – Irish Wind Farmers Association, IRBEA- Irish bio energy association, farm forestry groups.

Perhaps these bodies could host their own national workshops devising their own strategies to work at community level with other groups on the transition process. The key to a successful transition is collaboration.

Other intentional steps at national level are broader education and awareness raising – not just in schools! The message that we are faced with very real challenges needs to be given.

Our government and national media are not doing people justice by skirting around the facts that climate change is urgent and fossil fuel is finite. The warnings from the International Energy Agency – IEA, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – IPCC and the United Nations – UN, must be relayed. These must be repeated and highlighted to provoke response and a desire to transition. We need to address climate change, peak oil, resource depletion, equality, social and inter generational justice and we must do it without blaming the EU and others for setting targets. We should be mature and brave enough to admit responsibility for taking action for the sake of future generations.

How do we make it Participatory?
I believe ensuring participation sits squarely on the shoulders of government, local and national. Developers must also take their part seriously. The new public participation measures in local government reform, Public Participation Networks (PPN introduction available here) would be brilliant to facilitate this process in my opinion. This would also be a step towards compliance with the Aarhus Convention.

I believe there needs to be internal workshops with county managers and directors of services on best public participation measures and effective Public Participation Networks. Perhaps workshops involving members of the public may help shape acceptable local participation processes. The actual process of public participation may look very different in Donegal than it would in Cork. The innovative, entrepreneurial qualities of the Irish people should be nurtured to address these challenges. Local authorities are best placed to offer some support.

Summing up – I would like to see

  • The convening of a follow-on workshop of the National representative of organisations rooted within our Communities – as listed previously
  • Workshops for county managers and directors of service to put expertise and commitment behind Public Participation Networks”

So that is what I had to say. It seemed to be well received, especially the national meeting which was repeated in the closing address by Rory O’Donnell.

I stand by my opinion that those working on the report sincerely believe that we must engage in comprehensive public participation towards a national energy transition plan. They also acknowledged the fact that we need to look at all of our energy options – not just wind. We need a holistic plan. Unfortunately NESC have a much broader remit and cannot ensure delivery of the recommendations. This leaves interpretation to those with responsibility for engaging citizens in energy plans. Do I think they will embrace these recommendations? I think they would like to but I also think that fear will prevent them.

On the whole the workshop was well run, engaging and well rounded. It offered time for input, going over the deadline of 1pm. I hope that others in the room are committed to the well founded and innovative recommendations. I hope that they will manifest in action. That is why I gave practical steps. I do hope that others will come on board with some action.

Only 2 people did not welcome the report with open arms publicly, someone from SSE and another from the Irish Wind Energy Association – IWEA, citing the fact that the IWEA did not have sufficient involvement in it. How ironic 🙂

Naturally this report will not appeal to everyone and I must say that the wording alone leaves a lot to be desired. Mind you “Community Engagement and Social Support” is a lot better than the earlier phrase of “Community Acceptance”. It will take a leap of faith to look beyond the language alone but I feel that leap will be useful.

Some people stated the fact that wind power has always been well received in Ireland, until recently. To this I must state that the process by which plans for energy export projects were imposed on 5 counties without any consultation, never mind participation, has done massive damage to our progress with wind. Couple that with the fact that community energy projects come up against massive bureaucracy and brick walls but the system seems to roll over to big business. Do you blame people for not trusting?

Someone from the department suggested that a lot of the anger was probably misdirected, that it is actually a result of our economic circumstances. A sort of reaction to austerity perhaps – it’s not really about the infrastructure at all. To that person I say you are very wrong. Many of the people protesting are not particularly angry about austerity so please come out of your bubble and face the reality that the system has failed the people. The concerned people are normal, decent, everyday citizens who would not usually kick up a fuss. Theirs is a completely normal reaction when everything you have is under threat from developer led, capitalisation of your country, welcomed and facilitated by your government.

The very fact that this report has been undertaken implies that decisions have already been made that wind will be a major energy source for Ireland. True public participation must occur when all options are on the table. That has not happened in Ireland. Plans have been developed, steps have been taken, decisions have been made without public participation. It does not matter if the options are not viable they still need to be on the table. Participants can then explore their viability for themselves.

Personally I am happy to see this report and to have been involved in shaping it. I have taken what I see as important from it and I am focused on what I spoke about today. We do need a National Energy Transition Plan that must be intentional, participatory and problem-solving. That is all I need to know in order to ensure that the transition process is seen as a viable route for our national energy plans. Community led problem solving will lead to engaged, supportive, creative, focused community transition plans that can then feed the regional and national transition.

It’s simple really 🙂

Theresa O’Donohoe July 4th 2014

*The People’s Energy Charter evolved out of a solution focused, free of charge, public event hosted by LEAF – Laois Environmental Action Forum, which is a regional transition hub. With the support of COF – Claiming Our Future, almost 8 months ago 120 people met in Portlaoise to discuss their energy agenda and consider what a people’s fossil free energy charter might look like. The feedback is available here.

Further links to the report and background research are available here


6 thoughts on “Launch of National Economic and Social Council NESC report “Wind Energy in Ireland : Building Community Engagement and Social Support”

  1. Any one who would deal with anybody from the NESC , S.E.A.I. The Dept .of Energy on the basis that there concerns would be addressed is deluded. This a government that uses junk science, Crichton Et Al ,to say that people affected by LFN and Infrasound have a NOCEBO effect when all THE EVIDENCE proves Wind Turbine Syndrome is real. The wind program is an experiment on peoples health akin to Mengeles experiments in Auschwitz. The wind industry knows since 1985 that there are serious issue’s with LFN from wind turbines and its impact on peoples health.

    1. Thanks Sean. Our system is far from perfect. However ignoring it will change nothing. It doesn’t matter who’s in government. What will matter is mobilisation of the public. Surprisingly enough the nesc report agrees.
      What do you propose doing?
      Theresa

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