Back to Basics – Relationships

Over the past year I have been studying our national energy conversation. Having been absorbed in awareness raising and communicating the challenges for the previous 6 years I realised that the time for some real talking was upon us – at last! People were waking up 🙂

It started when we hosted the People’s Energy Charter in Laois last November. It was effectively a national conversation with 4 parameters or base assumptions:

  • Communities must be involved
  • Renewable energy needs to be developed to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels
  • Fuel poverty needs to be addressed, guided by the principles of equality
  • Climate change must be addressed

It was a creative conversation with many people having lots to talk about. PEC has evolved to call for comprehensive public participation in all energy plans, policies and projects, more here.

Since then I have attended meetings, industry workshops, prohibitively expensive energy conferences, planning debates and various other industry, government and community events. I have watched how policy makers, industry and various “intermediaries” rub shoulders at these events. I have watched as they present their plans, discuss their obstacles and deliver their message. I have reported on many of them through this blog.

Over the past 7 years I have really enjoyed working at community level. I have also raised awareness amongst policy makers including presentations to councils and Leinster house but my heart is always in community based workshops. Facilitating the Powerdown Show has put me in touch with three different communities within Laois who recognised the need for our energy transition and the fact that it must include action from everyone.

I see an obvious disconnect. Policy makers don’t get involved in workshops – they like lectures and briefings. They don’t necessarily give themselves time to absorb the information they receive never mind actually consider what to do with it. I often wondered why Pat Rabbitte, when he was Minister for Energy, never attended the community based events I did. I only ever rubbed shoulders with him at staged events.

Communities on the other hand, in a facilitated workshop environment, do consider the challenges we face. They probably have more time to do so. They consider the impact upon their lives, their families and their communities. They talk about it. They brainstorm. They work together to discuss solutions or measures to address or cope with what we face.

My honest opinion is that industry, intermediaries and government officials are so close to each other at this stage I question their ability to be impartial and innovative. There never seems to be any meaningful community or public presence. A certain level of “us and them” definitely exists and the gap seems to be widening all the time. I have observed that industry has a greater presence at the civil service table, if only based on when they meet at over priced conferences. The SEAI – Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland also spends a lot of time with government and industry.

Human nature being what it is means that you usually trust those you know. It could really be that simple. People trust people within their communities whilst policy makers trust the people they mingle with – the supposed “experts” – who may just happen to have a vested interest in the product they convince decision makers is the solution to everything!

I find this very unfortunate given the challenging times in which we live. At a time when we need to work extremely well together to overcome the massive challenges of climate change and resource depletion we are fragmenting. This has got to change. We need comprehensive public participation with all parties at the table.

So – it’s human nature. There is nobody to blame here – it is merely a challenge we must work together to address? If I were to blame anything it would be greed and those vested interests – human nature, again. We need to broaden the conversation so that greed is not the dominant voice. Reminds me of my earlier poem “If I had the money Minister

collaborating people's charter
Bringing people together with all of their views and opinions can be a very rewarding exercise

Theresa O’Donohoe

August 10th 2014


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