National Energy Policy – Next Phase

Last Wednesday September 24th I attended the launch of the next phase of the National Energy Policy. This was my first event with Alex White, the new Minister at the Department of Communication, Energy and Natural Resources, DCENR. My impression was very positive and I feel he is intent on ensuring this policy can work.

Just to recap, the policy document is being worked around 6 priorities which continue to shape proceedings:

Priority 1. Empowering Energy Citizens

Priority 2. Markets, Regulation, Prices

Priority 3. Planning and Implementing Essential Energy Infrastructure

Priority 4. Ensuring a balanced and secure energy mix

Priority 5. Putting the energy system on a sustainable pathway

Priority 6. Driving economic opportunity

The event was split into 6 main speakers giving an overview of the submissions on each priority to date. They each mentioned how many submissions were relevant to their priority and broke that down further into headings such as substantiative, considered and petition style. Many submissions referred to more than one priority so there was overlap. However some of the contradiction struck me as critical. For example one speaker as well as the Minister in his opening address, mentioned our urgent need to decarbonise, most submissions in at least one priority, were opposed to fracking or hydraulic fracturing, yet fossil fuel exploration remained an important consideration from another speaker. When is the joined up thinking going to come in?

The main announcements were that there will be 6 seminars based on these priorities in the coming months and Minister White will chair a Steering Group to advise on the finalisation of the Energy Policy. Perhaps this is the opportunity for joined up thinking?

The six seminars covering each of the six priorities are being held as follows:

Oct 21st Planning and Implementing Essential Energy Infrastructure

Nov 4th Empowering Energy Citizens

Nov 11th Ensuring a balanced and secure energy mix

Nov 17th Markets and Regulation

Dec 1st Driving Economic Opportunity

Dec 2nd Putting the Energy System on a Sustainable Pathway

Then in spring 2015 an overview of the outcome of the seminars will be presented.

So there is to be a steering group to advise on the final policy. Participants in the steering group were named as John Fitzgerald (Economic & Social Research Iinstitute), Brian Motherway (Sustainable Energy Association of Ireland), Helen Donoghue (Institute of International & European Affairs) along with three DCENR officials.

My first, glaringly obvious, question was “Who will be representing the environment, public participation and communities, especially rural communities, on this steering group?”. The simple answer to this was that Brian Motherway of SEAI would be focusing on the sustainability of the policy. Sorry – that is just not good enough!

It’s worth pointing out that I did not receive an invitation to this event due to my work with the People’s Energy Charter or Transition Ireland and Northern Ireland. I attended representing the Environmental Pillar. I was aware of the fact that most in attendance had been invited as “key stakeholders”.

Here is some of DCENRs information about the seminars including slides from the lanch. I did ask if there could be a budget for people outside of Dublin to attend. The short answer was “no”.

Once podium time was finished or on a coffee break I had some good conversations and feel a lot more positive about public participation. It takes time and effort, progress is slow but we’re getting there. It is now time for communities to get together and design the energy future they want.

I leave you with a little example of the minds behind our national energy policy. One speaker claimed it is sometimes good to do nothing. Allow time to pass and reflect upon the actions you were considering. Perhaps time will make something cheaper or unnecessary. In 5 years time things may look different. He later told a story about a new bathroom he had installed in case he might need it someday as he aged. Now isn’t that ironic!?

Theresa O’Donohoe

September 27th 2014

 


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