Actions speak loudest

Why are public bodies supporting exclusive back door policy opportunities? Where are the rural voices in Irelands energy space? Where are the “energy citizens” and local authorities in energy planning?

I recently attended the Energy & Climate Conference in Dublin Castle. This time I decided to see if I could encourage others from County Clare to come along so that we may bring our learning back. The conference organisers suggest councillors should attend so I asked a local councillor Johnny Flynn who regularly raises climate and energy issues. I know Johnny as we are both members of Clare’s Economic Development and Enterprise SPC, Strategic Policy Committee. Energy and climate change both have a massive influence on enterprise and the economy. Of course he should attend! Ideally the whole SPC should be there. I have found these conferences very useful in order to evaluate what’s happening in the governance and industry side of our energy transition. It helps inform my input to policy and allows me share that insight. It would be better if my fellow policy makers were attending.

His response:

“Theresa as you might know I first stood for election in 2004 on a number of issues such as promotion of sustainable development & Renewable Energy; prohibition of building on flood plains; no expenses or junkets taken if elected etc. In the 12 years since I have been elected I have had to fund my own attendance at conferences and in general find the costs can be prohibitive.

I have been unsuccessfully trying to get access by Video Conferencing at a reduced rate to a number of conferences. It would be great if you could raise this issue at the conference, of its reach and audience in terms of potential participants on the West Coast such as you and I who have huge travel, accommodation and entry costs to deal with in order to participate in what is primarily an East Coast audience, whilst bulk of the Renewable Energy potential (wind wave tidal wood) is on the West Coast”

Which sums it up nicely. This is how involved the elected representatives of our local authority can be in national energy policy networking. Effectively there is no place for them at the table. In their absence there is no rural voice. There is nobody watching our backs while the energy industry, state bodies, government departments and legal advisors all chat about what’s best for Ireland.

So I went prepared. Knowing the postcard size question cards available to the audience I planned to put my questions on the card and add a page of preamble to explain the reasoning behind the questions.

My one page preamble included Johnnys reply. I also told them I see a big role for the local authority in shaping our national transition. I see community as integral to the success of our energy transition. Both are absent from the main conferences I have attended for the past few years and I believe that’s a massive pity. We all need to be on the same pitch. Funnily enough these sentiments were raised numerous times during the conference by speakers and members of the audience.

Then on my question card I asked:

  • Can we discuss how we could address the issue of exclusion as highlighted in the attached?
  • Could the organisers liaise with other climate and energy events to pledge a rotation?
  • Could events be extended a day to include communities? Eg conference over 2 days in Cork, Galway, Limerick, Sligo.

My question card was the first one handed up. I noticed the chair reading it and he seemed to read it all. Then question time came and he acknowledged receiving it but said given the time restraints he would leave it until later as it’s quite long. I nodded and pleasantly conceded that later is fine.

As the day passed it became clear my question was on the very long finger. The usual lunch time exodus had occurred and half the audience was gone when the floor was opened up for questions at 3.45. Realising mine was being bypassed I raised my hand which prompted the chair to address it, sheepishly, almost dismissing it as an issue for the organisers. He tried to sum it up so I got hold of a microphone and explained in greater detail what I was talking about. I spoke to everyone and explained how useful this day had been and how useful it would have been had more “energy citizens” and local authority personnel been in attendance. I explained that these events would help open up the dialogue our national transition desperately needs. These conferences have to move out of Dublin. Logistically it’s very easy for business, state agencies and most NGOs to attend – it’s just another working day travel to the city centre. For some it’s an extremely long day, for others it’s a two day stint to the big smoke and for me it’s a three day trek to include child minders.

These conferences continuously bring up the challenge of community engagement. Everyone wants to know how. Well if everyone who attends is sincere then they shouldn’t mind travelling a little to demonstrate their sincerity. Thiese are not just questions for the event organisers. They are for everyone who continues to support a capital based, back door policy agenda.

Why is it that the Department of Communications, Energy & Natural Resources, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland and the Electricity Supply Board all support these events? State resources go into inviting energy industry and other interested parties who have €338 to spare, These are state bodies. This is tax payers money? Why can’t tax payers attend?

The next big event is in June in Croke Park but after that I want to see these events moving outside of Dublin and inviting the people who will be most impacted by the hardware solutions this transition will bring from sustainable cars to wave technology and solar farms. It’s just not good enough to remain behind closed doors in the capital any more.

Here is some of the info about the event:

Energy & Climate Summit

Implications of COP 21 for the energy sector

Tuesday 23rd February 2016 Dublin Castle

2016 is an important year for energy and climate policy. The new Energy White Paper sets out the future of energy policy to 2030 and beyond. In the global context, the COP 21 climate talks have concluded and climate action has now moved into the implementation phase. All of this will have major implications for the energy sector in Ireland and will raise questions for industry executives, policy-makers and regulators.

Don’t miss this high level summit which will bring together all the key players in the Irish energy and climate space.

Key issues examined include:

  • Energy and climate change policy in 2016
  • Analysing Ireland’s emissions inventory
  • Decarbonising Ireland’s energy industry
  • The European perspective – meeting 2030 targets
  • Economic impact of decarbonisation
  • International energy and climate ambitions: Scotland and France
  • An NGO viewpoint on climate

 

The programme is available here

Here is the brochure

Who should attend?

This important Energy and Climate Summit will be of broad appeal to those working across the energy and environment sectors. It will be of particular relevance to:

• Government departments

• Other agencies and public sector bodies

• Regulatory officials

• Semi-state energy utilities

• Other energy company executives

• Economists

• Environmental organisations

• Renewable energy developers

• Local energy agencies

• NGOs / community organisations

• Legal and financial advisors

• Consultants

• Academics / researchers

• Local councils – officers and councillors

Theresa O’Donohoe

March 2016


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