Eirgrid, the PPNs and “What is Participation in our Energy Transition?”

I became aware of this potentially subversive proposal within the Public Participation Networks PPNs over the Christmas period and I didn’t know what to do about it. Anyone I mentioned it to had a similar reaction as I did – it’s very suspicious. It is not sitting easy with me and I am one for trusting my gut so I’ve decided to share what’s in my head.

First I just want to identify some roles within the PPN. The plenary is effectively all of the community groups registered with the PPN who decide upon the work plan for the PPN. The secretariat is a group elected by the plenary to oversee implementation of the work plan and manage the resource worker who has the only paid position. I prefer the term coordinator because that is effectively what the resources officer does. The secretariat is designed as a flat structure and  roles are not supposed to be held for long. This is to try to prevent a hierarchy forming. For example, a rotating chairperson could be someone chairing one meeting or meetings for a few months but it should not really be an ongoing role for any one person. They should not have any decision making authority or power. Here’s some info from ClarePPN.ie

Last year the coordinators began meeting to discuss their evolving roles. PPNs are pretty new as part of local government reform with some being very different to others so these meetings have become a support, information sharing and networking resource for the coordinators. They can discuss the job, challenges, experiences, learning and more. They started the ball rolling themselves and the DHPCL Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government now support their meetings. I think it’s a great idea and am proud that our coordinator in Clare played a role in getting that ball rolling.

So what is bothering me? Eirgrid who are responsible for Ireland’s electricity transmission network is involved in very big electricity infrastructure projects including pylons, underground cables and more. Public consultation and community engagement is legally required when they do pretty much everything. DHPCL will be passing on to Eirgrid the contact details for the 31 PPNs and have been invited to attend the coordinators networking meeting. This presentation is to allow Eirgrid set out its community engagement policies to the coordinators and facilitate initial introductions for future engagement with Eirgrid at individual PPN level. I see it as a strategy by Eirgrid to state their plans and build relations with the one permanent role within each PPN, to their own advantage.

PPNs are under resourced already so to expect them to be giving their time to state or semi state bodies is just abuse in my opinion. The coordinators were asked if they were happy with this but I believe it should have been run by each secretariat first, if not the plenary. I’m sure it all appeared very innocent but I have been around the energy industry long enough to know better. How many people know about this strategy? How many believe it is appropriate?

There is an underlying issue of course and that is the independence of the PPNs. When we were setting up in Clare we asked Clare County Council if we could line manage our coordinator. We were told we couldn’t so we made alternative arrangements. I believe housing the PPN within the local authority compromises it’s position as an independent entity to ensure public participation in policy and decision making.

I want to bring in my own proposal to build a National Energy Transition Plan which includes the PPNs but is very different from Eirgrids approach. I would like a paid Transition Coordinator alongside every PPN. Of course given the fact that many PPNs are not independent it is probably better to establish an independent network of transition coordinators that can liaise with the PPN plenary. I have decided not to pursue the Life funding option to get this off the ground myself. This is what the public sector is for. As a systems analyst engaging in energy and climate policy over the past 10 years I have already given the civil service a strategy to ensure comprehensive public participation in a national transition vision that is Aarhus compliant – considerate of peoples right to be informed when all options are on the table and involved in decisions that affect their environment. It is mapped out to ensure a national energy transition plan that cannot be invalidated in 5, 10, 15 years. It should be comprehensive enough to ensure compliance with the Aarhus convention and endeavours to be bottom up enough that it compliments top down steps in the hope that people feel included in the process and committed to the plan. The full proposal is here and the basic concept is in italics here:

ACTIONS

  • Appoint Climate & Energy Transition Coordinators to work in conjunction with every Public Participation Network (PPN). They will have a coordinating role for Climate and Energy awareness, information, education and participation in planning at community and local authority level. They will facilitate community led, collaborative climate and energy plans to ensure action to mitigate and adapt to climate change. They would work in conjunction with the PPN while collaborating with the Local authority, energy agency, local media, development companies and other bodies within the area. They would be tasked with collating the public vision for how the transition should happen while empowering people to engage in the policy and decision-making as well as inspiring them to take action in their own communities. Ideally they should be independent of the local authority.
  • Establish an energy forum in each local authority area. This will be a space for stakeholders – communities, council, business, industry, farmers, church, sporting bodies etc., to meet and explore climate and energy issues. This will also be the forum that discusses what needs to be represented at the National Energy Forum and Climate Dialogue. This is especially important for rural areas where infrastructure decisions have historically been made centrally without the host communities input.
  • This should be done in conjunction with a national awareness-raising campaign similar to those addressing smoking and road deaths.
  • Network all transition coordinators to ensure parallel practices, support, shared overarching agendas, ongoing training and policy awareness all aimed at achieving representative feedback to the national platforms and policy.
  • Establish a national transition office, coordinator, website, social media and resource portal.

OBJECTIVES

  • To raise awareness, communicate and disseminate information in the fields of Climate Action and Energy including climate change impacts, mitigation, adaptation, policy and planning.
  • To ensure a collaborative transition towards a low carbon and climate resilient economy while putting Ireland on the road to implementing EU climate and energy commitments.
  • To ensure that Irelands National Energy Transition Plan is Aarhus Compliant.
  • Facilitate local visioning and transition timelines that will contribute to local, regional and national plans and policy.
  • To act as a conduit for feedback to government, policy consultations and other stakeholders.

Of course the National Energy Forum we fought hard to get has now been adopted by the Climate Dialogue which has been put on the end of the Citizens Assembly agenda for discussion. That will bring any commencement of a Climate Dialogue into 2018 earliest – indicative of Irelands commitment to Climate INAction! I think my proposal is a holistic, resourced approach to our energy future unlike Eirgrids attempt to isolate grid issues from the bigger picture while expecting the services of already stretched PPNs. Sure who am I!

Theresa O’Donohoe

January 18th 2017

Update – I received word on January 20th that Eirgrid cancelled their date with the PPN coordinators.

Here is the latest PPN User Guide from May 2016

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