We attended an Energy Seminar Summit in Dublin last week and it’s clear that things need to rapidly change in this country if we’re going to reach long-standing EU targets for renewable energy.
Ireland is lagging well behind such targets and opposition to alternative forms of energy remains strong in rural areas, as evidenced by the 200-strong gathering which assembled at a public meeting in Kilmacthomas recently to discuss a (since withdrawn) wind turbine proposal.
We would suggest that opposition would not prove so strong if the question of scale was addressed, with height proving so regularly referenced in public submissions to planning proposals throughout the country. But sometimes such opposition is difficult to justify in our view.
Perhaps this will lead electricity suppliers to acquire additional energy from wind farms, such as Bruckana in North Tipperary, where 14 turbines, according to Bord na Móna, have the “capacity to supply energy to 23,000 homes”.
And what about the solar option, which will soon be realised regionally in the guise of a 26-acre development at Coolroe, near Ballycullane in County Wexford, a short drive from the village of Campile. It’s the first such development of its kind in the State, which, along with the potential of solar power, will be reported on in greater detail in a future edition.
Looking to the United States, for example, energy companies buy surplus electricity from domestic users for wind or solar and pay the same money as they charge out for the energy – a very consumer-friendly approach.
In the US State of Nevada, where they have so much sunshine, a 30 per cent tax deduction is place for the purchase cost of the solar panels that people install on their land or buildings.
This has led to a boom in solar energy installations, with President Obama strongly behind it.
And of course, what cannot be forgotten is that solar panelling sources daylight from the sun, be it exposed or behind the cover of clouds, so they are continuously in use.
For its part. Germany also buys in energy from small consumers or farmers that have surplus energy.
Here, the ESB doesn’t buy small amounts and when they buy larger amounts from larger energy producers like bigger turbine operators, the figure is less than the charge out. In some cases this can prove less than 50 per cent of what the ESB charge customers.
In Northern Ireland, better incentives had been in place until British Prime Minister David Cameron decided to change policy.
The ESB, a State monopoly, remains protected, as it doesn’t buy in small amounts of energy which could, in time, make people and communities more self-sufficient in energy.
Thus, small turbines can be economic for farmers and rural dwellers. The installation of smaller turbines would negate the need for larger, more powerful turbines and would, one suspects, make wind power more acceptable to the general public.
Businesses are making their own wind power now, such as GSK in Dungarvan, where a small turbine has been permitted on site, thus leading to long-term cost savings.
Other businesses are following this lead as the EU is promoting sustainable energy policies, and incentivising through various grants, as the Sustainable Energy Authority does here.
Energy experts believe that Ireland needs to move faster on this front and not be held back by State monopolies. A more rational public debate on renewable energy would also help.