UK and Ireland’s Green Energy MoU: an opportunity for wider community benefits

The UK-Ireland International MoU is very welcome, but the Minister here must keep energy storage options open and remember that community ownership is the best way for Ireland to benefit economically and socially from renewable energy projects.

 

The Irish and British governments are to sign a memorandum of understanding today pledging to ” commit to working closely together to secure economic benefits for both countries through trade in renewable energy”. This will effectively set in place the arrangements necessary for Irish developers, under the regulation of the two national governments, to trade  electricity generated using renewable means via inter-connectors between the two Islands.

 

The UK hopes to be able to meet its EU agreed 2020 renewable energy requirements using Irish generated power. The Irish government is seeking to regulate these developments while also facilitating them.

 

Minister Rabbitte has in the past been adamant that the Irish government will not be adopting a laissez faire attitude to international electricity trade. Indeed in his interview today on RTE radio the Minister pointed out that EU rules demanded that such trade be regulated on an inter-governmental level. He also said that he was not predisposed to any particular developments which would all be subject to the planning process in any case.

 

A key issue raised by the Minister was the lack of economically viable means of electrical energy storage. In this he was probably referring to grid scale electro-chemical means of electrical storage. Hydro-energy storage systems such as those proposed by lobby group Spirit of Ireland make use of technologies whose economic viability have long been established.

 

The regulation and governmental oversight of a more integrated renewable energy market encompassing Britain and Ireland is very welcome. It will enable the Irish economy to export a valuable resource, it will permit grid operators to spread the wind energy load (because let’s face it that’s the energy being accommodated here), and it will thereby increase wind energy penetration.

 

However, the Minister seems to be slipping further into accepting corporate developer led projects as the only/best option for renewable energy. There is a danger that developers who have again and again in the past years announced grandiose plans for onshore wind projects and who may have only a short term interest in sustainability will be seen as the only game in town. This would seem to ignore the community ownership model.

Community ownership by Irish investors would spread the benefits of green energy projects. Community owned projects would contribute more to the local economy. They would do more than merely pay council rates and corporate taxes (which the may be avoided in any case – much of the investment in the corporate projects seems to be coming from overseas).

 

The Minister suggested in his interview that the desirability of onshore wind projects will be adjudged by the planning regulations. He is possibly missing out on an opportunity of also judging projects on the basis of their contribution to the national economy. The Minister could instead assist community owned projects more concretely through for example  simpler regulations, loan guarantee schemes, informational assistance at the early stages of developments. He could thus help the growth of indigenously funded and owned renewable energy projects. These would then retain within Ireland the profit benefits of the international market he is establishing.

 

No doubt there will be yet another flurry of press releases from the usual corporate developers. However we must bear in mind that community ownership which has served our agri-industry excellently should be included in our  business models fort he renewables sector.