Energy Communities - Learning from the Past and Our Peers
I’m always surprised how many people I talk to, outside of the energy industry, that don’t realise that on average Ireland currently generates almost a quarter of its annual electricity requirements from renewables. In fact of the 2020 sustainable energy targets, we are actually making best progress in the area of renewable electricity. The majority of this comes from wind. Often, on very windy days, the contribution from wind to electricity generation can be over 50%. Despite these great inroads, there is a need for a significant second push to get us to the required targets by the end of 2020. For this to succeed, it must be largely community led.
Without a doubt that was the clearest signal given at a recent event organised by SEAI in collaboration with the Danish Embassy, in the beautiful surroundings of the Dublin Institute of Technology Grangegorman campus. The main focus of the gathering was to allow interested communities and stakeholders in Ireland to hear first-hand examples from those involved in community wind projects in Denmark.
One of the most inspirational presentations of the day was from Henning Davidsen of Hvide Sande (White Sands) Community Wind Turbine Association who told how the local community decided to install three wind turbines in their coastal fishing village to generate funds to upgrade their port facilities. The local tourist association was the initiator of the project, and is 80% project owner. Four hundred locals are shareholders in the remaining 20%. The tourist association now uses income generated to support local investments in the harbour and surrounding area.
Claus Borg and Kirsten Eldon from Lemvig Local Authority in Denmark shared their experiences of wind turbine planning and particularly the positive influence that high levels of citizen engagement has had in recent times. The municipality currently has about 120 wind turbines generating about three times the electricity demand of the region. What was most encouraging was their ability to continually revisit and adapt the planning policies and regulations to meet current demands. Lemvig intend to reduce the number of turbines through repowering and upgrades to larger more powerful turbines and are considering a “scrappage” scheme for wind turbines.
Other speakers shared insights on the important role of the wind industry, the employment opportunities in an energy transition such as that underway in Denmark, but also that research has identified a historic and regrettable lack of trust as the main factor in the downfall of many projects.
Since 2012 SEAI has witnessed an exponential increase in the level of community engagement in sustainable energy initiatives here in Ireland. Often the starting point was relatively modest initial investments in attic insulation and boiler replacements. Three years on those same communities are actively considering the benefits and options of investing in renewables such as solar PV and wind, potentially providing a longer term return to the community. To date SEAI has supported 260 community projects, and almost 40 communities are participants in the Sustainable Energy Community Network. To me courage and trust are in abundance in these communities, where with initial support of SEAI, they are set on a pathway which will ultimately enable them to have a material involvement in dictating their sustainable energy future. They also have the energy, willingness and ambition to transition to away from fossil fuels and out of carbon.
Through the day, the discussions at the workshop moved from “why haven’t we done this before” to “how can we follow these great examples”. And perhaps that is the next step for us all as a society, to learn from but leave the past behind us and work together on the best path forward, sharing our experiences and hard knocks with our fellow communities here and abroad.