Climate Change “not a priority for the North and Western Regional Assembly”

Our recent submission to the NWRA concerning their Regional Spatial Strategy, has been hard-hitting concerning the report’s lack of emphasis of Climate Change and the urgency of responding to it.

Once again, serious climate change commitments are lacking at regional as well as national levels. Climate change is real and is happening right now and every delay or reticence in adopting further policies to cope with it will result in huge economic and financial losses for the Irish economy. Moreover, there seems to be a lack of clear vision regarding the concept of “sustainability” throughout the whole Strategy as neither indications nor goals and targets are provided on how to achieve it.

Ireland North and Western Region (Ph. NWRA issue paper)

We at GEAI were responding to a Public Consultation on the new Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy (RSES) launched by the Northern and Western Regional Assembly in December 2017. The RSES Strategy aims at “reaching a shared understanding about regional economic development processes […] and promoting innovative, competitive and a productive region”. In our view, the document fails in this aim as it fails to recognise the fact that Climate change is a serious threat to Ireland’s North and Western Region and adaptation is an immediate requirement.

Its view is that “the transition (to a low carbon economy) will require a cultural step change in the approach to Green Energy Development”. However, it does not include a roadmap to such cultural change and, indeed, relegates climate action to just one section of the report.

What is not realised is that this transition includes a big opportunity now to unlock the renewable energy potential of the Northern and Western Region. We propose a vision of the Region becoming a self-sustaining macro-generator of electricity, producing a significant proportion of the nation’s total need for power. This can only happen through community energy ownership and Government support for microgeneration. As a first step towards achieving this vision, it is vital that Government initiates immediately a scheme for fair feed-in tariffs for all electricity generation from 50 watts to 6 megawatts.

Awareness raising is key to undertaking such a cultural change. We therefore suggest to create and implement a Climate Change & Renewable Energy Awareness Programme to boost behavioural change.

Read our full submission


Microgeneration vital in the move towards a low carbon economy

We at GEAI responded to the public consultation on the Design of a new Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS) launched the 04th of September 2017 by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

The consultation document contains an economic assessment of a new RESS in Ireland followed by an assessment on how to increase community participation and suggestion of a model. Our response focussed mainly on the section “providing pathways for increased community participation” and microgeneration.

In our view, micro-scale electricity generation is a very crucial step towards a low carbon transition. However, this vision seems not to be fully shared by the Department.


Rooftop solar PVs

In fact, the RESS report states that “the relative cost of micro-generation is very high” and cites the example that domestic rooftop solar PV is 4100/MWh more expensive than large and medium solar PV in 2020. It then concludes that “meeting renewable electricity targets and renewable diversity ambitions are more cost effectively achieved at large and medium scale levels”. For the above mentioned reasons it is then proposed that “microgeneration would not be supported via the main RESS”.

We think this conclusion is based solely on economic grounds, which does not take into consideration the added value of getting the community’s goodwill and commitment to make the change to renewables.

Furthermore, rural areas play an important role in the transition towards a low carbon economy and community participation is the key of this process, mainly because it has the potential to revitalise rural areas through reskilling workers, creation of local jobs (e.g. installers, maintenance) that would keep workers in their communities and generating new income streams for businesses and farms.

A microgeneration support scheme would engage householders and farmer’s attention; it would introduce them to the possibility of change in their sources and uses of energy; it would make them more amenable to consider new ways of doing things.

In particular, if the individual feels that he/she is being supported to participate in the new world of renewables, this will make them far more amenable to support proposals for larger-scale developments such as wind farms.

Another consideration is that, despite some projects being designated as community-led under the scheme, the perception will remain that renewable energy projects are again examples of developers coming into a community and imposing changes on residents to “their” landscape that they have not agreed to nor want.

Where there is dissatisfaction, there will be active opposition. To win the hearts and minds of communities who already are opposed to wind turbines (for example) will take more than talk about community benefits; the better approach is to give them ownership of their own energy future.

At this stage, people know that we have to change the way we do things. A supported microgeneration scheme is the best way of allowing the change to start.

Read our full submission




GEAI volunteers on their way to do an Energy Survey


Energy surveys have been carried out in Carrick-on-Shannon, Drumshanbo, Ballinamore and Carrigallen (Leitrim); in Grange (Sligo) and Ballyshannon (Donegal) this summer, as part of the NECS project organised by Good Energies Alliance Ireland (GEAI) and I.T. Sligo.  Six Smart Energy Action events are now organised for the target towns and all are welcome.

The events will take place as follows:

Carrick-on-Shannon on Tuesday 12th September in Bush Hotel, 10am – 2pm.
Drumshanbo on Thursday 14th in Áras Padraig, 10am – 2pm .
Grange on Friday 15th in the Temperance Hall, 10am – 2pm.
Carrigallen on Monday 18th in the Old Schoolhouse, 10am to 2pm
Ballinamore on Tuesday 19th in the Scouts Den, 10am – 2pm.
Ballyshannon on Thursday 21st in the Breesy Centre, 10am – 2pm.

Each event will include

  • Case Studies
  • Results of the Energy Survey
  • Discussions on clean energy schemes and funding and
  • The way forward for each town.

All events are free and refreshments and lunch are included.  All welcome.

For further details, please contact GEAI at 087 2382324.

The problem with Biomass – it can emit more carbon per unit of energy than most fossil fuels!


harvesting wood 2
Is wood a carbon-neutral energy source?

In February 2017, Chatham House published Woody Biomass for Power and Heat: Impacts on the Global Climate, by Duncan Brack.  The report argues that policies promoting wood for renewable energy production are based on the flawed assumption that wood is a carbon-neutral energy source.  In fact, as reported, emissions from wood burning may be higher than the fossil fuels replaced.

Biomass in general emits more carbon per unit of energy than most fossil fuels. EU policies do not account for the emissions from bioenergy in the energy sector, because it is assumed that these emissions are accounted for at the point of harvest in the land use sector. However, whether these emissions can be recuperated by future growth of biomass is not only uncertain, but often unlikely.  The report finds that part of the emissions may never be accounted for, such as when EU countries use biomass imported from the United States.

Policies must distinguish between different types of feedstock

The report, in line with earlier recommendations by environmental groups, proposes that policies clearly distinguish between different types of feedstock and provide support only to those which reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the short term, taking into account changes in forest carbon stocks. With regard to wood harvesting, only residues that would otherwise have been burnt as waste or would have been left in the forest and decayed rapidly can be considered to be carbon-neutral over the short to medium term.

In principle, sustainability criteria can ensure that only biomass with the lowest impact on the climate are used; the current criteria in use in some EU member states and under development in the EU do not achieve this.

Is Carbon Tax a solution for our emissions problems?

What is Carbon Tax?

A carbon tax is a form of carbon pricing by taxing fuels that contain carbon. Every hydrocarbon fuel (coal, petroleum, and natural gas) contains carbon which is released as carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas in our atmosphere, once these fuels are burned. A number of countries have implemented carbon taxes or energy taxes that are related to carbon content. Most environmentally related taxes with implications for greenhouse gas emissions are levied on energy products and motor vehicles, rather than on CO2 emissions directly.

From a theoretical economic perspective, carbon taxes help to address the problem of emitters of greenhouse gases by making them pay the so called “social cost” of their actions. However, carbon taxes can be viewed as regressive taxes, in that they may directly or indirectly affect low-income groups disproportionately.

“Raising prices reduces demand”

mankiw500wideAccording to Gregory Mankiw, Professor of Economics at Harvard University, who was featured in the newest NatGeo documentary “Before the Flood”, lesson number 1 of Economics is “if there is a tax that raises the price of some product/service, people will tend to consume less of it”. Mankiw, who has worked with former Republican candidates such as Mitt Romney and John McCain and with the Bush administration, uses this argument as a justification for the implementation of a carbon tax. According to estimations, by 2060, climate change will have cost a total of $44 Trillion USD and the professor’s view is that this tax could help tackling global change by dodging people into the direction of doing the right choices and adopt a more sustainable lifestyle.

Carbon tax may not be the answer

But is Mankiw correct? …In my opinion, carbon tax may not be the solution to the climate crisis we are facing today and will face throughout the rest of this century, and to justify my disbelief I will give two reasons.

First, Carbon tax is relying on the same sort of beliefs as trickle-down economics and Keynesian policies, which is that economics can predict exactly the behavior of the masses, thus regarding people as discrete, easily predictable parameters. The problem with carbon tax is that the consequences may not be that easy to predict, thus undermining the feasibility of such assumptions, as they often fail to consider factors that lead to completely different outcomes in the public’s behavior.

The goal of this kind of mitigation policy is to catalyze the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, in particular with regard to vehicles and heating. What carbon tax would do is to put the financial burden of climate change on citizen’s wallets, thus putting people in an even tighter stranglehold through yet another tax, slashing their purchase power.

A vicious cycle

carsIf carbon tax is imposed, I am concerned that people won’t be able to afford to switch to carbon free energy sources and transportation due to scarcity and uncompetitive prices. Then the vicious cycle begins: people who have less purchase power will be obliged to pay the carbon tax and their purchase power will be reduced even further.

industryAdditionally, carbon tax applied on industries may not drive those industries to adopt low carbon technologies, due to the fact that they could easily dodge such tax by increasing prices and then the consumers would be the ones absorbing all the impact. Another weakness of the carbon tax is that it doesn’t necessarily imply a reduction of carbon emissions but rather allows governments to “make a profit” out of it, as it derives income from taxes.

There is now the urgent need to cut carbon emissions in order to meet the Paris agreement goals of a 1.5ºC warming. Therefore, one can use Ronal Reagan’s own words to say “Carbon tax is not the solution, it is part of the problem”.2

Alternatives to carbon tax

There are a number of ways in which we could tackle carbon emissions more effectively and none of them requires increasing taxes on the working people, for example:

  • Having an efficient, high-quality public transport network with affordable ticket prices,
  • Subsidizing electric vehicles, making them more affordable,
  • Or even banning carbon emitting energy sources and vehicles from the market, the most extreme but also the most effective measure.

In this scenario, with the absence of carbon emitting energy sources on the market, people will switch to clean (renewable) energies and we would finally be in a position where our targets could be achieved.

Let’s look at asbestos as an example: the use of asbestos is forbidden since it poses a major threat to public health; no one can even buy asbestos to use as a construction material. This solves the asbestos problem and we no longer have to worry about the occupational health and safety of people as to what exposure to asbestos concerns. Now, if we adopt the same position towards dirty energy sources and vehicles, we could finally take the step that needs to be taken and open the door to a carbon-free future.



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