The future of clean energy
2017-01-15 10:56:05 -
Dublin conference calls for political leadership in support of renewable energy and warns of dangers of nuclear, writes Michael McGowan

The lack of urgency that dominates the energy debate in Government, political parties and the public, and the need for local energy initiatives, were key themes at what I believe was one of the most important European meetings I was privileged to attend during 2016, held shortly before Christmas in the council chamber of Dublin City Hall and attracting delegates of local authorities from the Republic, Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales.

The organiser of and brains behind the Dublin meeting was Sean Morris, secretary of Nuclear Free Local Authorities of Ireland and the United Kingdom, who is an authority on sustainable energy and was a keynote speaker at the conference, where topic of discussion included how Brexit might affect energy policy, and the consequences of the election of climate change sceptic Donald Trump as president of the United State.

Local authorities in Ireland and the UK are increasingly exploring the potential and necessity of moving towards sustainable nuclear-free energy, but there is an urgent need for politicians to give greater priority to theses developments.

The conference was informed that 70 per cent of an all-Ireland single-energy market could come from renewable energy sources by 2030, and with relevant political leadership excess energy could also be exported.

Morris spoke of good local energy examples in Tipperary, Galway, Belfast, and Dundalk, and said there is now a €16m saving in Dublin energy.

He also referred to 30 “fantastic” examples of councils developing decentralised energy in England, Scotland and Wales, and said that both large and small councils have energy companies, community energy, district heating or geothermal projects.

Morris cited Tipperary Energy Agency as a national leader in community energy, saving €760,000 for Tipperary councils in 2016 alone, and he mentioned important energy initiatives in Belfast, Derry/Londonderry and Strabane.

Reference was made to several other local energy examples, including the energy audit in water in Galway. But local authorities are not providing clear direction or support; they have not grasped new powers, and they may need more powers to move forward in energy.

Cllr John Trainor, the Northern Ireland co-chair of the Ireland and United Kingdom Nuclear Free Local Authorities, gave a harsh warning about nuclear energy, and said that if there was a serious incident at Sellafield, it would not just affect the UK and Ireland but could very well encompass the whole of western Europe.

The latest inquiry into Sellafield and safety, which I have previously discussed in this column, has raised very serious concerns. The risks of nuclear energy are very real, the possibility of nuclear accidents is ever present, and there are special lessons than have to be learned from the experience of the Fukushima disaster in Japan.

For Northern Ireland, it is envisaged that the development of renewable electricity from wind will be the main form of generation, with an increased uptake of electric vehicles, hybrids and fuel cells. This will require sustained and concerted effort across all sectors.
It was stressed that the potential of solar power is too often underestimated, and that it is the most promising form of renewable energy: simple, cheap, and doesn’t depend on sunshine but simply light.

It is clear that the island of Ireland has fantastic potential for renewable energy, but the political will beyond 2020 remains sketchy. The message from Dublin was that councils are not using their powers to move forward with this energy vision, and that the latest of many inquiries into the Sellafield nuclear plant spell out the dangers of developing nuclear energy in Europe and beyond.

Michael McGowan is a former MEP and president of the Development Committee of the European Parliament.
TAGS : Michael McGowan Ireland The future Clean energy Northern Ireland Clean Energy Scotland Wales
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