IRELAND’S superior natural resources could power the country but the State ploughs around €250,000 every 15 minutes buying "polluting" power from abroad, an expert has said.
Dr Brian Motherway, from the International Energy Agency, told the Citizens’ Assembly today that during the time it took him to give a talk on green energy, Ireland had paid a quarter-of-a-million euro just to power the country with foreign fossil fuel energy.
“We are very dependent on other people’s expensive polluting energy and by the time I finish this talk, we will have sent a quarter-of-a-million euro abroad to buy other people’s polluting energy. We are saying use our money to make your lives better.”
Dr Motherway, who was addressing the Assembly toward the end of a weekend discussing Ireland becoming a leader in tackling climate change, described the country as owning the “best natural resources,” including wind and offshore waves.
Yet, he explained that due to lack of political will or pressure from the public - the State chooses to continue spending enormous amounts on buying foreign and environmentally damaging energy.
“We have the best resources you could hope for in the wind and sea and there’s a lot of energy in the sea - if we can find a way to use it, it’s clean and it’s our own,” he said.
“By 2050 Denmark has pledged to be fossil free and by same date Germany will have halved.”
Paul Kenny, from Tipperary Energy Action, said the Department of Environment should be held “accountable” on climate change but he was concerned there are too few staff to make real changes. “Those people want to see change but it isn’t possible with one person,” he said.
The non-profit organisation has supported Tipperary in becoming green by ‘retrofitting’ “super homes,” - energy efficient homes with insulation, air ‘tightness’ and advanced ventilation. Heat and hot water is provided by renewable energy such as solar panels and heat pumps. And the group plan to have completed 100 of these homes by the end of this year. The average investment by homeowners is €18,000. But they make a financial saving of €1000 to €1500 per annum on bills, while homeowners also have better air quality, the group states.
“You make up to a 70 per cent reduction in bills. And when I see people saying ‘my daughter doesn’t need her asthma inhaler anymore because there’s lovely air quality,’ it brings it home to you,” Mr Kenny said. “Most of the homes get to A rated for energy, that’s a utopia.”
All speakers agreed that there was a resistance from the public and Government alike to attempt to create an energy efficient programme on a national level. Mr Kenny said the only way to change this was to get communities onboard.
“People need to be involved,” he said. “If they don’t, they won’t like it. A wind farm was going to be built in Waterford recently but people were so scared about the negative impact, it wasn’t.
“What’s different about Tipperary? We set goals of removing fossil from our communities - we need society to get rid of fossil fuels. And the Department of Education needs to say ‘no more fuel in schools in 10 years’ to support the country.
“This is hard, we need to figure out grants, how to fund people to make this transition.”
Speakers discussed a shortage of policy makers pushing for renewable energy and the need for the public to demand change via their TDs.
Donna Gartland, from Codema, Dublin’s Energy Agency, said the four local authorities within the capital had all signed a pledge to cut carbon emissions by 40 per cent in line with EU targets but above the national target in Ireland.
Ms Gartland said while Dublin was “really trying hard to drive forward change,” the State was “lagging behind” on emissions and energy ratings.
“We can’t make the most of our heat and wind power without policy change,” she said.
Dr Motherway told the Assembly energy companies needed to communicate with local communities, to drive change and prevent projects falling through.
But one of the main concerns is a lack of budgeting and staff in the Department of Environment.
“When I worked in Government, there were so many departments, budgets assigned, ministers,” he said.
“Everything was complicated and messy. If I was in charge, I’d have a sign on my wall saying ‘make it happen’ with an exclamation on the end.
“Listen ministers, agencies, I really want you to do this, just do it - but if they don’t want it, they won’t listen.
“It comes back to all of us. TDs say they are not willing to take a risk on this... I don’t think as a society we ever asked our Government or ministers that we want to be a leader in climate change.”
Though becoming a green State is a long road, Dr Motherway said it was possible with a “social commitment and if we (the country) want to take up that leadership.”
The Assembly will meet again on November 4 and 5 to continue its discussions before recommendations are made to the Oireachtas.