2018: Powerful Communities

Giving Northwest communities more power

Are solar panels the answer to your household’s energy demand? Could communities get together and get a stake in a wind farm? Is biomass really an option for households? What grants are available?

All those questions, and more, have been answered at the Powerful Communities Conference, held on 15th June in IT Sligo. The conference was hosted by GEAI (Leitrim) and IT Sligo. The speakers had included Aedín McLoughlin, GEAI; Mel Gavin, I.T. Sligo; Francesca Franzetti, GEAI; Leslie O’Hora, GEAI (substitute for Michael McCarthy, Irish Solar Energy Association); Pauline Leonard, Western Development Commission; Paul Kenny, Tipperary Energy Agency; Ruth Buggie, SEAI and Seamus Dunbar, North Leitrim SEC.

The full Powerful Communities Conference programme is available here.

Powerful Communities Conference presentations are available here.

The event ended with a World Café style discussion of the way forward for communities and the region. Below you can read the results of the round-tables where six different themes were discussed.

Round-tables outcomes

All communities become powerful

A community is powerful when community and politics are closely connected and in continuous dialogue. What is hoped for is a virtuous circle where politics through laws and institutions supports the choices of the community, and together they benefit from the results obtained. Shared choices can be driven by the PPNs, through which communities can enjoy greater decision-making power. It is necessary to imagine the possible future scenarios, the challenges and the changes that we hope will happen. The focus is on future generations. We need to ask not only for economic and administrative support, but above all educational support. We need to start thinking about new ways of involving children, young people and parents – e.g. through creative visualization and gamification techniques – to create awareness and think about tomorrow.

Local forestry produces biomass

If we want to increase forestry and the use of biomass energy, it is necessary for people to be able to make decisions at a local level and participate in any choice. There should be better linkages between NDP (National Development Plan) and CDP (Community Development Programme) – at national and local levels – and also involve IFA, Macra and Hill Farmers Associations in the decision-making process. Forestry is excellent for CO2 absorption, but we must also think about its impact on the territory and the relationship with the space dedicated to agriculture. In general it is good that local communities can choose, as for example regarding the proposal to increase forestry from the current 11% to 20%. Thinking about what is right for us, we can have a look at models like the Finnish one.

Electric transport becomes norm

The future of transport is in renewable energy. What we hope for is prices reduction and a total transformation of transport at local and national level. On the one hand we must try to increase good practices such as car sharing (even if sometimes it was not so effective). On the other hand, public transport can lead the way to the conversion to sustainable transport. – In this case we can also consider alternatives like hydrogen. However, it is good to think broadly, create a smart and uniform system with all the necessary infrastructure (e.g. more charging points for cars or electric bikes). Planning the future of transport it is good to take into account also the positive effects on health, economy and work.

High capacity powerful supply

A future of renewable energy requires to reconsider the grid. We cannot create an upgraded system without an appropriate infrastructure. It is obviously necessary to assess local needs for a high capacity line. To this end, public consultations must be organized with the support of local authorities, to understand risks and benefits, and at the same time avoid the Nimby effect among the population. It is good to reflect on possible impacts on health on the one hand, and on economic and labor level on the other. A first step could be to create an electric railway line, rerouting excess power from wind energy into it. Furthermore, one could think about exporting overseas energy, and look at models like the Australian virtual grid.

Every house has solar PV panels

If we consider it important to increase the use of solar panels, we need to think of collective actions: starting from energy audits, going to planning and designing with communities. Only in this way we can get the right technology in the right place at the right time. At this stage it is necessary to understand what is the best way to benefit from solar energy: to evaluate costs in terms of investment and return, and to assess reliability in terms of redundancy and energy maintenance. We need to invest locally and work together with communities, thinking together about future generations. Let’s begin to think about concrete examples and ask for possible incentives e.g. feed-in-tariffs.

Every village owns a wind turbine

The benefits of using wind turbines must be equitable among the whole community. For this purpose there are various issues to consider such as ownership models, siting considerations, the role of the grid, and then ancillary benefits such as work, possible funding and possible risks. It is necessary for communities and developers to work together and look for partnerships to develop projects. More opportunities for dialogue at local level are needed to increase the exchange of information between developers and community representatives, in order that every person be aware of the risks and benefits. We could even start thinking about small wind feed-in-tariffs.

Speakers profile

Aedín McLoughlin is the CEO and a founder member of Good Energies Alliance Ireland (GEAI). She studied Science in UCD and has a doctorate in Cancer Research from University of London. Her career includes teaching, business and project management, community development, and coordination of EU and Peace projects, as well as working as an independent consultant. She now coordinates the GEAI programme of work and is a GEAI representative on the Environmental Pillar. Aedín has been based in Leitrim since the late 90’s.

Mel Gavin is a Civil, Structural & Energy Engineer with over 14 years‘ experience in design and project management on a wide range of private and public projects including, sustainable buildings, wind farms, energy efficiency, product and process design, waste and resource efficiency – Water and Wastewater Treatment Plants. Mel is an enthusiast for energy transition in the North West and currently works as a Mentor and Technical Advisor on the SEAI Sustainable Energy Communities Programme.

Francesca Franzetti joined GEAI in September 2017, as EVS volunteer, driven by a very strong interest in research and advocacy for climate change and environmental issues. Her main roles within GEAI team include research of national and European climate and energy policies, advocacy and community engagement in Co. Leitrim through the Cool Planet Champion programme, supported by the Environmental Protection Agency. She holds an MSc. in Environmental Economics and Policy from University of Turin, Italy. Prior to joining GEAI, she interned at the Stockholm Environment Institute – Asia Centre in Bangkok.

Michael McCarthy is the CEO of the Irish Solar Energy Association. He was as an elected member of Cork County Council. He then was elected to Seanad Eireann, where he was appointed as the Labour spokesman for environment and for social protection. Michael was elected to Dàil Eireann as a member of the constituency of Cork South-West, and then he was appointed Chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Environment by then Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore. He played a key role in the 2013 report of the Outline Heads of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill, which resulted in the Climate Change and Low Carbon Development Act.

Pauline Leonard is a Regional Development Executive and Project Coordinator with the Western Development Commission working on a number of EU funded projects, in the renewable energy sector. These include the GREBE, LECo and RE-Direct project, as well as developing and co-ordinating submissions for other EU project applications. Pauline also has managed renewable energy feasibility studies for towns in the WDC region. Prior to this, Pauline worked on the ROKWOOD and BioPAD projects.

Paul Kenny is the CEO of Tipperary Energy Agency. Paul’s key technical competencies are in the areas of wind, biomass and solar energy development, energy efficiency in domestic and commercial buildings and energy efficiency in the water industry. Paul is a consultant to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, the European Commission and other utilities. Paul spoke at the recent Citizens’ Assembly on climate change and is a strong advocate of greater action on the reduction in use of fossil fuels. Paul Authored the successful Sustainable Tipp application to the European Investment Bank’s ELENA program.

Ruth Buggie is the Sustainable Energy Communities and Smart Grid Programme Manager with SEAI. She is responsible for managing the SEAI Smart Grid programme with a focus on the development of Ireland’s Smart Grid Portal. She sits on the Board of Smart Grid Ireland and is the Executive Committee Member for Ireland of ISGAN. Ruth is also responsible for the development and deployment of the Sustainable Energy Communities programme to support the development of a community approach to energy and to stimulate a national move towards sustainable energy.

Seamus Dunbar in an artist living in Manorhamilton. He got involved with energy issues through the programme “Harnessing Creativity”, taking a creative approach to sustainability in North Leitrim. This lead to dialogue with like minded people, resulting in the founding of North Leitrim SEC. He won the Community Energy Champion award under the Get Involved Sustainable Community Initiative in 2016 and continues to work towards a sustainable economy in the North West.


At the end we asked participants to give us some feedback on the conference. Several people joined the conference and most of them gave positive feedback on the development of the North West area of ​​Ireland and on a possible completely green future. Someone gave suggestions for carrying out the Powerful Communities project.

Below you can see some summary graphs.

What do you see as the future for the Northwest area?

Can you see young local people living and working in this area in the future?

I found today’s conference:

Powerful Communities Conference gave me a better understanding of:

What is your opinion of the following statements?

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