A vision for the North West Region:

A region where, using renewable energy sources, every community can be self-sufficient, generating more power than they use, benefiting their communities and lowering Ireland’s carbon emissions.”

This was the ambitious future envisioned for NorthWest Ireland at the successful Powerful Communities conference on Friday 15th June 2018. Well-attended, with representatives from community groups all over the Northwest, technical organisations and statutory bodies, the day included a lot of time for discussion as well as speakers.

The conference was opened by Dr John Bartlett, Head of Research in IT Sligo and everyone was welcomed by Tony McLoughlin T.D. who reminded those present of the successful campaign against fracking and encouraged a similar drive to create Powerful Communities.

Next up was Aedín McLoughlin, who introduced the Powerful Communities vision and campaign, outlining the GEAI approach to kick-starting the move by communities to energy self-sufficiency and benefiting from renewable energy generation.  Presentation: The Powerful Communities Project

Mel Gavin (IT Sligo Research Unit) gave an overview of the Northwest Energy Communities Start-up (NECS) project that was carried out through a partnership between IT Sligo and GEAI, involving doing energy surveys of six communities in the Northwest and encouraging them to join the Sustainable Energy Communities (SEC) programme funded by SEAI. Two SECs have been formed following such surveys in Manorhamilton and Drumshanbo.  Presentation: Roadmaps to the Future of Energy use in NorthWest Communities – NECS Project

Francesca Franzetti gave an overview of micro-generation in Ireland – what it means, how it works and the possible benefits to the user.  Presentation: Micro-generation – Opportunities for All

Leslie O’Hora (substituting for Michael McCarthy, Irish Solar Energy Association) gave a brief overview of the potential of Solar Energy and stressed the absence of Feed-in Tariffs in Ireland.

He was followed by Pauline Leonard, who gave a presentation on research done by Western Development Commission (WDC) on the potential exploitation of biomass in the NorthWest, as part of the international GREBE project.  Presentation: The Potential for Biomass in NorthWest Ireland

Ruth Buggie at the Powerful Communities Conference.

Ruth Buggie at the Powerful Communities Conference.

Paul Kenny spoke about the potential for communities to get involved in bigger energy projects. His main focus was on wind energy and his advice for new groups getting involved in energy projects was to start small and build on experience.  Presentation: Larger Community Energy Projects – Opportunities and Barriers

The focus then turned to funding. Ruth Buggie from Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) gave an overview of the many funding programmes now available to communities – from SECs to Warmer Homes, from Better Energy Homes to Schools programmes. €120 million spent.  Presentation: Mentoring and Grant-Aiding – The SEC Programme

And finally, Seamus Dunbar spoke about our local SEC formed in North Leitrim that now is applying for funding to become a BEC and to get involved in local community energy projects in the areas of energy efficiency and energy generation. These include major retrofitting of houses to improve energy ratings and research into the possibility of setting up a solar farm.  Presentation: Our Experience with SEC

Chris Chapman animated the Word Café.

Chris Chapman animated the Word Café during the afternoon.

After lunch, Chris Chapman facilitated a World Café style discussion around the major issues dealt with in the morning with provocative statements printed on flags to stimulate the conversations. Topics ranged from “Every house has solar PV panels” to “Every village owns a wind turbine” and “All communities become Powerful”.

The discussions were very lively. It was agreed that action on climate change and renewable energy has to be led by communities rather than developers. However, the government must first show leadership and put in place supports to empower communities to take their energy futures into their own hands. In particular, the absence of Feed-in Tariffs is a big obstacle to communities who want to get involved.