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Duncan Stewart hopes Westport will lead energy-supply revolution

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Duncan Stewart hopes Westport will lead energy-supply revolution


The time has come for local communities to ensure they have an affordable and dependable energy supply for the future. That was the message environmentalist and broadcaster Duncan Stewart brought to Westport last Friday, March 28.
The campaigner was one of four speakers at an event, organised by local environmental advocacy group SHeDD Ireland, which called for a change in the way we produce and consume energy.
“I sense that we’re on the cusp of a massive transformation,” said Stewart addressing the crowd of over 200 local people who had gathered at the eco-award-winning Westport Woods Hotel. He called on Westport to establish a locally owned cooperative with the eventual goal of making the community energy self-sufficient by using renewable resources, such as wind energy to meet local demand.
Combined with better insulation and green transport options, he said, Westport could become energy independent within ten years. Westport could then serve as a model to neighbouring Ballina, Newport and Castlebar, developing a series of interconnected communities, where energy would be distributed via a network of smart micro-grids with local innovation and employment growing to meet the needs of the new model.
“€6.5 billion leaves the country every year in energy bills. That is equal to €1,400 for every person in the country. Yet Ireland possesses an abundance of renewable energy resources,” he said. “It’s time to move a way from this madness towards a sustainable solution.”
Dismissing government as a potential source of solutions to Ireland’s energy issues he said the effort had to come from the grassroots. “Forget about the solution coming from Government – we as a society need to take responsibility,” he said. “It’s going to have to come from you – you have to inspire the young people.”
In a stark warning to the business sector he said, “any company that continues to use fossil fuels intensively will die. If business doesn’t engage with this they will fall by the wayside.”
Community ownership would be a key factor in establishing and developing a Westport based co-op, said another speaker, Dara Molloy of Comharchumann Fuinneamh Oileáin Arainn (Aran Islands Energy Co-Op). Community ownership could mean local support for energy projects like wind turbines, an area where some renewable energy companies have run into opposition, said Molloy. “Companies put the interests of their shareholders first,” agreed Stewart. “The cooperative model is the only way,” he added.
The Aran Islands group which was established in 2012 has set about upgrading the insulation of buildings on the islands, to reduce energy demand, as a first step in their journey towards energy independence. There are also plans for an Atlantic sea salt production business, which would be powered by renewable island energy and create jobs locally.
“An initial project that local people can get behind is key to ensuring public support for an energy co-op,” said Lúgh Ó Braonáin of Energy Co-Ops, a Dublin-based group that advocates for local renewable solutions to Ireland’s energy dilemma. The next step for Westport, he said, was to gather together that group of core supporters and develop a community resource map in partnership with researchers from the education sector, to chart the potential for renewable energy generation locally.
“It has been done in Sweden, Denmark and Germany, but not here,” said Stewart. He described a scenario where farmers could come together to grow fuel for biomass plants that would then power district heating schemes. Community wind farms, micro hydro electricity schemes and solar energy could also help meet energy demand. “But remember, the early adaptors are the winners”, he concluded.