It’s a long way to na­tion­wide cli­mate ac­tion, but not in Tip­per­ary

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - NEWS REVIEW -

Ten years ago, the oil or gas boiler would have been the com­mon fea­ture in all such build­ings – ac­com­pa­nied by big bills for fos­sil fu­els. Here, they have been re­placed with cheap, clean, re­new­ables.

The com­mit­tee has an im­mense task: to de­ter­mine how I r el and can adopt far-reach­ing rec­om­men­da­tions of the Ci­ti­zen’s Assem­bly to be­come a world leader on cli­mate change. It is among the worst per­form­ing de­vel­oped coun­tries in re­duc­ing emis­sions. This will in­form its re­port on what should be in the Na­tional En­ergy and Cli­mate Plan that Ire­land must sub­mit to the EU.

The visit is hosted by Tip­per­ary En­ergy Agency ( TEA), a not- for- profit set up by Tip­per­ary County Coun­cil 20 years ago. It’s a one-stop shop pro­vid­ing en­ergy au­dit­ing, de­sign, and pro­cure­ment ser­vices, which typ­i­cally gives a 60- 80 per cent re­duc­tion in house­hold en­ergy costs. The tran­si­tion to a de­car­bonised Ire­land will re­quire more than 1.5 mil­lion homes to be retro­fit­ted in com­ing decades at a cost of ¤50 bil­lion; most houses re­quire an in­vest­ment of ¤30,000-¤50,000.

Cold class­rooms

The home of Mar­garet and Phil Hen­nessy in Ne­nagh is the first stop. Faced with hav­ing to ren­o­vate a 1970s house, get­ting the en­ergy agency’s sup­port was “a no brainer”, Mar­garet says. The agency project man­aged in­stal­la­tion of new win­dows, doors, in­su­la­tion, ven­ti­la­tion, a heat pump and so­lar pan­els.

Elec­tric­ity bills have risen by ¤ 20 a week but solid fuel and oil costs have been elim­i­nated, she ex­plains. The to­tal cost was ¤ 64,000 and they ben­e­fit­ted from a 50 per cent Sus­tain­able En­ergy Author­ity of Ire­land grant.

“This is what ac­tual cli­mate ac­tion means,” Tip­per­ary En­ergy Agency chief ex­ec­u­tive Paul Kenny tells the del­e­ga­tion. It’s what makes re­plac­ing the im­por­ta­tion of oil, gas and coal pos­si­ble. What’s more, the tech­nol­ogy is not rocket sci­ence: a heat pump is the re­verse of an air con­di­tion­ing unit, while putting in larger ra­di­a­tors is eas­ily done, he adds. The agency has over­seen the retrofitting of 150 homes.

At nearby Youghalarra Na­tional School, an ¤80,000 ren­o­va­tion has put an end to cold class­rooms, a “re­ally bad” smell due to mois­ture, and heavy use of heat­ing oil, Kenny says.

They are sav­ing up to ¤5,000 in an­nual oil costs. Teach­ers no longer com­plain of stuffy rooms. Fresh air lasts all day and is re­placed overnight. “Chil­dren are more alert and will­ing to learn. They don’t switch off after lunch. There is a gen­eral im­prove­ment in their health,” says prin­ci­pal Brian Rus­sell.

The project was a pi­lot demon­stra­tion with the Sus­tain­able En­ergy Author­ity, Kenny notes, as the De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion did not be­lieve heat pumps would work in such a set­ting. The tech­nol­ogy works, pro­vided it is in­stalled cor­rectly, he says. The “en­ergy tran­si­tion” is go­ing to be driven by elec­tric­ity, and we should start by “just tak­ing fos­sil fu­els out of the equa­tion im­me­di­ately”.

At Ne­nagh Leisure Cen­tre, the sun be­gins to shine and the div­i­dend in power is in­di­cated on a large screen in­side. Se­nior ex­ec­u­tive plan­ner Nuala O’Con­nell out­lines how cli­mate change and en­ergy ob­jec­tives per­me­ate county coun­cil poli­cies. On re­new­able en­ergy, the con­ver­sa­tion with coun­cil­lors has changed, she says. It is mov- ing be­yond wind en­ergy to anaer­o­bic di­gesters; “is so­lar a good idea?”; com­mu­nity in­volve­ment and “what’s hap­pen­ing else­where?”

Low car­bon so­ci­ety

Iva Po­cock of Cloughjor­dan Ecov­il­lage – and a for­mer Ir­ish Times jour­nal­ist – de­scribes how the project is mod­el­ling the tran­si­tion to a low car­bon so­ci­ety. Es­tab­lished more than a decade ago, the ecov­il­lage is home to 100 res­i­dents, a hos­tel, bak­ery, en­ter­prise cen­tre, wood­land, al­lot­ments and Ire­land’s first “com­mu­nity-sup­ported agri­cul­ture” farm.

“Re­search shows that the eco­log­i­cal foot­print of a Cloughjor­dan ecov­il­lage res­i­dent is less than half that of the av­er­age Ir­ish ci­ti­zen,” she adds, point­ing proudly to build­ings with no chim­neys – a dis­trict heat­ing sys­tem uses re­new­ables.

Com­mit­tee vice chair­man and Sinn Féin TD Brian Stan­ley ac­knowl­edges ob­vi­ous bar­ri­ers to progress: plan­ning re­stric­tions; lim­its on use of so­lar pan­els, and in­abil­ity to feed ex­cess elec­tric­ity into the grid.Sen Paul Daly of Fianna Fáil cites the need for “se­ri­ous com­mu­nity buy- in and lead­er­ship at coun­cil level”. While the ecov­il­lage was “a life­style choice” there was a lot to be learned from the con­cept, par­tic­u­larly on dis­trict heat­ing. What was fac­ing Ire­land on cli­mate change was daunt­ing, he said, “yet the ex­am­ples to­day are so sim­ple”.

“The en­ergy tran­si­tion isn’t a tech­ni­cal chal­lenge,” Paul Kenny stresses at a fi­nal brief­ing. “It’s a ques­tion of mo­bil­is­ing so­ci­ety. We need to cre­ate the ecosys­tem to sup­port home­own­ers when they want to do it, to in­cen­tivise them with grants. We need to put a stick out there in terms of car­bon tax but ul­ti­mately with the ob­jec­tive of de­car­bon­is­ing Ir­ish build­ings.”

A to­tal of 17 en­ergy agen­cies were set up in Ire­land in 2005; only three sur­vive, even though a rad­i­cal en­ergy tran­si­tion has be­come more ur­gent. Run­ning a so­cial en­ter­prise is not easy, Kenny stresses, but the model needs to be ap­plied in ev­ery county if de­car­bon­i­sa­tion is to hap­pen – or at least on a re­gional ba­sis.

A late lunch at the Mid­dle County Café in Cloughjor­dan co­in­cides with pri­mary school chil­dren saun­ter­ing home. Their pres­ence f l ags what t he t own has achieved: re­gen­er­a­tion of its pop­u­la­tion, up by 250 from some 500 peo­ple over the past decade. At least some of the next gen­er­a­tion can be happy that they are al­ready grow­ing up in a com­mu­nity lead­ing the en­ergy tran­si­tion that all of Ire­land has to pur­sue sooner or later.

De­clan Daly of Su­perHomes Ire­land; Mar­garet Hen­nessy, home­owner, Sean Sher­lock TD; John La­hart TD and Brian Stan­ley, vice chair of the Oireach­tas Com­mit­tee on Cli­mate Ac­tion

Video All aboard the cli­mate bus . . . irish­times.com/video

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